Possible Variants of Air Assassinations

Variant 1: What if air assassinations were carried out dependable on the player’s characteristics?

Let’s say there is an overweight character the player is controlling. If that character was to be set up on a ledge and had to take out the enemy underneath him, he can execute this is different ways depending on the player’s controls. Let’s have it so that the player must jump and kill the enemy themselves, similar to Dishonored. If the player does it correctly and presses the kill button in time, then the player will react faster after killing the enemy and feel more rewarding. If the player does not press the kill button on time after jumping off the ledge, then the player’s overweight character will knock out the enemy in a comedic way, squishing and flattening him, but will have a slower reaction time (he will have to get up slowly). So that way, if the player has an enemy directly below themselves and they press the jump button, they are guaranteed to knock out the enemy. Depending on if the player presses the kill button on time will affect the aftermath of the air assassination. If the player does not land on top of an enemy, and hits the ground (absorbing lot of fall damage) then they will also have a slower reaction and will have to get up slowly. This variant of an air assassination is more character-based, allowing for more interesting gameplay.


Variant 2: Instead of just button presses to indicate an air assassination, how about letting the player feel like they are truly implementing the takedown?

This would only work with a platform that has a console controller. The player will press a button to lock onto their acquired target, and then bring the controller upwards physically. Finally, using however much strength, they slam their controller down resulting in an air assassination that depends on the speed, and how hard the player pulls down the controller. If the player pulls down the controller quickly, it will cause more power towards the enemy they want to knock out. If it was a slower and pathetic strike, it will not affect the enemy as much physically, maybe the player can land on the shoulders of the enemy and try to twist their neck or stab them in the face. From what I’ve had in mind, the player would like to feel as if they are the Invincible Hulk yelling “HULK SMASH” with both fists ready to destroy what is underneath them. This concept of an air assassination can feel empowering for the player and exciting when they realize that it was their real strength that took down the enemy instead of the game doing it for them.


Examples of Games Performing Different Air Assassinations

The Assassin’s Creed way of implementing air assassinations is holding down the “high profile” set of keys using a certain button (for Playstation 3, it would be R2) then pressing another button such as the square button to allow for a swift and quick takedown, thus satisfying the player.  Overall, this would need two simple button presses and centering the camera on the targeted enemy. The game itself will perform the air assassination as the player watches it. In the case of this game series, there are thousands of enemies (Templars) to kill, so making the assassinations all quick and swift would be better suited for these games. Later on, the Assassins Creed series started to include air assassinating as a mandatory goal in some story missions. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 3, the player must air assassinate John Pitcairn. If they stab Pitcairn in the back, the mission will restart since the player did not do the required air assassination.

Dishonored, on the other hand, has it so that the player must jump and/or use Blink (which is quick teleportation skill), and then press the attack button right before they land on top of the target. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, this also needs two buttons: one for jumping off a ledge and the other to kill the targeted enemy. Though unlike Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored lets the player press the kill button whenever they please, because they are responsible for killing the enemy, rather than the game automatically killing the enemy for you. This allows the player to feel more accomplished because they successfully did it themselves. In this game, it is possible to die from large heights if the player does not kill their target.  This portrays a more personal accomplishment towards the player because of this task being extremely risky and possibly fatal. If the player connects to the game on more personally, then that means the game, and its mechanics, are very well designed.

Finally, in the reboot of Thief, the player will press one button once they are close enough to the enemy. After the player presses the button, the game plays a dramatic cut scene of the takedown, showing off to the player how epic they are. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, the game itself targets the enemy without the player having to time the execution accordingly, which is what Dishonored allows you to do. Overall, Thief’s way of a drop assassination seems too easy for the player, making it seem more of a satisfaction element by rewarding the player with a cool cut scene rather than personally rewarding themselves.

Out of all these games, I personally think that Dishonored did the best implementation of an air assassination because it allows there to be a challenge for the player since they are responsible for pressing the jump and kill button in a timely manner, and also because dying is a possibility if the air assassination is not properly executed. This is the opposite of the other two games, where they do the assassination for the player.

Important Things to Consider for Air Assassinations

In Extra Credit’s video Like a Ninja – What Makes a Good Stealth Game, they mention that these mechanics are “all just tools in the player’s belt. They are logical functions which can be applied to the problems at hand”. Therefore, the player must use these tools the game has provided to succeed in their mission. It is highly recommended to watch their video to understand how to implement tools and mechanics for the purpose of stealth games.

An important element of air assassinations is thinking about the height of drops. It would not seem realistic if the player were to survived a long fall, but if they were to takedown an enemy at the end of that fall, their body’s momentum will be absorbed by the enemies body, providing some realistic sense but also allow for the assassination to be very rewarding by surviving. It would not be fun, or even worth attempting to do, if player ends up killing themselves in the end, thus allowing this extreme risk to become a more personal reward towards the player.

Dishonored (2012), using the mechanic "Blink" to teleport down without taking too much fall damage.

Dishonored (2012), using the mechanic “Blink” to teleport down without taking too much fall damage.

Dishonored (2012), taking fall damage without a target to air assassinate.

Dishonored (2012), taking fall damage without a target to air assassinate.

The Blurry History of the Air Assassination

Researching and retracing the mechanic’s history is very challenging since it is not consider an important mechanic. As far as it goes, this mechanic would have started off with the establishment of stealth games, as they progressively started to become a genre in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some early stealth games include Castle Wolfenstein, Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu, and Thief: The Dark Project. Eventually, new mechanics started to arise through this genre such as smoke bombs, throwing objects (to hurt or distract enemies), camera disables, and of most the most satisfying: drop assassinations.

Air Assassination: An Unacknowledged Game Mechanic

Assassin's Creed (2007)

Assassin’s Creed (2007)

Air assassination, or a drop assassination, is game mechanic where the player dives off a high platform to land on top of an enemy located on a lower platform to instantly kill them. Although this would be a subdivision of the large mechanic of attacking, this mechanic  should be more acknowledged because it could have more unique aspects and experimentation to allow this to become a better, or a more independent mechanic in games.

This mechanic is seen in many stealth games. It is a sneaky tactic because the enemies are unaware that the player can come from above to kill them, allowing the player to feel empowering, sneaky and unpredictable; like a bad-ass ninja. Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored, and Thief are a few examples that use this mechanic as a tool to help the player through their stealth missions. Adventure games also implement this mechanic in a minor-fashion, such as the new Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. This mechanic is starting gain more attention which is why it is in almost every video game nowadays. But game developers should take advantage of this fascinating variant of killing an enemy, and let it become something better and dominant.