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Game design, like live theater or local news weather reporting, is an exact science. Nevertheless, sometimes elements get cut, changed, repurposed, or laughed right out of the design spec.
Ubisoft recently debuted Assassin’s Creed III, the stealthy action-adventure title due out this October for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC. At the premiere event, freshly minted franchise Creative Director Alex Hutchinson took a break from unveiling a game we want more of to pull back the curtain slightly on a game that will never be. “You tend to play the first draft of a video game,” said Hutchinson, but he intends to deliver something a few revisions down the line. By way of proof, he showed us a four things that didn’t survive the first round of edits.
Try to contain your disappointment. The much-maligned tower defense minigames from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations just don’t have a place in colonial America, as it turns out. Hutchinson stays fairly diplomatic on the reasons, pointing out that long-running franchises often feel compelled to demonstrate continual growth: “You tend to start adding more and more features.” Luckily, his team didn’t feel that pressure. “One of the nice things about [protagonist] Connor and Assassin’s Creed III in general is that we can go back to our roots and make sure all the mechanics we’re building focus on either exploring history or being an assassin.”
While Connor, our new assassin on the block, might pay a call for the Continental Congress — or even co-sign the Declaration of Independence, for all we know — it’ll only happen in cutscenes. Early plans called for the frequent revolutionary capital of Philadelphia (when the Founders didn’t vacate it to avoid being captured or killed) to be a playable map. Then, according to Hutchinson, they actually looked at what they had to work with. “We mocked it up, and you know, Philly’s built on a grid. It’s flat, and the avenues are just super-wide,” he said. In other words, in order to make an accurate Philadelphia, you must subtract all the fun out of the open-world, parkour-based gameplay.
Blades on a chain
Take one part hidden blade and two parts Blades of Chaos — Kratos’ standard weapon in the God of War franchise — and you’ve got the recipe for the best weapon in the history of Assassin’s Creed. Sure, everyone feels obligated to mess with Creed’s signature spring-loaded dagger (hook blade, anyone?), but sticking it on the end of a retractable chain? Genius. Sadly, his whip-fast deathbringer made it ridiculously easy to fillet entire companies of Redcoats from 20 feet away. That’s right: It was simply too awesome. Now the hidden blade stays firmly attached to your wrist, though you will often pair it with a hatchet. And you will get a faint echo of the chain-blade mechanics in the finished game. It’s called the Chinese rope dart, and it’s a one-time-use weapon. Ah, the rampages that will never be….
Mere seconds after showing a roomful of journalists target gameplay footage (i.e., not real gameplay footage) of half-Mohican Connor scalping a target, Hutchinson announced that Connor wouldn’t actually scalp anyone in the finished game. Certainly, it makes a bad finishing move, since peeling someone’s mop off isn’t necessarily fatal. But despite everything happening off-camera — Connor leaned down with a knife and came up with the scalp — the gruesomeness of the act itself turned the team off. “It sorta poisons the game,” said Hutchinson.
Right or wrong, that didn’t stop developer Neversoft from including the practice as an option in their 2005 western Gun….