Feb 22, 2022 - Technology

Assassin's Creed writer reveals how series' endings are made

A screenshot from Assassin's Creed Revelations shows a character hanging off of a building.

Assassin's Creed Revelations. Screenshot: Ubisoft

Veteran big-budget game writer Darby McDevitt is determined to make the endings of the games he writes matter. “I want the first scenes and the last scenes to stick with people,” he tells Axios.

Why it matters: Endings often get short shrift in game development.

  • Studios and publishers will scrub-polish intros, trying to make a great first impression.
  • But endings often peter out and aren’t even seen by most players, with average completion of big games often hovering around 50%, according to checks of in-game achievements.

Between the lines: McDevitt has been writing for games since 1999 and has penned the ending to a half dozen major history-spanning Assassin’s Creed releases from Ubisoft, including 2011’s AC: Revelations and 2020’s AC Valhalla.

  • Assassin’s Creed endings often involve the culmination of the game’s main historical adventure and some advancement of the franchise’s meta-plot of secret ancient histories and modern day conspiracies.
  • McDevitt says he's felt "lucky" on the AC series to always get the resources he wanted to make an impactful ending.
  • For the endings, the writers plan a mix of interactive moments a player controls with a gamepad and non-interactive scenes. “We always emphasize that this is a story that needs to be experienced in the pad as much as possible,” McDevitt said.

Creating endings in a top franchise can be challenging, especially when it evolves into a style of game that’s designed to feel endless.

  • Older Assassin’s Creed games were largely linear, bringing players through the same shared moments to a grand finale.
  • Newer AC games, such as Valhalla, are more open-ended. Players can skip major chunks of the game, a structure that led McDevitt’s team to write Valhalla’s final events more vaguely, like a puzzle box for thorough players to solve.
  • Years of post-release add-ons also let the writers add more final moments post-release. Of Valhalla, McDevitt says: “We have concrete ideas for more surprises to come, as a few lingering questions have yet to be answered!” (For Valhalla players wondering why its England-based Viking protagonist Eivor is inexplicably shown to be buried in North America, McDevitt said: “That is indeed a lingering question. We’ll see!”)

On specific endings for Assassin’s Creed projects:

  • 2011’s AC Revelations: Its ending is a revision of one planned for the canceled 3DS Assassin’s Creed game AC Discovery Lost Legacy, but includes a key moment, Renaissance-era protagonist Ezio’s speech to modern-day figure Desmond Miles, that wasn’t in the 3DS version.
  • 2011’s AC Embers, an animated movie that ended Ezio’s story, emerged from a desire to do more with the exiting but popular hero. “We all felt the character had a lot more to give.” The writers even argued that showing Ezio’s twilight in a movie was canonically correct, as the games at the time were restricted to depicting moments in a franchise-spanning bloodline up until the moment a character had a child.
  • 2013’s AC Black Flag concludes its pirate adventure with the traditional songParting Glass,’ which McDevitt had liked since his college days in Ireland. “The actress Sarah Greene, who played Anne Bonney, is a native of Cork, and she already knew the song by heart. She sang two takes of it perfectly and we wrapped. It was a nice capper to a long journey.”

Yes, but not all plans pan out.

  • McDevitt was asked to write some lore for 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity while developing what would become 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins.
  • He had an idea that Origins protagonist Bayek would hunt down “12 Templars who had been overtaken by the ‘souls’ of 12 Egyptian gods” and seeded it with a reference in Unity to the otherworldly character Juno’s “Hidden Twelve” apostles.
  • But his team ditched the idea shortly after Unity’s launch, leaving that in-game tease unfulfilled.
  • “One day perhaps I may be able to rehabilitate this story into something else, but for now it’s a bit of vestigial lore.”

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