The Assassin’s Creed series has stood as one of the big tent pole titles of the year since it was first released.
They bring players to notable time periods and give them a chance to be a part of history—albeit fictional history—fighting alongside historical figures, and diving into what makes the worlds so exciting and memorable. The latest release Assassin’s Creed Valhalla introduced a new hero, along with an entirely new way to experience the series—now with siege warfare and new ways to work along with AI controlled companions in your quest for greatness.
With the new expansion on its way, and players having a new chance to dive into the universe of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, we thought it was the perfect chance to deliver an interview we had with Game Director: Eric Baptizat; and get a sense of the scope they were looking to deliver, and how it will be expanding as more updates and DLC are released. As one of the more exciting entries in the series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has proven to be one that players will want to stick around for, and it is these early design choices that make it so memorable and exciting for so many.
CGMagazine: I want to quickly touch on what made you or what made you and the team at Ubisoft want to visit this time period in this culture for this game?
Eric Baptizat: One element that was interesting for us is the clash and the encounter between two cultures—the Norse coming from Norway and meeting the Saxon. It was two nations that are meeting, and have different cultures, different beliefs; and they needed to co-exist. They needed to find a way to live together. And something was appealing here to make you believe Vikings as people imagine.
But also to make you discover England and what was the reality at this time period. We found it very interesting because there were so many stories and so many myths. There was a political situation, which was very unstable and that was interesting to convey into a new story and to live a different experience.
CGMagazine: Often in this time period, the Vikings are often portrayed as the villains of the story. How did you as a studio work to make them relatable and a group that people could latch onto and follow.
Eric Baptizat: So, at first, we had the character vision of the Norse, and of the time—which has to have very important literature—and as soon as we started studying the time period, looking at it, we quickly discovered that in fact, there were also many traders, settlers, and it was not only about war, but it was a clan. So it was trying to survive and to settle and to expand. And there were some very interesting events. Also, the merchants of the time period and the crazy trading network; it was very interesting.
We put a focus on that reality on the fact that some people are trying to survive—and to make a survival plan they need to move, and need to establish elsewhere. And we wanted the player to experience this reality, and to see what it is the responsibility of a clan or to take care of the people. So it was the reality of history. And we put the player in the shoes of those people. We didn’t make them more acceptable, we just put back the reality as it was, and moved away from the preconceived ideas that people have.
CGMagazine: With Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla I see you are carrying forward the concept from Odyssey—where you do have a male and female character leads. Did you have to create two entirely different storylines? And if it did lend itself so well, what about the development process made it so conducive to allowing for the character choice; and having a piece of the story throughout?
Eric Baptizat: So, the biggest challenge for us who are related to the story was reliving the story of our ancestor. Some things that are plausible, you can have a choice. But for us, from the beginning it was about increasing the number of choices for the player. So, it was natural to have a choice of gender but also be able to change it on the spot at any time.
CGMagazine: Oh! You can change it at any time?
Eric Baptizat: Yeah! We want to increase the possibilities for the player and not try to change them. So, it goes for everything: for accessibility options, difficulty options, even the skill tree. We have a gigantic skill tree. The player won’t be able to complete everything. So we will have to choose this path, but it’s super easy to change the option and to say, “let me move all my skills and try another one.”
It’s the kind of mood we wanted—to give more opportunities for the player to define themselves a different experience, and to customize it and personalize it. And there are many customization options for the character. Also, in terms of the physics of his look at the top part of the game, it’s part of this idea to allow the player to express themselves.
CGMagazine: I want to quickly touch on the fact that this is a long-running series, and you have had countless games to draw from. Was there anything you said had to be in this game? And were there some things you said, “we’ve used in the past, but for this Assassin’s Creed, we want to expand and leave that to make a new experience for players?” And if so, what did you choose to leave out or carry forward?
Eric Baptizat: So, it is always hard to deal with in terms of production. Because of that, I have many features in the game. So, with the feedback of people, even some who said they love some features, it was so great before, why don’t you do it again? And we’ll have people say “it was good one time, but we need to have something new.” So it’s the feedback we receive every day; and also the way we choose what we push, is just by saying “what we are trying to achieve?” So, in this case, our objective was to create this pure Viking experience. And one element that was very interesting for us is the fact that when you come as a Norse into England, you are not welcome.
Like if you are moving into a village people are not going to show up. If you’re not careful they will gather and come to investigate, and you will need to be careful; because you are not welcome in this place. And this suddenly makes sense for us to insert our social status mechanics that came from the first Assassin’s Creed. And to put back the core elements: to bring back the hidden blade, or bring back the social blending. Those elements work perfectly, also the fact that we want to be undetected, and to experience England within the world of Assassin’s Creed.
CGMagazine: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey blended myth and reality. Was there a want in this game to do the same, or did you want to keep it as historically accurate as possible? Well, as accurate as the history texts allow it to be?
Eric Baptizat: So, our game is more grounded, so we wanted to have something closer to reality. But what is interesting is that it was a time period where belief was part of daily life. The people viewed the gods as something that was always present. So we play a lot with this period, but the game is more grounded then what we had in the past.
CGMagazine: Now, I just want to quickly touch on the storyline and how, looking back on the legacy of Assassin’s Creed up to this point; did you want to include any aspects from other games, story-wise?
Eric Baptizat: So basically, it is a mix. The player doesn’t need to know or to have played any Assassin’s Creed games before. Newcomers can play and understand all the elements of the story. But there is some link to the past lore and to the past stories. There are connections everywhere in the game. So if you play the game again, you will see all the links that we do. It’s a mix, but it’s not a requirement at all.
CGMagazine: I have one last question: just about development: Assassin’s Creed games are massive. They have countless missions, and there’s a lot involved in terms of motion capture, voice acting, etc. What were the biggest challenges that you faced for this game, or that your team faced; and how did you overcome them?
Eric Baptizat: So, the biggest challenge is to deliver when you go from Norway to England. You need to deliver the experience of Norway—and then you go to England, which is a full country. So your challenge is to have something which gives you the feeling that you can go everywhere without having every centimeter of the country. To find a good balance of scale, to get this feeling of distance; as this feeling of a big country, without having something which is just taking five days to cross. So it’s finding this balance of scale and enjoyment. It’s the scale in terms of geographical scale, and in terms of story. Like when you go to a place, you need to have sufficient experience that makes sense for the size of the territory. So this was quite a challenge for us.
Another one, which was not a challenge, but it was more an element that we didn’t want it to miss is how to translate the reality of the Norse in the best way possible while delivering something true to reality. And when you play, you feel like what you are doing in the game is what was happening in reality. So, we wanted to stay true to this and to translate this in the story but also through the game mechanics.
CGMagazine: You mentioned just capturing the landscape and the time period of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. How was the decision to include realistic locations and events blended with the want to make something that is fun and accessible to a player?
Eric Baptizat: So basically, we start with historical studies as we look at the time period. We have studied famous locations, the people, and the biggest battles. We have a natural selection of elements that we cannot miss. So, we start by creating those then after we have some more interesting locations for placing. And we build a proposal that targets the biggest points while still being manageable for the player. So it’s a team effort, but it’s based on a lot of research, starting with historical research verification of facts.
CGMagazine: Thank you so much, Anything else you want to add before I let you go? What players should keep a note of when they do finally get to jump into this game this fall?
Eric Baptizat: I think something players will need to know is that the game is a different experience compared to a game in the past. So the way to play everything like where you are going interacts with the war, exploitation is different. So it’s a new game flow. It doesn’t play the same way. So it will surprise the player, and some elements will be unexpected in the way that you are going to play. We have tech references based on games from the past, but it’s a unique experience compared to what we had before.
CGMagazine: Thank you so much for your time.