Friday, January 22, 2010

Assassin's Ramble, pt.3: Story Immersion

So far, I've described how Assassin's Creed 2 was enjoyable but mostly for its nut-gathering. And that the core mechanic should do more to incentivize being invisible over smashing to immerse you in the roll of an assassin. And that the story, though serviceable, is hardly "game of the year" material, and does quite a bit to hurt immersion.

All leading to this post, which will be about the time AC2 most immersed me, and how more of the same might be the best way to make a transcendent experience.

When Story Worked
There was a section of the game that really worked for me. I'm not sure how best to describe it, but when I first arrived in a "Thieve's Guild" kind of location and was taught how to do high vertical jumps on walls, there was a string of missions that seemed focus on a specific kill target, and where each mission seemed a stage of prep to that kill. This mission-string format was echoed in former and latter sections, but never as well, and were I doing the next AC game, I would find focus on why.

Previously, I described that planning would make me feel more assassin but that building planning gameplay would probably lead to fail-based progression that disrupts immersion. But playing missions with results that build up to an assassination mission makes me feel like I did the preparation and orchestrated its events, even if they play out in a scripted manner; and the last mission should be a final celebration of these actions more than a complicated gameplay task (though one could arise as a twist).

A Proposal
A proposal for a string of missions leading to an assassination might be:
  • Clearly identify the target and obstacle(s) to assassinating it.
  • Have each mission end in overcoming or introducing an obstacle.
  • In the final mission, trigger events that highlight previous mission activities via action or script.
Through the vast majority of play in AC2, I felt disconnected from my assassination target, and did not feel like I was progressing towards it through action rather than completing whatever the game threw in front of me to have the chance for the kill. Some simple rules would help focus on story with few gameplay additions to make you feel like you are orchestrating an assassination. It also follows the structure of the most basic story (protagonist, goal, obstacle to overcome). And to improve the story, you could add more requirements:
  • In each string of missions, require a choice from the assassin (can be scripted; it needn't be the player's choice) needed to overcome his obstacles and near his (assassination) objective, and that highlights (for better or worse) the protagonist's primary internal struggle. (But Desmond's or the assassin's?)
  • In each string of missions, introduce a new obstacle or target in the overall storyline.
Even more requirements -- e.g., that every other assassination be unique -- could also add some nice spice. Having one mission end in poisoning a victim, another driving a carriage to a straightaway towards a cliff, and another in stabbing a cornered villain in an alleyway does more to make me feel like a master assassin than jumping on a guy and stabbing him every time.

Another game I remember pulling off this approach effectively is Sly Cooper 2. The process of implementing story in this way requires planning but the execution is not as costly as re-approaching core gameplay systems; and the result is going a lot further in making me feel like a master assassin.

A few last odds and ends on Monday.


  1. Like Mass Effect I could've done without the long and tiresome trips between here and there. There was that one long ass horse ride where I'd hook up my mp3 player or even NPR radio to my headphones just to numb the boredom.

    I agree about there being disconnect with the assassination missions. There wasn't that great sense of accomplishment after the deed was done for me. In my opinion they should have built up the anticipation to each assassination so that some didn't feel repetitive. But aside from that and a few other quirks it was a great game, def not the 10/10 everyone was giving it but great nonetheless.

  2. Thanks for the comment. :-) I agree on it being fun. It feels weird rambling so much, but I like talking about the pros and cons even of games I really liked. Sometimes especially so...

  3. Hey how did you feel about the whole [spoiler] aliens from the future thing?

  4. Wow. I actually forgot that that happened. I think I was indifferent enough to the story at that point that I just kind of shrugged and went on with things... unfortunately.