GDC 2013: Balancing narrative and mission design in Assassin's Creed III

by: Mike -
Corey May, lead writer on Assassin’s Creed III, and Philippe Bergeron, missions design director, spoke on a panel at the Narrative Summit of GDC today.
 
The balancing act between narrative and mission design was the focus of the panel. Sometimes missions need to be changed or scrapped if they don’t work with the story, and sometimes the story needs tweaking to work with the missions, Bergeron said.
 
May described the team’s approach to prototyping that began in the conception phase; essentially, the team created a blueprint on the wall consisting of Post-It notes. He showed a picture of different-colored index cards, connected by lines and intersecting in every which way.
 
This tangible prototype allowed them to see the game as a whole, in one place. “This way, you can touch it,” May said.
 
The blueprint not only outlined the script and mission progression of Assassin’s Creed III, but also the minutiae of mission design.
 
“By this point, I have started writing, the designers have started designing, and then we start spending a lot of time together,” May said. This makes sure that the gameplay and narrative “reflect a mutual understanding.”
 
“It’s really important that we set that bond,” Bergeron said. He mentioned the mutual understanding May did, saying that without the right balance between narrative and design, the game would be incomplete as a whole.
 
Once conception and pre-production were finished, the team at Ubisoft had a final script, the thing most indicative of what the final game would be.
 
“The final script is an amalgam of my writing and intense cooperation,” May said.
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