I recently rattled off 50 details about Assassin's Creed III, details I learned when I sat through an hour-long demo of the October 2012 game with the lead creators on the project.
There's a 51st detail I've been waiting to tell you about (and a 52nd). As a longtime player of the series and, yes, a fan, I considered it the most promising thing that creative director Alex Hutchinson told me about the new game.
But if you're not a series veteran it might be lost on you.
"The rule is no identical loops," Hutchinson said about the new game.
Great news, right? Or do do you need me to explain that?
Throughout the presentation of this new AC, Hutchinson and producer Francois Pelland talked about the fatigue series players may feel when they see the same animations or do the same things. There have been four core Assassin's Creed games in nearly as many years and they know people itch for a change.
It's easy for them to make it seem like they're delivering a ton of change. Their AC is in a new century (18th), on a new continent (North America) and stars a new assassin (Connor). They're even promising they're scrapping most of the animations from the older games — not the eagle dive, that's staying.
The truth is, however, that all that might as well be a new coat of paint. This, thankfully, is something the creators know. And they know what's actually more important to change: the gameplay loops.
"The features are dangerous to repeat," Hutchinson said. "But, actually, why you do a feature and what you get for doing it are even more dangerous. That's where the secret fatigue is: 'I did this to get that to unlock this other thing.' When those are identical, you start to be like,: '[groans]' There's no magic in it anymore."
No loops! I asked about climbing to the tops of tall buildings to survey a city and fill in the map. That's a classic AC loop of action and reward that was made more complex with the need to fight to seize the survey points atop Borgia Towers in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Sure, that's a more interesting way to evolve a loop, Hutchinson and Pelland said, but they want us to be surprised. (They wouldn't nail down exactly how they're handling the climbing-to-survey thing, to be clear.)
If they're not repeating old loops, one has to assume we won't have our hero buying art or books to improve a town, that he won't be pulling wanted posters (ditched in AC: Revelations) or bribing town criers to get out of trouble. Hutchinson and Pelland weren't being that specific, but if they're true to their rule, that's what they're promising and that is what will make AC III feel fresh to those of us who have played all the games.
I should also tell you about the second-best thing I heard about Assassin's Creed III. Back when the first Assassin's Creed came out, the game was clearly about stealth: Run the roofs, sneak up on the guards. Pounce in broad daylight. Disappear. AC II was like that. Brotherhood, too.
Last year's Assassin's Creed Revelations, however, debuted with an E3 presentation that highlighted the hero's ability to toss bombs and use one boat's flamethrower to burn a harbor full of other boats. Not stealth. The final game allowed for more stealthy maneuvers than that, but it wasn't how the game was pitched to the public.
I asked Hutchinson and Pelland where AC III will stand in the spectrum of AC games. Were we moving toward action-movie material like Revelations again?
"We're much more ACII than the games that followed," Hutchinson said. "We don't like things that are historically inaccurate. We don't like things that are too fantasy. We don't like things that are too over the top. I feel like one of the driving forces in AC is this earnestness and this rich history behind it. Every time you go closer to other games, you lose some magic. So, for sure we're not going there."
"Maybe a little bit of the feeling you got in ACR is that you're less of an assassin or had less of a feeling that your core job was to assassinate and be stealthy," Pelland said. "With Connor and with AC III this is very, very clear."