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True-Sync, Pseudo-Sync, Over-Sync

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Leo K's picture
Leo K
Toronto, Canada
Joined: 12/30/2009

Assassin’s Creed had a neat idea with "Desynchronization" instead of dying. This concept, however has no lasting impact on gameplay, and if I could make one large change to Assassin’s Creed in future releases, I would make Desynchronization as much of a gameplay system or gameplay mechanic as dying is, in the Soulsborne franchise.

It would undoubtedly be less punishing, but it would be no less interesting. Re-Syncing with your ancestor after you've Desynced involuntarily, (died) should cause some differences in gameplay, it shouldn't be just the same. It feels like a standard videogame death right now, it’s just flavored with the Assassin’s Creed term for it. It can be much more interesting. It can be much more evocative and fitting for Assassin’s Creed.

In Assassin’s Creed 1 (2007) Synchronization as a gameplay concept and mechanic felt the most powerful and effective with regards to the player’s experience. Large numbers of “core fans” seem to agree on this almost unanimously. Assassin’s Creed (1) was the game that took the Synchronization-as-gameplay concept the furthest, despite it being the only game it factored in with any degree of legitimacy. I was disappointed when our survivability in later Assassin’s Creeds became regular "health" that you could heal with medicine. Many fans cry out against just popping medicine to heal, and whether they realize this is the reason why or not, it is one of the things they might be feeling subconsciously. It feels less Assassin’s Creed-y to do so, it feels less true to the universe we love to make our Synchronization be standard game-HP.

To enforce the narrative-gameplay link of Synchronization, I would approach it from the cyberpunk or Present Day angle. Medicine is no longer medicine or a potion, it is a Patch. This Patch ability has a cooldown, and you can't use it often because your Coder -- Rebecca/Shaun/Bishop/whoever is monitoring you in the Real World -- has to remake it, fixing the holes in the programming every time you patch up your failure to remain properly Synchronized due to player Mistakes.

Narrative Consequence: Healing is conceptualized as a “patch,” an easy to follow programming, coding and hacking concept that even non-programmers can instantly grasp.

Gameplay Consequence: Patching lost Synchronization cannot be done excessively or abusively, it is a genuine decision the player must make that has consequences for their survivability.

I would take this even further, with this as a good starting point.

In Assassin’s Creed (2007) Sync regenerated automatically, as long as Desmond Miles remained in resonance with Altair Ibn-La’Ahad’s predicted behaviors. This was logical and simple to understand both narratively and mechanically.

In the later games, health regenerates, but feels strange as a result due to the lack of justification and depth, or, it does not regenerate at all, and causes the player to heal with Medicine.

Patching now gives you Pseudo-Sync or False Sync that extends outward from your True Synchronization. Pseudo-Sync looks different in the User Interface (UI) and Heads-Up Display. (HUD) It is displayed with a light grey or light blue color, in chunks or segments extending from True-Sync. Respawning after a Desynchronization is an imperfect process, which means your Sync Bar isn't filled with white True-Sync, it's got a bunch of blue Pseudo-Sync in it. Be cautious, be careful until you can gain that back. Respawning puts your Patch on a shorter than usual Cooldown.

True-Sync is full by default, as this is a Synchronized Animus Subject’s standard state. When lost due to mistakes, it can only be regained by performing Active (Viewpoint, Save Citizen) or Passive (Remain Undetected) actions that are in line with the Ancestor's behavior. Each Ancestor is a unique person, with a unique personality. One Ancestor may be a brutal fighter, so getting into fights would actually raise Synchronization. Another Ancestor could be a Pacifist. Killing anyone would lower Sync, no matter how guilty. This is a system and mechanic that a player will have to understand and wield properly, from AC game to AC game. Each one is different, but the overall system will work the same across all games. This is exciting and mastery from one game’s rules (“I understand how Sync works. In this one, I should get into tons of fights”) can be applied effectively in a later game (“I understand how Sync works. In this game, my Assassin is a pacifist. I may lose Sync for killing this guard, but it is tactical and will give me an advantage if I kill him. I will sacrifice this small amount of Synchronization to remain in Stealth more easily.”).

Patching can be done when gaining True-Sync is not currently possible.

You’re in a sticky situation. Your True-Sync is low. You don't have access to things like helping a civilian, climbing a Viewpoint, or tearing down a wanted poster because you’re cowering behind a corner. You’re not confident in staying unseen, and there will be a fight against three enemies if you get detected. That's alright, you can get some Pseudo-Sync by using a Patch, even though it's non-Optimal and it's only good to use until you can get real Sync by doing Synchronous Actions a few minutes later, after your battle.

Getting True-Sync converts Pseudo-Sync segments (grey/light blue) into True-Sync segments (white), as long as your Pseudo-Sync is not exceeding your Synchronization Threshold. If you exceed your Synchronization Threshold (Max HP/Max Sync) by Patching yourself with Pseudo-Sync, you enter a state of Over-Sync [orange/red]. Converting all of your Pseudo-Sync segments up to your Threshold Line (literally a vertical line in your Sync Bar) will wipe out your Over-Sync. You lose your temporary tankiness. Over-Sync is thematically a very dangerous spot to be in. In AC’s story, Over-Sync is the Subject synchronizing to an unsafe level. Staying at Over-Sync for too long can cause symptoms of the Bleeding Effect to trigger. I may write a post about Bleeding Effect in Gameplay later.

This concept can elevate Assassin’s Creed far beyond its current incarnations, and it will change the way people play not only the games overall, but how they wield each individual Ancestor. Each character will feel different. This would also remove Full Synchronization as a concept, because the Dynamic Synchronization System is far more interesting to play with. Constraints would still exist, and they would be renamed to Absolute Memory Recalls.


[EDIT - Nov 3, 2016]
/u/grandoz039 over on Reddit questioned how Lore-functional Over-Sync is. AC protagonists always try to Sync as much as possible anyway, and that you can't Synchronize more than Perfect Sync. This was a powerful point. One way of clarifying this is to reflect it in gameplay as well, and take the concept further. Synchronization that is too deep, too suddenly/quickly is dangerous no matter what. Over-Sync can play on this normally. As the Subject advances through the game, their Synchronization Threshold raises (Max HP Upgrades) since they're getting better at Syncing safely. At a certain point, Over-Sync is not possible anymore because True-Sync is already as high as it can possibly go, and that would make sense with the Lore. The Subject's mind becomes so good at safe Synchronization without damaging the Identity/Ego, that Over-Sync or that dangerous area just doesn't exist anymore, it's not needed anymore and your "HP" is just naturally "tanky." Tanky of course, is relative. If you're playing a very rogue/thief-esque Assassin, you will be fragile no matter what, if you're playing a Connor-esque character, you're very durable, but the concept is easy to understand. You're either in True-Sync or in Pseudo-Sync/Patched Sync, but you can't Over-Sync anymore since there is simply no more Synchronization to reach. You've become the ancestor thoroughly. This is obviously a very end-game state.