We sat down with Tyranny of King Washington creative director Marc-Alexis Côté to talk about the new Assassin's Creed 3 DLC, what inspired it, and how the new Connor is able to turn invisible. The DLC will be released in three parts - The Infamy, The Betrayal, and The Deception - the first of which goes on sale on February 19. It's set in an alternate reality in which George Washington rules America as a mad, tyrannical king after the Revolution.
Why did you decide to make the DLC a separate story?
When we started work on this project, I did some research to find out what the qualities of great downloadable content are. For me, a great DLC is an experience that's more focused, has a great narrative, and brings something new to the table. We really wanted the new gameplay systems to be the focus here, so we removed the economy because it didn't support the story, and also the notoriety meter because Ratonhnhaké:ton doesn't have Assassin training.
Bringing in new gameplay has been super important for us. If someone has played Assassin's Creed 3 for 40 hours, and we want them to play for another 7, we need to add something new to the DLC. So strong narrative content, new powers, and length are the most important things, and we've tried to offer all of these, with all the same production values as the main game.
What's different about Connor in this new reality?
I don't want to spoil the story too much, but the new Ratonhnhaké:ton starts out as Connor. It's a kind of weird puzzle for the player to solve. The first thing he sees is his mother, and he's like, "What are you doing here? Why are you alive?" These are questions that will follow the player throughout the three DLCs, and you'll get an answer - a very satisfying answer - at the end.
You can actually start to get a glimpse of that answer by participating in the secondary gameplay loop, and collecting what we call Memory Artefacts. When you collect three of them in one episode, you get a video, which is part of a longer video that explains to you how Connor came to be Ratonhnhaké:ton in this alternate reality. So it all fits together in an experience that is canon, that is important, and that fits into the mythology of the Assassin's Creed universe.
So he knows he's in an alternate reality?
Yes, he's totally aware of it. He knows something is wrong and something doesn't gel. The more he becomes embedded in this reality, the harder it is for him to separate himself, and by the end he will have a choice to stay or leave.
The Assassin's Creed series has always dealt with elements that aren't quite real - whether you interpret it as the supernatural or science fiction. Connor's powers in the DLC are pretty out there. Why did you decide to break tradition so dramatically?
One of the only 'magical' elements in the Assassin's Creed lore is the Apple of Eden. In the ending of every game in the series so far, you get into these more mystical moments. They say magic is just technology we can't explain, and with the Apple it's always been made clear that it's a technological, not a magical, tool. You'll have to play the DLC to find out how Connor's powers relate to the Apple. We haven't introduced new magical or fantasy elements at all.
When Connor learns a new power, he goes on a spirit journey. What are they like?
The art direction of these scenes is inspired by the look of the Animus, but it's a world we constructed after reading about what the Native Americans call the Sky World. They say it's all white, and you see spirit animals, and it's not a definite reality. This seemed to fit the look of the Animus, so we incorporated that into its design. As you play through the three DLCs, you'll notice the Sky World begins to change. It evolves and becomes corrupted.
George Washington is the villain in the DLC, despite being known as a great leader. Did you base any of his more nefarious traits on real history?
Some of it was based on his real-life battles with the Native Americans, but we transformed and amplified it. This is not the REAL George Washington that you see in the main game, or in history. This version, the mad king, is a transformation of his personality by the Apple of Eden. We did inspire ourselves with real events, but we gave them an Assassin's Creed-style twist. If that doesn't make sense, it'll become clear when you reach the end of the DLC.
The DLC is structured like a TV show. Why go episodic?
That was really one of the models we wanted to explore. Episodic content. We've seen other companies starting to think about it, and we wanted to apply it to the Assassin's Creed experience. For me it was revealing in many ways. First of all, it's really challenging to do a story like this in episodes, because it requires an incredible amount of planning. You're limited to how you can modify the first episode when you're working on the final one.
You need to know exactly where you're going, and we spent a lot of time at the planning stage. There was definitely inspiration taken from series like 24 and Lost, for example. They can captivate people for a very long time because they are paced almost perfectly. This is something we tried to replicate, and during playtesting we monitored people to see how excited the cliffhanger endings made them. It's exactly like Lost, although people will find the ending more satisfying than that. I've actually seen the ending, and I think it's incredible.