Assassin's Creed

Setting Expectations for Infinity

Since its announcement a few months ago, there’s been a ton of speculation and a good handful of rumors floating about. Rather than adding to this, like I previously have, I’d rather take a step back and actually evaluate the most likely scenario for Infinity, and why I think it’s a single setting like the Mongolian Empire.


First of all, let’s take a look at what we know. The game is being headed by two studios for the first time, being Montreal and Quebec. While every game in the series had multiple support studios, there was only ever one head developer. Furthermore, we know the leading directors are Clint Hocking, Marc Alexis Cote, and Jonathan Dumont. Despite some allegations against the latter two, they do share a lot of experience in the Franchise. Cote was the exotic mission designer on Brotherhood (Leonardo Missions), Game Director on AC3, Creative Director on Freedom Cry, Tyranny of King Washington, and Syndicate, and a Senior Producer on Odyssey. Dumont was the World Director on Syndicate and Creative Director of Odyssey. Hocking, to the best of my knowledge, has not worked on Assassin’s Creed before but is famous for coining the term “Ludonarrative dissonance” and most recently was the creative director on Watch Dogs Legion.

There are many rumors and speculation surrounding this conjoined effort. Jason Schreier has stated that Montreal and Quebec have a rivalry and that working together like this has caused some tension. From what it sounds like, this was not a game pitched by these leads, but rather something that was to some extent forced on them. Multiple rumors indicated that Dumont and Quebec did not want to work on Odyssey, with multiple pre-release key arts showing that the original name indicated the game to be a spinoff, named “Odyssey – An Assassin’s Creed Adventure”, yet the game was forced to be a mainline entry, along with other forced changes by Serge Hascoet. While Odyssey fans may rejoice at this news, I remain worried. The project, by all means, being a platform for the next 10 years of Assassin’s Creed is not something I expect to be a creative decision, but a monetary one. Assassin’s Creed has been historically Ubi’s biggest cash cow, and even when every other game Ubisoft put out had dwindling sales that forced a re-evaluation of how they release games, Assassin’s Creed continued to sell well and pull in microtransaction sales. This, as a result, seems to be a pit to continue to draw MTX sales like other popular live service games.

That information, though, opens up the rumor mill and speculations. Some “insider” rumors have stated Infinity will be the AC to end all AC, and will be the ultimate hub for all AC adventures, big and small for the next 10 years. Other rumors say it’s akin to Fortnite or Apex Legends. Of these two, I think the latter is the more likely. Imagine each year there’s a new map, like Ancient Rome in year 1, and throughout the year Rome is updated throughout different time periods, and new stories and events unlock. This could definitely keep players coming back, but if it doesn’t have social and competitive aspects like Fortnite, the desire to keep coming back will wane, especially if players are afraid of missing out on content, which seems likely given current statistics. Presently, a year after launch, only 15% of players have actually completed the Order Ending and seen the actual ending of Valhalla. Only 5.5% have completed the DLC in Ireland, and not even 2% have completed the Paris DLC. Generally, about 10% of the fanbase will buy DLC, and they’ll be the most dedicated, so they’re more likely to complete it. Even Odyssey’s DLC had at least 15.5% start it, and episodic content has a far higher drop-off rate than single packages. For a game that still has another year of content ahead of it, and was touted as being one of the most profitable in the series, Valhalla appears to be struggling with player retention far more than Odyssey.

The short answer is that I don’t know why that is. I can take a stab at it and conjecture that perhaps Valhalla’s story was too long and bloated, or Odyssey’s build focus and mechanics provided more depth to the RPG fans that came with odyssey and Valhalla’s attempt to cater to both sides left both sides unhappy, or maybe Valhalla’s very buggy launch and continued buggy post-launch that seems to create as many problems as it does fixes every update has been a major turn off. Valhalla was the baby of 17 studios, behind a single leading studio. Literally, thousands of people worked on this game, and hundreds are still supporting it around the world a year later. It had 3 years of development time. What does Infinity have? 2 leading studios that reportedly don’t get along and don’t have a cohesive vision, starting development in early 2021? Most speculation thinks that it’ll be out in 2024, MAYBE 2025. But that’s what, 3 or 4 years development time to make a game bigger than Odyssey or Valhalla, and something that’s a base for the next 10 years?

I don’t think that’s realistic. Infinity will likely be using a new engine, and I suspect that Montreal 2 has been behind it (the team that made AC3’s Engine, though Unity’s Montreal team is open since Pioneer was canceled). New engines, though, means new problems. Developers may be unaware of how to best use the engine or certain quirks it may have. This was an issue with Unity and we saw it rectified with Syndicate.

u/BrunoHM concept piece

All these issues combined means that I don’t think an Animus hub of multiple games is feasible either. While u/BrunoHM crafted a beautiful idea here, this idea of having multiple different systems doesn’t seem possible. Let’s start off with the basics. Valhalla had 1000 people and 17 studios and it still uses a ton of repeated assets and locations around the world. While Valhalla’s asset pool appears to be almost entirely new, likely in part due to the changes to the engine’s lighting and rendering systems, it was just enough to make the world of Valhalla, even now that’s still upwards of 100GB. Secondly, even with all these human resources, the parkour is barely functional, level design is bland, the game is super buggy, and the AI is inconsistent, to name a few issues. These are issues I see brought up daily. Infinity might have more people, but they’re not going to realistically be bigger than odyssey or Valhalla. Even though we might agree that bigger isn’t better when people heard Valhalla might be a little smaller than Odyssey, there were a number of people who got very upset, so it seems likely that Infinity may try to be bigger than either at the start.

The Iron Triangle of Project Management (Waterfall Projects)

You may argue to just add more people to help make the project bigger, but this doesn’t actually work because of simple project management rules. To go into more detail, while I don’t know about Ubisoft specifically, nearly every AAA studio uses a hybridized project management style that leans heavily towards Agile processes. The minutia of that as a consumer doesn’t really matter, but the part that does is how Ubisoft likely prioritizes product development. In a traditional or waterfall development style you have what’s called the iron triangle. The triangle’s points are made up of cost and time/ schedule at the bottom, and scope at the top. The most important point is the top point, which is the scope, and any changes to the schedule or budget will affect the quality. In Agile, this is reversed. Agile is meant to deliver value to the publisher faster, so the most important things are cost and schedule, meaning they’ll cut scope to reach that predefined schedule and budget. This is important to think about when crashing a project or adding more people, because of Brooks’s Law. Essentially, in order for a developer to become fully productive on a project takes time, known as ramping up. Secondly, for every person added to a project, communication overhead goes up exponentially. The formula for calculating the number of communication channels is N * (N-1) / 2. So if you have 4 people on a project, you have 6 channels. 5 people would be 10 channels. 6 people is 15 channels, and it’ll keep going up and up. 1000 people would be 499,500 communication channels. Thus as more people come, it gets harder to track communication, which is very bad for agile projects which do not use as much documentation and rely more on quick design changes based on open communication. Finally and most importantly, we have the third part that states that adding more people to a task has a limit. This really only works for divisible tasks too. So if you have a hotel with 300 rooms, it only makes sense to hire a maximum of 300 maids to clean the room before you start stepping on toes, but then decreased work means there’ll be increased deficiencies, worse communication, and a higher likelihood of inconsistencies. But for task work that isn’t highly divisible, adding more people isn’t going to work. The best and most famous example of this is that it takes one woman 9 months to carry a baby to full term. You can’t just assign 9 women to carry the baby and give birth after 1 month. Many tasks are like this. They’ll take the time they take, and adding more people can just get in the way, so trying to crash outside of the critical path will just inflate the budget and not actually pay off.

So with all that in mind, and keeping Clint Hocking’s experience in mind, I think the most likely result is that we’ll see a game with a single setting that relies heavily on modular mechanics and systems that makes it easy to build out from. I think we’ll see a return of Odyssey’s heavier focus on RPG systems and many wide but not deep gameplay systems. If more than one setting is used, I think they’ll be similar settings, for use of repeated assets. Something like 14th century China and 16th century Japan. Each year would probably focus on a single area or type of setting to allow for easier asset reuse. So year 1 could be east Asia, looking at China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Countries that Buddhism played a heavy role in architecture. Year 2 could show the conquest of Aztecs, Mayan Highlands, and the Incas. More likely, though, I think is a single setting period, more akin to Valhalla, Odyssey, or Destiny 2. Having a single character that you can grow with over the course of the game will provide a stronger sense of attachment and encourage MTX purchases because the fans will feel like the purchase is worth it, because they’ll still be experiencing new stories with this character a year or two from now. It could be possible that they fuse this, and use a single system for character growth through RPG stats and gear, by following a single family through various settings, or even easier, follow a functionally immortal character like Kassandra through dozens of settings. Even if we don’t play as Kassandra due to mixed fan reactions, maybe Ubisoft will allow for a Legion system or character creation. Nicholas Flamel did create a Philosopher’s Stone in lore. Perhaps Kassandra isn’t the only character that’s functionally immortal?
This will not be the game to satisfy every fan. It’s just not feasible from any standpoint, especially from a project management standpoint. With that, it seems unlikely a Unity style Animus Hub or evolving map will exist, instead, I think the most likely is tacking on more and more locales and following a single large setting like the Mongolian Empire, or following a functionally immortal character and spending a year in a macro-environment such as Central America or East Asia with a heavy emphasis on RPG mechanics that encourage MTX sales.


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