Propaganda and the New World: We talk with Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation’s lead writer

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Ubisoft Montreal is striking out in a different direction with fall 2012’s PlayStation Vita game, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. You’ve got a new main character in Aveline, an assassin and the first female protagonist that the series has focused on. The setting is all-new, 18th century New Orleans during roughly the same period that Assassin’s Creed 3‘s Connor will be warring with the Templars against the backdrop of America’s Revolutionary War. The biggest shift in direction of them all, however, is how Liberation is framed within the fiction of the Assassin’s Creed universe. It’s a product, something created by the Templar-owned Abstergo Industries, for reasons that aren’t yet entirely clear.

I sat down with Liberation lead writer and AC writing staff member, Richard Farrese, to chat about what’s to come in the Vita game during a recent Ubi preview event. It was an infuriating interview, filled with vague responses and the frequently repeated mantra of “no comment.” I can understand the hesitation, of course. Mystery is one of the key narrative pillars in the Assassin’s Creed universe, and revealing too much about a game’s story before it’s released risks spoiling some very good and rewarding twists. Liberation is a unique situation, however; it’s so dramatically different on the story level in terms of the tone and approach that it doesn’t compare easily with what we’ve come to learn from seeing the past and present through Desmond’s eyes.

Given all of that, my first question for Farrese was simple enough: going into Liberation, what are the most vital points to keep in mind? “The first thing you need to know is: Aveline is not related to Desmond. That’s important to know,” he replied. “There’s no present in our game, it’s an Abstergo entertainment product. The game was released by Abstergo. Because of that it’s a really different kind of experience. You’ll have to play the game to find out how. There’s a lot of twists and turns in the story, and if I go into it too much I’m going to spoil some surprises.”

The phrase “entertainment product” carries a very general connotation; Liberation‘s place inside the AC-verse is actually more well-defined than that, even if we can’t know exactly how just yet. “It’s actually a game [inside the fiction],” Farrese added. “You can almost see this as a kind of public– how can I say this–everything is based on the Animus technology. So Abstergo… basically took that technology, extracted out those memories, and created a game out of it. In the fiction, as you play the game you’re actually exploring the Animus in your own way.”

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Farrese pulled up short of saying anything about why Abstergo would release such a thing.  Based on everything we’ve seen in the series so far, the modern-day Templars continue to wage a war against the modern-day Assassins. There is an agenda behind the fictional release of this “entertainment product” which puts players in the shoes of a member of the ancient group’s mortal enemy. Does Aveline do things that make the Assassin’s order look bad? Does she turn on her former brothers and sisters to sign up with the Templars? Or is it something else, something we can’t even predict simply because there are layers to the fiction that we’re not yet aware of?

Farrese isn’t saying. He’ll go as far as admitting that the larger framing narrative helps to paint the right picture for Liberation, in much the same way that the framing narrative for Assassin’s Creed multiplayer establishes the mode as an Abstergo training program. Asked whether the fictional side of the game is released for the wider public or if it too lives in the realm of Abstergo training materials, Farrese admits that he “can’t comment on that.” Nor can he say anything about why the game’s title — Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation — calls out so directly to Connor’s upcoming adventure. Why couldn’t it simply be Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. There’s a reason, but it’s one that Ubisoft isn’t willing to talk about yet.

Farrese graciously fielded all of these sticky questions, but he remained strong and kept the spoilers at bay. He did admit, however, that the Assassin’s Creed writing process is a team effort, and that the big picture story concerns are never sussed out in a vacuum. Continuity is important to this crew. “There’s a group of writers that focus on Assassin’s Creed at Ubisoft Montreal,” he said. “When the idea first came up of doing this game, of course [Assassin’s Creed 3 lead writer] Corey May was involved. We sat with Corey a few times to discuss ideas. But Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation is completely different [from Corey’s game]. We’re showing Aveline’s story, and it’s a really different tale from what you will see with Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3.”