Assassin’s Creed III – Naval Missions
- Company: Ubisoft
- Role: Level Design Director
- Period: October 2010 – October 2012
- Tools: 3DSMax / Anvil Engine (In house Engine)
- Platforms: X360 / PS3 / PC
The Naval Missions in Assassin’s Creed 3 are one of the game’s biggest breakthroughs, solely developed by the team in Singapore. It was clear from the start of pre-production that setting a game in the American Revolution could not be done without including naval battles at sea. We wanted to create something that felt like a natural extension of Assassin’s Creed rather than an exotic game-mode. Key in this was creating a game where you still played as the Assassin and not as the ship and then basing the naval gameplay on the 3 main pillars of Assassin’s Creed, Navigation, Combat and Social Stealth.
This was an incredibly challenging endeavor the Singapore studio undertook, in 2 years we had to create a brand new gameplay from scratch with over 4 hours of high quality content for the biggest release of 2012. The biggest challenge in the entire project had to be the missions themselves, there was no reference point as to what would work and what wouldn’t in a naval context. We prototyped a lot, we failed a lot, but in the end I believe we found a really strong breakthrough for vehicle based combat games.
As Level Design Director I was one of the first developers on the project and responsible for defining the scope and vision for the game. As production progressed it was necessary for me to go hands-on and set a benchmark vision for what the missions should be. I worked full time on this mission (Biddle’s Hideout below) to create a solid E3 demo which was shown on the Sony Stage 2012 and was a big reason behind AC3 winning so many awards at the show. From that strong foundation with our benchmark defined and our first level almost complete I was able to step back and give a more global direction to the other designers and things progressed very quickly.
Main Sequence Missions
The following Naval Missions are part of AC3’s main narrative. These missions involved a very close collaborative approach between the teams in Singapore and Montreal to make sure the pacing and consistency of the main walkthrough worked.
Sequence 1: Journey to the New World
After the assassination at the opera house, Haytham travels to America to continue his search for The Temple. Journey is the story of how Haytham travelled from London to Boston and what happens on the way. The voyage takes almost 3 months and the challenge was to convey a passing of time, but at the same time not bore the player. During the 3 months there are 5 Key moments that the player experiences, which allow us to show a variety of settings and conditions. At the start of the voyage there is fight tutorial involving other sailors, then Haytham investigates a possible mutiny, before an enemy ship attacks and they head for a storm, then arriving in Boston.
This was an incredibly challenging mission to produce, not just due to its sheer size, but by being the second mission in the game it went through many script iterations. This was even more challenging due to the remoteness of the Singapore studio. Add on to this the technical challenges associated with such a narrative heavy level on a moving boat and there were time we thought it might not be possible. However I think the end result was worth it really adds something unique and spectacular to the start of the game.
Sequence 5: The Hard Way
Sequence 5 ends with Connor restoring the Aquila, but there is one thing missing – Cannons! Connor and Faulkner set sail for Martha’s Vineyard where they should find them. On reaching the Vineyard, Faulkner recruits Richard and David Clutterbuck to man their newly acquired cannons. However a chance encounter with Templars Benjamin Church and Nicholas Biddle sets things on edge. After practicing with the cannons the Aquila is attacked by some British ships, time to give them a taste of your new hardware.
The biggest challenge involved with this mission was how many new things we had to teach to the player. Because the next mandatory naval mission was not until Sequence 9 it meant that we had to teach as much of the naval gameplay as possible here. As it was a tutorial mission, it could have easily become boring, but we spent a lot of time iterating on the small details to make sure the level was as polished as possible. Playtest feedback regularly showed that this was one of the most appreciated missions in the game.
Sequence 9: A Bitter End
Sequence 9 as with Sequence 5 ends with a naval mission and the assassination of Benjamin Church. Church was wanted by both the British and Americans, Templars and Assassins for stealing supplies and passing intelligence to both sides, in it for his own personal gain. Connor and Haytham work together to catch him and using the Aquila track him to the Caribbean heading for Martinique. The first ship they find is a decoy and they soon spot another and give chase, but this second ship only leads them to an ambush. Connor deals with the escort, but before he can board Church’s ship Haytham takes the wheel and rams the Aquila into it, leaping aboard aiming to get to Church first. Connor must clear the deck of enemies before heading below and finishing Church.
This level was one of the earliest to be built and was a result of a successful prototype involving a chase with dynamic winds and obstacles.
Sequence 11: Battle of Chesapeake
Chesapeake was THE turning point for the revolution as it prevented the British reinforcing Yorktown, their eventual surrender at Yorktown leading to negotiations on American independence. The main battle was between over 40 massive ships of the line, with no clear victor, but the French were able to hold the British for long enough. The Aquila’s role in the battle is to stop British ships which break away from the main fleet and head into the harbour. The Aquila takes on wave after wave until all her allies are defeated and every cannon onboard destroyed, the only thing left is for Connor to board the last vessel himself and destroy it from the inside.
We knew at the start of production that Chesapeake had to be in the game, it was too pivotal not to be included, but we also knew we would never be able to show 40 Man-of-War all fighting in formation (and it wouldn’t be that exciting either). We spent the majority of the time focusing on the ambiance and making you feel like you are taking part in this enormous battle (smoldering shipwrecks, fights in the distance) whilst cranking up the battles to include as many ships as we possibly could.
Nicholas Biddle was an American Naval hero and in Assassin’s Creed 3 a Templar. He is Connor’s main antagonist in the Naval Missions, but as with the rest of the Templars in the game – it is not as simple as good versus evil.
Mission 1: The Chase
A Merchant ship is under attack from British gunboats as it is returns to Martha’s Vineyard, defend the ship and destroy the mines to clear a path. Small British ships wouldn’t be acting alone in the area, so Connor gives chase once the merchant is safe, they lead him to a British Fort that was supposed to be abandoned attacks as Connor must destroy the Fort and protect the Vineyard.
Mission 2: The Rescue
It is revealed Nicholas Biddle was influencing the attacks on Martha’s Vineyard and this time he is here in person to attack another Merchant vessel. Connor climbs the mast to locate the sound of cannon fire as a huge storm is approaching. As Connor sails to the rescue of the stranded merchant ship the storm continues to get worse, Connor is able to save the merchant and defeat the British but Biddle escapes into the storm.
Mission 3: French Involvement
The French ship Belladonna is smuggling arms into America. Nicolas Biddle was supposed to be their escort but is nowhere to be seen, Connor senses a trap. The Belladonna and Aquila fight side by side to defeat the British ambush. During the fight a British Man-of-War appears and destroys the Belladonna’s mast leaving her incapacitated. Connor needs to know more about Biddle’s involvement in the matter and elects to board the Man-of-War.
Mission 4: Biddle’s Hideout
Connor tracks Biddle to the Caribbean where Biddle was last seen, he gives chase and is ambushed by a British fleet. The Aquila sinks the fleet and Connor boards the Randolph for a final showdown with Biddle.
I personally built this mission from conception to an alpha state to be shown at E3 on the Sony stage. This created a benchmark proving that fun naval missions were possible and influenced the structure and pacing of the rest of the missions produced.
The Privateer Contracts are our version of the “Toy” Missions found in the cities – Assassination Contracts/Tax Collectors/Rescue Civilian etc. By completing contracts you de-risk trade routes, allowing you to send cargo via sea for profit. These missions are much lighter on narrative, they don’t have cinematics or scripted dialog, instead relying on the game mechanics and environmental narrative to tell a story. They are much simpler and shorter missions, but due to the tight combat mechanics they are great fun and were a quick way for us to prototype and prove what was fun or not. They also offer lots more variety and allow us to reuse much of our content in new and novel ways.
“The other location is simply ‘the sea’. The naval battles. The pirate treasure. The fantastic, explosive, death-defying escapes from burning forts or collapsing glaciers. The scream and whistle of cannon fire flying overhead as you and your crew brace yourself on board your ship. The ship controls themselves are fantastic; the camera’s still fixed behind Connor, at the wheel, so there’s a sense of being in the thick of the action while Men O’ War come hurtling down on you as you unleash fire on these leviathans of the sea. Cinematically they’re excellent, the control you have over your ship is fantastic, and they’re far and away the most exciting part of the game. It’s unusual to find something entirely optional to be the must-have draw of a game, but both the naval battles and the sidequests relating to Captain Kidd’s treasure are definitely a strong contender for ‘best reason to play Assassin’s Creed 3’.” – The Telegraph
“The naval battles are a particular standout – manoeuvring your ship to deliver broadsides against a hulking Man o’ War or chain-shot through the mast of a British warship is exhilarating” – Eurogamer
“…the naval combat’s indisputably terrific!” – Kotaku
“Assassin’s Creed 3 gives you a boat, some cannons, and the reason to use them. Naval missions aren’t the groan-inducing misstep that Revelations’ tower defense element was. They depend on good positioning and out-thinking the enemy while accounting for wind and dangerous terrain waiting to wreck your ship. They are violent and bombastic and excellent, and the only thing missing is more of them.” – Polygon
“I love the brief but tense sea battles, and both the ships and the high seas look gorgeous. Naval fights offer the perfect break from the normal game flow; they’re rousing and exciting, but simple and short enough to not keep you away from the rest of the gameplay.” – Game Informer
“Of particular note are the dozens of mostly optional naval missions. There’s something extremely satisfying about how easy it is to captain Connor’s own ship, the Aquila, as you hunt down British fleets or privateers. The missions in storms are just exhilarating, huge waves crashing over the rails as you frantically steer to loose broadside cannon fire on your pursuers.” – The Escapist
“The naval missions, particularly, are a real highlight: they’re dramatic and novel, and the feeling of steering the ship against the ocean’s swell and battling through unfavourable winds is really convincing.” – IGN