What Went Into Creating Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Narrative
**The following interview does contain some very light spoilers for the first couple hours of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey**
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has raised the bar regarding narrative storytelling in the franchise. For the first time, Ubisoft has allowed players to make choices that impact the story. While these choices can be as simple as shrugging off a NPC’s plea for help, other have lasting effects that shape your story.
Ubisoft Toronto held a intimate panel with creative director; Scott Philips, the voice of Alexios; Michael Antonakos, and narrative director; Melissa MacCoubrey. The three-person panel shared anecdotes from the creation of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Afterwards, the trio took some audience questions regarding gameplay and creative choices.
Following the panel, I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion with Melissa. As a massive draw of Odyssey is crafting your own story that is special and unique, I wanted to get more insight into the creation of such a project.
Steve: How important was it to you that you had branching paths and dialogue trees?
Melissa: Oh, super important. It was something we knew from the beginning that we wanted to do. We got off of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and were like “This is what we want to do.”
How were we going to do it? We did not know. *laughs*
It was a team process, not a narrative-team only process. We had narrative people on that were also technical. We had a dialogue team that was specifically made. It’s not just branching dialogue in-engine, we also have a scriptwriting program that needed to be able to support branching dialogue.
The script writing program we use, and this is a bit technical, but the program we use at Ubisoft is very linear and has been designed to always be linear. I think the team was always looking to make something else, but we came in and were like “We need it, we need it now!” and they looked into what they could do.
There was a lot of innovation on all sides of the project to incorporate the dialogue system. Then, of course, the new team were guinea pigs throughout the whole process. Determining if this and that worked. They had to overcome that. We had to teach them and they trained themselves as well to how we were writing [Assassin’s Creed Odyssey].
That’s why I feel like it is important to say it was an iterative process. We had to figure out if it was going to be black and white choices, or how it would work for one particular character. The context was a big thing. I’m glad we did it!
Steve: Were there any complications the team experienced when creating a story with so many variables?
Melissa: We looked at it like "Who is this character? What is their journey? What beats do we want them to hit?" We looked at how we could bring choice into that. That so that we could make something that wasn’t a domino effect where you never know where it will end up.
We looked at the hero’s journey and wanted to tell a story with a message that did have multiple endings. We wanted to be able to treat different moments in the game but ultimately still give that emotional impact along your journey with your character.
Trying to build it and have the first layer, then the second, and build layers instead of Boom! Where did we go? How did we get here? Now we’re in space! *laughs*
We don’t go to space by the way, sorry.
Steve: There are obvious themes of family ties and bloodlines. Was that always a story you wanted to cover?
Melissa: It is amazing to me how much of the story didn’t change from the beginning. We went through quite a lengthy process. I worked very closely Scott, the creative director of the game to map out where we wanted to go in the story.
One chapter changed. It was later in the process then it was supposed to be. The rest is the same. We went to [Ubisoft] HQ and showed them the story we wanted to make and it has not changed very much.
The characters grow and become their own as you write them and get to know them. But as for the story, I still have the 23-page document that has everything in there.
Steve: Who was your favourite side character to write dialogue for?
Melissa: To make sure the character’s voice consistent is have writers chose who they wanted to write for. That way we kept it consistent across the board. Even if another writer had written that character because of production, the original writer would go back and make sure it was sound with the rest. Everybody had their person that they would write.
So in terms of characters that I specifically wrote, you know there’s a few. *laughs* My favourite character –– this is so hard, there are so many good ones. It’s funny because I’m playing it again and I’m like “Oh, I love him, and I love her!”
Steve: There are so many good ones to pick from.
Melissa: I –– have you played it at all?
Steve: I have.
Melissa: Okay, because I was going say one of my favourites has to be Markos.
Steve: Right off the bat, he became one of my favourite characters.
Melissa: He is amazing and the writer for him; Alissa Ralph knew that character from day one. He was always like that. His tagline –– we’d write taglines or little quotes so you would remember them hours later, his was always “My friend.”
As soon as you tag “My friend.” on to something you knew who it was. He is consistently one of my favourite characters. His line about how great life is now for you and you live in a hovel kills me every single time. Alissa is a fantastic writer.
Steve: What did the process look like to move the story further in the present day, but also keep it in line with the Alexios/Kassandra story?
Melissa: It wasn’t very complicated. We were like “Okay, and [Layla Hassan] is here. *Laughs*
You know, she’s following the memories of this mercenary in this time period. She is actively looking for a First Civilization artifact, using the spear to guide her and the lost manuscript of Herodotus.
For us, that was a fairly easy entry point. Then we had to make sure her journey meant something. She’s not finished either. What Odyssey is, is a part of her story. It is not the end all be all. Without spoiling anything, we made some choices! *wink wink*
Thank you to both Ubisoft and Melissa MacCoubrey for having me out and taking the time to speak to me.