‘Assassin’s Creed 3’ writer Corey May adds revolutionary details

Oct. 31, 2012 | 8:00 a.m.
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Connor prepares to make a sneak attack on a Redcoat in Boston in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor fights in the Battle of Bunker Hill in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor free-runs through a highway of trees on the American frontier in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor takes out some Redcoats in Boston in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor uses his bow and arrow to hunt wild game on the American frontier in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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"Assassin's Creed III" includes naval warfare gameplay -- a new feature for the franchise. (Ubisoft)

ac3 sc sp 32 sd naval theencounter Assassins Creed 3 writer Corey May adds revolutionary details

"Assassin's Creed III" includes naval warfare gameplay -- a new feature for the franchise. (Ubisoft)

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A view of 18th century Boston in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor wields a pistol and a tomahawk in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

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Connor on horseback in the New York countryside in a scene from "Assassin's Creed III." (Ubisoft)

The “Assassin’s Creed” video game franchise has built its reputation on wedding action and adventure to history with fastidious attention to detail. “Assassin’s Creed III,” released Tuesday for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, is no different. Nearly all of the major characters are real historical figures from the American Revolution, the locations are designed from blueprints from the Colonial era and the events that form the game’s backdrop will be familiar to anyone who studied U.S. history in high school.

Though the game’s creators at Ubisoft had far more access to historical records and documents than in previous games — the first set during the Third Crusade, the second in Renaissance Italy — it was the ambiguities in those records that allowed the game’s writers their greatest creative freedom, namely, to invent an action-filled narrative that might plausibly tie together historical facts.

“We’re all about playing with gaps and spaces and unknowns,” said Corey May, the game’s lead writer. “We have this great record of what happened and when it happened and where it happened, but the questions of how and why are actually not so easily explained. We can’t say for sure who fired the first shot in the American Revolution to this day.”

REVIEW: ‘Assassin’s Creed 3,’ an alternate history, with footnotes

That question and numerous others are explored in “Assassin’s Creed III,” which has been building buzz since its Revolutionary War setting was unveiled in March. Early reviews been overwhelmingly positive, and the game is outpacing its predecessors in sales. “Assassin’s Creed III” more than doubled pre-orders for 2011’s “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations,” the previous record-holder, Ubisoft announced last week.

corey may Assassins Creed 3 writer Corey May adds revolutionary details

Corey May, the lead writer for “Assassin’s Creed III.” (Ubisoft)

The game is the final installment in an overarching story about present-day Desmond Miles, who comes from a long line of Assassins — members of an order devoted to preserving free will. Throughout history, the Assassins have battled the Order of the Knights Templar, who seek to create a perfect world at the cost of free will. Desmond Miles uses a device called the Animus to inhabit the memories of his ancestors, beginning with Altaïr, a disgraced assassin who lived during the Third Crusade. Later games focused on Ezio, an Assassin who lived in Italy during the Renaissance.

When the Ubisoft team decided “Assassin’s Creed III” would be set during the American Revolution, they wanted to create a new ancestor and protagonist whose perspective would mirror that of the average gamer.

“We wanted to find someone who would be coming into Colonial society for the very first time, who may have heard about it or read about it, but has never experienced it,” May said.

That character became Connor Kenway, birth name Ratonhnhaké:ton, the son of a European colonist and a Native American woman from the Mohawk nation, or Kanien’keha:ka, as they prefer to be called. May said the team approached the portrayal of Connor’s Native American heritage carefully, hiring consultants to advise on the culture and language, and casting Native American actors to voice all of the Kanien’keha:ka nation characters, including Connor.

“There is a long history of, if not cultural insensitivity, at least cultural apathy,” May said. “I wanted us to be as responsible and respectful as possible.”

Though he fights with a tomahawk, rope dart and bow and arrow, Connor learns his combat skills primarily from the Assassins, with whom he spends his formative years. The franchise’s hallmark features — hidden blades, parkour, leaps of faith — are all there, but “Assassin’s Creed III” also introduces a slate of Connor-specific skills, including free-running through trees and hunting and skinning animals. He shows a greater reverence for life than previous Assassins, offering thanks after killing an animal. And if a gamer tries to leave the animal without skinning it, the game warns the player that Connor would not have abandoned his prey without making use of all its parts.

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Connor uses his bow and arrow to hunt wild game on the American frontier in a scene from “Assassin’s Creed III.” (Ubisoft)

“He has such a mixed heritage and upbringing and exposure to so many different ideas, so he’s quite unique in the world,” May said. “It makes him more thoughtful. He’s more considerate of different perspectives. He spends a lot more time observing and thinking than he does making snap judgments and proclamations.”

Unlike previous Assassin Altaïr, who was motivated by his desire to restore his honor, and Ezio, who was motivated by revenge, Connor is motivated by a desire to “just do good in the world,” May said.

“He sees a lot of wrong in the world … and he finds that there’s no one else out there willing to do anything about it,” May said. “It definitely makes him a bit of an idealist and in some sense, it makes him a little bit naive, that he thinks that one person can make a difference, but he clings to that belief and remains very firm in his convictions, so I think it makes him endearing in a way that previous assassins haven’t been.”

For example, at one point in the game, Connor meets with Samuel Adams. As the two walk through the streets of late 18th century Boston, Connor criticizes the Founding Father’s position on slavery. Though Adams personally opposes slavery and abolished the practice in his own household, he does not use his pulpit to speak publicly on the issue — a decision that Connor finds incongruous with the patriots’ cause.

“Sam is saying, ‘Well, we have bigger fish to fry … and then we’ll deal with the issue of slavery after,'” May said. “Connor is saying, ‘How can you say that you’re fighting for freedom when you’re not practicing it in your own backyard?'”

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Connor assassinates William Johnson in a scene from “Assassin’s Creed III.” (Ubisoft)

Sam Adams isn’t the only historical figure gamers meet through Connor’s eyes. Among the Founding Father cameos are Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, whose Almanac pages can be collected throughout the game. Nearly 85% of the major characters are real historical figures, and the game weaves Connor’s story (and Desmond’s) into real events.

“We make it very clear to people that while we are inspired by and excited by historical events, we don’t pretend to be a documentary,” May said. “We fully intend to take liberties…. If anything, we want this to get people excited and to inspire them to go out and actually learn.”

And the game arrives at a time when people are excited about history, spurred in part by the rhetoric surrounding the upcoming presidential election. It’s ideal timing for a video game that offers the chance to experience the Boston Tea Party or the Battle of Bunker Hill.

“Basic principles like liberty and equality are things that are universal that have existed since long before the American Revolution occurred and have obviously clearly continued to exist long after, but I think this was a moment in time where these things coalesced in a very vivid way, and it’s something that has become very symbolic to a lot of people,” May said. “The American Revolution is best known to a lot of people as a moment in time where these values and ideas really bubbled up to the surface and people began to fight openly and actively in their defense.”

But May is quick to rebuff any accusations of jingoism — and there were quite a few such critiques when Ubisoft’s U.S. trailers showed Connor killing only Redcoats. However one-sided the marketing materials may have seemed, May points out that there are Templars on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and throughout the game, Connor is tasked with killing patriots as well as loyalists; he’s fighting his own war, and the American Revolution is merely a backdrop for it.

And through Connor, gamers get to explore the conflict from “a more outsider perspective,” May said. “Someone that was neither patriot nor loyalist, who would be exposed to both sides of the debate.”

“There is a tendency among some people to assume that King George was this evil old man sitting on a throne who just randomly one day decided, ‘I want to conquer the Thirteen Colonies,'” May said. “But one of the major contributors to the Revolution, at least I would argue, is that the indebtedness of the crown after the Seven Years’ War prompted them to start raising taxes in an attempt to pay down the debt that had been accumulated over the years, feeling that, ‘Well, we secured the land for the colonists, so they should be contributing to the taxes as well.’ So there are multiple sides to every story.”

Those differing perspectives are explained in conversations between characters and optional footnotes appended to certain buildings, ships and people throughout the game. But it’s the historically accurate details that help create the game’s rich texture — music and mini-games from the era, cities designed and laid out to match old blueprints, and clothing specific not only to the time period, but to individual characters. It’s a world that unfolds over the course of more than 30 hours of gameplay.

“I like the idea of giving those who are interested the ability to explore some of the more nuanced elements of the founding of the United States, and what went into it, and who these people were who were behind it,” May said. “I can do all the pretentious talk I want, but I have a feeling at the end of the day that shoving hidden blades into people is a big draw.”

— Noelene Clark


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33 Responses to ‘Assassin’s Creed 3’ writer Corey May adds revolutionary details

  1. lyrradx says:

    Awesome and inspiring interview. Just picked up my copy yesterday and was blown away by the absolutely massive scope of the game… The tone of this game is vastly different and has a lot of interesting twists and turns, as well as a more intimate experience with the characters. The gameplay is outstanding and more of a challenge as well. As an aspiring video game writer and producer, hearing Cory May’s take on AC3 is very enlightening. Great Game, great developers :)

  2. AsA says:

    Assassins Creed 3 seems like a filler story. It has nothing to do with the other games.

    • Geoff says:

      How could it be a filler story if its the finale to the series? Desmond's story definitely comes to a climax in this game. Play through it, then comment on how it fits in with the other games.

  3. Gamer says:

    How can I get to contact Corey May

    • Brandon says:

      I dont know but if you find out, i need to know too. His writing of the story interests me. His connections between eagle eye, the nephilim, and 2012 arent random and i need to find out what exactly he knows.

  4. David Keenum says:

    please tell me that your going to have more assassin creed games come out in the future. This isnt the last one.

  5. mikey says:

    yeah can any one pls tell me how longs this game cause i dont want it to end. thats why i take my time going to main missions i explore and hunt. this is the best game i have played. i hope its very long

    • Will says:

      It's took me about a day and a half.. the end is crazy and not at all what i had expected. i am hoping for a sixth installment to the sereis.

  6. michael says:

    how long is this game to pass.

  7. Nate says:

    I'm Cherokee and Blackfoot. I'm also from Georgia. You ever ask yourself why black people never left the south? Here's how slavery worked: An African warlord waged war and the persons he captured he sold as slaves to, mostly, Arabs, British and Portuguese. These then would sell them in places like Dominica and Haiti or take them to plantations where they were used for breeding. Then, under a treaty with Great Britain, exported them to the Colonies (Colonies OF GB). Why is it that the Founding Fathers are blamed as though they were the originators and antagonists of slavery? There's a very shallow understanding of History as its boiled down to events and chronology rather than following the actual writings and ideologies held by the Founders. Every writer of the era of Colonial persuasion was against slavery. They practiced it for the same way that WE practice it today when we shop at Wal Mart. It is convenient and we know no other way. We all function daily with items made from slave labor, slaves who are more mistreated than displaced Africans, Dominicans or native born Blacks ever experienced in the US until the 1850s.

    • Melynda says:

      Where was it stated that the Founding Fathers originated slavery? The point was made that the character pointed out that they were fighting for freedom while keeping slaves. There was a hypocrisy there that they can be blamed for.

    • Of course the Founding Fathers aren't blamed for starting slavery. They're blamed for preaching freedom and liberty, and yet either had slaves, or didn't have them but kicked that topic down the line.

  8. John says:

    The game did not release on the PC last Tuesday. It releases on November 20th for PC.

  9. gamergal says:

    i still would like to know exactly what Conner is saying when he skins the animals, i am trying to learn about my Native American heritage, and since my family abandoned me when i was little i have not had the proper teachings of my people.

  10. Kenneth burnett says:

    first off love the new game but was just wondering if you ever thought about doing an assassins creed gameplay style game for batman i think that game would kick ass pitched the idea to a couple of friends of mine and they all loved it

  11. I love that you run into historical figures I know that this was done in the other games as well, but I know of these characters. Sam Adams is my favorite so far!!!

  12. Jack says:

    Games been ruined. Nothing like ezio or altazair. Settings of atmosphere and general gameplay been ruined. Sold the game already and have written a strongly worded critic review to Ubisoft

    • Phil says:

      That seems pretty petty. First of all it's not been ruined, you simply cannot commit to a change from Europe, where it's all crowded with buildings. The gameplay is better than ever, being able to interact with your surroundings a lot more, from playing board games in public houses to even petting a street animal. The fact that you think gameplay is ruined is utterly ridiculous, how you could even say this after a week of it being released is stupid. So you think Ezio or Altair is better? Well Assassin's creed is the worst out the the entire set, it has no good storyline and every single mission is tedious and repetitive. Assassin's Creed 2, I'll give you that one, it was great, as was Brotherhood, but it was just a re-hash of Assassin's Creed 2. As was Revelations. They all had the same crowded atmosphere that you've obviously gotten used to and you're scared of the big, outside frontier. How in gods name can you say AC3 doesn't set the atmosphere at all? I was thoroughly set into the battle of Monmouth when the mission came about, with their new Anvil Engine, how could you not be sucked into it?

      Face it, Altair and Ezio are long dead. Ubisoft aren't even going to bother looking at your critical letter. You're talking out your arse.

    • Bert says:

      This isn't facebook. We don't care about what you just did.

    • John R. says:

      You wrote a "strongly worded critic review to Ubisoft"? That'll show em! I can just hear them in the next board meeting… "Gentlemen, please remain calm, but Jack is disappointed."

  13. Slasher says:

    Well said guys….I think it's the best yet….except ….where's me canoe…..my main excitement was over the canoe….where is it ???…hopefully nOT in just ONE mission…..:)

  14. James says:

    are you the assassin in the start of assassins creed 3?

  15. Steve says:

    Why is the writing so damn childish? Penis jokes? REALLY?
    Weak. If the rest of the game wasn't so fantastic, I'd file it in the trash. I can't even read the drivel.

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