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Assassin's Creed III: Ubisoft faces "uncomfortable" truths

Assassin's Creed III: Ubisoft faces "uncomfortable" truths

Fri 19 Oct 2012 7:33pm GMT / 3:33pm EDT / 12:33pm PDT
People

Developers talk about treatment of Native Americans and women in games, concern over ads showing hero killing US soldiers

The Assassin's Creed series has never shied away from touchy topics, with the very first game having players killing a variety of historical figures in the middle of a Christian-Muslim Holy War, and the second one using the Pope as its villain. However, with the third installment of the series set during the American Revolution, the development team has had to consider issues of slavery and treatment of Native Americans. And with the Assassin's Creed: Liberation spin-off for PlayStation Vita featuring a woman in the protagonist's role for the first time, gender issues are stepping to the forefront as well.

At the Assassin's Creed III launch party in Toronto last night, creative director Alex Hutchinson and Liberation scriptwriter Jill Murray talked with GamesIndustry International about the way they approached the thorny issues in their games. The first step, Hutchinson said, wasn't so much about being inoffensive or trying to make a point as it was about having their facts straight.

"We like it--I should say we don't mind it--if the truth is uncomfortable, if we can back it up with facts."

Alex Hutchinson

"Usually we're trying to be truthful," Hutchinson said. "And we like it--I should say we don't mind it--if the truth is uncomfortable, if we can back it up with facts. When we were dealing with the Borgias [in Assassin's Creed II], we were saying the Pope is a really bad guy. But if you do any amount of research, it's pretty clear we didn't make this up and it's pretty well documented. And it's the same with the Founding Fathers. These are real people; they have their ups and downs, their opinions. And when we can find documented evidence of an opinion they had or something they asked for and it was just true, then we were happy to put that in the game. But we tried not to have our subjective layer come into it; we saved that for the fictional storyline and the fictional characters."

1

Aveline's story can't help but raise discussions of slavery and gender equality.

That approach requires a fair bit of research, Hutchinson said. For example, with the half-Native American Connor as the protagonist of Assassin's Creed III, the developers brought on an advisor from a Native American cultural center to provide feedback and help get the details right, from jewelry to whether groups were patriarchal or matriarchal.

"As basically a bunch of often middle-aged white guys and girls working on a game, we knew we were not experts in Native American history," Hutchinson said. "A lot of the things we thought we knew were wrong, or caricatures, or exaggerations of the truth."

As for slavery, the team opted against exploring it as a core theme of the game.

"We tried to present it objectively without crossing over into commenting on it," Hutchinson said. We didn't want to take one step into that issue and then not deal with it, so really for us, it's not a topic we try to tackle in this game."

Considering that Liberation heroine Aveline is a former slave, Murray did not have the same luxury of sidestepping the subject. However, she also stressed the importance of research, adding that it is a far preferable option to take than avoiding a sensitive issue entirely.

"For me the importance of talking about things outweighs the fear," Murray said. "The fear you can deal with by doing your research, by talking to people, by really looking deeply into the character, understanding how they work, how they respond to their environment. To me, it's so much more important to talk about things, I'm willing to set the fear aside long enough to do my research and make sure I get it right."

"The importance of talking about things outweighs the fear."

Jill Murray

Murray also jumped at the chance to help create a strong female character in an industry whose portrayal of women has been problematic, to say the least. She said she was relieved that not once was there any discussion about making the character less strong, showing more skin, or otherwise playing into clichés.

"I think it's getting better," Murray said. "If you look around, there's been so much discussion online about female characters in games, about women playing games, about how they're looked at and treated. It feels to me like there's a lot of energy building around the topic. With characters like Aveline coming out, I think we can't help but see how much potential there is to be discovered."

The industry's advances in gender equality haven't been limited to fictional women, either.

2

Redcoats make up most of Connor's victims in the American ad campaign for Assassin's Creed III.

"I would love to see more women come work in the industry now," Murray said. "I don't know if women are sort of leery of it because the industry is so unbalanced, but I would like them to know that it's actually the most hospitable, warm, inclusive place that I've worked, so I would like them to come join me immediately and not wait."

There was one potentially difficult topic the developers didn't necessarily concern themselves with, and that was how American gamers might react to killing their own uniformed countrymen. Several discrepancies between the American and European marketing campaigns have prompted speculation that Ubisoft has mostly limited Connor's victims to Redcoats in the US advertising spots to avoid turning off potential customers.

"On the team, it's been funny because we know the story and what happens," Hutchinson said. "You're very much in between these two forces and you're essentially killing Templars. You're not really killing Redcoats or Bluecoats. You're killing the fictional bad guys, so it's more on the marketing side that people have been debating. And we also know that as soon as the game is out and people play it, a lot of this will go away."

15 Comments

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
"We like to back it up with facts" - from the same person who said that the reasons behind the war of independence were boring.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

61 109 1.8
"We tried to present [slavery] objectively without crossing over into commenting on it," Hutchinson said. We didn't want to take one step into that issue and then not deal with it, so really for us, it's not a topic we try to tackle in this game."

God forbid you tackle a serious issue in a AAA game, how inappropriate would that be.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Lewis Mills Creative Partner, Ninja Beaver Studios

18 0 0.0
God forbid you tackle a serious issue in a AAA game, how inappropriate would that be.
But why would Ubisoft tackle it? In the world of Assassins Creed III slavery was common. It would take me out of the story more if Connor suddenly started spouting statements about emancipation, anti-slavery and civil rights.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

956 185 0.2
Kill US soldiers, outrage!

Kill soldiers from other nationalities, all gravy!

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

584 323 0.6
This is the problem with putting authorship in the hands of a group.

Committees can never have interesting or insightful opinions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 22nd October 2012 5:08pm

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Alex Hutchinson Creative Director, Ubisoft Montreal

19 38 2.0
I can promise you Assassin's Creed 3 was not written or directd by a 'group'.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alex Hutchinson on 22nd October 2012 6:44pm

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Max Kaftanati President, Galaxy Gaming

11 4 0.4
I can already tell you American gamers would not care for this. In fact, a lot of them already took a day off work so they can game it up on release day.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Omaha Sternberg Editor / Co-Founder, iGame Radio

13 15 1.2
God forbid you tackle a serious issue in a AAA game, how inappropriate would that be.

Because tackling women and Native American issues during the American Revolution aren't serious topics?

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

144 94 0.7
Having a female lead doesn't automatically mean tackling serious issues, if at all. Else Lara Croft would have been a beacon for women's rights since 1996.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

61 109 1.8
They would be, if they were actually tackled. That CoD is about war doesn't mean it tackled war as a serious issue. Same with AC here. As much fun as the previous games were, I didn't feel like they made any interesting commentary on the time periods they were based on. I'm not going to be buying this one for hope of a fresh new intellectual perspective on women or founding fathers either.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

846 732 0.9
Well... we are not talking about the gender and sexual orientation equalitarian nation of Skyrim. We talking about American civil war; there was war, slavery and Americans were dying. It has a historical consistent context.

Hope another outrage like the one with Resident Evil 5's "White man killing black men" won't take place again... because really: Is it such a big uncomfortable truth the fact that a big percentage of African population are negros? maybe as uncomfortable as the fact that America is full of Americans. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

61 109 1.8
"Is it such a big uncomfortable truth the fact that a big percentage of African population are negros?"
Word of advice, Alfonso: if you get to chat with an African American at some point, don't open with that line.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee

44 3 0.1
Well heres the problem.

If they try to be realistic they would have to make the people treat the slaves realisticaly and that would have people up an arms. Do keep in mind that many people didnt consider mistreating or beating slaves, or slavery as a great wrong. What message would that send?

And if you try to tackle the issue of slavery in a game that is placed in that time period it would feel wrong. It would be like Altair going about peacefull coexistance between religions in AC1. Yeah, imageine if an NPC aproached one of the shouters in AC1 and going on about respecting other religions and sitting down and talking to realise our differences make us stronger.

Only way AC could tackle slavery as an issue would be if it was placed during civil war and considering the issue it would change the focus of the game.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Tin Katavic Studying MSc-Games Technology, University of Abertay Dundee

44 3 0.1
"Kill US soldiers, outrage!
Kill soldiers from other nationalities, all gravy!"

Well hows about Resident Evil then?
Kill white zombies, all is good.
Kill black zombies, outrage!

There will ALWAYS be outrage about something.
Kill monkey zombies - PETA is after you. :D

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster

473 186 0.4
"We like to back it up with facts" - from the same person who said that the reasons behind the war of independence were boring.

For a game, they were really boring. How do you translate new British legislation and 'The Enlightenment' being conducted into a coherent game that doesn't play like a history book. Reasons are boring in lots of games, because actions are what make games.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

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