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Q&A: Assassin's Creed director Ashraf Ismail

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Drew Turney

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Finished product: Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag.

Finished product: Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag.

It's one of the biggest game franchises in the world. Now in its sixth incarnation, Black Flag, Assassin's Creed's playground of Renaissance-era Italy, America in the early days of the New World and the pirate mythology of Blackbeard, is a game universe that stands apart. 

We spoke to the series games director Ashraf Ismail about why the franchise is so popular, why gamers seem to love history and why the whole field is finally getting some respect.

What was the thinking behind moving the Assassin's Creed franchise to the time (and place) of Blackbeard's pirate reign?

The Development of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag in Montreal, Canada.

The Development of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag in Montreal, Canada.

We've always been excited about doing a pirate game, and with the push from Assassin's Creed III into naval and navigation in natural environments, we knew we had the tech and tools in place to make one. There's also a massive shortage of great pirate games – the last great ones were Sid Meier's Pirates and Secret of Monkey Island. We saw an opportunity to make a game (and world) unlike anything out there, one that was fresh and unique with an authentic and gritty perspective of piracy.

Is it important to set the game in a time and place audiences know something about, or introduce them to something they've never seen before?

History's our playground, that's our motto. It's also one of the reasons Assassin's Creed is successful. We go to time periods and settings that are thrilling and exciting, so base setting will always be something that people know. But we love surprising people, so this is where the present day and the 1st Civilian division stuff comes into play. We tell historical fiction, and a part of doing that is to infuse our lore into history, including things that are fantastical.

Creative Director of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag, Ashraf Ismail.

Creative Director of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag, Ashraf Ismail.

Is the past a particular hallmark of Assassin's Creed, or would the studio consider setting future games in modern times or even the future?

The core of Assassin's Creed is history, we'll never move away from that. It's core to the brand. We do have a present day layer that lets us to show a modern day setting though, that holds a lot of value for us.

What is it about olden-day weapons and technology that connects with gamers when modern (such as Call of Duty) and futuristic (such as Halo) settings and technology is so popular?

I don't think it's just the olden day weapons and technology, its history. We're all intrigued by history on some level because it's how we got here. It's the mythology of our world. Assassin's Creed is one of the only brands in gaming that plays with credible and authentic history.

Do you still encounter naysayers who dismiss gaming as not being as legitimate as other art forms?

Not so much. The game industry is getting bigger, stronger and more mainstream. There are lots of games you can call works of art, and with Assassin's Creed in particular so many fans research and really dig into the history of the time periods we choose. It's wonderful and gratifying to know the game means going beyond just sitting in front of a screen and people are studying because we gave them something that piqued their interest.

Has the amazing retail performance of Grand Theft Auto V changed perceptions about the industry?

It shows that the game industry is growing and gaining mainstream audiences.