Interview: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Lead Script Writer Darby McDevitt

by on November 28, 2013

As you’ve more than likely already gathered, we loved Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and when you’re as engrossed in the universe and story as we all were, there’s one person that you’re going to want to talk to above all others; the person who helmed the good ship Storyline into the safety of its own lovingly crafted harbour. In the case of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the captain of that ship was Lead Script Writer Darby McDevitt.

After playing through the story of the latest Assassin’s Creed game, we had a couple of question we wanted to pose; so we did just that.

There’s even some small teases in the following interview, stuff that could just get people talking, as Assassin’s Creed games are wont to do.

We’ve seen Abstergo in Far Cry 3 and now we’ve seen references to both Far Cry 3 and Watch_Dogs in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, are the universes linked in some meaningful way or is it just harmless fun from the design team?

Just a bit of wistful fun, that’s all. It’s hard enough keeping one game universe consistent… if we took up the task of juggling three, spacetime would collapse upon itself.

The meta-experience of Abstergo Entertainment is quite mind-blowing. How long have you wanted to do it, how far did you want to go with it and is Ubisoft Montréal going to be renamed Abstergo Entertainment?

Abstergo and Ubi are not the same company, I must warn you. If you listen to some of the NPC chatter, you’ll hear AE employees asking how much it costs to take a taxi to Ubi’s offices. Also, the AE offices are located in the old Olympic park in Montreal, not in the Mile End.

I think the idea of Abstergo Entertainment came out of a number of discussions between me and Jean and a few other brand veterans. And I’m pretty sure the idea of seeding the studio with dozens of hackable computers was Jean’s, though at the time he only had vague ideas of what we’d find on them.

So when the time came to create the content, I made a massive list of items I would love to see – an audio drama, photographs, Desmond memos, marketing analyses, etc. – and ran it by Jean and my co-writer, Jill Murray. We split them up according to our interests and just ran with it. The “Subject Zero” audio drama was a pet project of mine from the beginning, and Jill later wrote a short interview with “Subject 1” that linked with it and Aveline’s story too. We had a fantastic time cranking these things out with various artists and directors in the Montreal studio… valuable content for very little overhead. And if you can believe it, we still had a few dozen ideas left over. I really wanted to get more Subject 16 stuff in there… but we couldn’t do everything.

As the first newly numbered game in the franchise to get a suffix, it’s easy to assume that we’ll get more games with the ‘Assassin’s Creed IV’ name. Blink once for yes, blink twice for no.

A long blank stare. The whistle of a calm wind through palm fronds. The soft creaming of whitewater against a sandy beach. The bleating of a nearby goat. I am lost and alone.

You must get a lot of fans pitching ideas for periods in time and assassins – we even did an article about it – do you have a selection of them in mind for future games or do you play about with a few ideas at the start of development? Has any ideas from fans ever made it into the games?

Fans pitch ideas all the time. They are typically the same 5 ideas, but they are rather good ones. Yes, we have ideas of our own. Fans affect my mental health, but they have rarely influenced the direction of one of our games. These decisions are made too far in advance here in Montreal’s dungeons.

After the lacklustre reception to naval battles in Assassin’s Creed III, you must have been apprehensive about developing a new entry to the series which relies so heavily on that specific mechanic. How did you go about remedying this? Did you go back to the drawing board, improve on what was already there or just assume that being pirates would make it all better?

Lackluster reception to naval battles? Methinks you are mistaken. The naval system was one of the most celebrated new additions to AC3. If you’d like a list of glowing praise, I will provide it. And assuming I am correct about this, the rest of the question doesn’t hold water, if you’ll pardon me.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is one of the most polished games in the series – if not the best – what was different this time around in terms of development? More focus? Less teams spread across the world?

Two reasons: First, we owe the AC3 team a massive debt for creating a lot of this tech in the first place – engine overhaul, naval combat systems, etc. – and two, we were very brutal about trimming the games scope to a manageable level at a very early stage in the project… and we were never afraid of cutting something that we were nervous about finishing in time. All that added up to… pardon me… smoother sailing in the end.

Did the fact that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is also being developed for next-gen consoles effect how you developed for the current-gen? I’ve seen references to the second screen on the Xbox 360 version, for example.

It certainly did. We had to plan for the current-gen before upscaling certain aspects of the next-gen cersions. The environments and models were made with current-gen in mind, for instance, because it would have been murder to attempt any “downgrading”. But next gen consoles certainly benefit from lots of fancy effects and physics tweaks.
Goodness, it almost sounds like I know what I am talking about!

With the relative success of the MMO market and, more recently, Grand Theft Auto Online, has there ever – or will there ever – been plans to include an ‘Assassin’s Creed Online’ into future games? Perhaps have players choose either Assassins or Templars and let them loose on a huge map?

This would be way too much fun. I don’t know if the world is ready for this amount of fun. I certainly hope so.

Pixar are famous for having a character from their next film in their current one. Is there any chance that there are clues hidden in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag about what the next game may be? Even just an era or setting?

We made reference to Edward in AC3 a few times, so it’s always possible…

We’ve never had two characters so close to each other as Edward being Connor’s Grandad (and therefore Haytham’s Dad). Was people’s enjoyment of Haytham as a character the reason behind this, or was it something that was always planned?

No, I had already written half of Edward’s story by the time I saw Haytham in action. I had read Corey’s script, of course, but it wasn’t clear at that point which of the characters would be fan favorites, since this relies so heavily on the actor’s performance. So while I was thrilled to see Haytham come to life in such a dramatic fashion, fan reaction to him played no part in how I wrote Edward.

Where do you keep your ketchup. Fridge or cupboard?

I don’t own any ketchup. Revolting tomato mucus.

So, there you have it, we think you’ll agree that there’s some interesting information in there. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Darcy McDevitt for taking the time to speak with us, and for leading the crafting of a pretty amazing story in an excellently made game.