Assassin’s Creed III – Chasing Lee (and Parkour Mechanics Analysis)

Hi, guys. Today, I’m going to talk about Mission 2 of Sequence 12 – Chasing Lee. And just in general about how to design an engaging chase parkour sequence with Assassin’s Creed III mechanics. Spoilers.

Objective 1 – Find Lee near the harbour
So, Connor is pissed off. He’s broken, he had to kill his best friend, his father, he got disillusioned in Washington, Achilles died, so he has nothing left but to kill the final Templar – Charles Lee. Lee, on the other hand, is scared shitless of Connor’s tenacity and wants to get out of the country. Although, there’s one thing I don’t understand, the person Connor was getting information from says Lee heard what happened at the parade. Maybe it’s because English is not my native language, but does he mean the funeral? Or was there something between then and now that got cut?

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Anyway, our first objective is to get to the harbor and find Lee. One thing I noticed, by the way, is that throughout the WHOLE level, even during the chase with Lee, the Assassin Recruits are available to us. There are quite a few city missions where recruits are disabled even though it makes no sense for them to be (for example, in Lee’s Last Stand mission, where Connor infiltrates Fort George, Stephane says that they’ll be right behind him, and you can’t use recruits in that mission), but in the level where it’s clearly all personal and would actually make sense for recruits to be disabled, they’re… enabled?

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

But, I digress. Find Lee near the harbor. The objective is just to go from point A to point B. And look at the distance of where we need to go, and we can’t use fast travel in missions. That’s quite a lot of running with nothing to do. I say, push the Notoriety up to Level 3, and don’t have any way to lower it. Lee still has some power, and it would make sense for him to make everybody slow Connor down as much as possible. Even have recruits activated in this part, I don’t mind. However, during the next objective, they just HAVE to be deactivated. Because the next objective is…

Objective 2 – Chase Lee
To chase Lee. Charles sees Connor and just runs the heck away. Now, I love the fact that the final mission to get Lee is a chase sequence. Lee was Connor’s target #1 ever since he was five, and now Connor barely has got anything left in his life but to kill the guy. The concept of the mission just fits with the story so well. However, sadly, the chase is pretty short and straightforward. Only about a minute and a half long. I wanted it to be longer, with a little bit more stuff happening. Here’s how the path we take approximately looks like (the part with the burning ship may be a bit out of proportion).

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

However, with the exception of a small climbing section and several obstacles that we can jump over fluidly if we hold the ‘Jump’ button (instead of not doing that and slowing us down a bit), really, it’s about holding the High Stance button and running forward. That’s all we do in this objective. And, you know, it’s fine the first time you play – epic music, final goal stretch, you’re pumped out to get to Lee… but replay several times, and it becomes a little bit, ‘eh’. But before I dwell into Assassin’s Creed III parkour, let me just look over the optional Full Synchronization objectives.

Stay within range of Lee – 50 meters. I’m fine with this. After all, we need to catch the guy, so a little bit of challenge to keep up with him is fine. Plus, again, the main objective is straightforward, there’s no room for side requirements that don’t have anything to do with it.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Do not shove anyone during the chase. I’m not fine with this. Have you seen Connor? He’s pissed off. He wants to get to Lee. In fact, if anything, this objective should sound like ‘shove as many people as you can during the chase’. Obviously, I’m not saying that it ACTUALLY should be that, but, you get the point. I think that a hefty number of civilians should be put in the path of the chase, so we would push them away while running, just for atmospheric purposes. It doesn’t really break Connor’s speed momentum in gameplay (well, unless you’re trying to run through the guards who have created a roadblock), but just the fact that you’re shoving people to get to Lee subconsciously increases the tension of the scene.

Do not take any fire damage. I’m fine with this too. Again, chasing Lee is the only thing we’re doing in this mission, it’s the only thing that we should be doing, so creating Full Synch requirements based on skill of perfection is fine with me.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Now, with side objectives out of the way, let’s talk about Assassin’s Creed III parkour. Since Assassin’s Creed III is an open-world game, most fun from the parkour comes not from the action of free-running itself, but from the fact that you’re trying to find an effective way towards your goal. Although, I must say, sometimes I find myself just going to the Frontier to free-run a bit on the trees. Even though it’s mostly just holding two buttons, there’s still something enjoyable in that getting from point A to point B.

However. When it comes to something like a chase sequence, you don’t really have time and luxury of finding effective routes, or looking flashy, you’re just running through a set path. And the way Lee’s chase sequence is designed, most of it you can easily beat by just running forward, which, in case of a chase sequence, is more disappointing than just going from point A to point B on your own in an open world. You need something more than just getting from point A to point B. Now, I know why the ‘do not shove’ objective was added here – for some additional thinking and variation in the sequence. I don’t think it really works, though. But what I’m about to tell you is that… you can design really fun chase sequences with existing Assassin’s Creed III mechanics, without changing them at all.

You can actually do quite a lot of things with Assassin’s Creed III free-running. Obviously, you can’t design the whole open world around them, but you can design certain sections for your mission (like the ship construction site in the Chase Lee mission) to make use of them. Let’s make a list of what we can do.

(NOTE: Since all parkour is done in high stance, presume that the High Stance button is always pressed)
1. Direction – Run/Climb in given direction, jump on objects, jump between objects if the distance is safe, swing from poles or tree branches, jump through V-shaped objects, slide under objects that can’t be jumped over, and etc.
1.1. If you’re dropping from a roof, or side jumping, hold direction to catch onto something.
1.2. Use a lift to quickly get onto a high ground position (no additional mechanical challenge, but is a cool action).
1.3. Do a ‘corner turn’ with a hanging object (no additional mechanical challenge, but is a cool action).
1.4. Go through an open door or window to take a shortcut.
1.5. Shove people away.
1.6. If you’re running into an object like a birch tree, push yourself away forward (pretty much shoving objects instead of people).
2. Direction + Tap ‘Jump’ – Do a manual jump.
3. Direction + Hold ‘Jump’ – Do unsafe jumps and leaps of faiths.
4. Direction + Hold ‘Drop’ – Drop safely from a ledge instead of jumping forward.
5. While Climbing, tap ‘Jump’ – Do a back eject.
6. While Climbing, hold a left/right direction and tap ‘Jump’ – Do a side jump.
7. While on a V-shaped object that’s got another V-shape above (usually trees), tap ‘Jump’ – climb the V-shape object.
8. Direction + Hold ‘Jump’ at appropriate time near an obstacle – fluidly jump/vault over an obstacle without losing momentum.
9. Direction + Hold ‘Drop’ at appropriate time near an obstacle – slide under the obstacle (fluidly jump over if you can’t slide over it).

I think that’s it, might have missed something. Now, if you’re about to say, ‘But, Stas! Half of the actions you’ve listed are automatic anyway, like swinging and sliding under, and there’s not that many other things to do or press, even though the animation quality is astounding… How do you propose to make fun chase sequences based on that?’

Well, here’s the thing, to design a chase sequence, you don’t have to design it with an open-world in mind, and you have to make a linear environment (even if you put it in the open world map itself) where stuff happens and where you can vary the actions the player has to do. Oh, and there’s so much potential here, some of it is used even in Assassin’s Creed III itself.

Climbing up and sideways
A lot of people hated Underground Tunnels in Assassin’s Creed III. Now, I agree that the puzzles at the doors are not exactly on par with the glyph puzzles, and that following rats may become boring after a while… But there’s quite a few of really cool navigational puzzles and challenges underground, and one of them can be adapted to be used in the chase sequence just to make the act of climbing up (which, in essence, is holding two buttons) a little bit more challenging and engaging.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

There’s a place in the tunnels where there are too sewer grates. Water falls from them consecutively. So, basically, you have to climb under one sewer grate, and when you see that water’s about to flush you down, jump under the other sewer grate (there’s also a similar situation where you have to use back ejects instead of climbing sideways). It requires a bit of skill, and in context of chasing Lee could be adapted by making him throw ship construction materials at you while you climb to get him. Possibly there’s fire below you, so you don’t have huge room for mistake here.

Shoving birch trees and tree-like pole objects
Now, this is an interesting one, actually. What I’ve noticed when running into small trees, that Connor pushes himself mostly forward and not too much sideways. This can be used to an interesting effect. Imagine, there’s a danger (like, I don’t know, fire on the ship construction site, as in this level) on the sides of a pretty narrow corridor. If you try to go the traditional way and avoid the obstacles, chances are high you will get yourself damaged. However, if you run into the tree-like objects, then you push yourself forward without getting caught in the danger zone, making it a clear run.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Manual jump
This has been used extensively in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s Animus training courses. What would happen there, the environment was built in a way that if you didn’t do a manual jump before the ledge, then you would jump into a wall (instead of the pathway beneath the wall) and lose time, speed and momentum.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

This is harder to apply to Assassin’s Creed III due to the smarter free-running (so in cases like in Brotherhood, Connor is going to jump down instead of into the wall). However, there’s still a way to reproduce this. Just add something to hold on to on the wall. Connor will have that as his priority; I’ve tested that out on cliffs in the Frontier. Instead of jumping down, he will jump on the wall. But if you press jump before the ledge, he will jump on the surface below. And when chasing a target, you really don’t want spend time climbing on unnecessary ledges and taking more time to get to the path you need to go. Also, a second ledge instead of a wall is going to to do as well.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Now, holding ‘Drop’ while running is also going to work in this instance, Connor will jump down instead of onto the wall. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with that. However, if we want to accentuate the manual jump, we can cheat a bit. Have two ledges below (like a stair), the higher one is with a danger (like, uhm, fire). If we hold drop, Connor (theoretically, at least) is going to jump into the fire instead of the surface he needs to land on. Although, I’m not entirely sure about that, I couldn’t find an appropriate environment to test this out on.

Unsafe Jump
Surprisingly enough, none of Assassin’s Creed III chase sequences has got unsafe jumps (those where you have to hold the ‘Jump’ button to perform them). I don’t know why. Successful unsafe jumps over big gaps look cool, feel rewarding, and give an additional epic feel to what’s happening. Although it’s not entirely skill based, Lee’s chase could certainly use these for additional awesomeness.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Back Eject/Side Jump
Assassin’s Creed III has got lots of levels where back eject is needed (and a few spots where side jump is needed). Although, every single time it prompts us with a tutorial message of how to Back Eject, which, honestly, feels somewhat annoying. You can say, ‘But Stas, back ejects are really not that exciting, you know’. Ah, my friend, but you should never underestimate the power of a target that’s running away while you have to do several jumps sideways and backwards while climbing. Also the power of the environment that’s going to collapse in a few seconds after you touch it, Prince of Persia-style (the setting of a burning ship construction site in Lee’s chase certainly fits for such things). If you’re not excited about back ejects and side jumps, then those two hazards in combination are going to make them so much more fun for you.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Also, when it comes to side jumps, we can also put situations where you need to hold onto a direction to grab some kind of ledge, otherwise you’re going to fall not exactly where needed. And let’s not forget about the classic ‘run up the wall and back eject’ move from previous games, which was not used anywhere in Assassin’s Creed III (at least as far as I remember). Shame.

V-Shaped Objects
Again, like Unsafe Jumps, not exactly a hard action to complete. But, you know, pressing jump several times to climb a set of V-shaped objects can bring a little bit of variety into the chase. And let your finger rest a bit from holding the High Stance button.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Jumping/vaulting over and sliding under low obstacles
These two are implemented in a way in Assassin’s Creed III chase sequences, but only as a way to… look cool while running, you know. And maybe not lose a little bit of momentum. I mean, what usually happens with low obstacles if we don’t hold an appropriate button when approaching them, Connor jumps on the obstacle, and then jumps down from it. And if you time the button hold right, he’s either going to jump over or slide under (depending on the button and if it’s possible to slide under the object). Now, really, the only penalty here is that you don’t look as cool. I would want there to be a reason to use these buttons.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

For example, the slide under low obstacle action. Let’s say the obstacle is some fallen object that has fire on top, so if Connor automatically jumps on it (or tries to vault over), he takes damage. This means that we have to specifically slide under to avoid said damage.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

When it comes to jumping over, we can modify the ‘manual jump’ situation. At the ledge, just add a low obstacle we have to jump over to get onto the surface below, instead of doing a manual jump from a distance before the ledge. Or the inverse situation of the ‘slide under’ example, make the object high enough that Connor wants to slide under it right into a danger zone, so you have to hold ‘Jump’ to actually jump over.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Now, these are not all possible examples of what we can do with all the listed free-running actions. Like, maybe there’s a free-run pathway that we have to switch midway (or we’ll run into a dead end or something), or maybe we have to time our swinging on poles because Charles is shooting at us and we need to move while he’s reloading and be behind some cover when he’s firing, or… What I’m trying to show is, the possibilities for a fun engaging and challenging parkour chase sequence are there. We don’t need any new mechanics to make chases more fun. All we need is a smart use of the existing ones. Assassin’s Creed III free-running uses only three buttons in total (not counting the directional buttons/sticks), but I think it’s simple and yet at the same time rich enough that it’s possible to build fun and engaging parkour sequences.

Obviously, you can’t design the whole open world taking all what I’ve listed into consideration. It’s just too much. But I think the whole Assassin’s Creed series has got the open world part handled pretty well. As I said already, the point of free-running in open world is in looking around and using the routes/pathways you want to get to your target goal. And it’s fun enough to navigate holding just a few buttons, because the complexity and challenge is not the point. But the chase sequence mentality has to be a little bit different than open world design, because complexity and challenge IS the point there. And I think that Assassin’s Creed III navigation mechanics are good enough to make full use of that mentality.

Objective 3 – Get to the harbor master
After a very effective cutscene which leaves both Connor and Lee pretty heavily wounded (and Connor lies unconscious for a while), we learn that Charles has crossed the river, and the harbor master is ready to give us passage too. Now… while I do like the concept, that even fully wounded (although, Assassin Recruits still have to be deactivated here, because it just feels foolish to be able to call them), we’re still chasing Charles Lee. I think that’s great. What I don’t entirely understand, though, is the business with the harbor master. And all the crossing into the Frontier area.

Assassin's Creed III - Chasing Lee

Couldn’t we use Eagle Vision to track Lee’s bloodstains and get to a tavern in Boston, instead of Frontier? And get the harbor master out of equation? But, anyway. Even wounded and barely walking, we’re still are chasing Lee. And then finally find him again. And then a cutscene plays so epic, that I really don’t mind we didn’t get to kill Lee in gameplay. Because… Because, this cutscene is just too awesome.

Well… This is it. Chasing Lee. Hope you have enjoyed the read, and I’ll see you next time.

Posted on February 17, 2013, in Game Design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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