After just finishing Mass Effect 2 I decided to play Assassin’s Creed again and ended up noticing quite a few interesting things. The visual style of Assassin’s Creed helps enhance the game-play and assist the player indirectly and usually through diegetic and logical level design. The scarcity of certain art elements help emphasize the more important ones and it varies depending on location as well.
Assassin’s Creed uses ambient occlusion, which is a rendering technique that light-maps the scene depending on how exposed a spatial element is to ambient light sources (pretty much all other visual elements), especially the sky. This technique makes the scene far more realistic and the end result is influenced by the geometry of the scene. Small confined spaces appear realistically darker and open areas are still illuminated even when not exposed to sunlight. Here are some comparison images:
This not only shows realistic lighting of shapes, but it also makes safer areas (in AC that would be alleyways) more dark and open exposed areas lighter.
Another practical upshot of this is that large open areas filled with lots of people will have significantly lower contrast and Altair sort of blends in with the crowd. This isn’t actually calculated as part of the enemy AI or anything, it is just a bit of visual communication for the player. One thing I hated about Assassin’s Creed 2 is that these elements were implied through non-diegetic means rather than through actual realistic logic. Kind of unnecessary to do that when Assassin’s Creed 1 communicated these ideas to the player perfectly well, without using atmosphere-breaking effects.
Assassin’s Creed 1 lacks hue variety, most of the cities are near monochrome. This reduces the ability to distinguish shapes from value, lighting and texture. The lighting is a crucial part of perceiving shape and size. The textures are mainly repeated material textures, allowing the viewer to distinguish orientation and distance of a surface by the distortion and scale of the screen-space output. By taking away hue deviations the player can distinguish shape more accurately, really important for a game where you need to scale buildings and jump between them.
When these rules are broken it is usually for more important scenes, where the assassination target is in view. Visual distinction is given to the target by illuminating them differently to the environment. The first Jerusalem assassination is a good example of this.
The poor district of Acre in Assassin’s Creed has suffered from a large fire before the player arrives there. So the streets are filled with ash in every corner and every crevice, added to the filth that was already present in the slums of Acre. This makes the edges of the buildings easier to see despite all the smoke. Therefore allowing the player is easily decrypt shape.
I’d like to provide visual representation, but I’m having a bit of trouble with screen-shots and I can’t find the images I need for this from anyone else.