Assassin's Creed III's trailblazing animation legacy lives on

Aleissia Laidacker
Aleissia Laidacker talks AC3 animation at GDC

Remember all the forest-running, wall-scaling, tree-climbing fun you had - or still have - while playing Assassin's Creed 3?

You can thank the crack team at Ubisoft Montreal, including Team Lead for AI and Gameplay Aleissia Laidacker, for developing the techniques and systems to bring protagonist Connor to life in a way never before seen in Assassin's play.

"With Connor, when we looked at taking that model and applying the old animation that Ezio [from earlier ACtitles] had, it seemed much lighter than the style for Ezio," Laidacker told TechRadar following a summit at GDC 2013.

"For Connor, we wanted him to be more grounded," she added. "Since he's this guy that runs and navigates in trees, he's more connected to his environment, so for that we wanted something where animations felt heavier and he was a bit lower to the ground.

"That's why we went in and said, 'We'll change the animations to reflect this new style.'"

'Assassin' lessons

Those changes helped to refresh the game without fundamentally changing it, Laidacker said during the summit titled, "AI Postmortems: Assassin's Creed III, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Warframe."

Changing the second-to-second feeling of movement in experiences like ground navigation, scrambling and sliding, free running and tree climbing helped create the type of gameplay the Ubisoft Montreal team wanted to achieve - retooled animation that was still familiar so as not to alienate players.

"The procedural animation [we used], was completely new to us," Laidacker said post-talk. "And we didn't necessarily want to have new systems with hundreds of thousands of new animations.

"We decided to try to deform the character in the code so that we also would have these terrains that were more organic looking and it's not, for us, something we've typically seen in video games, so that for us came as a personal challenge."

Assassin's Creed talk

'Assassin's Creed III' animation gets broken down

Laidacker isn't working on Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, due out in October 2013 in North American and November in Europe. Ubisoft released the first gameplay trailer for the follow-up today.

Though she's not a part of the development team for Black Flag, Laidacker said the groundwork laid in AC3 will carry over to the forthcoming title.

"They are working with all the same tech, so you'll be seeing a lot more examples of [AC3 animation], especially moving objects," she said. "That's something that's really huge for the team."

Laidacker stayed mum on what current project she's working on – "I can't say right now," she balked with a laugh – but the animation legacy of AC3 will continue to find itself, and grow, in upcoming Ubisoft titles.

"I don't know if we're necessarily trying to lead [the industry] with what we're doing, but animation is really one of the parts we consider the most important. We really want to push on animation.

"Are we doing anything new? We hope, but for us it's always going to be trying to have really clean and fluid-looking animations. If there are pops in animation in a game, there's no way we'll ship it."

Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.