Corey May, Q&A from Brazil
AJ23, September 22, 2013
Translated by: Sara

Some days ago, Ubisoft Brazil interviewed Corey May, one of the main AC writers, giving the fans the chance to pose their questions about the saga and the videogames universe in general. The hangout lasted more than one hour and, in order to give you the most important highligths about what Corey said, we resumed his answers to the many questions he received. For the most valiant fans, we link the entire video right below.

For those who are not in the mood of watching this video or for people who has not so much time, here we go with the recap.

Q: For people who wants to work with videogames, where should they study? What should they do to get into this world?
That's a very long answer, I'll try to keep it short and not talk all over the place. So, you're very lucky because now there are a lot of school programs, both graduated and ungraduated. These courses can help you especially for the most technical professions, everything from programming to illustration. Maybe you don't have to go to game school for those: you can take computer science class, art school for illustration or animation.
On the other hand, for the less easily defined professions like design or writing or creative direction, that's a more complex question but there are a lot of options. I know plenty of writers that went to school of English Literature or Creative Writing or designers that began to work as QA and they found their way in. It's getting a litte bit easier these days to pick up the things you need to start building stuff. So there are really multiple new options and then there is always the older path in which people built their way up by getting a job as QA or assistant or associate. I don't know the success of this way so I'm not necessarily recommending it but it's definitely an option and I know a lot of people that started that way.
Obviously, every place is different but I think that the most important thing is to love videogames and if you want to work in videogames businness you really have to love them because if you don't, you're gonna feel miserable.

Q: Where did the idea for AC come from? What was the inspiration for that?
It came from a lot of different sources, from a lot of different people. You probably have to search out Patrice Desilet since he was the genesis of AC project.
Corey May (left) and Patrice Desilet (right)
Once I came on board, there were two things that inspired me when I approached it. The first one was the "Ultima" series of games because it was one of the first franchises, at least for me, that went beyond the idea of "forces are good, forces are evil". Starting with Ultima IV, they created a game that was about trying to be a better person, they became a little more sofisticated in their approach, in the structure and what they asked you to do. I became a fan of those games and I played I don't know how many hundreds of hours. And then, there was this game, called Serpent's Isle, which is the sequel of Ultima VII, and a very big part of this game involved a lost civilization. You had to find ruins scattered over the game and for me that sense of mystery, that sense of finding these ruins to learn what was the original habits of the Island was something that really inspired me. I think you can see that influence in AC for what concerns the First Civilization, the different layers of the story (past, present and way way present)?? and the way in which all of these times are connected to each other.
The second big inspiration I received came from a book written by Immanuel Velikovsky, called Worlds in Collision. He tried to look at religious facts through a more scientifical eye. He believed that there were rational explanations for a lot of the divine occurrence that were recorded in ancient religious texts. He theorized what could have happened to make people think that some particular events were due to supernatural intervention like, for example the Plagues of Egypt or else. For me it was really interesting to see someone approaching these events and trying to justify them with science. I don't really believe a lot of stuff he says but this idea of unrevealing historical mysteries taking evidences, sort of playing with them was relly fun.

Q: How is your working team? What are you working on now, if you can say?
I sit with the entire team so I have a desk on the production floor. I sit generally with the core team so I'm often near the creative director, the mission design director, the lead designer, the producer, obviously everyone from the writers team and then a couple of associate producers.
I'm usually very close to the mission design team which is made up of the people that are phisically building missions. They are very important people because you have to understand that writing a videogame is not just putting words on the pages but it's building what's written into missions: so this is why we are often close, in order to work hand in hand. So while I write pages of dialogues, of actionscripting or stuff about the characters, they are building missions, they are deciding how they are gonna look like, the enemies, the navigation obstacles you encounter, they choose the places where the cinematic events are gonna occur and so on...
So a lot of my daytime hours it's meetings, sitting around and talking about what I wrote or what the mission design created, reviewing documents, talking about what the Creative Director wants us to do or the feedbacks he has and things like that. The rest of my day is spent by making corrections for other stuff or helping out for the AI of some specific scene if we want some particular response or some background conversations.
I guess that all of this drains my creative center: you have to imagine like 200 of us in an open big warehouse area with people taping and shouting, it's really noisy. I can put earphones and try to write but it doesn't work so usually from 6pm to 9pm or during the weekends I write. Sometimes during the week too, if it's not a particular busy day and I can go home. And I'm very lucky because Ubisoft is really flexible and gives me the tools that I need to do what I have to do.
Alice - Studio de performance
For what concerns what I'm working on right now, I can sort of talking about it very generally. I wrote for AC since 2005 until AC3 was shipped so I asked to take a small break. I work with a group called Alice which is a narrative group in Montreal. We act as a service for the games of all the studios and we take care of evrything that can fall under the narrative blanket, from casting, to voice directing, motion capture and so on. I'm there for helping out the scriptwriters with which I have training sessios or speaking sessions and when it's required (it's not mandatory) I read scripts that the writers sends to us and I write reports, notes and feedbacks on them. Obviously those from AC have a special place in my heart and I try to work as much as I can on that. Sometimes I meet with the other AC writers or the guys from Initiates like Richard Farrese which is an amazing person and did a lot for the franchise. I have a feeling that I want to eventually go back to production but I really needed a break.
I'd tell you something more about the other games I'm working on but I'm not allowed!

Q: Is there any chance for AC to go back to the Middle Ages to have something a little less gunpowdering and more stealthy?
There is not a mandatory rule that tells us that we can only move forward and in fact with Black Flag we are going backward to tell a prequel story. So it's entirely possible. This kind of decisions are not up to me so I'm just sharing my opinion. I don't kow what furure holds because I know only about BF and nothing more. For what comes next I know as much as you do... that's the official line ;).

Q: How challenging is to work with annual stories in a franchise like this one? Is it a problem to have to come up with new stories every year?
No, I don't think that's a problem. The problem is coming up with stories in general, the timeline is not an issue. In addition, we have a lot of ideas and stories that are sort of "stored away" because as we're building the universe, we've been keeing tracks of things that we could do to explore further a different character, a different story and so on.
I think that between the large metha structure and the talented writers team that we have, it is not a challange. It is not a matter of time because the time pressure is not too bad. The challenge is to write.

Q: What is your role when it comes to production of the books and the novels? How difficult is to keep the universe coherent and cohesive?
Forsaken Frontpage
At the very least, we start by communicating with the author. We give him access to the scripts and to the updates of the scripts because they usually begin to write before we have the final and definitive version. They constantly send drafts and we have people whose role is to monitor consistency, to control that the content of the book is in line with the content of the game. I know that some of our die hard fans have picked up every incongruence so I apologize, we do our best. We also try to find a balance between giving the book author creative freedom especially for those books that have grown from just being a transcript of the gamescript into sort of a new thing, like "Forsaken" especially. Here you have the same period of time covered by the game but from a very different perspective. I won't spoiler but it's really intersting companion piece to AC3.
We have a team which is made up of huge fans of the saga with an obsession for the details. They make sure that there is much continuity as possible.
We found that working with strong partner helps a lot and we had an example diring the partenship with the guys who did "The Fall" and "The Chain" and that are now working on "Brahman". We said to them "Go and do what you want with your assassin in your world" and then we met and we control that everything were fitting with the pillars of AC.

The comics

So the key is to have good partners, a good staff and good co-workers, especially the guys from Initiates that work really hard to give all the details and to make sure that there is consistency.
The moment in which it can become challenging is when you work with individuals that don't respect the brand, maybe more concerned about their own ideas than about writing something that makes sense. Fortunately those things are very rare and we're lucky to have very passionate and dedicated partners.

Q: Is there any specific inspiration for Ezio's character? Is there any chance to meet him again?
Obviously I cannot reveal what the future holds but what I can say is that you saw Altair again so everything is possible. As I said before, nothing is preventing us from going backward in time but I can't say anything more so no comment!
About Ezio's inspiration, I'm sure there were a lot of conversations but I can't think of anything specific. It was a mix of different things. I wish that I could give you a list of names but I should invent them now and it wouldn't be fair.

Q: Is Aveline going to be back or will we see more of her? What does the future holds for female assassins?
Aveline is gonna appear in the Sony versions of Black Flag in which there will be exclusive missions with her. Again, I don't see what the future holds. I would love to see more female assassins but for us it depends on setting stories that make sense. However, I hope so, I'd like it very much, so we'll see.

Q: The creative process to create different is for every assassin required a lot of work or is it something that came naturally?
Creating the hidden blade is an opportunity for us to play this very iconic part of the assassin wardrobe. Every time we have a new character, a new face with his own personality and his upbringings, the hidden blade is an other way to distinguish an assassin from another one. Everyone has a slightly different version and so there is a story behind the new shape that explains where it comes from. It's a really good thing for us and not a burden to create it.

Altair Ezio Connor Edward

Q: How much the game engine limit story telling?
I don't think that engine itself does. Sometimes you have to find ways to work with the technology you have but there has never been an istance in which we wanted to do something and the engineer said it was impossible. I don't consider it a limiting factor. What I think is that sometimes we chose to focus on different elements in developing the engine or creting new features for each game but that's not a reflection of technology limitation. I'll give you an example so that I can be a bit more concrete.
Maria and Claudia follow you as allies in AC2
I would love to see more work on AI companions: I'm not talking about the co-op mode in the multiplayer, I'm referring to the times when the assassins have partners or allies that he or she is finding. I would love to do more with that and it is something that the engine is absolutely capable of. It is just a matter of resigning resources because we have just some months or years to do the engine development before going into production. Maybe one day we will work more on that because I think it would be a great way to better build relationships between the characters in addition to cut scenes and dialogues. This is something on which we should invest a lot of time because it's simple for me as a writer to say "I would love the engine to do this" but it's really hard and time consuming for people who have to build what I'd like. We have to balance what Corey wants with what's the best for the game and the fans.

Q: Was the fact that there was such a huge positive feedback on the naval battles the major reason why Black Flag went the way it went?
I think that it was just a bonus and that they already had the idea because they were working on BF way long before anyone knew. I guess that the positive feedback just made them adding more to that feature and it validated the characteristics in which they believed.

Q: In AC3, there's an episode in the present day in Brazil. How did you get to that? First, we wanted to move beyond the cutlines of New York. Then, as development began, we looked at where our most passionate game communities were and we decided to set an episode in Brazil using it as a way to thank our fans here.
Actually, the more time I spend, the more I'd like to set some kind of AC story in Brazil and not just a small piece in the present day. I think that the history down here, the environment, all the land itself give a lot of inspiration. If it was up to me, I'd push the button and I'd put it in production right away. I have the intent to go back to Montreal and talk about it because in Brazil there really is a lot to work with. Let's see if anyone cares about what I think :p

Q: Don't you think that, being BF a prequel of AC3, going with the full number sequel could be a bit confusing?
I have absolutely no say or control over the naming conventions. I can share my slight confusion because it's a number and it has the name Black Flag too.. so I don't really know. I'm not the person that can answer this question for you. I may or may not had similar questions in the past but who decides are not people really interested in my opinion :p I think that part of the explanation is that there is a new character, a brand new assassin, brand new setting. This justify the number "IV" but I don't know for the name "Black Flag". Traditionally, it was a new number for a new assassin ... I wish I had a better answer but I really don't know.

Q: Are we going to see more Desmond? Was there any specific inspiration for Desmond? Was there something that you wanted to share about him? The only thing I can say is that Ezio answers the questions about Altair, so it's always possible to see people again. The door is never completely closed because the wonders of enemy technology allow you to visit the past. Maybe some questions are gonna be answered.
Desmond while trying to do his best...
For me, at least at the beginning, the idea was to make Desmond a sort of every man. When you first meet him, before descovering who is family is or where he comes from, he's doing his best maybe not succeding in trying. He has a very low profile life and personality: he just wants to be left alone, he is in a very strange stage because he's hiding and at the same time he's trying to have a life and it's not a great life. He was not inspired by any character in particular but the idea was to create an anonimous man as blended in the present day as possible.

Q: Can you tell us about the games you worked on before AC?
Before AC in Ubisoft, I worked on a couple of Prince of Persia ("Warrior Within" and "The Two Thrones") in which I was a scriptwriter. It was different because there were smaller teams and a linear game a bit more straightforward. I worked a little bit on the conception phase up to 2008 but then my responsibilty for AC1 kept becoming bigger and bigger and it was not fair trying to do both of them.
But I do love Prince of Persia and I would love to recapture the magic of "Sands of time" and do a new most spectacular, next gen episode. I appreciated everything of those games: the way the prince was controlled, the time mechanics, the environments, the sense of magic and mystery.. it was very romantic. I would love to go back and work on those games. Who knows.. I'll ask around the studios but those people are busy these days :p
Prince of Persia: Sands of time

Q: What is the relationship between the scriptwriter and actual gameplay mechanics? Does one go on top of the other?
We use narrative to contextualize the gameplay and then we use the gameplay to inform the narrative. It's more like a loop and, when we are working on the same part of the game, we know that what comes first is to create an immersing, incredible experience. That is what dictates how we do things. It is never a matter of me giving things of the script and say: "You'd better do some gameplays to fit this" or "Here you have some brand new features. Figure out how to justify them into the script." Besides, a lot of the people with whom I work, have been my colleagues for long enough to learn together how to work. And then some of those new things come up naturally during the development and production.
We always try and balance gameplay and narrative and I think we have pretty well established guidelines: we have navigation, fights and social stuff and everything is developed along those lines and justified by the story. So no, I don't think that there's one that go over the other, they are on a pair.

Q: So let's talk about the hood gate. Even if we don't know if it was your decision or not, how do you feel as a writer to know that the fan required a patch to fix the situation about the hood?
I would love to be able to comment but I'm not allowed. I will say that it is wonderful to see people so passionate, I'm glad that there was a response and that was eventually fixed. I'm sorry that it took as long as it did. I can say that every time I received a message about it, it was forwarded to all the team. The messages were not unheeded, they were sent to the team and listened.
I'd say much more but if I did, I'd get fired.

Q: Which game was the biggest challange for you? Which is the hardest hurdle to create such a deep and detailed universe?
Assassin's creed 1 was definitely the biggest challenge. It's the game with the longest production cycle and there were the most unknown elements: the technology was new, I was working with a new team, the tech was new and, at least I didn't know what to expect from the next gen consoles and so on. We were building something so big and so weird in a lot of ways that we had a lot of uncertanties.
I think that the hardest thing to face while building such a universe is to have faith that what I'm doing is worthwhile. Sometimes it happens to wrestle a lot about "Am I wasting my time?" or "Am I shitting the bed?". What I mean is that the biggest challenge, under the emotional profile, is to face your own uncertanties. In a more practical way, for me it has always been the characters: we have to deal the constraints of our medium, which is not a book or a Tv where you can spend a lot of time knowing people and not always in the context of crazy action. In games you don't have so much time and you can't surround or enter in someone's head without making other things happen. The big challange is to find a way to build an interesting character in a limited space of time and in a no-action context. I hope that going forward we will be able find or learn new and unique ways to address it.

Q: There is a movie coming out for Assassin's Creed. Are you in any way involved in that and what are your expectations on that?
I am not allowed to say anything at all about the movie. I have orders from the highest levels that the only thing I can ever say about the movie is that I cannot say anything about the movie. I'm sorry.

Q: What is your favourite game and your favourite character in the AC saga?
You can not ask me that question. It's like asking a parent which is his favorite child. I love them all equally for different reasons. AC1 has a special place in my heart because it was the first but I could not make a list and same thing for the assassins. I know there are people who have preferences about their creations and that's fine but I could never ... I could never do this to my children ... It would not be right.

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