The Average Gamer

Assassin’s Creed IV: In-Game Radio Play Tells the History of Abstergo

Darby McDevitt Assassin's Creed Writer 16x9
Darby McDevitt, lead writer on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag wants you to stay in his game even when you’re not actually playing. In a dimly-lit bar under London’s Fitzrovia, we chatted about Abstergo’s history, Aveline and radio plays.

Assassin’s Creed III marked the end of Desmond’s story arc, but certainly not the end of the Animus project. The accompanying Vita game AC3: Liberation introduced us to the Animus developer’s public face, Abstergo Entertainment. In Assassin’s Creed IV we get to walk around Abstergo itself, delving into the private and rather odd offices of the research division where your task is to examine the life of Edward Kenway.

Throughout the game you’ll have to spend about 40 minutes in these offices, spread between several of the pirate memory sequences. There’s a definitive story arc set in this area; light but with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Around the arc though, you’ll find another 90 minutes worth of content in the form of videos, audio, pictures and a series of sticky note QR codes that appear around the cubicles. I don’t yet know what all the sticky notes mean but trust me when I say that someone in that office is having a seriously weird episode.

Key to the history of Abstergo Entertainment is a radio play written by McDevitt. It’s broken up into five parts, lasting eight or nine minutes each and you can just stand in the office listening to this story unfold. Seems like a weird decision since the whole point of games is to be interactive, but McDevitt has his reasons.

“Sometimes when I’m at home and I’m puttering around making dinner or cleaning, I put on a movie and I watch it and I thought, ‘It’s a shame you can’t do that with games. You can’t put on a game and passively experience it.’”

This is true and it seems like other developers are also catching on. Only last week, I begrudged having to stop playing GTA V for lunch. I didn’t want to leave that world so I put Franklin in a cab, switched the in-game radio away from East Los FM and just watched the taxi cruise around Los Santos while I ate my sandwich. Abstergo’s radio play promises the same kind of experience.

Assassins Creed IV Black Flag - Abstergo Office Desk“I am a fan of wanting you to be able to experience the game universe in a passive way as well as an active way,” continued McDevitt. “It’s a step further than finding a tape and listening to a 30 second conversation.

“So we put a few things in Black Flag so you can do that. The radio drama is one. The other is that the taverns have 35 folk songs that you can listen to from the time period. There’s 35 sea shanties for the boat that you can collect so there’s 70 songs from the time period that are available. You can just go walk into a tavern, park next to it and let them listen to the band playing.”

When exploring Abstergo’s offices, you could find the radio play parts out of order but each one is clearly numbered. Properly assembled, it tells the story of the company’s roots.

“You see the early days of Abstergo, of the young Warren Vidic and a woman named Eileen Bach,” said McDevitt. This Eileen was responsible for the Surrogate Initiative that led to Abstergo’s situation today and your current job.

“In past Assassin’s Creeds, you have to put somebody on a slab and go through their memories but Abstergo, unbeknownst to a lot of people, had an initiative back in the early 80s where they were trying to sequence DNA so that a team of researchers could go into the same genetic memory, even if you weren’t related to them. That was so that they didn’t have to hold people hostage and rely on an unwilling participant like Desmond.

“They were having problems with that. It was much easier to just make the person go through their own genetic memory. But now they’ve finally perfected that technology so now you, as a researcher, are going through Desmond’s memories, his sequenced genome. That’s why you can go into Edward Kenway’s memories. So this radio drama I wrote explains that whole history and there’s some Aveline connections in that one.”

Part of the radio play actually deals with where the DNA came from that allowed Abstergo to explore Aveline’s memories. She’s no relation to Desmond at all and, as well as the new missions coming to the HD port of Liberation, people who play Assassin’s Creed IV on PS3 or PS4 will be able to play a whole new section of Aveline’s life. This was written by Jill Murray, who also wrote Liberation and is working on the forthcoming DLC for Adewalé, Edward’s quartermaster.

Assassins Creed IV Black Flag - Adewale Spyglass Edward

We know that Edward Kenway lived between 1693 and 1735, while Aveline was born in 1747, so there’s no crossover between their lives. Instead, the section will take place five years after Liberation, placing it around 1782. As well as being a standalone story, it’s entirely separate from the main game of Assassin’s Creed IV, due to the way that Ubisoft’s engine architecture works.

“We had originally wanted it so that you could get out of your Animus, go over and hack your colleague’s computer and see that he or she was working on an Aveline research,” McDevitt told me. “Unfortunately, because it’s Sony-exclusive, we couldn’t actually make it go through the present-day scenario. We had to just make it selectable on the main menu.”

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will be out on PS3 and Xbox 360 on 1st November. It’s also coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Wii U on 22nd November.