[Just one year after the release of Assassin's Creed II, Ubisoft Montreal is putting the finishing touches to follow-up, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Our own Simon Parkin sat down with producer Vincent Pontbriand, mission director Gaelec Simard, and multiplayer creative director Stephane Beaudet to discuss the challenges in delivering a sequel to a blockbuster franchise in just 12 months.]

Over the course of three, tightly spaced iterations, Assassin's Creed has grown into one of gaming's most heavy hitting series.

Its curious mixture of Da Vinci Code-esque narrative and stealth combat combined with a painstaking recreation of some of Europe's most beautiful cities has resonated with contemporary audiences, offering an action game-cum-historical tourism package that's at once fresh and familiar in gaming.

In the forthcoming Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, players pick up the threads of the second game's story, continuing the saga of Italian Ezio Auditore da Firenze as he faces up to the Templars, this time with an entourage of hired hands.

Primarily set in Rome, the game introduces various new systems to the host of additions introduced by its predecessor.

We turned to producer Vincent Pontbriand, mission director Gaelec Simard, and multiplayer creative Director Stephane Beaudet to explain how they went about meeting such tall ambition in what appears to be a small development window.

What were the main challenges in creating a sequel of this size and scope in a 12 month development period?

Vincent Pontbriand: The trick is that we actually had more time than that. A lot of the research had already been done for the city and history of Rome itself. We knew where we wanted to go with the story and already had a lot of gameplay prototypes and new concept we had previously brainstormed.

The multiplayer has been in production for over 2 years. Finally, when pure production started on the single player, we had the most experienced and motivated team so it made my job a lot easier.

Gaelec Simard: For the single player, it is true that the dev period was short but many factors made it possible. We started the game with the engine that had shipped ACII so it gave us a good start while we developed all the new tech.

The dedicated team has been working together since ACI so we know how to make an AC game and we knew what could be done in that amount of time. Using our other AAA studios also permitted us to create a huge game by outsourcing parts of the game to them. The rest was just keeping a clear head, communicating and just ship a game that we all wanted to play

How have you sought to maintain freshness in the series in this latest release?

GS: Most of the team are gamers and we all love the AC franchise. So when we make a new game we want to create something that's appealing to the gamers, our fans and us. With that in mind, we always push ourselves to the limit to make the next AC game fresh and exciting whether it be in the story, setting or in the gameplay.

How many of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood’s features were ‘would likes’ carried over from the development of the second game?

GS: It's always hard to give numbers for these types of questions. All I can say is that every time we work on a game, we get ideas for a future one. Sometimes we try to do something in a game but we feel it's not up to par so we iterate on it in the next game. And many ideas come from player feedback.

Is there a danger of over-saturating the market with such a quick turnaround on Assassin's Creed titles, or do you believe it’s better to release often?

VP: Assassin's Creed has established itself as a core franchise in the industry. Our consumers appreciated what we offered with AC2 and are asking for more. The AC universe has so much potential, is so vast, that we wanted to offer players a chance to continue Ezio’s adventure and we are pleased to be able to deliver it a year after the release of the second game.

How many of the current team worked on the previous title? Was it easy to motivate them moving immediately from one large project to the next?

VP: We pretty much kept the same team from AC2 on Brotherhood, but of course it wasn’t enough, we had to recruit even more people in order to produce all aspect of the game such as our multiplayer.

Our main goal was to make sure that everyone that would join the team would absorb our team and brand core values. We actually also encourage new people to join the team whenever possible because they come with a fresh eye, and are not fully indoctrinated yet. It wasn’t very hard to motivate them to work on a fascinating franchise like this.

Now that the core mechanics of the series have settled, and you are tweaking rather than redesigning, what are the main challenges to maintaining balance?

GS: It's true that we've found the core mechanics of the franchise but I wouldn't say we're happy with that and that we're now focused on just balancing them. Even though we are doing it, we're also always trying to find new things to add or change in the Assassin's Creed universe.

The Brotherhood, Synch System and Virtual Missions are just some examples. And who's to say if someday we won't change or add another pillar to our free-run, social and fight trilogy? Basically, we have many extremely talented people with a lot of ideas and we always challenge ourselves and our ideas.

The option to recruit and train your own guild of assassins is an interesting one. How did this idea develop?

GS: The idea came very early in the conception phase. We thought that if Ezio was now a master Assassin, it would be nice for him to have his own guild. So we brainstormed on how we could make this possible and the BAM (Brotherhood Assistance Move) came to life.

The first game in the series was accused of not having enough to do in it. In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, there’s a constant supply of interesting missions and sidequests to engage in. How do you work to not overwhelm the player? Have you struck the right balance?

GS: Yes I think we figured out a good way to balance all these missions. I think the trick is to make everything long enough that when you finish a mission you'll tell yourself "OK, just one more".

Then we make sure the player experiences at least one of each mission so that he knows what he can do. Once that's done, we keep the player hooked on an awesome story and give him breathers once in a while so he has the opportunity to play with the side missions.

How have you introduced multiplayer to the game? What were the primary challenges in doing so?

Stephane Beaudet: A lot of fans where requesting a MP mode on our forums and on our fan pages, and were sharing crazy ideas about it after the release of the first Assassin’s Creed. As you may have noticed with the second game, we pay a lot of attention to gamers, and we continuously aim to please them, while at the same time surprise them with features they weren’t even expecting.

In Annecy, our studio is specialized in multiplayer gaming since we created the critically acclaimed Splinter Cell versus modes back in 2004. It is because of this expertise that in the middle of 2008, we were asked to build some multiplayer prototypes based on the Assassin’s Creed universe.

The starting idea was inspired from a live RPG called Killer and the Highlander movie killer loop. Every participant of the loop has to assassinate a designated participant, while being also the target of another. From that initial idea, we then worked to integrate the core game play element of the AC games such as the assassinations, the social stealth, and the free-running.

We had the chance to spend a complete year building various prototypes. Our objective was very clear: the multiplayer experience had to be innovative, fun and respectful to the AC universe. If one of those objectives was not met, the multiplayer would not have seen the light of the day.

During this prototyping phase, we explored a lot of ingredients. To name a few: the integration of the sword fight, the guard’s interactions and some more free-running based objectives. None of those tries were satisfying enough, sometimes for technical reasons, other times for not being fun enough.

What finally makes our multiplayer a unique experience is the mix of the Stealth (the target approach) and action Game plays (Assassinations and chases). The fact that players are at the same time the predator and the prey of other players also creates a very intense and unique experience.

The biggest challenge was certainly the Social stealth aspect, because in order to allow players to blend in the crowd, we had to replicate on each console not only the players, but also over 100 non-playable characters. Once we got the right mix and pace and that we were satisfied with the player experience, we developed mainly on 2 game modes: The Wanted and the Alliance.

You still have collectible feathers in the game. Do you think there might be player ennui towards hidden collectibles these days?

GS: I disagree. For sure it's not for all types of players but many players, like me, love finding and collecting these items. I've met many journalists on my tours telling me they got them all in previous games. What we did though is give these players a bit more help by adding a map marker if you spot them in eagle vision.