The Animus

So this Christmas we welcomed a new baby into our household.  No, I didn’t have a kid.  Come on, this is Loregy.  What I got was an Xbox 360.

Yes, yes, I can already hear your eyes rolling, “Welcome to 2006.”  The fact is, I have a rather beefy gaming PC, so I held off on getting either a PS3 or  an Xbox 360 since virtually all of the best games for those platforms can also be bought for PC.  I do have a Wii and a PS2, and since we’re being long-winded here, credit should be given to my father-in-law who gave me my PS2, and my mother-in-law who snagged me my Xbox 360, which makes them, well, really crazy cool in-laws.

So why get the Xbox?  Because there was an ever growing stack of games on my wish-list that I felt must be played on a console with a large TV.

Two of those are Assassin’s Creed 1 & 2.

No this is not a review of those games.  Good god, they came out ages ago.  On a personal note though, I studied way too much western medieval history in college (this book will teach you all there is to know), and a script of mine currently in active development takes place in Renaissance Italy.  So, suffice to say, the Assassin’s  Creed games are crack laced M&M’s for me.

I bring up Assassin’s Creed 1 & 2 here for one, soul reason: The Animus.

For those who haven’t played the two games (and this isn’t a spoiler), you play an average joe with some very dangerous ancestors.  This average joe is kidnapped and placed in a machine called the “Animus” that mines his genetic memory allowing him to witness fragments from his ancestors lives.

Why is this so ingenious?  Because it allows for a level of immersion that is… well… simply unparalleled.

The trouble with sandbox games is you invariably find the edges of the sandbox.  Why do I have a fatigue bar when I swim out into the ocean?  What’s this invisible wall at the top of the sky?  Why are their road blocks and constructions crews keeping me within the city?  Oh that’s right!  IT’S JUST A GAME.

The Animus plot device smashes this like a planet landing on your house.  By making the Assassin’s Creed franchise a virtual game within a game, the limitations no longer become the fault of the game, they are the fault of the Animus.  Magical boundaries keeping me within part of the city?  A health bar?  Cut scenes?  Oh that’s right!  IT’S JUST THE ANIMUS.

The game’s limitations no longer strip you from the game.  Instead, they simply yank the immersion back one level to not you the player, but you, the average joe hooked up to the Animus.

The only drawback I see is it’s difficult to imaging another plot device that could work this well.  Why is that bad?  The fear is other games will begin using this device (not literally “The Animus” but something similar) until it becomes sadly cliche.

At the end of the day though, this is a perfect example of what lore does for games.  It obfuscates the mechanics.  It lets you forget that you’re playing a game.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dangablad January - 2010 at 7:38 am

Having actually beat AC1 and currently working on AC2, I have to say that these two games are the best reason that I have a 360 as well.

And I love the Animus for just this reason. In fact, I spent the other night explaining these exact sentiments to my roommate. The game immerses you as well as any game I’ve seen.

And wait till you get to the Lost style ending of the first game. I have not tossed a sequel to a game into my machine as quickly as I did that night.

2 Thornquist January - 2010 at 7:33 am

I didnt really like the animus tbh.
Personally I’d prefer just having it be a regular joe from the medieval times.
While you would say it would give good immerson, Id have to disagree.
Yes – it does give you immerson to the degree of beeing a guy in the future. But it also throws away all imersion of beeing an cool-lookin assassin in Jerusalem. Id personally prefer the latter.

Anyway, if you are looking for great lore, you HAVE to try Mass Effect.

3 kesak January - 2010 at 12:22 am

I got bored of assassin’s creed because the game seemed repetitive to me. I had great fun for about 6 hours and then it seemed like nothing new really happened. the big story elements had unfolded (or maybe they didn’t and I didn’t play enough, who knows), you explored most of the area, you did some fun escapes and infiltration, then it was the same repeat “quests” to kill people. Also the runs from town on the horse were super lame. why should i have to run back and forth to town 30 times in a gameplay? immersion? F that, it’s boring. i’m in a digital memory why can’t my dude just fast forward time to something that’s relevant or fun.

the animus was a neat concept to enclose a video game. i agree fatigue or magical borders you can’t cross or outlandish terrain obstacles stink, and this was a unique way to add boundaries that seemed less intrusive on my gameplay.

I don’t think the animus really did it for me with the health bar though. granted i’m not asking for realism and my characters to forever lose a limb after a swordfight to keep me in reality, but being in a virtual simulation/memory of this guy’s ancestor doesn’t constitute a health bar to me. there are just some things you can’t really get away with in video games, health is one of them that i don’t see a solution for. either you play some sadistic diablo 2 hardcore style game without potions/wells/shrine/life leech that everyone hates where you perpetually die throughout the game and run into fights that are impossible to beat without gimmicks and/or breaking the AI, or you add in the normal mechanic of a health bar that people understand and can easily adapt into playing “oh this bar means i’m almost dead” instead of “wow i lost my left forearm how do i dual wield for the rest of the game, screw this”

I hope people find ways to implement animus-style things into games without taking the copout of “oh you’re in a digital world the code isn’t done there”. I don’t have the perfect solution either without just giving a linear “here’s the entrance and exit to this valley you’re in and the rest are shear cliffs or super steep terrain slopes”. impossible scenarios might be an answer. why can’t I go through this gate to the outer world? because big angry dudes with nail bats are ready to beat your face. at least you have a reason other than the gate is closed and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I didn’t play assassin’t creed 2, maybe i’ll borrow it from someone.

4 ???? October - 2014 at 11:07 am

Amazing content, thank You !!

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