Talking Narrative and RPG Choice in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
While attending a hands-on event for Ubisoft's newest Assassin's Creed entry: Odyssey, I was fortunate enough to sit for a few minutes with Melissa McCoubrey, the Narrative director, who was happy to share some insights, answer questions, and share personal excitement for this outstanding project (my opinion).
MMO: Assassin's Creed Odyssey dates hundreds of years before AC: Origins which would mean that the Hidden Ones don't exist yet, can you explain what bings the AC story this much farther back?
Mel: So this is an issue that concerns a lot of people, I get this one a lot. It's actually one of my favorites because we knew that our productions were going to be closely tied between Origins and Odyssey that there was a good chunk of time where we were [working] it at the same time. We knew that we were going to come approximately 400 years before Origins and that Origins was doing a lot of set up. I mean it was called Origins after all.
One of the things that has always been fascinating for me when I look at the lore is kind of what builds the foundations of the lore. The fact that we have the ideologies behind the Templars, freedom versus order, chaos versus order, that kind of thing, and our ties to the First Civilization. Going back farther allows us to look at what those connections can be. So, I can't spoil very much for you on this because I would love it if you could play it. (laughs) But it was always a huge part for me to be able to explore those ideologies and what it means to really build up this huge role that we have seen for this last decade of Assassin's Creed games and all that it's built up and what it means to be the "one who came before" and how that all ties in. And then again we have that nice tie with mythology: what it means in this culture and how that can actually tie to the first civilization and how we can merge that. It's very exciting.
MMO: In conversing with people here and people I work with and other players I've noticed a lot more interest in Kassandra. Have you noticed the same thing; is the information showing a higher interest in the female role?
Mel: I don't know any of the statistics, unfortunately, I'm probably the wrong person to ask. It has been incredible to see the community outreach in response to both characters. We have Fan Art Fridays at the office now where we show a whole bunch of the fan art that people have been doing. We've always had a very supportive community, but there just seems to be so much passion and creativity for this game that I haven't noticed as much of in the past, so it's been really cool to see. We had so many cosplayers come out to Gamescom with a perfect replica of the E3 outfits that you could wear, and it just blows my mind. And of course, being a woman in the industry it is very exciting to see a lot of women come out and cosplay as Kassandra. We got a little bit of that with Evie as well, but it is her (Kassandra) as a character that you can play for the entire experience that is really cool to see come to life.
MMO: In reference to the romance options; why is it important to have them in this one?
Mel: There are a couple of ways to get to that. We have choice at the center of the game, so it didn't make a lot of sense to have romance forced as part of the story where you don't have a choice involved. For a long time, I was very scared to add romance because I thought that it needed to be treated in a different way than the rest of the roleplay in the game. Neither did the team. We didn't want to make a romance where you just obsessively click on a heart and then somebody loves you, or you just give them gifts and they magically love you. That's not how it works, and I was very scared because I was like, "Oh no, it's gonna be complex and hard!", and it is.
For us having choice-based romance is extremely experimental. It's like a brand-new thing, and we designed it in such a way that it depends on the person you're talking to and the context of the situation. We have a separate romance hub that allows you to, once you start developing relationships with someone; yes, the heart icon is on screen, so you know that you're going to start flirting with this person, but then it depends on who that person is, what they like to hear that can appeal to them. Or not. So, you're not always guaranteed to get that outcome, and that's kind of what life is like; or so I've found anyway. I haven't really tried the gift giving method, but... (laughs).
So, for us it's new, it's very exciting, and it will be exciting to see what players think of it as they go through. We wanted to give them choice in partners and the way they interact with people and the different kind of stories they could tell through that.
MMO: Of all the weapons that have been introduced what is your favorite? What makes you go "Wow! I love this!"?
Mel: There's a lot of good ones, let's be honest. Narratively speaking I'm a big fan of The Spear of Leonidas. I think it's one of the weapons with the most personality because there is a narrative meaning to it. So probably that one. It isn't actually the weapons that excites me the most, there is an ability I like the best and it's the Shield Break move. Because I love to be able to take someone else's shield and smack them in the face with it. It just feels very satisfying. A lot of people, and I agree too, feel this satisfaction when they do the Spartan Kick and it feels good when you watch it as well. But I get kind of the same thrill from the Shield Break technique, like, "Oh this is so cool!", and like, "Done!".
MMO: Ubisoft is known for its inclusionary policies and themes, can you share some insights into the ways the narrative of Odyssey incorporates those views and do you feel that it challenges the boundaries of those views in this arena? And can you give me some examples?
Mel: I think, specifically, the Assassin's Creed franchise has always tried to be inclusive and diverse and we see that from the opening statements of the game, as well. And it has progressively become more inclusive as we move forward, and that is super exciting. I think when you're in a landscape where this is a world of so much diversity but also we're including choice in this game that it makes a lot of sense to be open and inclusive because we are trying to appeal to different playstyles, different relationships between players and characters, main characters, and the game experience in general that you have to be inclusive. I think it's a fantastic way to go, I am a huge advocate for that kind of stuff. I am very proud of the inclusivity of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, for sure. We can only hope that it moves forward from there.