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Interview: Assassin's Creed has a new lead developer

By Andy Robinson on Wednesday 2nd Jul 2014 at 1:00 PM UTC

Since 2007, more than a dozen Ubisoft studios have contributed to the Assassin's Creed franchise, but only one has been trusted with shaping its future. Until now.

Today, Ubisoft announces the development of the first mainline Assassin's Creed game to be led outside of Ubisoft Montreal.

Ubisoft Montreal created and cultivated the series across all seven of its core instalments (including this year's Unity), but the responsibility will now be shared with the studio's unassuming neighbour in Quebec City.

Ubisoft Quebec has hitherto made somewhat peripheral contributions to the series, including Assassin's Creed III's Homestead and Black Flag's island Hideout.

Since the start of the year, however, the process began to build Montreal's fledging cousin into something bigger. In January, Ubisoft announced a $28 million investment in the Quebec studio, ensuring 100 new employees (bringing its eventual total to around 400) and a new "cutting edge" workspace set to be ready by 2016.

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A fresh perspective

More importantly, the investment offers the promise of fresh perspective for a franchise that is one of the industry's most popular, but - with sequels now arriving annually - one which faces constant demand to reinvent itself.

Francois Pelland, Exec Director of Development at Ubisoft Quebec

Francois Pelland, Ubisoft Quebec's exec director of development, said his team is "honoured" to have its own shot at leading an Assassin's Creed game, revealing that the team had been pushing internally for the opportunity and plans to bring its own "creative" approach to the franchise.

"For many years I've been saying that the Assassin's Creed franchise allows teams to approach each game as a new IP," he tells CVG.

"The basis and the pillars are the same, but each installment brings new context, new story, new characters and all of those things. Each Assassin's Creed team you've seen in the past has had that creative and editorial freedom.

"For sure, the Quebec team is absolutely going to bring something new and something creative. That's a guarantee."

"...the collaboration between studios is key for the success of Assassin's Creed"

Pelland adds that his team will not exclusively shape the future of the franchise - nor will it work alone.

"Montreal studio is a big, mature studio which we've learned so much from and we want to work with - it's a true partnership. We've obviously established over the years a relationship with key people there and we feel like it's the right time to take on leadership of a title in that franchise.

"It doesn't mean Assassin's Creed is now in Quebec forever, it means we'll take one game in a leadership role and continue to work closely with Montreal. As you've seen before, the collaboration between studios is key for the success of Assassin's Creed."

Ubisoft Quebec's leadership can most notably be seen in DLC pack Tyranny of King Washington, for Assassin's Creed III.

Pelland has worked on Assassin's Creed before, acting as senior producer on the series' third game. His team will now be working on Quebec's next-gen-only AC game, he reveals.

On top of the sizable hub worlds the studio built for AC3 and Black Flag, Quebec's leadership can most notably be seen in DLC packs Tyranny of King Washington (Assassin's Creed III) and Freedom Cry (Black Flag), which it helmed "from start to finish".

The studio also contributed portions of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and is currently contributing to 2014's Unity - work which Pelland said will prove invaluable as it heads towards its own lead entry.

"When you have a portion of a game such as what Quebec has done in the past, you're given mandates on that portion of the game from beginning to end. And when you think of the size of the Homestead or even Black Flag's hideout, that's a pretty large investment.

"The difference now is that it's an entire game. It's something that the team is learning and will continue to experience while it's in the driver's seat. It's a different experience, but it's one that the team is so eager to have. They wanted to have this chance so badly.

"Yes, there will be stuff that we learn as we go, but the bottom line is that every one is super happy and honoured to do it."

Nurturing studios

Entrusting Quebec with AC is reminiscent of how Ubisoft nurtured its Toronto studio which, after it was founded in 2009, was immediately given the Splinter Cell franchise as a method of kickstarting its growth.

However Pelland insisted that, despite its mandate to grow by another 50 employees, its stewardship of Assassin's Creed is the result of a ten year ambition, rather than a tactic for attracting talent.

"Quebec has been there for ten years with experience of shipping five Assassin's Creed games under Montreal's leadership. When you think of that, this is very much a house with solid foundations.

"This is different from opening up a studio and then taking on a big franchise, since Quebec has taken a different approach and taken its time. It's not good or bad, it's just different."

Quebec has become a games development hotbed since it introduced a world-leading tax break policy for studios located in the Canadian province. Such measures have led to Canada becoming the world's third-biggest employer of games developers, trailing only Japan and the United States.

Yet in June it emerged that $500m cuts would result in Quebec studios losing up to 20 per cent of their benefits, news which caused Ubisoft Montreal's chief exec to admit the studio would need to "analyse with this means for us."

Though admittedly "not too familiar" with the situation, Pelland insisted that the Quebec studio maintains "a great relationship" with the government and said that his team is "in full force happy and excited" with where the studio is headed, "regardless of what's happening from a government point of view."

(It has since emerged that Ubisoft's Montral studio is exempt from the tax relief downgrade).

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Pelland believes the time is right for his team to shoulder such a major responsibility, and claims his team is "more than ready".

"This a studio which slowly but surely built up a great foundation. We have around 350 people, which compared to Montreal is small, but is actually pretty large.

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"Now is the time that we're ready to take on some heat and take the leadership on a big game. We feel like the team here is more than ready. We're passionate and excited to take on the leadership of this game and it's an ambition the team has had since its foundation.

"It's super exciting for me personally and the people here are passionate to succeed and do something big. For the studio shipping a big game is always challenging, but that's what we're ready for. I can't wait to tell you more about it."

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