Late to the party. (Assassin’s Creed analysis)

Assassin’s Creed became a major hit in the gaming world…Four years ago, upon a quick wikipedia search. Talk about time flying by. In all those years, I still haven’t managed to complete the first one, and I’m going to outline why below for anyone that cares. Let me go ahead and say that the game did do some incredible things at the time of its release, contextual controls not so much, but the low and high profile control swaps were genius. The graphical quality and animations were and still are to this day, rather superb. However, it is still lacking in many key areas, one of which I will immediately state as it has been so often noted:


This game is incredibly, abhorrently repetitious. For every assassination you must do the same tasks in preparation of them. They make sense, yes, but doing it over and over is not fun, which a game is meant to be.


I haven’t noticed this mentioned nearly as often as that first point, but the suspicion meter is absolutely annoying. I’m sure they’ve likely fixed it in the newer additions to the series, but in the first, it’s a game killer. First off, you’re in a hood and white robes, clearly sticking out, so how you’re to get around the world without enemies becoming suspicious is, well, beyond me. They provide many means to do it, certainly, but getting between the different towns, which should, you would think, be a quick endeavor, becomes a mind-numbing chore as you trot about on a horse trying to avoid rousing the enemies to aggression. And you must trot. If you switch to high profile, you get an incessant alert noise and a load of annoying shouting at you.

Suspicion is a great mechanic technically speaking, it just needed some more adjustment. A later release that’s gameplay is highly inspired by Assassin’s Creed, The Saboteur, has a much more refined and less cumbersome system in place. Keep your weapons out of sight, don’t get too close, and the enemies typically won’t mess with you. Oh, and you’re not walking by default in that game, but that’s another matter entirely.

Forced Immersion.

I honestly think suspicion was an attempt by the designers to force immersion upon the player. Where they couldn’t get it with the HUD, the UI, story, art direction, animation, music, or atmosphere, they seem to have tried to get it with gameplay. Instead of running about all the time, they make you walk by default. Instead of allowing you to just zip to towns via some Animus magic, they make you gallop there by horse (maybe they’ve changed this in the newer games), and rather than allowing you to leave a saved citizen as a mysterious hero, they make you go up and listen to the same repeated lines (sometimes differing).

What doesn’t make sense here, however, is the entire concept of the Animus, and the lines of Warren Vidic at the very start of the game, reminding Desmond that none of it is real. It’s all very contradictory. They want you to synchronize with the memories of your ancestor while realizing none of it is real, and then several of the gameplay elements encourage synchronicity while maintaining an immersion breaking HUD and general UI. Even many of the in-game elements (invisible walls and flags) break immersion by their very appearance.

It is as though the designers didn’t have a solid idea of what they were trying to do. Did they want to immerse the players or did they want the players to immerse Desmond? It seems more like the latter, but the gameplay feels like they also wanted to do the former.

Poor Characterization.

Probably the primary reason I still haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed is that I really don’t care about Altair. I know this was definitely a point with many others, and hence Ezio was born and is purportedly a much more interesting character. I’d hope so, after the flat character that is Altair. All the other players are pretty interesting, Al Mualim, Lucy Stillman, Vidic, and Desmond. Yet most of the first game centers around Altair’s stupidity and arrogance and redeeming himself.

Not the most fun story for a first game.

Poorly Paced.

This blends in with forced immersion. The game feels slow. I’m not sure what it is, maybe the fact that it’s coddling you. Or perhaps it’s Altair himself. He knows what to do, so you feel as though you know what to do, and it drags the game’s pacing down. This was an awful decision, in my opinion. In terms of story it’s well explained, but the character you’re playing as makes it terribly annoying to go through. This is especially noticeable at the beginning of the game after Al Mualim stabs Altair and strips him of his rank and sends him out on a novice mission.

It’s irritating and frustrating for both the player and Altair, which should never be the goal of the designers, to irritate and frustrate the player. Challenge them, yes, but not induce negative feelings. I think this is likely part of the reason many players don’t care for Altair. The beginning sequence is fast-paced, then it slams into a sluggish crawl. It’s basically a very brief high and then a long, drawn out crash.

In short, don’t design a game where you appear to be trying to force immersion, put in conflicting aesthetics in the HUD and UI, and pace it so that you have to experience the dreadful rising up the ranks with a character that has little to no development to make him even slightly interesting. The gameplay may be fun, but all of those characteristics make it more of a bloody chore to get through than a joy to, which is not what a game should aim for.

Mining to the Core.

Everyone’s writing about Minecraft. Why? The story is that it was made by one very dedicated man in Sweden, I believe. That’s only one part though. The other part is the openness of the game, and the creativity that is permitted by it. It doesn’t have impressive graphics, and it’s certainly not a casual game, but it has burst on to the scene. On one hand, it’s word of mouth, and on the other, it’s the results of the game’s openness itself. All sorts of things are being created, or are in the process of creation, daily, I would say, and when they are unveiled, they are quite impressive. Yet what makes them impressive? The tools that the player must work with. They must create their tools and gather their resources for what they wish to create.

Games such as Dwarf Fortress, which inspired Minecraft, are much the same, so what makes this game different? While the graphics aren’t stunning, that isn’t what matters, what matters is that it is more easily discernible what the player has created. A person who knows nothing of Dwarf Fortress and leans over the player’s shoulder won’t have a clue what all the squiggles and characters mean, so even if he or she is told what it is, he or she’ll just nod his or her head and walk off.

However, what also makes this different, is the time taken in each project. That isn’t to say places made in Dwarf Fortress are quick to create, not at all, well, perhaps a bit, since there are more workers, but nevertheless they still take quite a bit of time to get up and running. Similarly, it takes an incredible amount of time to terraform the landscape in Minecraft to suit your needs or desires, even in smaller areas. That’s even ignoring having to deal with the creatures of the night which may decide to mess with your creations or modifications of the landscape. Therefore, what really makes this game stand out isn’t just its viral spread and boom in gaming media, albeit that certainly helped, but the ability to clearly see the results of the player’s or players’ labour, and, if the game has been tried before, the understanding of the time it took to construct whatever it is that is being shown.

Originally posted: Oct 29, 2010 @ 18:05

There are no messianic products.

When a genre becomes filled with trite rubbish that barely differentiates itself from its predecessors, people grasp at anything that attempts to be innovative as being refreshing. It may be, but it’s merely setting the stage for the next wave of trite products. What was refreshing then slips away into hackneyed rubbish. We still give it credit, because it tried to do things differently, and it deserves that credit…However that doesn’t change the fact that it changed things for but a moment. You create the wondrous wheel and then everyone duplicates it. You give it rubber tread, then everyone else does as well.

Everything new is short-lived. It is because of this that there cannot be any messianic product that changes everything for the better. When everything changes, what was seen as better in the originator of the change becomes mundane and uninteresting as it is replicated by others and sold with a different finish. Contributing to this deterioration of the sensation of refreshment is the basic fact that every new product will be a rearrangement of existing elements. How often do you see a scifi game or book depart from terrestrial worlds? Rarely, as even their most exotic species are imagined as existing on such worlds, with some water lookalike only offhandedly mentioned to have a different chemical makeup from what we’re familiar with. All new creations have to work with what we are familiar with, with what our senses can receive, and thus are they restricted to simply rearranging things to be slightly different yet comprehensible to the senses without pushing the limits too far, unless that is their goal.

This unfortunate restriction means we have cycles of stagnant material, bursts of creativity that change everything, and then a rapid decline back into a period of stagnation awaiting a sudden shock of innovation.

What brings all of this to mind is my eye on the MMO genre. Presently we’ve had a long period of duplication of World of Warcraft, copycats trying to cash in on its success, only to ultimately fail. Now we’re coming to a point of sudden change, where designers are trying to do something new, to alter the game, to make dynamic content, some have failed at their attempts, some are showing some degree of resilience, and yet one unreleased game is being foolishly hailed as the messiah of MMOs, Guild Wars 2. This will not be. It will no more be a messiah of MMOs than World of Warcraft was. All it will likely do is set the stage for the next period of stagnation.

Might it be fun? Perhaps. But we never know when to leave a good thing alone. We ride the fresh young horse to exhaustion and then we beat it until even the vultures won’t pick at it, until the dogs have no bones to chew upon.