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View Full Version : The biggest problem with MD and why it didn't become popular



Farlander1991
02-20-2015, 12:58 PM
Hey. So I'm going to talk about Modern Day for a bit. I've created a similar post in one of the existing threads, but I thought it would be nice to elaborate on it (and possibly create additional discussion?).

We all know that MD is not a popular thing with Assassin's Creed, only a small percent of hardcore fans really enjoy it (and even those seem to have troubles with post-AC3 Modern Day), so, the question is, why? And let's speak of Desmond's Saga only here for the sake of this discussion. It's got intriguing concepts, a big amount of lore, mysteries (some of which have been resolved in a very poor way, but by that time MD already was really unpopular, so resolutions of MD plots didn't definte its popularity).

And I think now, that the reason why MD hasn't resonated with people (despite being an overarching concept of the whole series and the glue that keeps everything together), and why they don't really care about it is because... the games don't really care either, to be honest.

Now, by 'games' I don't mean the devs, but the game narrative. The thing is, the Modern Day was always only a small percentage of the whole game, be it in AC1, AC2, ACB, ACR, or AC3. The historical part is the main attraction. Some of the hardcore fans can be like, 'but it's the MD that brought me in the first place and keeps me in the series', ok, fine, but you can't argue with the fact that historical part takes at least 85% of every AC game, therefore it's got bigger priority than MD, and more people spend time there, and more people are invested in historical parts.

Now, because of how the MD/historical part connection is structured, MD relies on MacGuffins. The plot of MD can't be progressed until the MacGuffin is found in the past. In AC1 it's the map that the Apple shows. In AC2 that's the vault. In ACB that's the Apple. Etc. There's always a MacGuffin. Now, that is fine, because otherwise there would be no reason for any of the historical stories to be seen. However. The way it's done also leads to a problem. It's not Altair's redemption story that matters, it's the map. It's not Ezio's story of overcoming revenge that matters, it's the vault. It's not Connor's tragic life that matters, it's the key. And that's the problem. For MD, the stories of the past don't matter. And that's why MD doesn't resonate with people.

Because MD in and on its own doesn't have enough screen-time to create something that would be liked by the whole AC audience, only what a small part is interested in. And the biggest reason for that is the lack of thematic connection between the games.

In AC1, Altair overcomes his arrogance, learns the wisdom of the Creed, becomes a better and wiser person, while Desmond... Desmond just observes him do that. He's locked in a confined place with the sole purpose of learning about the world and mysteries around him, waiting to be saved, but what happened with Altair hasn't influenced him. It brought up some questions, sure, but Altair's story could've been replaced with Ezio's or Connor's, and the overall impact would've been the same for Desmond, nothing would really change.

AC2 adds a new goal for Desmond to 'train through the Bleeding Effect', but Desmond himself mentions that they could've essentially went through any Assassin's life for that purpose, the only reason we're going through Ezio is due to the Vault (as Lucy says), i.e. the MacGuffin needed for the present story.

You see what I mean? People are getting invested into the historical stories because of all the character and thematic elements that happen there, but they can't have that investment bleed in (heh) into the much more time-limited MD because MD lacks a thematic connection that would bring those themes over.

Now, there's one exception in Desmond's Saga to this. And it's ACR.

ACR has three Assassins: Desmond, Altair, Ezio. All three Assassins contemplate about their life and their choices. All three Assassins struggle with what to do with their Assassin heritage. And each Assassin influences the decision of the next one, leading them all three to make their own different final decision regarding their fate. It's culminated in a quite frankly beautiful moment at the very end when Ezio talks to Desmond in Altair's library-tomb. The history and present play off each other. There's a connection. Only, of course, it was too late for it to really matter in a considerable way.

AC3 kinda tries to do it too with the father/son relationship and Desmond's final choice being influenced by Connor's life, but, honestly, that doesn't really get through because those connections weren't really the focus.

And this is why MD became so troublesome, because it uses only the 'factual' part to connect the narrative together of every game, but it doesn't use the 'thematic' part. History must influence the character progression, development, and decisions of the people in the present, otherwise they're too separate. And until there is such a thematic connection, I don't think MD will truly be ever popular among the wide AC playing audience.

SixKeys
02-20-2015, 01:18 PM
I can see what you mean, but my problem is that I always found the connection in ACR extremely forced. The Ezio/Alta´r stuff worked well, but when Ezio started talking to Desmond, I just found it really sappy. I found the ACB connection much more moving, when you spend so much time around the historical Colosseum in the past and finally you enter the modern version of it as Desmond. That was really powerful, to see this place where we had parkoured and watched a Passion play as Ezio, and then to see the same place centuries later with modern spotlights, metal wiring etc. And we had a good reason to be there, since Desmond was the only one who could enter Juno's Temple and retrieve the Apple. If only they could have done something similar in ACR. ACR was characterized by pointlessness. The whole "Desmond in a coma" thing was lame from the start and by the end he hadn't really learned anything we didn't already know. The moment in the library was only good for giving closure to the other two big characters, but it did nothing to advance Desmond's story. Sure, he snapped out of his coma by the end, but basically the whole game could have been skipped and we could have gone straight to AC3.

It does feel like they were only starting to realize that these kinds of connections was what MD really needed, so they tested the waters in ACR and then tried to carry it over to AC3, but that was the end of the Desmond saga so it was too little too late. The reason I never liked Bill Miles was because it was obvious he wasn't always planned to be there from the start. In AC1, Desmond talked about him very distantly, like he had put his family business behind him and intended to focus on the future. In AC2 they never mentioned Bill at all. In ACB we started getting e-mails from him, but we didn't know who he was yet. At the VERY end of the game we hear a short voice-over clip where he tells his assistant to put Desmond back in the Animus, regardless of the dangers it might pose. This gives us the idea that Bill is a very goal-focused, driven person who would rather sacrifice his son's life than risk being wrong. In ACR, he has a few conversations with Rebecca and Shaun that make him sound rather callous, to the point that even SHAUN - the master of insensitivity - calls him out on it. Then suddenly in AC3 we're supposed to cheer for this guy to fix his relationship with Desmond and care about him as a father figure? Eff that. He spent 4 games being an absent, cold-hearted a-hole. At least we know Haytham had good qualities even though he botched his relationship with his son. Bill was introduced too late to win over our hearts and the parallels between Connor/Haytham and Desmond/Bill never went beyond skin-deep.

Farlander1991
02-20-2015, 01:41 PM
I found the ACB connection much more moving, when you spend so much time around the historical Colosseum in the past and finally you enter the modern version of it as Desmond. That was really powerful, to see this place where we had parkoured and watched a Passion play as Ezio, and then to see the same place centuries later with modern spotlights, metal wiring etc.

That's another type of a good connection (the gameplay one). It doesn't contradict what I'm trying to say, and it is a nice addition, agreed :)


The moment in the library was only good for giving closure to the other two big characters, but it did nothing to advance Desmond's story.

Well, the point is not just in advancing the story, but the character. Combining with what we see in the Journey sections, while it didn't move the plot, it's what essentially has made Desmond go, 'okay, I'm gonna do this **** cause I'm an Assassin'.

As I said, plotwise nothing is needed from the past for Desmond to advance the story/plot of MD. Because, well, it's the MacGuffin that matters.

In ACB we could've essentially been any Italian Assassin, nothing would really change for Desmond as long as that Assassin hid the apple beneath the Colleseum. And you can't really fix that, and you don't really need to, since if you remove the need in MD for a MacGuffin, you remove the need to go through the historical part. But you can (and must, IMO) do things that make what happens in the historical part matter to the characters in MD personally, that help them develop as characters and influence their decisions.


The whole "Desmond in a coma" thing was lame from the start and by the end he hadn't really learned anything we didn't already know.

Yeah, but to be fair, ACR had to work with what it got. I mean, the game wasn't even planned when Desmond fell into a coma (I still believe that the original reason behind the coma was to see events about Haytham, which got replaced by a random surge of the Bleeding Effect since ACR had to use the coma card somehow). And, yeah, it reiterated all the information we knew, but my example about ACR was not about the 'facts' or 'information'.


Eff that. He spent 4 games being an absent, cold-hearted a-hole. At least we know Haytham had good qualities even though he botched his relationship with his son. Bill was introduced too late to win over our hearts and the parallels between Connor/Haytham and Desmond/Bill never went beyond skin-deep.

Yeah, and there was like a depression thing that was going with him when Initiates was still about modern day lore, which looked very strange.... though, they did kinda become 'buddies' at the end of AC3, I guess.

EDIT: Like, a simple example of what I mean. Let's take AC2 for example.

We could have so that in the beginning of AC2 Desmond sees Vidic and really rages for what he has done to him and tries to get to him, which gets Lucy into big trouble. Desmond could've helped, but he's too focused on trying to make Vidic get 'what he deserved'. Lucy gets out of it, without any help from Desmond. That's the beginning state of Desmond - he wants revenge on Vidic.

Then at the very end, influenced by Ezio's story, a similar situation repeats only with much higher stakes when Templars attack the hideout. Desmond has a chance to go after Vidic and actually kill him, but doing so will make everyone else die. So he doesn't let revenge cloud his mind.

Now, Desmond himself wouldn't have gone through the journey required to get to that changed state himself, but he did do that through Ezio. Without Ezio, Desmond would still be the person who would go after Vidic, which would cause everyone else to die.

This is a simple example, and really far from the best narrative... But if it would be something as simple as Desmond being in two different states in the beginning and end of the game, with that state change being caused by his experience in the Animus with another person (Which would influence Desmond as a person, his world view, etc.), then MD wouldn't feel that much separate from the historical part, it would feel like something that, while different, still organically fits into what we're going through in the historical part.

dxsxhxcx
02-20-2015, 02:59 PM
I disagree with you about the story of the past not being aligned in some way with the modern day story other than the MacGuffin factor is the reason why people dislike the MD, IMO the intrigue and mysteries the MD used to have were more than enough to be likeable to me, the main problem is that Ubisoft dragged out its resolution on purpose in order to put out more games, creating the necessity to raise more (unnecessary) questions by adding more plots/conspiracies without solving the previous ones and as consequence, failing to do so when the time for that arrived, the interaction Desmond had with TWCB since AC2 IMO was completely unnecessary at that point, S16 and the satellite plot could've been used up until AC3 to keep people interested in the modern days, with his messages culminating into the appearance and beginning of interaction with TWCB in AC3 and creating the reason to justify the next games, after the satellite and S16 role were handled...

Another reason is that I believe that the majority of people look at the AC story the wrong way, they look at the historical and modern parts as two separated things (always trying to separate one from the other) when they aren't, people care so much about the historical part that it overshadows the modern days and its importance for the overall story making it look like if it is a rock on its way and not part of it...

SixKeys
02-20-2015, 03:41 PM
EDIT: Like, a simple example of what I mean. Let's take AC2 for example.

We could have so that in the beginning of AC2 Desmond sees Vidic and really rages for what he has done to him and tries to get to him, which gets Lucy into big trouble. Desmond could've helped, but he's too focused on trying to make Vidic get 'what he deserved'. Lucy gets out of it, without any help from Desmond. That's the beginning state of Desmond - he wants revenge on Vidic.

Then at the very end, influenced by Ezio's story, a similar situation repeats only with much higher stakes when Templars attack the hideout. Desmond has a chance to go after Vidic and actually kill him, but doing so will make everyone else die. So he doesn't let revenge cloud his mind.

Now, Desmond himself wouldn't have gone through the journey required to get to that changed state himself, but he did do that through Ezio. Without Ezio, Desmond would still be the person who would go after Vidic, which would cause everyone else to die.

This is a simple example, and really far from the best narrative... But if it would be something as simple as Desmond being in two different states in the beginning and end of the game, with that state change being caused by his experience in the Animus with another person (Which would influence Desmond as a person, his world view, etc.), then MD wouldn't feel that much separate from the historical part, it would feel like something that, while different, still organically fits into what we're going through in the historical part.

I totally get you. I myself was disappointed when ACB toyed with Desmond having hallucinations and mixing up himself with Ezio ("You know, last time I was here... -You mean when Ezio was here. -Oh yeah, yeah."), but then didn't really go anywhere with it. I wanted to see Desmond slowly lose his own identity, to follow in the footsteps of Subject 16. He often talked about how much he feared he was headed down that path, but it never manifested. It would have been more powerful, for example, if instead of Juno being the one to force Desmond to stab Lucy, Desmond himself would have suddenly momentarily lost his grip on reality (thanks to the Apple), thought he was Ezio and seeing Lucy as a random guard charging for him. So he would react without thinking, punch his blade in her gut, then blink and as things swam into focus, he would see the terror and confusion in her eyes right before collapsing to the ground.

The whole premise of ACR is supposedly that Desmond has lost his own identity and has to find himself again before continuing his journey, but we never actually saw him lose himself. Juno forced him to do something he never wanted, then he just blacked out from the stress. It would have been more powerful if Desmond genuinely felt lost and guilty, afraid he was losing his mind, and ACR was about truly coming into his own through the life lessons he learned from his ancestors. It feels like that's what they were going for, but because Lucy's death was pinned on Juno instead of Desmond himself, it didn't really work. I also don't like that in AC3 they sort of retconned it with Desmond's little speech about how he killed her because he knew she was a traitor.

The real tragedy would have been that Desmond killed someone he thought was an innocent. Assassins aren't supposed to kill innocents, in the Animus that stuff would cause Desmond to desynch (essentially overloading his brain). And Desmond was in love with Lucy to boot. It would have been a reflection of Alta´r losing Maria: doing something without thinking and causing the death of a loved one in the process. THAT'S the emotional connection ACR needed, IMO. Desmond using Ezio as a conduit to watch Alta´r go through the same tragedy that befell him and Lucy. So he would connect with Alta´r emotionally due to that reason, but then he would also watch Ezio find love in Sofia and realize there was hope even for those who are lost.

SteelCity999
02-20-2015, 03:55 PM
Unity is the prime example of why there has to be a modern day in AC - one that is well written. Unity's story was pointless to the AC universe that has been created. They would have been better off writing a story that left out any and all of the first civ artifacts. In context, they have no purpose for existing and the idea of a sage is pointless too. In the current state, the historical stories have no bearing on anything and no consequences - they are just two factions going at each other for control of toys to further their purpose. It is uninspired and lacks creativity.

The original AC story gave purpose to the events in them. The characters could have not been special or unique but they had purpose within the context of the whole. The two time periods complimented each other. I don't agree with how everything was handled but there was purpose and direction whereas now AC is adrift in the ocean on a pallet.

Fatal-Feit
02-20-2015, 06:44 PM
I couldn't agree more. Everything you said resonates with why I continue to grow a distaste for the Desmond Saga. It's too convoluted for its own good. The inconsistencies, miss opportunities, and lack of character development time and time again only proved how unnecessary they were.

The argument about MD giving a reason to play through these games, I find very moot. You don't need a game to tell you to play its sequel. You play it because you want to. When I picked up Black Flag, it was because I was interested in the story of Connor's grandfather, a pirate in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. The 95% of the game that was advertised. I don't need another MacGuffin, time and time again, to catch my interest.

EmptyCrustacean
02-21-2015, 11:53 PM
Hey. So I'm going to talk about Modern Day for a bit. I've created a similar post in one of the existing threads, but I thought it would be nice to elaborate on it (and possibly create additional discussion?).

We all know that MD is not a popular thing with Assassin's Creed, only a small percent of hardcore fans really enjoy it (and even those seem to have troubles with post-AC3 Modern Day), so, the question is, why? And let's speak of Desmond's Saga only here for the sake of this discussion. It's got intriguing concepts, a big amount of lore, mysteries (some of which have been resolved in a very poor way, but by that time MD already was really unpopular, so resolutions of MD plots didn't definte its popularity).

And I think now, that the reason why MD hasn't resonated with people (despite being an overarching concept of the whole series and the glue that keeps everything together), and why they don't really care about it is because... the games don't really care either, to be honest.

Now, by 'games' I don't mean the devs, but the game narrative. The thing is, the Modern Day was always only a small percentage of the whole game, be it in AC1, AC2, ACB, ACR, or AC3. The historical part is the main attraction. Some of the hardcore fans can be like, 'but it's the MD that brought me in the first place and keeps me in the series', ok, fine, but you can't argue with the fact that historical part takes at least 85% of every AC game, therefore it's got bigger priority than MD, and more people spend time there, and more people are invested in historical parts.

Now, because of how the MD/historical part connection is structured, MD relies on MacGuffins. The plot of MD can't be progressed until the MacGuffin is found in the past. In AC1 it's the map that the Apple shows. In AC2 that's the vault. In ACB that's the Apple. Etc. There's always a MacGuffin. Now, that is fine, because otherwise there would be no reason for any of the historical stories to be seen. However. The way it's done also leads to a problem. It's not Altair's redemption story that matters, it's the map. It's not Ezio's story of overcoming revenge that matters, it's the vault. It's not Connor's tragic life that matters, it's the key. And that's the problem. For MD, the stories of the past don't matter. And that's why MD doesn't resonate with people.

Because MD in and on its own doesn't have enough screen-time to create something that would be liked by the whole AC audience, only what a small part is interested in. And the biggest reason for that is the lack of thematic connection between the games.

In AC1, Altair overcomes his arrogance, learns the wisdom of the Creed, becomes a better and wiser person, while Desmond... Desmond just observes him do that. He's locked in a confined place with the sole purpose of learning about the world and mysteries around him, waiting to be saved, but what happened with Altair hasn't influenced him. It brought up some questions, sure, but Altair's story could've been replaced with Ezio's or Connor's, and the overall impact would've been the same for Desmond, nothing would really change.

AC2 adds a new goal for Desmond to 'train through the Bleeding Effect', but Desmond himself mentions that they could've essentially went through any Assassin's life for that purpose, the only reason we're going through Ezio is due to the Vault (as Lucy says), i.e. the MacGuffin needed for the present story.

You see what I mean? People are getting invested into the historical stories because of all the character and thematic elements that happen there, but they can't have that investment bleed in (heh) into the much more time-limited MD because MD lacks a thematic connection that would bring those themes over.

Now, there's one exception in Desmond's Saga to this. And it's ACR.

ACR has three Assassins: Desmond, Altair, Ezio. All three Assassins contemplate about their life and their choices. All three Assassins struggle with what to do with their Assassin heritage. And each Assassin influences the decision of the next one, leading them all three to make their own different final decision regarding their fate. It's culminated in a quite frankly beautiful moment at the very end when Ezio talks to Desmond in Altair's library-tomb. The history and present play off each other. There's a connection. Only, of course, it was too late for it to really matter in a considerable way.

AC3 kinda tries to do it too with the father/son relationship and Desmond's final choice being influenced by Connor's life, but, honestly, that doesn't really get through because those connections weren't really the focus.

And this is why MD became so troublesome, because it uses only the 'factual' part to connect the narrative together of every game, but it doesn't use the 'thematic' part. History must influence the character progression, development, and decisions of the people in the present, otherwise they're too separate. And until there is such a thematic connection, I don't think MD will truly be ever popular among the wide AC playing audience.

Wonderful post. I loved and miss the MD but you've hit the nail on the head in terms of why the MD didn't take with other people.
It uses the stories of the past to advance the story line in the present but not to advance Desmond's own character development.
Desmond experiencing everything Altair and Ezio went through should have had a massive effect on him and should have aligned with his own arc in the present in some way.
It should have changed him in profound ways. But all he took away from it was where to find whatever artifact and, as a result, Desmond is important because of what he does, not who he is. In a game like AC it's all about the characters. If the character doesn't have strong development it all kind of falls apart.

Like you say, Ubisoft realised this by ACR and AC3 - especially AC3 with the forced father/son angst which never quite sold me - but by then it was all too late.
Side note: I actualy hated ACR - not just because it is a terrible, terrible game - but because it should have been the game that dealt with Lucy's death
but instead we had to focus on Desmond in a coma as an excuse to play as Altair again. The entire game was filler.