Chinese Pirates: Pitching an
Assassin's Creed Game
Following the latest Assassins Creed showcase, we can all see that the future of the brand will be exciting and varied. While Mirage undoubtedly stole the show as an exciting return to form for the series, there was a more unusual announcement with the new Assassins Creed Infinity platform. I can't lie, it does have me worried, but my personal concerns aside, the exciting aspects of this new platform is getting to explore more varied historical periods with smaller, stranger stories. Taking advantage of this, and after having fun through replaying the series recently, I had an idea for a story that I think could add wonderfully to this new tapestry.
When replaying Assassin's Creed Rogue, I couldn't help but wonder why Ubisoft gave up on the genuinely spectacular naval gameplay. Black Flag was obviously a huge success, and while Rogue wasn't such a smash hit, it was built to fail next to Unity's next gen glitches. Naval gameplay is still beloved and missed by players, whether hardcore Assassins Creed fans or not, and it seems no other developer stepped in to fill that gap. So today I want to pitch Ubisoft an idea, the most simple plan for success I could possibly imagine.
At first I thought the obvious location for another naval/pirate game would be India. With a full and vibrant history of piracy and sea fairing, matched with corrupt politicians and tyranny to fight against, the Indian Ocean would definitely provide a great setting for a game in this series. However, with the upcoming and, in my opinion, incredibly bland looking Skull and Bones filling this period, I reconsidered. If we're already getting a pirate, naval game to explore this period, then let's look elsewhere, find a location and culture that could provide something distinct.
With that in mind I moved my sights to East Asia, specifically the exploits of Pirate Queen Zheng Yi Sao. For those who don't know, Zheng Yi Sao was an infamous pirate of the early nineteenth century, who rose from a prostitute to leader of 70,000 men in the largest pirate fleet known to history. She terrorised the coasts of China, plundering both European and Chinese vessels alike.
The reason she gained so much success, was because, unlike the pirates of the Caribbean, Zheng Yi Sao's fleet was well organised, with a set governance and rules in place. This pirate confederation stopped the pirates from falling to the greed and chaos that destroyed cities like Nassau and the characters we saw in Black Flag.
This period of the great Chinese pirate confederacy, I think could make a stellar follow-up to Black Flag, allowing Ubisoft to show not just different visuals of East Asian culture, but explore new themes for this series. It would also the first Assassins Creed game in Asia, which is mind boggling in itself.
The particular region of china I am envisioning is Hong Kong, Canton (modern day Guangzhou) and the surrounding sea and islands. Historically this was the hub of trade and therefore, pirate action and the city of Canton was pivotal in the end of Zheng Yi Saos career. This area would also provide good geography to match the gameplay; two bustling cities that can accommodate the Assassin fantasy and an island filled ocean for interesting naval exploration.
Ideally, the smaller islands surrounding the mainland would function a lot like the islands of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Each will house a target, with stories that involve the locals. This can give fun smaller narratives/side missions, while showing the personal effects of Templar control.
In terms of narrative, considering this game's setting, I believe we should start at the turn of the 19th century. The lead character will be an original character (OC) named Lai Jun. Captain of her own ship, and master Assassin. I want her to be older, middle to late thirties, similar to Ezio in Brotherhood. The franchise has settled into protagonists around the age of twenty, and while I appreciate getting to be the age of every lead character, I think we need to push different stories about different types of characters.
Having been an Assassin her whole life and from an Assassin legacy (you thought Jun was just a coincidence?), Lai has never needed to question her role. She is determined, talented at the art of being an Assassin and dedicated to its creed.
Yet, despite the brotherhood being her whole life, her whole heritage even, she has grown rather cynical. At this period in time, China, like the rest of the world, was in a rather tumultuous position.
Globally, capitalism and industrialisation were being born, leading to unmitigated starvation and inequality, revolutions were rising everywhere and power was being funnelled to increasingly fewer people. Then in China, the people were about to enter what would be, in retrospect, called the "century of humiliation" with the death of the emperor just behind them, with in-fighting and rebellions to come. The British Empire was sneaking in, and, while it didn't have the chokehold it had over the rest of the world, it was still only a few decades away from taking control of Hong Kong; an action that has caused trouble in the region which remains to this day.
This is the context of Lai's introduction, as she runs across the rooftops of Hong Kong during New Year's festivities to kill a Templar target. The world is changing and the future is uncertain.
At this point in her life, Lai has killed more Templars than she can count, and yet there are always more to fill the positions. The war doesn't seem to be swaying either way, and she can't help but feel that her actions are futile in the wider chaos of the world.
I think when a franchise reaches a certain point, it needs to consider the emotions of its audience, and its place in the wider culture. Think of Halo 3, a massive event game which was built from the ground up as a war game, the scale of which you've never seen. It was a tour de force, a the best of compilation for the Halo franchise so far, all turned up to 11. Then, having set the world alight with this event game, Bungie made Halo Reach. A game with the same mechanics and fun action of 3, but which took a sombre approach. It was a reflection really, of the franchise as a whole, and how it may never live up to the hype and scale it previously had.
After 15 years, 12 mainline games and god knows how much multimedia content, fatigue has set in to the Assassin's Creed franchise. Lai, like us, doesn't know the direction her fight is going or if it will ever have a satisfying end.
Searching for her first target will let us understand Lais position, and tutorialise land based gameplay. In general I want to go back to the aspirations of Unity, a stylish free flow movement with a focus on social stealth. Combat should be deadly and swift, I envision the same precision of Ghost of Tsushima, a back and forth of attacks and deflections.
Sneaking through the highly populated celebrations, Lai will find her, target a low level and frankly unimportant Templar. His insignificance will be reflected in the confession scene, with Lai seeming unimpressed but still remaining respectful as Assassins are expected.
Escaping the scene, Lai will return to her ship and flee the city. We can here get a glimpse of the new naval mechanics, which in all honesty I can't imagine being that different from Black Flags. They are already perfect, adapt them to Chinese ships (that are named "Junks"), which are usually smaller and faster than the frigates and brigs of Western navy's
Lai will reunite with the Brotherhood to report on her mission. I really want this branch of the Brotherhood to feel ancient, capturing the atmosphere of Masyaf. Historic dens with intricate architecture retelling the stories of great Assassins from this part of the world. Nevertheless a lot of this has fallen into disarray, rituals and repeated phrases taking the place of effective, organised action.
Walking through the den we can see that Lai is comfortable there, friends with everyone she has always lived alongside. The mentor, who's not much older than Lai, is clearly unprepared for his responsibilities and unsure of how to direct Lai from here. His fear of appearing too controlling, and his constant search for approval and advice leave the Brotherhood rudderless.
With no new target given to her, Lai heads to her pirate friends and here we can meet some of the more unusual side characters who will join our journey.
At this point there was no large spread confederacy, however the region around Hong Kong did have a large pirate presence. One important figure of this group of pirates was the husband of previously mentioned pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao, known by the same name.
For my own sanity from here on out I'm going to refer to the male Zheng Yi and original pirate king as "Zheng", while the female Zheng Yi and later pirate queen will be referred to as Sao.
Anyway, at this point the two Zhengs were not married. Sao was still a prostitute and while this may not be entirely accurate, I want her to be living among the pirates, already close to this growing fleet. Her and Lai are friends, very different people who manage to see the charm in one another.
Zheng meanwhile is a charming gentleman, a rather eccentric character who hasn't yet taken control as pirate chief but has clear ambition. His eccentricities allow him to get close to people, and his cunning mind allows him to continue rising and taking advantage of opportunities. Also historically he was bisexual, marrying Sao but having male sexual partners up to his death. It’s incredibly important to show this side of his life, providing representation for the real historical figures who were LGBTQ+.
If I was to use a more modern comparison, I want these pirates to be like the free love hippies of the sixties. Lai clearly enjoys her time among them, and we truly get to understand how this group of criminals find freedom and acceptance in one another.
Yet, it's still important to show that this community has important rules and leadership. One of these early missions could see Zheng sending Lai after a crew member who ignored orders, establishing his rulership as firm but fair. This directly contrasts the current Brotherhood, who seem in disarray without leadership.
It can also be through the pirates that Lai will meet the main antagonist of the game. When robbing a merchants storage warehouse, we will overhear two British merchants discussing the arrival of a large incoming shipment, led by the aristocrat and famous businessman Charles Vidic (OC and descendant of Warren Vidic), a name instantly recognisable to Lai.
Vidic is a Templar grand master, and like Lai, has a legacy in the order. He was raised a Templar, with incredible wealth and a commitment to restoring what he calls “the natural order of things”. A traditionalist, Vidic's ideals heavily resemble the older Templars, who subjugate and control the populace by any means necessary, believing it to be for their own good. He also hides a major secret, but we’ll get to that later.
Seeing a chance to hit a huge target and finally make an impact, Lai contacts the pirates to organise an attack on the coming delivery. She wilfully chooses to not inform the Brotherhood, worrying that they may interfere with her plans.
The attack is a major failure, Vidic captains a huge man o war, unusual for a merchant vessel, and decimates the pirates. Lai flees, losing a majority of her crew, with only a few pirate ships surviving.
Broken and injured, Lai returns to the den and faces the chagrin of the mentor. Lai is criticised for acting too rash, but communication is made with the brotherhood of England to learn more about Vidic. While taking on other targets, both Chinese and British, we will get a better understanding of Vidic’s behaviour and the overall goals of his version of the Templars.
Importantly, I want the game to clearly indicate the passage of years. This journey should be long, spanning across the full decade to 1810. We can see the pirate confederacy rise and fall, become a full fledged government, while British merchants become more prominent in the area. During these time jumps, Lai and Sao become closer, good friends who support one another as Sao becomes leader of the pirates.
As the journey goes on, Sao pushes Lai to take a more proactive role in the Brotherhood. While not wishing to join herself, Sao sees its importance to Lai and how the disastrous leadership has affected her.
It will be in Sao’s final scene where we can truly see her impact.
In real life Sao did not go out in a dramatic blaze of fire we like to see for heroes. She did not fall in some great battle like Blackbeard does in Black Flag, screaming some inspiring quote. No, the ever cunning Sao saw the increased pressure placed upon her pirate confederacy, after she’d spent so many years raiding the coasts. In 1810, she sailed her huge fleet directly into the city of Canton, disembarking to hand herself in for her crimes. Due to her high profile, the state handed her and her crew a pardon, allowing them to keep the riches they’d earned as long as they didn’t resume pirating.
Before doing this I’d like to see Sao and Lai converse, as Lai begs for her to reconsider. She doesn’t want to lose her friends and allies, seeing this as only another loss, a failure of making any major change in her life. Sao reassures Lai, informing her that we can only try to find the best in the situations we are given. For Lai, she needs to finally stand up to the Assassins' leadership, take control to implement the actions that are necessary.
Watching her friends sail off to a peaceful life, Lai is provided with a choice. Settling down, or continuing her fight.
Unable to give up on her ideals, Lai returns to the den, demands the position of mentor and creates a plan to finally finish off Vidic.
More will be revealed of Vidic throughout the narrative, I want multiple encounters between him and Lai, failed assassination attempts or aggressive responses from the Templars. As it turns out, Vidic's mental state is rather erratic, and while he’s a talented leader the claims he makes about himself seem outlandish.
Now let us take a look into the Isu lore for this instalment and I have to admit I’m not an expert in this area. The additions I’m going to make should fit in with the existing lore, however any creed fanatics who see problems with what I write please leave a comment. I’m genuinely interested to know.
Anyway, Vidic has the ability to glimpse through time. It’s not clear visions, rather small insights, almost like poetry that describes what has and what will happen. One of my favourite parts of Isu lore in Origins was the description of how the Isu could physically see time. When the humans first revolted for their freedom, Isu who supported the human cause attempted to grant this ability to us. They performed experiments on willing subjects, hoping that if this power was provided they would gain equality, or at least be powerful enough to truly fight.
The experiments were not completely successful though, leaving hundreds of people with parts of this code abandoned in their DNA. Through the pure chaos of existence though and centuries of genetic combinations, Vidic was created with the right combination of genes that gave him a sliver of this power.
This connection to the Isu drove Vidic into his more fundamentalist Templar beliefs. Glimpsing the future has given him foresight of the coming globalised and industrialised worlds, and the problems that they will cause. This march toward progress must be orderly, and it’s only by having a fully dominated populace that this can occur.
He will label the the pirates as degenerate terrorists and the Assassins as mindless, pointing to the poor leadership that has left them unable to ever effectively eradicated the Templars. We can see that he is not necessarily wrong, the current Assassin leadership is weak and the pirates attack and kill merchants in sometimes brutal ways, leaving regular citizens without food. As trade increases, and the demands of the public become much more complicated (internet, television, food that can only be grown in different nations etc.), this level of chaos will lead directly to the downfall of civilization as we know it.
His mental gift will also reveal to him the location of an Isu temple, one that was intentionally left unrecorded due to the power it held. Imagine it like a black ops base, redacted even from official records. Being able to glimpse through time is the only way Vidic could find it.
The base itself will house a “telescope” that will allow Vidic to gain a clearer image of the future. With it, he could monitor what every person on the planet will do, and act to make sure they behave in a way he deems suitable.
That is why he came personally to Hong Kong with such an impressive fleet, to access this temple and defend himself during the search.
This way the finale of the game can take place inside the temple, Vidic getting to truly envision the future as he had always wished, only to mentally crumble under the strain. We as people were never meant to have this gift, our psyche cannot process the information and it leads only to madness. An epic fight occurs, where Vidic dies in disgust, knowing of the great terrors that will occur.
Nuclear explosions, world wars, climate change and the potentially apocalyptic solar eclipse are all to come, with no way of stopping it. He dies in anguish, screaming at Lai for her foolish commitment to freedom, which will only lead to humanity's ruin.
Obviously there’s an irony to Vidic’s belief. The greatest minds to ever live could not figure out how to give the power of temporal sight to humans, with it only truly being solved by the infinitely powerful chaos of existence. In a world as controlled as he would like, the power that guides him wouldn’t exist. This should be explicitly stated in game either by an Isu messenger (like seen in Origins) or potentially Basim if he is still the modern day protagonist.
With the telescope available to her now, the temptation of its power hits Lai. She questions whether to use it, whether to see if her fight will be worthwhile, but refuses. At heart, she knows that to do so would stand against her tenants, that seeing what will happen can only lead to the removal of people's free will, whether intentional or not. She destroys the temple, leaving this path behind.
Of course as modern viewers we know her fight wasn’t as impactful as she would have hoped. Hong Kong would fall to the British, weaponized addiction would sweep the nation, and the last dynasty would fall. Her people had much more strife ahead of them that no one person could change, but the ideals she preached and her trust in humanity are the only cure to the plagues which face us all.
I know this exploration of time may seem out of left field, but I think it could provide an additional layer to the drama of this story. To have someone who can provide accurate information on what will occur in this difficult era for China can truly express the dramatic irony of trying to fight what we know will come. Additionally, a core principle of Chinese political philosophy is the “dynastic cycle”, which refers to the continuous rise and fall of different dynasties' rulership, destined to repeat the mistakes of before. Culturally we can relate this story of time exploration with this philosophy, providing a nice link between the region and narrative, as Vidic (an outsider) acts to defy this ancient belief in cycles of repetition.
And so that’s the pitch, the world of a cynic finding hope even in the darkness. With any luck, this can reinvigorate the community, providing a game that can recreate some of the heights of the franchise while reflecting growing franchise fatigue. Gameplay wise, mixing the impressive naval with the heights of city based action allows the best of both worlds, which was never quite reached before.
Additional Isu exploration can continue to expand the lore, while potentially setting up future modern day plots. Based on what direction the series heads with the modern day, Basim or otherwise, the telescope can reveal the next major event the modern day Assassins must face.
About the Author
Finn is a creative writer from Rotherham, UK who has previously supported TOWCB's Fundraising events, and raised awareness surrounding Men's Mental Health.
On a blog dedicated to writing, Finn has been sharing reviews, stories and thoughts. By joining the AC Partnership Program's Writing Team, we are hoping to take Finn's passion for writing to the next level.
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