This past fall, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag breathed life back into a franchise that many considered to be stale and worn out, and to revisit what we felt was one of the best games of 2013, Examiner.com got the chance to speak once again with the game's director, Ashraf Ismail.
Receiving a perfect score back in October of last year, Assassin's Creed 4 delivered to us one of the most impressive, immersive Assassin's Creed experiences we've seen in years.
Getting away from the Ezio era as well as the debut of Connor, Black Flag masterfully blended silky smooth naval gameplay with the spectacular land gameplay we've come to expect. With having the ability to find almost everything in the Caribbean, Assassin's Creed 4 really lent itself to players and their desire to explore everything.
After seeing the introduction of Connor in the previous Assassin's Creed, it was a surprise to many to see a new protagonist in the form of Edward Kenway. Continuing the story of the Kenway legacy, Edward was a distinct character and someone, people could identify with in one form or another.
Ismail talked about how Edward was received by fans and described how they wanted to create a character that fit well into the setting of the game.
"Edward is very popular with fans and this makes me very happy. There were 2 different teams working on Assassin's Creed III and Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag and each team develops their own hero. We wanted to create a character that fit well into the pirate theme but also one that players can connect with.
"Even the idea that Edward is only after gold, this is actually in line with what we expected from players when they are playing in the world trying to get loot to upgrade the Jackdaw.
"Every Assassin's Creed attempts to create a new hero that is unique and exciting but also fits well into the context of the game. Whatever the future may hold fans and players can expect that from the franchise," Ismail said.
There were many other memorable characters in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, aside from Edward. Individuals such as Charles Vane, Adéwalé, Edward Thatch (Blackbeard) and others helped capture the spirit of the pirate age.
Knowing how loaded of a question it was to ask Ismail, who his most intriguing character was, he managed to come up with a few outside of Edward.
"Aside from Edward who is dearest to my heart, we had a really amazing set of characters. It’s hard to choose but definitely Adéwalé and Charles Vane are up there for me. There are many layers to their characters and some really amazing scenes.
"On top of that the voice acting was phenomenal! For Adé I loved the scene where he and Edward discuss his position on the ship. It was honest and handled the aspect of being a black man in this time period and location beautifully.
"For Vane I loved the scene in the Jackdaw captain’s cabin where he tells Edward about his father. For an instant you see that there is a human behind the monster. Besides, his voice is downright bad ass!" Ismail said.
Taking pride in your work is something we can all relate to, and we wanted to know what Ismail was most proud of, when it came to reactions from the fans.
He talked about what he was most proud of when it came to the world of Assassin's Creed 4 as well as what players were raving about that was unexpected.
"The Naval combat is up there, the character of Edward and the feeling of being a pirate in the Caribbean are all things I’m very proud of but I am most proud of the world and the exploration feeling you have in it.
I really feel like we hit a new milestone of credible and believable world that you want to explore and exist in.
"Assassin's Creed is about historical tourism and I am very proud of how we pushed that envelope for the pirate thematic and the Caribbean world. Everything that we put into the game we expect someone out there to enjoy. So there are no real surprises.
"The thing that was enjoyed way more than expected for me were the Sea Shanties. Of course this was something cool and very strong in terms of the sailor/pirate theme but people constantly mention it and I didn’t expect it to be as big of a hit. Very pleasant surprise!" Ismail said.
Assassin's Creed 4 took us to some of the most immersive, entertaining environments the Caribbean had to offer during that time frame. In their own ways, the three major towns we visited (Nassau, Kingston and Havana) were small microcosms of previous cities we sprinted through in preceding Assassin's Creed games.
Having said that, we asked Ismail if Ubisoft has explored all of the locations the Caribbean had to offer during that time period.
"We pushed to give a very strong and cohesive feeling of the Caribbean. In terms or land, weather, ocean, wildlife, mood and feeling.
We didn’t visit all the lands but I feel we did justice to the setting.
"I’m sure if someone had the will to there could be new cities and lands to explore but again I will say that I feel we did justice to it," Ismail said.
Assassin's Creed sports one of the most innovative and unique multiplayer experiences around today, and when asked about the success of Black Flag's version, Ismail said Ubisoft now has a "bigger base of players" enjoying the online experience.
Snapping back to the single player version of Assassin's Creed 4, there was a significant shift from three to four in the amount of naval gameplay players experienced. That begs the question, would it ever make sense for the series to go full naval?
"Anything is possible if the context, setting and game mechanics are good and solid. But could you possibly have an Assassin's Creed game where there is no hero running around on land.
I don’t think it makes sense for the franchise," Ismail said.
With a new generation of consoles available, it always opens up the possibilities for new IPs and innovations being made in genres across the board. Naval gameplay was a revolutionary mechanic in Assassin's Creed III.
Ismail talked about some possibilities he hopes will be implemented in a separate genre soon.
"I would love to see a platformer where the dynamic environment is a core element of the platforming experience. I love platformers and I believe this genre needs to be pushed forward.
"Having a dynamic environment where the character can fully deal with it based on the abilities of the character would be phenomenal and can have some really epic potential!" Ismail said.
Looking back on his time working with the Xbox One and PS4, we wanted to see what Ismail's impressions were of the systems, as well as what sorts of potential he sees in them.
"Both consoles were surprisingly easy to work on. This was not expected. We have a very senior and talented team of techies and artists and they were able to quickly take advantage of the hardware. I was expecting a much harder transition but it was incredibly smooth.
"We have a lot of horse power to play with. So the potential of that is enormous, it can really go in many different directions. More detailed worlds, more believable AI.
"But I’m very curious about the networking and social features of the consoles. How can we use those features to make more immersive and more interesting games?" Ismail said.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag will go down as one of the best installments the series has seen thus far and we can't wait to see where Ubisoft takes us next.