The lights are on
Corey May, one of the scriptwriters behind the Assassin’s Creed franchise – and one of the best storytellers in the industry – is no longer with Ubisoft. May has left his previous position to become narrative director at Certain Affinity, a studio known mainly for providing co-development assistance rather than forging its own identity. However, that reputation could be changing soon.
The hire was announced via press release this morning, and is part of Certain Affinity's initiaive to redefine itself as a triple-A studio. Previously, Certain Affinity has provided development support on titles like Halo 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Left 4 Dead, but it was not the lead studio on those titles. Moving forward, the company wants to continue working on multiplayer focused titles while also expanding into narrative-driven experiences, and that's where May's expertise will be valuable. With writing credits including Assassin's Creed II, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, and Batman: Arkham Origins, May understands the evolving role of storytelling in games. He is a proven talent in the field, so the mysterious projects in the pipeline at Certain Affinity must be pretty exciting and ambitious to tempt him away from Assassin's Creed and Ubisoft's other titles.
We spoke with May and Certain Affinity president Max Hoberman about the transition, what it means for the company, and what to expect in the future.
On Entering Triple-A Development
Hoberman: I started the company in 2006, and I was telling everyone from day one that we were on a 10-year plan. By the time we were 10, we wanted to be doing full-blown development on triple-A games and be leading the charge. It's funny, because that date was arbitrary; it was based on my prior experience with Bungie and how long it took Bungie to come out with Halo... 10 years is a pretty reasonable, careful, cautious, calculating approach to building a strong company. So, it was a little deliberate, but a little bit of closing my eyes and throwing the darts.
On Day-To-Day Duties
May: [At Ubisoft] I was assisting with the narrative on all the projects inside the studio, working as the sounding board, or as someone people could come to for everything from narrative staffing needs to questions about narrative direction of their games. And working with user research and playtest labs to come up with new ways to analyze narrative in what we called a data-informed (rather than data-driven) way.
I have to tread carefully so as not to reveal too much of the master plan, but I think it will be relatively similar [at Certain Affinity]. I'll be helping on the various things they need me on, and focusing on one project in particular, probably more than others.
On That "One Project In Particular"
Hoberman: [Corey is] going to be working to build a really strong narrative department and team...and be responsible for the narrative experience across all of our games. At the same time, he's also going to be the narrative director on one very big, ambitious, narrative-driven project that we have a signed deal for, but are otherwise not at liberty to discuss.
It's very early, and I can't go into a lot of detail specifically, but we're building up with a specific project in mind driving what we need and making it easier for us to make some critical hires like Corey.
On Leaving Ubisoft
May: I think this is important. I mean this when I say it, and you can ask anyone who knows me, I don't blow smoke: I didn't leave because I was unhappy. I left because the opportunity I was presented with really felt like the kind of thing where, if I didn't do it, I was going to spend the rest of my life wondering "what if?" and regretting not giving it a shot. I couldn't say no...I had to take that step and see what was there.
On Other Upcoming Certain Affinity Projects
Hoberman: We have a game that we've been developing the multiplayer component, in its entirety, for about two years. Our involvement hasn't been announced. We're thinking there's a chance there'll be an announcement later this year...but that's the type of project that complements this other game so well. We outright own all of the multiplayer, from the ground up, from the beginning, of a big, triple-A FPS game. But we have to work with our publishing partners on the announcements for these types of things.
On The Narrative Director's Evolution
May: As games become more complex, and people begin to realize that narrative is not just a matter of the words the scriptwriter puts on the page, but can – and should – touch everything from the way a mission is constructed to the way a level is built to the way the art and audio direction are implemented. It helps to have someone to oversee all aspects of a game's narrative and ensure it's being implemented in a complementary and logical manner...It's far more than the words on the page. You can write a bunch of lines of dialogue, but if the world that's being built around them doesn't fit, you're going to have major problems. As we start to think of games more as experiences and less as linear, hyper-constructed narrative – especially with the growth of player agency and involvement – the role of the writer is starting to evolve into something that goes far beyond the words on the page.
On The State Of Assassin's Creed
May: It's in fantastic and completely capable hands, and no one has anything to worry about or I would have adhered to the rule "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the people that are going to be shepherding and stewarding the franchise. These are people who have been with the franchise for years and years, and totally get it. There are no issues there.
To learn more about Corey May, read managing editor Matt Bertz's interview with him, covering topics like the writing process, the best video game stories, and cats.
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