How does Ubisoft manage to pump out a new Assassin's Creed game every year? By putting five of its major studios - including development houses in Romania, France, Sweden, Singapore, and Quebec City - to work on each new game, all under the stewardship of a sixth studio, Ubisoft Montreal.
That's a remarkable investment of resources, even for one of the world's largest game makers.
And you can see the results of this investment in the franchise's upcoming instalment, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, which I had the pleasure of checking out on my final day at E3 2011 in Los Angeles.
The third and final chapter in the story of Renaissance-era assassin Ezio, it looks to be set largely in Constantinople. Ubisoft sent a team of artists to Istanbul to capture thousands of photographs of the city's ancient architecture and landmarks and study what the city looked like hundreds of years ago.
The resulting environments are, as has always been the case in Assassin's Creed games, just short of photo-realistic.
The short segment of the game that I saw had our seasoned assassin - now 50 years old, but still in possession of exquisite physical grace - destroying a massive chain strung across a river meant to keep ships from passing through.
He then used an authentic weapon of the time called Greek Fire - essentially an early flame thrower that spews oil while setting it ablaze - to set fire to and destroy a harbour full of beautifully ornate wooden boats. He spryly leapt from one prow to another, taking out enemies with his new hook blade and by tossing bombs that players can craft using recipes they discover as they play.
The tale, I was told, will see Ezio racing against his ever-present nemeses, the Templar knights, to discover keys that will unlock a library containing secrets hidden by Altair, the franchise's original assassin.
I also had a chance to lay hands on the multiplayer portion of the game, which appears to be quite similar to what we saw in last year's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - which had assassins trying to locate and kill human-controlled marks blending in with the crowd - with a few notable exceptions.
To start with, Ubisoft is exploiting the series' acclaimed narrative by adding a storytelling element that will see players learning a little more about Abstergo Industries, the villainous organization running the assassination simulations that players experience in multiplayer. (For those new to the series, it's actually set in present day, with all of the historical action taking place in complex computer simulations.)
What's more, players can select and customize their characters and choose their weapons and abilities, which will include many of the bombs that can be crafted in the solo portion of the game. Plus, the progression system from Brotherhood - which capped at level 50 - is being altered so that players can keep growing their character without reaching an abrupt end.
The only problem I can foresee is that it might be too much of a good thing.
Gamers are used to waiting for two or three years between entries in popular franchises. The Call of Duty games - the exception that proves the rule - have managed to grow in popularity with each annual releases, but keep in mind that the campaigns in these games are typically only about eight hours long. An average Assassin's Creed quest is closer to 40 hours.
I know some lighter gamers who have expressed interest in playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but are waiting until they find the time to finish its predecessor, Assassin's Creed 2. With another entry in the series already on the doorstep they might simply feel overwhelmed and abandon the series.
But not me. Ezio is among my favourite modern game heroes, and the Assassin's Creed story is one of the most compelling ongoing tales in the medium. I can't wait to see what new twists and shocks lie in wait in the franchise's fourth game.Report Typo/Error