Freedom Cry: An Interview with Hugo Giard
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag sees the franchise broaden its horizons in more ways than one - a fact to which our glowing review can attest. Freedom Cry - downloadable content featuring Edward Kenway’s first-mate Adewale - is just around the corner, washing up on the shores of Xbox Live on December 17th and the PSN on December 18th. The stunning trailer points towards a focus on the weighty subject of slavery with players experiencing the treacherous city of Port-au-Prince through the eyes of Adewale himself. We spoke to Hugo Giard, Mission Director for the downloadable content of both Assassin’s Creed III and IV, about the upcoming release…
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has a lovable rogue as its lead and there’s a freewheeling sense of fun to the plot. How do you approach such a radically different subject like slavery for Freedom Cry?
Well, it’s no secret we’re dealing with so serious a subject so it was important for the tone of the game to reflect that seriousness. That does not mean we could not have any lighthearted moments, but at the forefront of our minds, we were always treating the subject with the utmost respect. We knew that slavery thrived before and after the time period we were interested in. It then became a question of telling Adewale’s story in this world and keeping that world as authentic as possible. We did as much research as we could and tried to tell a story based inside the reality of what it might have been like to live in Port-au-Prince in the 1730’s.
What sources of inspiration did you use to craft Adewale’s story? Were there historical case studies you used or even fictional narratives from which you referenced?
Over the course of our research we came across a woman named Bastienne Joseph. She was a madam, running a brothel in Port-au-Prince, whose clientele seemed to be run from sailors, to scientists, to politicians. We discovered how she fit into the dynamic of Port-au-Prince during our time period. Here you have a black business woman who clearly had to deal with people and events we cannot even fathom, and somehow, she manages to thrive. She is surrounded by cruelty and injustice yet manages to hold her own. The strength this woman must have had to do the things she did is astounding to me. She was far and above my greatest source of inspiration. It is also why she features prominently in our story.
Black Flag touches on slavery but deals more with piracy. What’s the balance like in Freedom Cry and how difficult was it to judge what was and wasn’t appropriate for inclusion?
Our balance is really achieved through Adewalé perspective. At this point in his life, he has abandoned the ways of piracy and has been an assassin for quite some time. When arriving in Port-au-Prince, arguably the absolute worst place for a slave to live, he is confronted with his past and ultimately decides to take action. The skills he picked up as a pirate now just serve him as a means to end; he can put those skills to use to help prop up the small resistance movement he discovers.
Each Assassin’s Creed has a soundtrack that is a perfect fit for the time period. What does Olivier Deriviere’s music bring to Adewale’s story?
I’m hardly an expert in all things musical, but for me there is this visceral truth to the music in Freedom Cry. I know every single time I watch our trailer and I play our game, the hairs on my arms stand up and that choir seems to wake up something I did not know was there. It feels authentic and truthful – it punctuates Adewalé story while underlining the world he’s moving in.
The previous DLC for Assassin’s Creed III dealt with alternate history. Was another alternate history plotline an option that you considered? Were there any other aspects of piracy that you wanted to tackle?
In terms of alternate histories, the idea never came up. The world and time period of Black Flag were just too interesting to pass up. Very early in the development process, we did consider creating a four or five episode arc where each would be based on a different pirate featured in Black Flag. But honestly when we started digging into Adewalé, Port-au-Prince and the conditions at that time, everyone knew we’d found something that instantly piqued curiosity.
With the Assassin’s Creed III DLC you introduced spirit powers – are there any new abilities, supernatural or not, added to Freedom Cry? How does it differ from playing as Edward?
There are no supernatural powers in Freedom Cry. It’s all rooted in the reality of the Assassin’s story we have come to know. That being said, Adewalé is not Edward. It was important for us, and we went to great length, to differentiate the two. From really simple ways like changing the lure whistle to creating a whole new set of combat animations that reflect the different fighting styles. Adewalé is much stronger and uses it to his advantage. There’s a brutality to his movement that is downright intimidating. Both men still climb like assassins, so they do share that, but the way they fight, the way they impose their presence in the world is distinct.
How does Adewale’s ship – the Experto Crede – and its crew differ from the Jackdaw?
Adewalé’s crew is comprised solely of maroons – liberated slaves who have decided of their own accord to fight back. With the help of a resistance leader as quartermaster they set off on the seas to make trouble for slave traders.
Does the Freedom Cry DLC add anything to the Abstergo story? Any new collectibles?
When we started the DLC we asked ourselves this question a lot. Ultimately, production realities dictated what we were able to do, and it came down to a simple choice. We either focus all of our attention and effort on Adewalé and his story, or not. We chose the former, and I’m glad we did. I honestly wish we had had more time to delve deeper into Adewalé’s story as well as Port-au-Prince. He’s such an interesting character and I’m convinced players will be left wanting more.
How do the new weapons affect gameplay? What kind of research went into choosing them?
As in all Assassin’s Creed games, the new weapons and tools had to be historically accurate. Since mankind is always creating new ways to kill and maim, it was just a question of selecting weapons that best reflected our character and his fighting style. Both of the new weapons are integrated seamlessly into combat – you can switch between them and the classics at ease. The machete is an absolutely brutal tool, and Adewalé wields it with harsh efficiency. When you add the blunderbuss to the equation, a short range firearm capable of taking out four or five enemies in a single shot, you’ve got a recipe for rapid, violent retribution.
From all accounts Freedom Cry looks to be an interesting tangent to the Assassin’s Creed story, potentially even acting as a discussion point regarding the depiction of slavery in our favourite medium. Rest assured, we’ll be taking a deeper look at Freedom Cry come December 17th.
Freedom Cry will be available individually or as part of the Season Pass for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on December 17th for Xbox and PC and December 18th for PlayStation consoles.