Assassin's Creed Black Flag - More The Wire Than Breaking Bad


Assassin's Creed Black Flag - More The Wire Than Breaking Bad
The lead writer talks about complicating video game stories

We’ve finally been able to publish our massive review of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and it’s the best game the series has produced in years but wasn’t without its problems.

One issue we has was with the nebulous nature of the story, without a central antagonist the sprawling length of the game led to a lack of focus in the final hours. And it seems this was mostly by design.

In our conversation with the games lead writing Darby McDevitt, we asked him what feedback he was most looking forward to seeing from players. And his response was all about his attempts to complicate video game stories:

“A lot of my colleagues feel like the game needs a very single solid consistent constant reminder of the end goal. Like the best example would be Journey and you’re just going towards that light… I’m curious about making games more complicated, making motivations more complicated because I have this sense that if the gameplay itself is compelling in the short and medium term the long term can be a little bit more intertwined in a complicated way”.

The fact is, most video game narratives are streamlined for a reason, as a way to push you in a generally linear direction and make you feel like there’s constant momentum. But McDevitt instead wanted there to be a morality tale at the heart of Black Flag:

“I told people that I wanted Edward to be the main villain of this game. I want him to be his own worst enemy but others were saying you need a solid villain. I come from a background of liking shows like The Wire and Deadwood more than I like the really heavily plot driven stuff. I think the battle right now would be – are you Breaking Bad or are you The Wire?! Because The Wire is very much an ensemble and a universe and the conflict is nebulous, it’s just drug dealers and cops. But there are so many angles in that. Whereas Breaking Bad has that single driving force – at least in season one. I’m selling meth to provide money for my family. There’s a clear motivation.”

But what does this mean for a game like Black Flag, which still has a clear end point and needs to keep the player moving towards it in a massive open world? For McDevitt, it’s a chance to experiment “to see if it’s possible to make games that have really complicated plots that aren’t just save the princess or get revenge on the bad guy or find the buried treasure.” And while Edward’s quest for The Obseratory is a driving force in the game, there’s plenty of time for diversions like taking time to shore up the fortunes of the fading Nassau during sequence 6.

I'm just going to sit on this tree for awhile...
I'm just going to sit on this tree for awhile...Enlarge Enlarge

This decision met with issues not only in development but also when players got their hands on the game: “We’ve seen in some playtests some people lose it, some people love it” but McDevitt remains undeterred. “I don’t know at what point you change your method of working just because some people are confused. I don’t know!”

For us, it’s an experiment which is certainly worth exploring but it’s also likely to be one of the more divisive elements of Black Flag, a game that’s otherwise the highlight of the Assassin’s Creed franchise to date.

So what kind of stories to you prefer?

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is out now on PS3 and Xbox 360 – read our full review here and the rest of the interview with Darby McDevitt here.

Win a copy of the game here.

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