There are a number of questions that surround each Assassin's Creed release. Questions like, "where will it be set?" Or, "will I get to stab a person?" Or, "which glowing trinket will I be asked to collect one hundred of?" Less common are questions surrounding the series' overarching story. Nevertheless, Ubisoft have confirmed that there is a plot arc, and that its ending has already been mapped out.
"We have multiple development teams, then we have the brand team that sits on top and is filled with writers and designers concerned with the series' overall arc," said Ashraf Ismail, game director of Assassin's Creed 4, in an interview with Eurogamer . "So there is an overall arc, and each iteration has its place inside this.
"We have an idea of where the end is, what the end is. But of course Yves [Guillemot, Ubisoft CEO] announced we are a yearly title, we ship one game a year. So depending on the setting, depending on what fans want, we've given ourselves room to fit more in this arc. But there is an end."
Basically, while the ending has been planned, the team is able to pad out the middle with more high-concept adventures with space wizards and evil men in lab coats. This is what's known as 'doing a Lost'.
One benefit of the structure is the multiple teams' ability to collaborate on plot strands. "We're now able to seed stuff earlier and earlier in our games," Ismail said. "So for example in [AC4] we have Edward, who was seeded in AC3. But there's a lot more stuff in our game that is hinting at other possibilities."
If, understandably, you're less interested in the series outlandish story threads, the overlapping development structure also means that work-in-progress features not ready for one title can be pushed toward the next. For instance, real-time ship boarding: a feature that wasn't ready in time for Assassin's Creed 3, but has now been implemented in Black Flag.
As for features not ready for AC4: "The biggest cut we made - which we were pushing hard for but we felt we couldn't achieve at a high enough quality - was multiplayer with naval [battles]," Ismail said. "We had really cool prototypes but to get it to work and to balance the systems - the balance of naval is tricky - to do that in multiplayer... we just couldn't do it in this iteration."
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag will be released November 1st.