I was planning to write a piece this week after how Ubisoft had ‘won’ E3. The company’s keynote presentation showed a really strong line-up of games: The Division, Far Cry 4, the new Rainbow Six, and of course, Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The company seem to know exactly how to appeal to my taste in games.
Then Ubisoft technical director James Therien ruined it by explaining why there are no playable female characters in AC:Unity. He told Videogamer:
“It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” Therien explained. “So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”
“Again, it’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all I don’t really [inaudible] it was a question of focus and a question of production. Yes, we have tonnes of resources, but we’re putting them into this game, and we have huge teams, nine studios working on this game and we need all of these people to make what we are doing here.”
Essentially: It is apparently too much work.
Right, of course it is. This would be a perfectly plausible excuse if the whole Assassin’s Creed series (which I love) wasn’t a clear demonstration that no feature is too fiddly.
Consider not just the massive budgets and the multiple studios that are brought in to work on each entry in the series but think about how much unnecessary extra stuff there is to do in the games – stuff that would (to paraphrase) really seem like a questionable focus and production decisions.
Take Assassin’s Creed 3, for example, which was set during the American Revolution. Remember the animal hunting minigames? What about the “Six Men Morris” board game simulator? Did players of that game really finish all of the privateering missions or complete the interior design customisation in the Homestead? Heck, there was so much to do in that game that there was stuff in the game that many of the actual developers didn’t know about. One of the developers, writing on Reddit explained the abundance of non-essential features:
“Upon completing the story, there’s an origami-crane node collecting mini game that unlocks that I’ve NEVER seen covered or mentioned in any gaming blogs, reviews, or fan vids. Most of us didn’t even know it existed.”
So Therien is claiming that whilst the developers are happy to spend money and resources on building a sea shanty collection side-quest (as seen in AC: Black Flag), making a playable female character is too time consuming?
Anyway, why wasn’t the same excuse made for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, which featured a female protagonist?
What makes this story even more bewildering is the historical setting in which Assassin’s Creed: Unity is taking place. The game is set during the French Revolution – an event that was the crucible in world history for many of the things we take for granted in the modern world.
It was in the revolution that we first developed our modern understanding of individual rights, it was a time when reason was first favoured over the dogmas of the past and the old order, based on hereditary privilege was challenged for the first time. And unsurprisingly, this also saw the rise of women’s rights for the first time. Many radical thinkers of the day like Etta Palm d’Aelders and Marie Gouze spoke out against slavery and in favour of things like liberalised divorce laws. In other words – it was an important moment in history for women too.
Many women were involved in the actual fighting too – not least helping to storm the Bastille, which is an event depicted in the game’s own trailer.
Heck, there were even female assassins during the revolution. Charlotte Corday killed one of the revolution’s more radical figures, Jean-Paul Marat whilst he was in the bath. This was so infamous she became known as the “THE ANGEL OF ASSASSINATION”.
Now who wouldn’t want to play as a character with a name like that?
In 1791 Marie Gouze, writing under the pen-name Olympe de Gouges, wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen. In it, she said:
“This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society”.
Can you really have a game about the French Revolution without considering women? Maybe it is time for some women to join the Ubisoft Assassin’s Order?
C’mon Ubisoft, you can do better than this.
By James O'Malley | June 11th, 2014