If you cast your mind back to Ubisoft's E3 conference, there was a lot to talk about, but just before the main event started and the pre-E3 show wrapped up, there was an announcement that really caught our eye. Assassin's Creed Odyssey product manager Ellie Rhodes introduced a new feature launching that day called Story Creator Mode, letting fans create and play their very own stories in the RPG, and that instantly had us curious.
It was something we hadn't thought about before, but seemed so obvious once it was revealed - letting the fans create their own quests. We've seen user-generated content before, from level builders like Super Mario Maker to level creators in Far Cry, but giving players the tools to make narrative-driven content in a triple-A setting is a relatively new kettle of fish.
"Very early on in development, it was something that we were asked to explore with regards to [User-Generated Content] and how we could potentially incorporate that within the Assassin's Creed games and, more specifically, Assassin's Creed Odyssey," Rhodes told us during a later interview. "It became apparent that with the aspects of choice we put forward within Odyssey, and the branching dialogue system, all that kind of stuff, that a quest and narrative editor could be really cool for the community to get their hands on, because it kind of embodies all those philosophies that we had for the main game really well."
"You know with Odyssey, we wanted to change the way we tell a story within an Assassin's Creed game, so that's why we introduced the dialogue and the branching narratives, the choices, the consequences. We were also looking for a new way to interact with the community, in the same way that a photo mode can be a way to interact with them and be creative. So, naturally for us the story could be this new way to interact with them, because for us it was going to be something we were going to change in Odyssey, and a cool way to let people praise themselves and let them create and tell their own story or dialogues etcetera and just surprise us."
By visiting the Story Creator Mode website you can access free tools to allow you to create these stories, which Ubisoft defines as a series of quests from start to end. Within one story there can be several quests, similar to what we've seen in the base game, and we're given the chance to create carefully woven and intricate narratives.
"The Story Creator is a toolset based on our own quest editor used by the development team to create Assassin's Creed Odyssey," Ubisoft writes on the site. "It includes for example elements of the interactive dialogue system used in the main game, allowing users to create their own interactive branching dialogues."
This all sounds very impressive on paper, but when we talked with production manager Anthony Straub about the feature, we asked for a little bit more clarification on exactly how this differs from the tool used by developers. There are key differences of course, like being unable to record dialogue and alter the main events of the story, but what else is there to consider?
"The Story Creator Mode is really inspired by our quest editor, for instance in the main game our quest designers drag and drop blocks, the same way players can in the Story Creator," he explained. "Actually, the main difference is that the Story Creator Mode is web-based, so you create your content from outside the engine, whereas our questing tool, the one we use, is in engine, so you need the game engine to be able to create a quest. That's really the main difference, otherwise you have the same - well almost the same - number of objectives."
"We really kept the main objectives that would make the most sense to tell stories and to be accessible because another big difference is, as you mentioned, that Story Creator Mode is and had to be more accessible than our own internal tools because we wanted all our players to be able to create stories and not just people who have knowledge of game design and the technicalities that goes into making games."
Rhodes was also in the same interview, and emphasised the importance of accessibility when it comes to this tool, adding that, "we noticed when we were researching other tools that were available on the market, that most of them require at least the basic, if not an intermediate, knowledge of programming. While that's all well and good for people to be able to create whatever they want in a game, there's this whole untapped group of people who want to create these stories and have this imagination and creativity that they aren't being able to put anywhere. So, we wanted this to be as accessible to them as a serious modding tool would be to the modding community - and that was a big part of simplifying the tools from what the development team used."
Essentially it works like a flowchart, in the sense that blocks are dragged into the stories to create quests, and within quests events are dropped in and link together. These range from killing enemies to talking to NPCs. You can make one event have various choices, like branching narratives or simple success/failure, and in doing this you get more complex stories. There are even more intricate blocks to fiddle around with, and if you're an expert you'll find yourself setting NPCs to attack the player at certain points, for example.
To help with the process Ubisoft has already provided the community with plenty of resources to get them on their way, like an introduction to the feature; a lengthy user manual consisting of over 100 pages; and even tutorial videos.
Rhodes says that the community are "doing fairly well with it. We found that in our early access period, that there were certain aspects that were more difficult to grasp. So, we tried to create assets, documents, videos, things like that they could refer to, so that they would have a little bit more guidance on those bits that were a little bit trickier. We also have it in our plans to potentially produce more tutorial videos depending on what the community are finding hard."
"We've been surprised by the certain users that very quickly became experts on the tools," Straub adds. "We have some great users who make tutorials videos on YouTube in either English or French from what I know. It was super interesting to see how quickly people grasped the tool [...] If you go to the forums of Assassin's Creed, where the creators are talking to each other, there is a lot of help between them. We are also keeping an eye on them as a way of improving the creator, but you already have users of the tool who are available to help others and it's great to see the community working this way."