Speaking to Eurogamer this week at Ubisoft's headquarters in Paris, Assassin's Creed boss Marc-Alexis Coté has exenstively detailed what the franchise's mysterious new Infinity platform will look like, and offer fans.
Infinity appears to be the brainchild of Coté, whose new role as head of Ubisoft's biggest franchise sees him looking to revamp the series into a series of blockbuster single-player games, a standalone multiplayer portion and smaller free experiences for fans - all of which will be accessible from Infinity.
The platform will also serve as the new, dedicated home to Assassin's Creed's modern day story, which will progress separately to upcoming games Codename Red, set in feudal Japan, and Codename Hexe, which looks to be set in 16th century Europe.
"This is a momentous change for the franchise," Coté acknowledged. "We will be better caretakers of our meta story, and this hub will help us accomplish that promise."
Throughout tonight's pre-recorded Assassin's Creed reveal event, broadcast as part of Ubisoft Forward, the publisher described Infinity as both a "hub" and a "platform".
"Infinity is not a game, per se," Coté said. "It's going to be the single entry point for our fans into the Assassin's Creed franchise into the future."
On-screen visuals used to introduce Projects Red and Hexe appeared to use Abstergo's own Animus software - and indeed, Infinity was described as being equivalent to having your own Animus device: the series' time-travelling sunbed that previously let protagonists peek into the past.
Speaking to me in Paris, Coté provided far more detail - including word that the series' modern day story would become playable over time, that more crossover stories were likely, that fans should expect more female protagonists to lead Assassin's Creed projects, and a discussion on why Infinity's changed were needed to address the different desires of fans who enjoy the series' historical settings, but may not care for its modern day narrative.
First off, some basics. Even though they're part of Infinity, will I still be able to buy Codename Red and Hexe separately? Will they be on a disc in a box in a shop? When I load them up, what do I see?
Coté: So, to the extent that discs will still exist when we launch the game, whatever that may be... the idea is for Red, for Hexe, to be available as box products, but the thing is, if you install them, the first thing you're going to see is the Infinity hub, and that will launch Red or Hexe. At the same time, if you're playing Red and Hexe comes out, then you'll see it available as a new DNA memory that's available for you and you can directly purchase it from the Infinity hub. So it will improve the discoverability and accessibility of everything that we do on the franchise, combined with what I hope to be free offerings as well, allowing us to dig into other memories, a bit like we've done with the Crossover Stories for example, and make them available to a wider range of people.
You mentioned Infinity as being a place for more diverse Assassin's Creed games - can you expand on that?
Coté: I want our other studios that have contributed wonderful ideas to the franchise - like, I keep using Ubisoft Sofia as an example. They built Assassin's Creed Rogue, something incredible with [Valhalla expansion] Dawn of of Ragnarok, and many other gems like their DLC for Origins Curse of the Pharaoh which was was brilliant as well. So, can a studio like Sofia impress our community with a project that's not necessarily a 150-hour long product? Because when we build 150 hour long product, there's so much that rests on it commercially, that the stakes become so high. Having Infinity will allow for more diversity in both the periods that we choose to feature and the gameplay that those games have.
What will the modern day narrative look like in Infinity? How will I experience that?
Coté: It's like you're the present day protagonist. You are exploring memories of the past for purposes that will become clearer when we reveal the story. But the abstraction that we're using is not that of Desmond or that of Layla, but that of yourself. And you'll have to see exactly how we do that.
But will there still be a playable portion?
Coté: The Infinity hub will evolve with time. So it's it's meant to grow with our games. As this meta story evolves, with time it will offer new opportunities for for gameplay and features right from the top level.
So to confirm, those oppurtunities, in time, will include playable portions?
Coté: With time. We could go into the definition of what is playable, but I expect it to offer more opportunities for gameplay as it grows.
Is there any chance Infinity launches as something I can download and poke around with before Codename Red?
Coté: That is not the plan right now. It's for it to be available at the same time as Red.
I loved the Valhalla and Odyssey Crossover Stories. Is Infinity a place we can see more of those?
Coté: Yes. This is something that I want us to do more of to crossover between our different between our different games. I love the discussion it generated among our fan base. It was fun to see people so engaged with the character of Kassandra, imagining where and when she could show up. And I think this is a very valuable lesson for us, because we provided our fans with a free product and a lot of people had not cared [about Valhalla before]. Despite Valhalla being a tremendous success, we still had a lot of people who did not go from Odyssey to Valhalla. And these Crossover Stories that we provided for free brought people back into Odyssey, interested a lot of people to go in, and then 'okay, let's go see what happens in Valhalla'. So despite it being free, it was a very good success for us both in terms of the critical reception and commercial performance afterwards. I think we have such an engaged community that we should provide them with more free products and free experiences and Infinity is a perfect vessel for us to be able to do that.
It feels like a Crossover Story for Origins seems like it may be held back by technical limitations - though if you have one in the works feel free to stop me and announce it right now. Will Infinity be a better place to hope for this?
Coté: It is. You're absolutely right. Doing a crossover with with Origins, or [other] past games is very, very, very complex. Because we have to resurrect our pipelines. We have an archiving process, like when we're done - finally done - we do a 'closing kit'. We put tape around the machines that were used to build the game, and then we put them in storage and hope to never have to take them out again. The reason - it's almost happenstance - that we could do a crossover for Odyssey was we had never done the tape wrapping process because of the pandemic. And all this was still running. We had not done the 'closing kit', and it came about from a discussion with Yves at one point. He said, 'Mac, are you really done with Odyssey?' And I was like, 'Yeah, we're done.' And then I hung up on him and was like, 'Well...' And then I called him back, like, 'Well, you just gave me an idea...' And that's the way the project started. Yves is very involved in everything that we do, which you wouldn't imagine that for 22,000 people company.
I love the idea of seeing Kassandra pop up again, since she can reappear almost anywhere. What can Kassandra fans such as myself hope for?
Coté: I can't speak to our future plans for Kassandra other than to tell you she's certainly one of my favourite characters in the franchise. And I'd love to see her come back.
Well, speaking of female Assassins, there are already theories that the character we saw as part of the Codename Red teaser was female. Can you confirm? And now is as good a point as any to raise the question of when we will see a female Assassin leading a major game project and it not just being an option?
Coté: I'll answer your questions in two parts. For the first part, I'm going to defer to your upcoming discussions in a couple of months with the Red team, where you'll be able to ask them a question and they'll be able to answer it because I want them to be able to speak! It's the sad part of my job is I can't talk specifically about [a particular project]. But your second question goes more to something that I can and am willing to answer. Yes, in the future, people can expect to see a female protagonist lead an Assassin's Creed game. Whether that's Red, whether that's Hexe, whether that's Invictus - well, that is a multiplayer game - but whether it's another one of our experiences. I'll let our teams answer to that in the future.
Is there any potential for Infinity to encompass other past games in some way?
Coté: There is the possibility for us to integrate our past games into Infinity as the abstraction, the idea is that you're exploring memories. How we're going to do that will be revealed at a later time.
Moving the series' modern day story to Infinity is a big shift for the series. You've spoken about Infinity being a place where it can be curated better, instead of being the work of various developers over the years, where storylines have been left to graphic novels to conlcude. Why was find a better home for it important - and why is the franchise's modern day framework important at all?
Coté: I think we were challenged in the past on this aspect, and I'll give you my very blunt analysis of the subject. For people who love the meta story, we've never been able to give them enough. They would love an entire game based on the meta story, with gameplay, and full immersion. On the other side, and I think this represents a sizable part of our audience, a lot of people do not care about the meta story, and would love to jump straight back in time. We're in a situation where no one's happy with it, in the sense that people who love it never get enough and the people who don't like it will always have too much. So that's where we're trying to change the paradigm with Infinity. So when I say it's synchronous and concurrent, it means I want this story to live independently of the big cycles of the game. So you can expect the hub, the stories that we tell, to be updated independently of the games. On the other side, it shows a lot of players that don't want to be involved in this [a way] to jump straight into our past experiences. All they see is the DNA Explorer and, boom, they jump straight back.
I want to keep the DNA explorer abstraction or the Animus because I think for whoever plays Assassin's Creed, it's important that they understand that you return to the past not to change it, but to learn something about it. And I think it's important to keep that abstraction. And I'm sorry, I'm giving you a very long-winded answer, but I think our meta story has also been an obstacle to people entering the franchise. When you talk about Assassin's Creed, it's like, 'oh, it's complicated'. 'Coming to Valhalla, I'm interested by the Vikings but the whose this girl Layla? It's the third act of her story?' And it can stop you from enjoying those games. So by changing our paradigm, I feel the people who want to focus on 'like, oh cool, there's a Viking experience, I want to play', they can. But again, [we will] serve better the people who love the Abstergo, the Assassins, how this plays out and give them more content.
The announcemment of Infinity and the roadmap of what is coming - while still vague - is very different to the kinds of closely-guarded reveals of the past. Were leaks inevitable? What has sparked this change?
Coté: The industry is changing, and we're trying to change with it. And I think that by announcing earlier, we can have a conversation. It's a conversation I want us to have and I want our teams to have with the fanbase - with the people who care about Assassin's Creed so they can help shape our products to their expectations. You've been covering the industry for long enough to know when we announce a project, we're pretty much done with it - at least in a way that there's not much place for feedback. I want us to have a bigger conversation. It becomes so important - this moment when we reveal the game - and there's so much that goes into it. And it always ends up leaking, whether it's a keychain, or... there's always something that happens. We're a big company, there's a lot of moving parts. And all this secrecy is toxic, I would say.
Internally, it's preventing us from from sharing openly. I want our teams to collaborate internally, to go away from competition towards collaboration. That means that everything that we do internally, I need to make everything available to almost everybody in the company, so that everybody can contribute. Making stuff more available internally [causes] the risks of leaking to go up and up with the amount of people that know, [but] having it out there, having the courage to have this discussion, it challenges us [in a good way]. I can't wait to see what the feedback is about this new approach. It's something that's new for Ubisoft. Clearly, that's something we've not done in the past. I can't wait to see what people think of it and see where it takes us.
So, when will we see Infinity launch? Tonight's briefing was frustratingly opaque when it came to solid release dates, with only a vague "2023" window for next year's Baghdad-set game Assassin's Creed Mirage.
Projects Red and then Hexe - and by extension Infinity - all seem further off.
"In the coming years," presenter Danny "Shaun Hastings" Wallace concluded, "we'll see the launch of the new platform Assassin's Creed Infinity, connecting players to the games in a whole new way."
Tonight's announcements were dominated by teases for two blockbuster Assassin's Creed projects now in development. Codename Red will be set in feudal Japan, while Codename Hexe looks to be inspired by European witchcraft.
Ubisoft also saw fit to confirm a couple of mobile game projects today, including one set in China.
Before all of that, there's still next year's Assassin's Creed Mirage to look forward to, which we have loads more detail on here.
Eurogamer met with Ubisoft at its Paris office this week, for which Ubisoft covered travel and accommodation.