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E3 2012: “Assassin’s Creed 3” naval warfare is “a revelation” for Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed 3

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By Michael Rougeau

LOS ANGELES, California — Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” series has already gone places no other games have before, and now, in it’s third numbered entry, it’s doing it again. “Assassin’s Creed 3” was one of the belles of this year’s E3 ball, and for good reason. Announced in February, the game is set in New York, Philadelphia and Boston before, during and after the American Revolution, or as creative director Alex Hutchinson calls it, the British Civil War.

“Until the end of the game, or the end of the revolution, they’re all British, you know what I mean?” he told IFC, laughing. “Everybody there is British. It’s a colony, you know what I mean? Like, that’s the whole point of it.”

The war, he meant — that’s the point of the war. But the war is not the point of “Assassin’s Creed 3.” This isn’t the only game to ever star a Native American. But Hutchinson and his teams at Ubisoft’s Montreal, Quebec City, Annecy, and Singapore studios are going to extra lengths to ensure that protagonist Ratohnhake:ton (or, by his English name, Connor Kenway) is an authentic representation of his people. They consulted with Native American advisors and hired a Native American voice actor to make sure everything from Connor’s speech to his gear is authentic.

The titular Assassin is always the heart of an “Assassin’s Creed” game. In the first game’s recreations of 12th century Damascus and Jerusalem, Altair introduced gamers to the ancient war between the Assassins and Templars. In “Assassin’s Creed 2” and its spin-offs, the noble Ezio explored 15th-century Italy and Constantinople. All of this was seen through the “genetic memories” of Desmond Miles, a modern-day Assassin whose importance escalates with every entry in the series.

The 18th-century British colony of America seems at first like the odd era out, but Hutchinson assured IFC that it would fit right in. “We’re not ‘The Patriot.’ The story is not the fight for the American Revolution. The American Revolution happens in the background while you’re going about your business with killing Templars,” Hutchinson said. “Trust us. We have a plan.”

It may use the Revolution as a backdrop for the Templar-Assassin war, but even that is just a lens through which to come to know Connor, who’ll kill Templars on both sides of the larger conflict. “Who is this guy? Why does he join the Assassins? Why does he even care about the American Revolution, you know? He’s a Native American. How does all this happen?” Hutchinson asked. “It’s a 30-year story from before, during, in, and after the revolution. And it’s kind of the story of his life.”

As part of Ubisoft’s efforts to make the game feel fresh, they’ve reworked everything from combat and movement to non-playable characters’ behavior. But the real surprise at E3 was something no one predicted: full-on naval warfare. Players will be able to take to the high seas and control Connor as he commandeers his very own schooner, barking orders at the crew and maneuvering around enemy ships before unleashing volleys of cannon fire.

In the demo Ubisoft showed off at E3, Connor’s ship fired chained-together and flaming cannonballs to disable another vessel and drew up alongside it as the crew prepared to board. The demo ended there, but Hutchinson promised that ship-to-ship combat and other swashbuckling adventures will constitute “a significant chunk” of the game. “There’s several hours of gameplay possible at sea if you want to get into it,” he said. “There’s a chunk that’s in the main path and then there’s also a big side story that takes place on the high seas.”

Ubisoft Singapore is in charge of the naval portions of “Assassin’s Creed 3,” and the game’s mission director, Phil Bergeron, told IFC that they almost did too good a job. It was too realistic, and they had to send it back to Singapore and have them “arcade it up a little bit,” said Bergeron. “For us it’s like a revelation. It’s like wow, we could make a whole game out of this,” he said, as his ship bobbed up and down on a stormy sea.

“It’s a delicate balance to get it to be fun and easy, you know, and not too simulator-heavy, but also believable,” Hutchinson said after the demo. “You’re trying to find that line between believability and fun so that it’s good to play but you don’t have to think — I mean the boat took half an hour to turn around with that period. So that’s not exactly couch gameplay.”

The new time period brings plenty of other changes to the series. Connor will spend as much time climbing trees as past Assassins spent climbing buildings, and navigating battlefields populated by literally thousands of redcoats and patriots will provide unique new challenges. The game’s controls have even been revamped, with the series’ signature free-running mechanics now accomplished by holding down a single button instead of two. “We wanted to streamline it,” Hutchinson said. “We wanted to make it more accessible.”

Multiplayer, the only portion of the game that was actually playable at E3, remains largely unchanged from past games, though with new modes, maps, and abilities. “Thanks to ‘AC 3′ we’ll have a brand new setting, so we really play with that,” multiplayer director Damien Kieken told IFC, referring to the series’ first map set outside city walls, on a field of ice and grounded ships. “We’re evolving the core gameplay every year to make it more streamlined, more easy to access, but also keeping the deepness that we wanted since the first game.”

Hutchinson seems excited by the challenges of developing a game that can touch on everything from slavery to the founding fathers. “We wanted a pivotal moment in history. We wanted a place that other games hadn’t been,” he said. “It’s funny, everyone’s like ‘Oh, it makes perfect sense!’ now, but when we announced it was like ‘This makes no sense! How is it possible? People lived in tents, and Christopher Columbus, and Billy the Kid!'” Whatever that means.

They’re taking liberties with American history, but they’re also portraying household names in ways that players aren’t necessarily used to: as real people. “The fun in meeting them is the idea of meeting someone who, you know, in George Washington’s case, wasn’t certain that it was even a good idea to fight, wasn’t certain they were going to win,” Hutchinson said.

And although the naval battles were last week’s big reveal, he promised that “Assassin’s Creed 3” is still full of surprises — and that they won’t be revealed until the game actually comes out in October for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC. “I’m tired of having shown everything before we ship the game, you know what I mean? I hate movie trailers. I don’t watch movie trailers anymore.”

As for “Assassin’s Creed 4,” “5” and “6”? “I’m legally unable to answer your question,” he said, ruefully.

What settings would you like to explore in future “Assassin’s Creed” games? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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