Balancing history and gameplay in Assassin’s Creed Origins

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Arguably the chief reason the Assassin’s Creed franchise is so popular is that the games are set in real-life historical periods and places – and the developers work hard to capture those settings with fidelity. There are probably a good few gamers out there who’ve successfully navigated Florence and Venice because of the hours they spent clambering over the cities as Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II. I know a few myself.

But how do you find a balance between reflecting real-life yesteryear and making an entertaining video game? It seems too easy to get bogged down with tiny details when trying to be as faithful as possible to history. This draws precious time and attention away from the primary goal of creating something fun and compelling. The makers of upcoming Assassin’s Creed Origins – which is set in Ancient Egypt – have an interesting strategy to avoid this pitfall.

Origins game director Ashraf Ismail explains his team’s approach, which may be of use for any creators out there working with historical settings for their stories.

“We have this thing called the 30 Second Rule, which effectively is if someone can find a piece of information in 30 seconds or less we need to stay true to it. If it takes longer than that, then we have a bit of liberty to play with that detail.

Because ultimately we are creating fiction. This is not a simulation, it’s not a realistic representation; but it is a credible representation that has our own lore woven inside.”

For the record, Assassin’s Creed Origins will receive a separate historical simulation mode, called Discovery Tour, early next year. The question remains though, how do you get the marriage of gameplay and history right? The answer is by considering both aspects side-by-side throughout development. Ismail clarifies.

“It’s a constant iterative process. The first two years of making this game was a ton of research, with historians on the team, Egyptologists coming, feeding us en masse as we’re building prototypes, as we’re trying different gameplay ideas, as we’re trying to build the world and figuring how to build such a world.

We have historians embedded in the team so they’re in meetings when we’re discussing gameplay, when we’re discussing narrative. Their job is to actually highlight potential ideas or say ‘No, no, that’s impossible’ or ‘That never happened.’ Of course, all of us in terms of art, design, narrative, writing, we spend that time also really learning about the time period, the culture, the people, and it helps naturally just to fuse us with ideas. But it’s an everyday process.”

It turns out that next to the new combat system, Ismail’s personal favourite part of Assassin’s Creed Origins is its carefully crafted, rich world.

“It was an honour and pleasure to do Egypt. We wanted to bring it to life and we wanted to do it justice, and I think the world is one of the best open worlds we’ve ever built.

One of the key things we started, and which was very personal to me, was that in Black Flag we felt that we had a great sense of exploration, but we could improve the feeling of discovery, and that was a keyword while working on Origins. Discovery. The feeling that there’s a lot to explore, but that you’re rewarded for that exploration. You discover something, whether it’s lore or loot, gameplay, narrative or a surprise quest. So we put in a lot of effort to have really neat stuff in the world. And I tell you there is some optional stuff that I think is going to blow people away.”

Gamers have just two weeks to wait before they begin their explorations. Assassin’s Creed Origins releases on 27 October for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Last Updated: October 13, 2017

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Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

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