Today, Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered releases, bringing its era-spanning, perspective-changing story to a new generation of gamers. Remastered for PS4 and Xbox One by a team at Ubisoft Sofia consisting of developers who worked on the 2014 original, the game is a treat for anyone who missed out first time around – or anyone who fancies revisiting the adventure under its lustrous new coat of remaster-paint. We talked to the team to find out more about Rogue and the remastering process.
Rogue tells the story of Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin who begins to doubt the methods and beliefs of his order.
While the game begins before the events of Assassin’s Creed III and ends with the opening of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Rogue very much has its own tale to tell. “The main goal we had with the story was to show the personal, emotional journey of an idealistic boy evolving into a critically thinking man,” explains Creative Director Spass Kroushkov. “This transition usually doesn’t happen overnight, so we needed a period which fit both historically and with the game lore to tell it. That’s why we chose to tell the saga of the Assassin’s Brotherhood in North America in its glory days, and how it became the pile of rubble that we see in Assassin’s Creed III.”
I put it to Kroushkov that Rogue was a darker experience than other Assassin’s games. “I would call it more realistic than dark,” he says. “The story of Rogue is a story of a person growing up, and this is rarely an event surrounded by rainbows and unicorns. When you realize that the world doesn’t function exactly as you imagined, it can have a severe emotional impact.”
As Shay’s doubts about the Assassins come to a head, he’s forced out of the order and falls in with the “other side”: traditional Assassin’s Creed bad guys, the Templars. But are they really all bad? “For the first time in Assassin’s Creed we had a playable Templar character,” says Kroushkov. “This was something we decided from the beginning, and it turned into the main drive for the whole game. We wanted to fully represent the Templar side of things.” This doesn’t just apply to the narrative either – the Templar attitude and method is writ large across the gameplay. “We put a lot of effort into developing features which feel truly Templar; from intercepting pigeons carrying Assassin’s messages, to hunting Assassins in haystacks and blocking their air assassinations.”
Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag introduced the idea of naval gameplay, with Connor commanding the Aquila and Edward Kenway the Jackdaw. Naval gameplay returns (along with old and new sea-shanties) in Rogue, with Shay in command of a sloop-of-war named the Morrigan. The development team saw the Morrigan as the “other” main character of the game – meaning that, as with Shay’s on-foot gameplay, Rogue’s boat action needed a blunter, more Templar-appropriate feel. “Developing the Morrigan was an important task. With the icebreaker ram and the walls of fire created by the burning oil, we really achieved that special brute-force feeling we were going for.
Given the game’s position in the Assassin’s Creed timeline, Shay story will see him cross paths with characters from Assassin’s Creed III, including Haytham Kenway, Achilles Davenport and Adéwalé. As a bonus, the Remaster adds three new outfits for Shay – giving players the chance to choose from the threads of movie hero Aguilar, Jacob Frye or Origin’s own Bayek. The remaster also comes with content from original games Deluxe Edition: The Armor of Sir Gunn Quest (where you attempt to find the remains of Sir Gunn and solve his mystery), The Siege of Fort de Sable (a sea-based fort-raiding bonus mission), plus The Master Templar Pack (three snazzy outfits, some weapons and items to customise the Morrigan.)
When Rogue originally launched in November 2014, video gaming was in the midst of a generational shift. The Xbox One and PS4 had both launched the previous year, and a lot of developers had shifted resources to work entirely on the new hardware. “There were still many gamers who didn’t have new gen consoles,” explains Ivan Balabanov, Producer and MD at Ubisoft Sofia. “What we wanted to do back then was to satisfy the expectations of those players who’d been no less eager for a fresh Assassin’s Creed experience than those who’d get Assassin’s Creed Unity for the next-gen consoles.” So it was that Rogue came only to Xbox 360 and PS3 – a decision the team still feel was the right one.
Working at the end of a console cycle gave the Sofia studio certain advantages. It meant they already had a lot of experience with the hardware, so rather than wrestling with the new systems, Creative Director Mikhail Lozanov believes it gave them the chance to really focus on refining the gameplay. “Of course, there are always limitations to consider – but that can be inspiring. Creating something that seems impossible at the time is super exciting and rewarding.”
As mentioned earlier, the team behind the Remastered version of Assassin’s Creed Rogue entirely consists of developers who worked on the original 2014 game. “It feels great and exciting that we now have the opportunity to realise what was limited by the previous generation of consoles,” says Balabanov, “and give to the players the best quality possible now.”
“This remastered version is the most beautiful version of the game” agrees Biser Parashkevov, Senior Lead Artist on the game. But how remastered is this remaster, exactly? “Using the performance capabilities of the current console generation, we’ve really been able to enrich the overall visual quality.” The game renders at a native 4K resolution on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, and 1080p on PS4 and Xbox One. “We’ve achieved an incredibly sharp and clean picture as a result of upscaling all textures four times, and increasing the shadow resolution. Of course, we had some cases where the textures had to be completely rebuilt to achieve consistent visual quality.”
Left: A screenshot from New York in the Remaster. Right: A similar scene from the original 2014 PS3 game. Both these screenshots are shown at their native resolutions – the remaster certainly has a lot more pixels.
It’s not all about resolution though; the increased power of the new consoles has allowed the team to make the world richer. “The refined vegetation and clutter density create a more immersive visual experience,” explains Parashkevov. “It’s especially rewarding while exploring the River Valley region. It brings new life to the landscape compositions in all our biomes – while improved water and snow rendering quality adds a great touch to the game’s huge, diverse world.”
“To create credible and natural city life, we made significant increases to crowd density. Using the next-gen capabilities of Anvil [the engine that powers the Assassin’s Creed games], our engine team managed to boost the volumetric fog, god rays and rain – and by bringing further enhancements and many more optimisations we managed to deliver really solid performance.”
To prove the point, the team in Sofia shared a few example screenshots. Click through to see them at full size.
New York (Left: PS3 original; Right: Remaster) The Remaster shows increased crowd density and detail, volumetric fog effects in the distance, and improved shadow quality (clearest on the building to the left).
River Valley (Left: PS3 original; Right: Remaster) Water rendering has been vastly improved, and the improved shadow quality, volumetric fog and god rays change the scene dramatically.
River Valley forest (Left: PS3 original, Right: Remaster) Note the increased vegetation and clutter density and detail.
Sofia so good
When you think of Sofia, capital of the Balkan state of Bulgaria, you’re more likely to picture hot springs than hot video game development talent – but the truth might surprise you. “The game dev community in Bulgaria has existed for more than 20 years,” explains Balabanov. “It’s growing steadily and we’re seeing more and more young and creative professionals choose to enter the industry as game developers. We have like 50 game development studios operating in the country – with nearly three thousand people working in the industry right now.”
Ubisoft Sofia first opened its doors in 2006, and has since developed a rich portfolio stretching across the spectrum of genres. “We’re proud to have contributed to series like Tom Clancy’s, Prince of Persia, and Assassin’s Creed,” says Balabanov. Over the past twelve years, the studio has increased its staff count almost six-fold. “This expansion has happened gradually with the scope and complexity of projects.”
“Slowly but surely, gaming is playing a more significant role in Bulgaria’s entertainment and culture scene. Steam has almost a million registered Bulgarian gamers, and when you add the number of console and mobile players, that number would increase to at least a million and a half – nearly 20% of the population.” Balabanov is also proud that despite Bulgaria’s diminutive size, it manages to make a big impression in the world of eSports. According to esportsearnings.com, Bulgarian DOTA 2 player Ivan Ivanov has raked in nearly 3 million dollars in prize money.
Right now, the teams at Ubisoft Sofia are beavering away on contributions to three of Ubisoft’s biggest projects including the recently announced The Division 2. We look forward to seeing how their passion and hard work pans out.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue Remastered is available now for PS4 and Xbox One. For more Assassin’s Creed news, check out our previous content – and stay tuned for all the latest.