As­sas­si­na­tion class­room

As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins’ forthcoming Dis­cov­ery Tour mode could in­spire fu­ture his­to­ri­ans

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As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins’ new mode may in­spire fu­ture his­to­ri­ans

Ubisoft’s flag­ship se­ries is as syn­ony­mous with his­tory as it is with vir­tual mur­der. From sunny Re­nais­sance Italy, to a pi­rate-in­fested 18th-cen­tury Caribbean, to Vic­to­rian Eng­land’s bustling streets, the worlds of As­sas­sin’s Creed have of­fered play­ers a taste of many dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods – even if the fac­tual ac­cu­racy of them has been ques­tion­able. The re­cently re­leased As­sas­sin’s Creed Ori­gins is no dif­fer­ent: it’s a lav­ish in­ter­pre­ta­tion of An­cient Egypt, but a videogame nonethe­less, with all the fan­tas­ti­cal trim­mings play­ers en­joy. Yet a forthcoming free ad­di­tion to the game may even trump some of Ori­gins’ taller tales.

Due next year, the Dis­cov­ery Tour up­date turns Bayek’s ad­ven­ture into an in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum, al­low­ing play­ers – hope­fully, even his­tory stu­dents – to dive deeper into An­cient Egyp­tian cul­ture. “We were toy­ing with the idea for sev­eral years, wish­ing to some­day make it hap­pen,” Jean Gues­don, cre­ative di­rec­tor on Ori­gins, tells us. “His­tory is very im­por­tant for us: we re­ally do our home­work. We al­ways say that the ed­u­ca­tion that we put in our games de­serves to be shared with more peo­ple, and not just be seen as back­ground. In pre­vi­ous games we had an in-game en­cy­clo­pe­dia, the An­i­mus data­base, and we wanted to take that to the next level.”

Dis­cov­ery Tour mode makes the en­tirety of Egypt ex­plorable from the get-go and re­moves all com­bat, let­ting play­ers take in the ar­chi­tec­tural and agri­cul­tural scenery. Cre­at­ing an ac­ces­si­ble ex­pe­ri­ence is key, says Maxime Du­rand, fran­chise his­to­rian. “We had a lot of feed­back from fans say­ing As­sas­sin’s Creed at­tracted them to learn­ing more about his­tory. We also had a lot of teach­ers telling us they were us­ing As­sas­sin’s Creed in their class­rooms. They were ask­ing us to con­sider mak­ing their lives eas­ier with a game that is con­flict­free, where you can go any­where and you’re not forced into a nar­ra­tive.”

The tours are short, guided ex­pe­ri­ences that walk the player through in­ter­ac­tive lec­tures on var­i­ous sub­jects, from the cities of Alexan­dria and Mem­phis, fig­ures such as Cleopa­tra or as­pects of reg­u­lar An­cient Egyp­tian life such as farm­ing. Each tour has mul­ti­ple stops, with text and pic­tures of­fer­ing his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate de­tail on, say, the Nile, or the process of mum­mi­fi­ca­tion. “What makes videogames so ap­peal­ing is be­ing able to in­ter­act with an en­vi­ron­ment,” says Gues­don. ”It was the first thing we got from dis­cus­sions with ped­a­gogues and his­to­ri­ans.” Du­rand ex­plains: “We in­tend to use all the avail­able ways that the player can in­ter­act with the world. So if we have big tours show­ing you dif­fer­ent re­gions, we can use mounts like horses or camels. We even use the ea­gle.” The tours in­clude brand-new game con­tent cu­rated by his­to­ri­ans and egyp­tol­o­gists. “We can use 3D im­ages, ar­ti­facts from mu­se­ums, and old pho­tos,” says Du­rand. “Things we can re­late back to mu­se­ums and more tra­di­tional medi­ums, so that peo­ple who want more after Dis­cov­ery Mode can go deeper into learn­ing.”

Fo­cus group feed­back in­formed the tours’ max­i­mum length. “We tried to [make] tours last­ing no longer than 20 min­utes, be­cause this is a length of time that teach­ers would be in class­rooms with stu­dents,” says Du­rand. The team has also al­tered the UI to aid those would-be his­to­ri­ans who don’t usu­ally play games. “At first we thought, we’ll put the sta­tions as ob­jec­tives in the game’s com­pass,” says Gues­don. “But it means you need to un­der­stand what an icon rep­re­sents, and align your com­pass with it, and so on. So we de­cided to re­place that with a high­lighted path in the 3D world that is clear for ev­ery­one to see. By do­ing so, we were able to re­move the com­pass from the HUD, mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence even more im­mer­sive.” As a his­to­rian, Du­rand is de­lighted by the re­ac­tions of his peers: “Our egyp­tol­o­gists that we work with, even they are blown away by the qual­ity of work that they’ve achieved in help­ing us.”

Broad­en­ing the ap­peal and util­ity of games is the goal. “We think that [Dis­cov­ery Tour] goes beyond what a videogame is,” says Gues­don. “We see it as a po­ten­tial ed­u­ca­tional tool. When play­ers spend time in our worlds, we can use it to try to bring them more than just pure fun that will van­ish and have no im­pact. When deal­ing with his­tory, that’s what’s re­ally cool and mo­ti­vat­ing about the As­sas­sin’s Creed fran­chise: be­cause we have triple-A block­buster bud­gets, while en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple, it al­lows us to push them knowl­edge con­tent at their will. We’re proud of our work, we think we’ve recre­ated An­cient Egypt as faith­fully as pos­si­ble, and we want to share it with more peo­ple – younger gamers, older gamers, even a non-gam­ing au­di­ence, and teach­ers who want a dif­fer­ent kind of ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­rial.”

“When play­ers spend time in our worlds, we can use it to try to bring them more than just pure fun”

Maxime Du­rand (top), fran­chise his­to­rian, and Jean Gues­don, cre­ative di­rec­tor

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