There are many ways to tell a story through videogames. Something Assassin’s Creed IV lead writer Darby McDevitt wanted this time around, however, was to make sure Black Flag‘s world would help influence and tell the story—beyond expected arcs about buried treasure, damsels in distress, and massive naval battles associated with pirates.
Talking to EGM, McDevitt explained how part of this more subtle form of storytelling through environments starts with the major hub cities.
“You know, our cities are very different. Our city designers have been given a mandate to make sure Kingston has its own flavor. Kingston was a British colony, and the British were probably the worst proponents of slavery at the time, so we’re going to have them come across as the most adamant proponents of slavery,” McDevitt tells EGM. “They were also the worst behaved, so Kingston has to feel more like a town built on slavery and sailors and plantations and things like that.
“Havana was controlled by the Spanish, and they were a lot more—I don’t want to say ‘nice,’ because there’s nothing nice about slavery—but they have a lot more rules in place about buying and selling slaves. It was much less common, so Havana feels different. It feels more Western European. Even the crowd flow is different, so you can tell stories on that scale.”
The cities in Black Flag only make up a small portion of the world you will explore, though. With some 75 uncharted locations in the game, there’s more than plenty of wilderness to explore and tame as well— within the main story.
“You can be wandering through a jungle and a tree has fallen over and there’s a dead body under it, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, what happened there?’ We’re trying to hit all of those levels, and I’ve found a lot of the little details have surprised me even as the writer,” explains McDevitt. “I think we’re putting a lot more care into that small detail of stripped environmental storytelling, and I hope that comes through to a much greater degree. So yeah, we’re trying to hit a broad sweep of storytelling through the entire world itself.”
Darby’s desire to change how the Assassin’s Creed series tells its stories doesn’t end with adding greater emphasis on environments servicing narrative. The writer also wants to see the ties between the past and the present featured more prominently—something he actively focused on while penning Black Flag.
“We designed the present story to kind of mirror Edward’s place in the story, too. I’ve always felt that the present day stories existed on different planes, you know,” says McDevitt. “Desmond had his thing going on, he was always going back into assassins’ memories to look for stuff, but the themes didn’t always match up. I did like that there was a nice father-son conflict in ACIII in the present and the past, so that was cool. For ACIV, we wanted keep a little bit of that going. But I can’t say any more than that.”
For more on Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag—launching on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U October 29 with PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions to follow—be sure to check out EGM #260, available on newsstands everywhere now.