On Assassin’s Creed 2 – Conspiracy

This is the second of a few essays in a series on Assassin’s Creed 2, which is itself part of a much larger series on the Assassin’s Creed franchise itself.

It isn’t possible to talk about Assassin’s Creed without talking about conspiracies. They’re the life blood of the series, and conspiracy is the mechanism that gets us from game to game and connects up the strangest and most dispersed things. What I want to argue in this short essay is that the value of Assassin’s Creed 2 is partially in the development of the conspiracy element franchise from a simple backdrop into a fundamental connective force.


Assassin’s Creed introduced the fundamental fight between the Assassins and the Templars: self-controlled liberation versus top-down domination, both with the final intent of creating the greatest good for all. However, the Templars of the first game are most easily summed up in how Dr. Warren Vidic is presented to us in the first game. He is a classic supervillain scientist with fingers in lots of different pies and an unquenchable desire to see his deeds through to the end, with the torture and killing of Subject 16 being the most tangible product. This characterization of Vidic as a contemporary Templar is supposed to hit the player very hard when contrasted to the first Templars of the Holy Land — where those ancient leaders were united under a common goal of subjugation, their justifications were sometimes incredibly compelling.

Dr. Vidic never delivered a longform, compelling monologue to explain to us why he believed what he did and why he chose to act. He was just evil, and because of that, we’re denied the longform logic of allegiance that we get for all of the other Templar characters in Assassin’s Creed.

For those ancient Templars, conspiracy is a mode of linkage that brings them all together. Altair, late in life, mimics the model and dismantles the Assassin enclaves in favor of a creed dispersed through populations, a kind of massive blending into society at large.

Conspiracy is community. Conspiracy is connective tissue. Conspiracy is a system interacting with another system to hide how those systems are working in conjunction with one another. Classic Hollywood Cinema is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is the machinery hidden behind an austere edifice.

Assassin’s Creed 2 proliferates conspiracies, and sets the tone of the following games in the series. In this game it is established that there is a First People (a la von Daniken) who set the stage for contemporary humans to come into being; this species could see forward into time; the polar caps might reverse polarity and kill everyone on Earth; every major figure in history is connected; and on and on.

On one level we have that set of conspiracies, the endless connection of things in the world of the Assassin’s Creed franchise that are not connected in our own world. The gameworld is one where the necessary desires of the conspiracy theory set are made real: there is serendipity amongst all things, and there is a fundamental order to the universe that is hidden behind a very thin mask.

On another level, we have the gameplay implementation of the concept of the conspiracy, the idea that there are several actors operating in collusion with one another without a third party knowing. The most clear example of this is in the extensive development of the Blending system. In the first game, it was merely a function of Altair’s clothing being similarly designed to that of the scholars who roamed throughout the cities; Ezio, a man of the people, can blend with literally any small group of people. Unlike Altair, Ezio is able to strike from a universal “anywhere,” not limited to the random sartorial stylings of the Middle Ages.

I’ll take it further: what better word is there for the collusion of Ezio’s body and the architecture of Renaissance Italy than conspiracy? The entire population is subjugated under the deep connections between Ezio’s abilities and the handholds and high (yet not too high) rooftops of Venice or Florence. The Templar conspiracies manipulate people and objects in order to kill and subvert the will of the general public. Ezio and the buildings of the cities work with one another in order to achieve the goals of the Assassins. Beyond an unwillingness to see the buildings as agents in their own right, what is the spread between the two?

Connective tissue. The linkages between unrelated things. Relations. All of this, conspiracy.

Posted in Assassin's Creed, Video Games | Tagged , , ,

Released: Carl, A Dawdling Guest


This is a game that I made and released a few weeks ago. It has been a Patreon page exclusive for a very long time, but now everyone can play it! Whee!





Posted in A Game I Made, Video Games | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Assassin’s Creed 2 – Control

This is the first of a few essays in a series on Assassin’s Creed 2, which is itself part of a much larger series on the Assassin’s Creed franchise itself.

Assassin’s Creed 2 invites us to think two ways about control.


The Assassin’s Order is based around a simple phrase, repeated over and over again: “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” During AC2, you can read a Codex Pages, which are basically diary entries from Altair, the protagonist of the first game who lived during around 500 years before the events of the second game. In those pages, Altair discusses the difficulty of understanding the difference between the Templars and the Assassins Order — both groups understand that nothing is true and that everything is permitted, but they choose to do different things in the face of that fact. Those actions hinge around control.

The Assassins, as I’ve written before, choose self-control as their ethical axis. Altair’s diary entries are a great summation of this, claiming that many come to the Order after learning the first section of the Creed, and needing to be guided to the second; however, that guiding needs to be a showing rather than a telling. The praxis of the Assassins is not one built around dictating the shape of the world. Instead, armed with hidden blades, they carve it in a particular way, to evoke the opaque machinery of the world to common people. Late in AC2, Ezio and the gathered Assassins of his time period roam around Florence and gather masses of people, who revolt against their masters after the local military, religious, and civil infrastructures are revealed to be irrevocably corrupt.

Knowledge isn’t only power; knowledge is revolt.

The Templars understand control differently. It isn’t about the self, but rather about the body politic; everything individual must be sacrificed for the good of everyone else, but that’s only something to be said, not performed. Instead, they are the most classically evil dictatorial group possible, with a brutal desire to eliminate selves in order to make the world a more orderly place, where everyone is accountable to laws of man and God.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that on face, of course, and that’s the particular insidiousness of the Templars. Since they also know that nothing is true, they are content not to show, but rather to lead; they want to take the most appealing rhetoric and the most brutal plays for power and apply them to the greatest populations possible. There is very little difference between the modern Dr. Vidic and his ploy to launch a population-controlling satellite and Rodrigo Borgia, the master villain of Assassin’s Creed 2, who becomes Pope not to devote himself to God, but to wield the power of the church as a tool of oppression and violence.

This is the struggle, over and over again, and I’ll return to the theme in later essays.

Another way of understanding control in Assassin’s Creed 2:

It is very difficult to move Ezio. It is very difficult to translate something I want to do into the 3D world of the game. In a game about chasing, climbing, jumping, flying, and traversing a Renaissance cityscape, it is virtually impossible to do any of those things with any predictability.

Assassin’s Creed 2 controls like shit.

The first moments of playing Ezio, who we will follow for more than a decade of his life in this game alone, are as a baby. The player pushes in directions and presses buttons to move his limbs. It is awkward and strange it doesn’t make any sense. Then the same thing happens for the next 30 hours of your life but with an entire digital body. I don’t know how many times I ended up yelling “I hate this god damn game” at the television, but it was more than ten times when I decided to write it in my notes in a longform screed against the distance between my desires and the digital model prancing around in front of me.

Felan Parker gets us started with an explanation of the controls:

The ancestral assassin avatar Altair, we are given to understand, is a master of his craft, and the player guides his movements at a remove from the minutiae of quick-timed button presses. When Altair comes to a wall, if the player is holding down the free-run buttons, he will climb it; when he comes to a ledge, he will leap to the next building (or, in rare cases where there is no next building, he will fall).

Felan is writing about the first game, but the same concept holds in the second. You point Ezio at a wall and you run and he will climb. In the first game, Altair had weight — he could never jump as far as you wanted him to, or climb as high, or really just move like you wanted. This was frustrating but understandable. The reason why those controls are merely “ok” and why the controls of Assassin’s Creed 2 are unbelievable trash is that Ezio cannot wait to move. In the desire to connect up small parkour challenges or to skip across rooftops or to clear a corner by swinging on a hanging plant, Ezio is not too heavy; instead, he is too light, to quick to move, too quick to be uncontrollable. So where we had a lack of control in the previous, now we have an excess of control. Ezio’s body is one in excess of the player’s desires. He is a raw, twitching nerve.

If we make it past the pain, we’re left with a question: what does the pain of control do?

One thing is that it makes the interruption of the cinematic into the Assassin’s Creed series more palatable, a balm to make up for CONSTANTLY BEING BURNED by the game. The first game in the series had few, if any, “cinematic” moments,  delivering the narrative to the player without breaking the diegesis of Altair living in his world. There weren’t any dramatic angles or medium closeups or establishing shots before cutting to the interiors of buildings. In Assassin’s Creed, the player lived the world with Altair; in Assassin’s Creed 2, the player watches Ezio live his life. In the first game, there was absolute control, and while the scheme was difficult, it wasn’t a soul-destroying force; in the second, it becomes a wedge between the player and the world, pointing out that we are watching the past more than we are creating something new.

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Intermedio: Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2

This is a short piece in my series of articles on the Assassin’s Creed games in order to talk about some of the shifts that were immediately apparent between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2. More posts on the second game in the series are going to follow in the very near future.assassinscreed2_1

AC2 has made a decision to be much more “cinematic” than the first game. The opening sees us following along behind Lucy, our key informer about the goings on in the world of the game, as she shoots and beats up various Abstergo agents on the way out of a building. The first game ends on an informational cliffhanger, with many questions left unanswered, and the second game signals in its very opening that we’re not going to get a set of procedural answers. Instead, we get movement, action, and fluid; tonally, we’re in another world altogether.

Cutscenes. Everything takes place in a cutscene, and compared to AC2, the first game is completely cold and austere. When Altair received missions, you were confined to Resident Evil-style rooms where the angle changed. Now we follow Ezio around with a dynamic camera, meeting a number of different colorful characters. This is a turn toward the Grand Theft Auto mode of world creation, and I think the game is less interesting for it.

In Assassin’s Creed, we have emails as our form of “metacommunication” in the game — that is, when we read the emails of the Abstergo people, we are seeing the world that it outside this very small room we are trapped in while playing as Desmond. In Assassin’s Creed 2, this mode of communication becomes the database. The email account was external to the world of assassins — we had to hop out of the Animus, walk around, and read the emails. Now all we have to do is find a different menu. The database is omnipresent, and we always need to be updated to stay the most current with information.

The game loses all of its interesting interface information. Now it isn’t apparent that time is speeding up, rewinding, etc. Instead everything happens “in time” in the sense that we aren’t reliving memories but instead we’re creating history; we’re not trying to maintain fidelity to genetic memory but rather we’re living it in real time.

There are lots of gameplay changes, and I will address them in a bigger AC2 post, but some of those are: introduction of looting, blending into crowds, and the movement of the player character.

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Kilmercast Episode 5


Time for Kilmercast ep.5, in which we talk about Macgruber, the only film with Chekhov’s celery-in-the-butt. Listen here or subscribe and rate on iTunes!

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On He Never Showed Up

Andi McClure made He Never Showed Up, a game about getting stood up in the rain.


This is a game about time. Or, rather, it is about an absence in time, about waiting for a moment that never really comes.

Lyotard, writing about the relationship between a painting and a viewer, writes:

Two non-substitutable agencies, which exist only in the urgency of the here and now: me, you.

When you begin He Never Showed Up, there is nothing except for me, you. Me, the user who is flailing around and attempting to figure out what to do, assuming that at some point he will show up and I will get to just punch the shit out of Him for taking so long. He doesn’t. There is no you here, not in that moment, but when I realize that attacking does nothing but change the shape of the universe, then I find the you.

The directions for the game say “press A for hammer attack.”

I often write about games as possibility spaces. That’s the whole logic of “open world,” isn’t it? You can create an entire universe that, by virtue of being created, is entirely internally consistent. The designers and programmers generate this small yet large place and we step into and, with luck, accidentally smash it to pieces sometimes.

When you press the A key in He Never Showed Up, you’re attacking the shape of that universe. You parse through them; you turn existence into a crude replication of a slot machine, with Platonic abstraction and the heat death acceleration of the universe appearing within the moments that sequence into our field of view.

If He Never Showed Up is about time, then it is about flailing at its inevitability. You’ll find him, probably. He’ll be there, for a moment, and then disappear into the rain. The lights will click off. You’ll go home, and rain will fall, forever.

Posted in Video Games | Tagged , , ,

Send Me Your Contemporary Horror Recommendations!

This is just a quick post to ask you for some help!

Recommend me some contemporary horror stories, preferably written and in the short story format. Anything that you like, from any subgenre. I want to get deep in this stuff, and I need your help! Interpret this as broadly as you want!

Post your recs in the comments! The best kind of stuff would be things that are freely available online, but I’m willing to pay a little to learn a lot.



Posted in General Features | Tagged | 11 Comments