Tag Archive: Assassin’s Creed

So yeah, let’s talk about this.

Gaming, what the hell happened to you? I thought that as technology would get better games would get better. I mean, on some level they have. Games today are pretty amazing and only the most mindlessly nostalgic and retro of players would ever argue that we should just give up all the graphical, narrative, and gameplay innovations that have been invented in the past 30 years and go back to the 8-bit era. But what has gotten worse is our ability to access and play games on our own time. It used to be that you could only watch your favorite TV shows when the networks wanted you to. Now I can stream instantly all of my favorite shows from a variety of different websites. It used to be you could only listen to the music you liked in your home. Now I can take my entire library with me whenever I want. But with games, it used to be I could sit down and play any single player game whenever I wanted, now I can only do it when a completely different computer I have no control over feels like it.

Let me address the most common argument in favor of this. Pirates have been kicking developer ass ever since the dawn of PC games. Remember Looking Glass Studios? They made the awesome  Thief games. Well you’re not going to find them today, LGS closed down because too many people played their fantastic games without paying for them. Today investments for a standard AAA game can be in the tens of millions. That’s the sort of money that no one is willing to part with unless they have anything but 120% certainty that  isn’t going up into a cloud of smoke. As far as DRM’s go, having to have a constant Internet access is less intrusive and less “let’s punish the people who bought this as well” than other DRM’s have been in the past. The problem with demanding constant Internet access to play a single player game is simple: we are putting more and more of our entertainment technology into the same basket. And if something ever happens to that basket, which this basket is known to do, then we lose everything.

 There is a kind of longevity to a game that is lost under this system. For some games it’s true that once we finish them we almost never pick them back up again, but once in a while there comes that one rare game that you do want to play over and over again just because you enjoy it so much. There’s a popular saying that holds true which goes; “Every time Deus Ex is mentioned on a forum, someone will reinstall it.” Right now I can go back and install the original Diablo and nostalgia bomb on the good old days of whacking skeletons in a gothic  labyrinth, and nothing beyond Windows compatibility issues can stop me. But honestly how much do you want to bet I will be able to do the same in 15 years time with Diablo III? Unless Blizzard is foresighted and nice enough to disable this feature in the future, once they decide they can no longer support the costs of running the servers for a game hardly anyone plays anymore, that’s all she wrote folks. Your future self’s sudden pang of nostalgia for Diablo III will just be met by a sad slap to the face as Blizzard says “Sorry, not enough people are playing the multiplayer mode so you can’t play your single player mode.”

Finally I want to talk to developers here, because ultimately running a constant Internet connection for a single player game is bad for you too. I mean first of all it’s bad for consumers and anyone with half a brain enough to remember Econ 101 should know that if something is bad for the consumers it’s bad for the company. But as I hinted at in the previous paragraph, this kind of DRM is kind of cost prohibitive. Yes I understand that Diablo III has a multiplayer mode anyway, so having those servers was going to happen no matter what. But a big contributor game’s failure to deliver the instant it went live was that everyone, even the people who had no interest in the multiplayer had to join in on the server flood which ruined the game for everyone. A server flood so bad that not only is it fucking things up for Diablo III players but also for people playing other Blizzard games. You see not only has Blizzard put all of their games in the internet basket, but they are also all in the Battle.net basket.

But let’s say for a second you aren’t Blizzard, but you’re another company who is doing this for a game that has no multiplayer mode at all like Assassin’s Creed 2 just to throw a random title out there. This is a completely unnecessary cost for your company that does nothing but harm the people who actually paid for your game. Assassin’s Creed 2’s DRM prevented only a week of online piracy, but after that you made piracy the more attractive option because now the pirated version of the game doesn’t require permanent online access, so it’s less of a pain in the butt for the player. And again you have the issue of losing longevity. The instant you decide that the servers aren’t worth it, all the people who bought your game can never play it again, but the people who pirated it, they can play it forever.

I wasn’t there for Diablo III’s spectacular failure at launch, I was not one of the millions who pre-ordered it and sat patiently for 12 years waiting for the moment Blizzard would tell them “Too many people are using Battle.net so you have to wait even longer.” It’s been two days and I still haven’t bought it, and I don’t know if I want to buy it. Our purchasing power as consumers is the only effective tool we have to send messages to companies, and frankly I really don’t want this to be the future of games. There’s no point in even waiting for it to go down in price, Starcraft II came out two years ago and it’s still going at its full retail price. But I do know that unless Blizzard changes it’s policy on this issue, every time I see that box for Diablo III I’m just going to think “Sorry son, it just ain’t worth it.”

I haven’t brought this up before but I’m actually a pretty big Assassin’s Creed fan. I loved the original game even with all it’s warts. It’s just that it was the first time I played a game were the protagonist had a real, well defined arc and discussed genuinely interesting ideas without spoon feeding it to you like you’re an idiot. The bad guys had good reasons for what they were doing and the good guys were freaking assassins. It draped history with conspiracy in a way that was intelligently thought out and not because it’s the result of a loon who replaced their brain with the extended cut of the X-Files complete series DVD box set. I’ve religiously bought every release in the main series (but not the hand-held spin offs) and I’m super excited for the release of the fifth and final installment which is unironically calling itself Assassin’s Creed III.

But I’m actually not here to talk about the fifth and final game. I’m here to talk about the discussion of its setting. From the beginning there has been speculation about which historic period the next game would take place, and inevitably 17th century Japan was raised by some fans. After all it makes sense right, you have the political intrigue, civil upheaval, and tons and tons of assassinations going on. And ultimately that’s what Assassin’s Creed is all about, being a sneaky assassin and killing people right?

Well that’s not precisely accurate.

The titular assassin’s of Assassin’s Creed kill not for money or in service to a particular lord, but because of their ideology. They locked in a secret war that spans multiple centuries and countries with another secret society that wishes to dominate and control the affairs of people everywhere through the use of powerful artifacts from a lost First Civilization known as the Pieces of Eden. The problem facing a Japanese setting for the game is that it doesn’t really fit any of that, where as moving the franchise to America in the 1750’s-1790’s makes far more sense.

The problem with Japan is that it’s very distant and isolated from the rest of the world, and the people who have governed Japan have for hundreds of years tried to keep it that way. Assassin’s Creed games are always set at the crossroads of history, where many cultures are meeting at once, and where violence and conflict become inevitable. It’s these key points in global history that set a backdrop for a secret ideological war for the future of human kind are set. Japan doesn’t have that. It has the intrigue but they are between rival shoguns intent on their own power. This isn’t like the crusades, the Renaissance, or the War of Independence, where many different people from all over the world where coming together and were the battles were fought over loftier ideals than power.

The other problem is trying to force the mythology of the main series into that one specific setting. It would take massive leaps of coincidence and authorial fiat to give Desmond a Japanese ancestor, given how isolated and xenophobic Japan has been until very recently. It wasn’t until the later part of the 19th century that Japan opened up to the West, and then it was by force. And Japan didn’t really play a significant part in global history until WW2 and Ubisoft has specifically said from the beginning they were taking WW2 off their list of potential locations for future Assassin’s Creed games given how over saturated the industry is with WW2. There’s also the problem of trying to explain what the Templars and the Assassin’s would be doing there. Japan is very far away from Europe and the Middle-East and an oceanic voyage around Africa and across the Indian ocean would take the better part of a year. And again I have to keep going back to just how famously hostile they were to outsiders, so even if the Templars tried to gain a foothold in Japan they m0st likely would be unable to succeed.  And finally as I pointed out earlier the Assassins wouldn’t be interested in killing for the honor and duty of a specific shogun, they have more important and loftier ideals to kill for then the squabbling of some feudal lord in a country that is figuratively at the end of the Earth. I’m not saying a game where you get to play in a realistic depiction of a 17th century Japanese assassin wouldn’t work, it just wouldn’t work within the context of the Assassin’s Creed mythology.

But the American Revolution is the perfect setting for the next Assassin’s Creed game. We have both the temporal and geographic distance from Ezio Auditore for the series to be fresh again, but not so far that we end up in alien territory. We also see Desmond’s lineage moving towards America, and let’s face it, it’s far more plausible for Desmond to have some Native American ancestor in his genealogy, which most Americans do, than a Japanese ancestor, which is highly unlikely. And finally we have the whole crossroads of history and clash of cultures that is both iconic and necessary for the series. You have the birth of a new nation, you have the influx of immigrants from all over Europe, you have the British, French, and Spanish interests in the New World, and you have all the aboriginal cultures in their prime before they were crushed by the onslaught of manifest destiny.

And you know what else, which is probably the best point I can make here, the American Revolution has never been done before. We’ve seen Japan in so many games, and Japanese culture itself is a huge part of the overall gamer culture. How many games that weren’t RTS were set in the American Revolution? None. In fact it’s square in the middle of this weird part of history were firearms were so bad that no one wants to make games about them. Darkest of Days tried to make a game about fighting with realistic Civil War rifles, and even then it still had to spice things up with rocket launchers and assault rifles, apparently saying that since historians didn’t look to closely at this part of the Battle of Antietam as long as the Union wins and the Confederates lose, go nuts.

Anyone could make a game in feudal Japan, but only Assassin’s Creed could do a game in the American Revolution.