(DemiGodRaven (ex-TNOTB) looks at the similarities between the Assassin’s Creed games and the albums of Ayreon, and speculates about how the latter may shed light on how the former is going to end.)
Anyone who has been aware of my writing for a while knows pretty well that I’m a pretty huge nerd when it comes to video games. They’re my second love, with the first being music. They’re also the two most expensive hobbies in the world, but that is a whole other subject for some other time. Occasionally, there is an incredible crossover between some form of metal and video games, and I can’t help but give it a knowing wink and nod. Or, in this case it’s a confluence of all sorts of things that just happen to share the same archetypal concept.
The thought for this article began to cross my mind as I wrestled my way through the latest Assassin’s Creed game, which if you haven’t been following the series has basically gone from a sort of Lost-esque conspiracy science fiction to batshit fucking insane within the span of two yearly iterations as Ubisoft (the game’s developer and publisher) attempts to strange as much money out of the franchise as possible.
What is funny about the story of these games is that it has pretty much evolved into the same story told by the Ayreon discography, with its dream sequencer experiments and the end of mankind. Of course, you also have to acknowledge that even though the elements of each story are as fantastic as can be, the bare guts of each one are fairly basic and recognizable. I’ll be analyzing this to some extent while also pointing out the ridiculous similarities between the game series and the concept behind most of Ayreon’s work.
As always this deserves warning: I am going to be spoilery as fuck in the following article. Just a note though, it’s not like you should give a shit. Judging by the latest Assassin’s Creed game, the writing team doesn’t.
One of the more basic beats of the story for Assassin’s Creed is that the whole time you are playing as someone from the past, it is a simulation. They explain that pretty quickly — that the main character of the series (Desmond) is the product of a bloodline of Assassins, and that using a machine called the Animus, they are able to have him simulate his ancestor’s memories through some McGuffin-esque bullshit involving memory being linked to your DNA.
Believe it or not there is actual research being conducted in this field, as people attempt to explain how generations of turtles are able to return over thousands of miles of ocean to the exact place on Earth where they were born, and lay their own eggs there, too. It is also being studied as a way to explain how salmon are able to return to the same river systems to spawn and why other animals instinctively know certain behaviors when they haven’t been taught them. Whether or not any of this DNA-linked memory theory has really played out, I don’t know, but the results of any of this research will be interesting.
For the purposes of Assassin’s Creed’s story (I’m going to be referring to it as AC from here on out), though, it’s basically a really, really, really ridiculous way of explaining away the videogame’s HUD system. I shit you not, as you are playing the game, that little health bar in the corner is basically the same health bar that the main character of the game sees. You’re playing as a guy playing a game, more or less.
Now, the connection on the Ayreon side of things right now is pretty interesting. The main concept of the Flight Of The Eternal Migrator, Dream Sequencer, and The Human Equation albums are similar to the story of AC. They tell the story of a man who is able to use a machine to relive the memories of those before him through simulation.
Ayreon did it first, but to fault the AC series as if it were ripping off Arjen Lucassen (the man behind Ayreon) seems a bit ridiculous. It is actually a surprisingly common story, with the only real difference being its execution and what the people in the machine are simulating. It is basic philosophy that ties into Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave and even sees some iteration in the form of The Sprawl Trilogy by William S. Gibson and The Matrix films. The characters may not all be reliving memories of ancestors, but the idea of a human in some form of machine simulating a whole world is very common.
When you drill right down into it, only two of the Ayreon CDs deal with the idea of actual human events. The Human Equation doesn’t explain whether it’s featuring the same character from the first two CDs, or hell, whether any of the events described in that disc really happened in the world Ayreon has built or if they were instead just some sort of ginned-up computer experiment that would enable the person inside the Dream Sequencer (when the events of that disc take place) is able to feel emotions again.
As a sidenote: The whole ginned-up-by-the-computer experiment is also something that AC touches on when explaining how the characters from the multiplayer keep appearing in the single-player aspect of the game. There are a few times when your driver (who does a lot of the explaining about which historical figure is which) can’t explain why some random jester appearing as an assassination contract are part of the memories of Ezio or Altair (the two AC ancestors thus far). She just says there is no trace of them in history and that they appear out of nowhere.
Of course, this also hints at the fact that perhaps all the various Animi (animuses?) are linked together on a certain network, and even though the one being used by the Assassins in the later game is in no way connected to the people who are handling the multiplayer side of things (they say that they are the templars, but to be honest, they’re basically just Bad Person McBadGuy nowadays), every time they log in so that Desmond can relive another’s memories, they are still on the same server.
The original game had the main guy working with the Bad Guys by coercion and using their genetic memory device, but then he learns the truth and runs off with the Assassins, who happen to have their own genetic memory device. Multiplayer is basically the bad guys training legions of people on these devices as their own little assassin avatars.
One of the common themes with Ayreon’s music is the concept of a group of humanoid beings known as Forever, who manage to figure out the key to immortality but at the cost of emotions, basically becoming cold machines who feel nothing. They’re the puppet masters throughout a lot of Ayreon’s work, sending back the dreams that show the cold desolate future to each of the prophet characters in Ayreon’s early discs. Basically it plays out that Forever creates humanity by putting their DNA on an asteroid and crashing it into Earth. This allows Humanity to form and Forever experiences life again through humanities trials and tribulations. Forever begins to meddle in human evolution and gives them the equation of E=MC2 and then teaches humanity how to survive various viruses and bacterium.Then Humanity destroys themselves via Nuclear War on Earth and the rest of the species is left to go extinct on a colony on Mars. Thus, Forever sends these images back to early prophets in an attempt to change things and in a ‘what a twist!’ shocker still manage to fail.
But the idea of beings outside of our own creating us and then meddling in our own evolution is familiar…
Ahhh, hello friend.
Of course, this all ties back into Assassin’s Creed in that they too have something similar. The main thing driving the bad people to make the main character relive his memories is that they are seeking something called the Piece Of Eden. There are many of them but they only need one in order to activate a machine that will prevent the end of the world. Of course, the Assassins are seeking a similar thing because they too have something that will prevent the end of the world.
It has been strongly hinted in the game that the end of the world will be via Solar Flare and that the devices they plan to activate were made by the same people who made the Piece Of Eden. Those people are commonly referred to as” The Ones Who Came Before” and they are a race of humanoid beings who came to Earth and created humanity as slaves, yet altered their evolution by breeding with them. Then the world was destroyed via Solar Flare, while the race of humanoid beings (now worshiped as Gods) and the slaves are at war with each other. Most of this is explained via Assassin’s Creed 2’s batshit insane ending, and then expanded upon by the following two games.
The only changes between Ayreon and the video game series’ work is the method of humanity’s destruction. Hell, you could say that the appearance of all the gods at the end of each game, addressing Desmond, is basically what Forever did on Ayreon’s work, which was try to send messages of a bleak future back in time, with information about how to prevent it from happening.
So the basic gist of both the game and Ayreon’s work boils down to The Ancient Astronaut theory. Fantastic.
Now what does this mean for the future of the series? To be honest, I don’t know. The series has lost two creative directors now for various reasons, meaning that anyone who had any clue what the fuck was going on is probably gone at this point. It has been turned into a yearly franchise, which has basically slowed the whole experience down to a crawl.
You’ll note that the ending of Revelations, which I linked to above, doesn’t even really reveal anything that we didn’t already know. However, this year is supposed to be the big year that the story of the game and real life all converge around the big 2012 Apocalypse event that isn’t happening. One of the things I can try to do, though, is parse out where the story will go from here via my knowledge of Ayreon’s works and one of the more interesting theories I’ve seen.
It seems like a total cop-out when you think about it, but it is highly likely that the main character of Assassin’s Creed will fail in saving humanity. One of the main grounds for my suspicion of this is how much we’ve seen that’s pointing to the fact that very little time remains to prevent anything; Subject 16 (who is later introduced and killed off in Revelations with no fanfare at all) even says so in his prophetic moment during Brotherhood — all of which leads to the theory that I think is interesting from a story standpoint, yet by the same token I feel is a total cop-out.
I’ve seen it written a couple of times across the internet now, and it makes me roll my eyes, but I’m starting to think that Desmond is another avatar for someone else, and that you are really playing as someone else further down the line, after an apocalyptic event, trying to figure out just what the hell happened.
The funny thing about this theory is that it sounds startlingly similar to the story behind the Dream Sequencer albums. The game has hinted a few times that you may in fact be Desmond’s son, who says that he survives the upcoming killer solar flare, but maybe most of humanity does not, and yet somehow perhaps they stumble upon an Animus, and said offspring is reliving his father’s memories as a way to either revive humanity or just get some sort of explanation before he too, passes on.
It’d be depressing as hell, but if you apply the Ayreon template to the Assassin’s Creed story, I think that is probably where they are heading with this. It’s likely, because at this point there have been so many different cooks in the kitchen that all the disparate elements that have made Assassin’s Creed interesting will never be brought together in any sort of way that makes sense.
They’ll really never be able to explain Subject 16 with any sort of satisfying result, or how he was prophetic as all hell in Two and Brotherhood, yet was really just a bit player in Revelations who didn’t and couldn’t explain shit.
It will likely feel like a really heavy cop-out, but that tends to happen when you take a game like this and turn it into a yearly franchise. They’ve been stacking question on top of question in order to make things super-mysterious and have now written themselves into a corner. It is surprising how much the Ayreon idea of Forever and The Dream Sequencer lends itself to explaining away things, even though the method of destruction of humanity is different.
And to be honest with you, none of the games has Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, or Jonas Renske screaming at you at any point. And oh yeah.
And yes Ubisoft, if you are hiring I am looking for work.