WC: Since AC is an original IP, you have more freedom than the other Turbine games as to what you can put in, right? Do you find that to be the case?
Andy: One of my favorite things we put in as far as pop culture and having those freedoms... a few years back, with the sensation of LOST, that was reflected in-game: there's an island with a hatch on it and a black smoke monster. One of the great things about the franchise [as opposed to an existing IP like Lord of the Rings or Dungeons and Dragons] is the freedom to do that. The NPC Ulgrim the Unpleasant is a voice for the developers to speak their minds. When Gary Gygax passed away, they made a not-so-veiled reference to that in-game.
With AC, we have more freedom with our content. Gandalf can't sprout a mohawk. The guys on the LotRO team thrive on that, it's a different sort of creativity to fit the game into that pre-existing lore.
DJ: Going back to your earlier question about burnout: Having that much creative freedom, having the freedom to decide "I'm going to put in an Entourage homage this month" helps people come back.
At one point, someone asked, "How do you keep a story going after so many years?" People who were there at the beginning aren't there now, and how do you continue other people's stories? All of our games have 10 year plans. Turbine is in its 15th year, we have a history of MMO gaming with all three of our games. It doesn't mean they all have to do monthly updates [like AC], LotRO does fewer updates that are bigger. It all depends on the franchise.
WC: How far in advance do you have the story planned out?
DJ: Story arcs about a major villain/faction antagonists last anywhere from 9-16 months. So a couple of months before we start a new story arc, we plot out the major events and how far we want the story to low, how long it'll take. And then we have meetings in advance of the ship date about 6-8 weeks, to figure out what we want to do.
WC: So! The 100th update. Pretty big changes coming down the pipe?
DJ: We tailored the storyline we're in the middle of and the 100th update to work together. The 100th update came up as an initiative within the team to ship some of the Elder Game content - player factions and land control - and Live content converge.
Andy: We were looking at the calendar and realized we were approaching this 100th update, and decided to give the players what they've been asking for. When you have players who are playing your game for 5-7 years, some who have been with the game for the beginning... it was important to us to think of a way to thank our players. We couldn't think of anything better than the Elder Game system, to get them more involved in the game and give them what they want.