Recreating Colonial America in Assassin's Creed III

We speak to creative director Alexander Hutchinson about the challenges of historical accuracy in the soon-to-be-released Assassin's Creed III.

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Set during the American Revolution, Assassin's Creed III features a new protagonist with a mixed Native American-English heritage. Named Ratonhnhaké:ton but going by Connor, the hero of the game will inject himself into the ongoing struggle between the Templars and the Assassins.

But just how hard did Ubisoft have to work to faithfully recreate this period in time? How important is Native American culture to the game, and what did the development team do to ensure historical accuracy?

GameSpot called upon Assassin's Creed III creative director Alexander Hutchinson to find out.

We need to set the scene: what was it about the American Revolution that enticed you to use it as a backdrop for Assassin's Creed III, given that past games have already explored a myriad of culturally rich periods? What do you think characterises this period of history?

Half the fun of an Assassin's Creed game is being a tourist through different historical periods, so we're always looking for periods and places that are fresh for gamers. When the Renaissance was announced as the setting for Assassin's Creed II, a lot of people wondered how that would work in a game, and the same happened when we announced the setting for Assassin's Creed III. I was really pleased people were wondering how it could work when we announced, because that means we have some new fantasies to explore, and we can surprise people.

Once you decided on the American Revolution, what was the first step in the research process? Haul ass to the library, or watch a few hundred hours of History Channel documentaries?

All of the above! We spent around six months reading books, Wikipedia entries, watching documentaries, and building out huge flow charts to show where historical people were at any specific time, what they were trying to do or what their major concerns were, when and where big events occurred, all in the interest of finding those grey areas where we could insert our own fictional story.

We did a lot of research and ended up with a lot of unusual facts, such as Ben Franklin arguing that the turkey should be the national bird of America, not the thieving eagle that profits from the hard work of others, or his opinions on how to pick a mistress, or Washington’s fears about the outcome of the war. There's plenty of real, historical data that can present an interesting side to historical characters.

Tell me the story of how Thomas Deer, your Native American consultant on the game, came to be part of the team, and how his knowledge and experiences shaped the final product.

We've had a consultant on board for all the Assassin's Creed games as someone to present to us early on and inspire us, and then to help us fact check our history. This time, when we knew we wanted a First Nation hero, we realised that we needed to be very careful to be as accurate as possible, and not misrepresent anything or anyone. We wanted it to feel authentic in terms of art, clothing, language, everything. So we contacted the local communities, and once we convinced them we were earnest in our endeavours, they were very generous with their time. Mr Deer ran the cultural centre, so it was a perfect fit.

What was the most important thing that you learned from him, both as game developers and as human beings?

I think it's just how easy it is to fall back on clichés when dealing with cultures you only understand peripherally, and how careful you have to be: when designing Connor's village, we realised the cliché of tepees was far from the truth, and should be longhouses instead. We also changed all the jewellery that Connor or others wear to reflect accurate, period patterns, and much more. It was a huge amount of research and fact checking back and forth.

In terms of learning as a person, as an Anglophone living in Quebec, I work with a lot of French Canadians, and obviously while they speak English to me as my French isn't that great yet, when they’re speaking to each other, they immediately switch to French. After a while, it felt really artificial that in the scenes in the game where Connor is talking to another member of his tribe, that he'd be speaking English, so we went back and re-recorded whole sections of the game in the appropriate language. I think it's kind of magical to hear it, to feel really immersed in a culture most players have never seen before, let alone heard.

Where is Deer's influence seen in the game? What details did he correct, for example, and what details did he help you to add?

Clothing and jewellery were big fixes, language, and also he reinforced that it was a matriarchal society, so we made sure the elder in the village was a woman. There were also some cultural artefacts that we thought about using, such as masks, which he flat-out said would be offensive, so we cut them from the game and the story.

Did Deer have any concerns about Connor as a character, or his motivations?

I think he believed us when we said we were trying to be authentic, and when we hired Noah Watts to play him, who is also half Native American, he felt like we were making an honest attempt. In terms of characterisation, I think he was happiest that Connor was a fully rounded person, with good and bad aspects to his personality, who was involved in a story that wasn't just about being Native America; that was just the start of the story.

How confident are you that you avoided all the clichés and stereotypes of representing Native American heritage? Besides having a Native American as an adviser, did you take any other steps to get immersed in the culture?

We worked with local communities, visited them, went through the cultural centre and read a lot. Hopefully, we dodged any major gaffes, and the tone and feeling of the game is as earnest as we hoped.

How much does Connor connect with, and reflect, his Native American side? What aspects of his personality/actions show this to players? Is it his defining characteristic?

It is absolutely not his defining characteristic. He is half Native American, but this doesn't define his life. He's much more than that. He's as fully realised a character as we could possibly achieve. We give players a chance to see a huge chunk of his life, and hopefully you feel him grow and evolve over time.

How does the game pass on knowledge of this period to players? Is it simply about getting small details correct (names, locations), or does it run deeper than that (for example, Connor says a Native American prayer before he kills an animal)? Are these instances signposted? Or are they there for players to stumble upon?

We don’t want to wave a flag every time we insert an element we researched, especially as there’s so much of it in there. I think if we did our job, it just surrounds the player, so everything feels right: you feel like it’s a fully realised place, and not a cardboard cut-out. Around 80 percent of the speaking characters in the game are real people, so if we encourage a few people to look them up in the in-game database, and then maybe go online to read about the real person in more detail, then that would be amazing.

In the past, games haven't done a very good job of correctly representing cultural minorities. Why do you think this is? And what can game developers and studios do to pay more attention to this aspect?

I don't think there's anything particularly deliberate about it, especially as when the industry started, we were playing faceless characters or squares or the letter "P", but I think now that we're trying to be more progressive as an industry, I think more and more people will see the value and all the new stories you can tell by being more ambitious with your lead character.

On the whole, do you think video games are becoming better at helping players understand the world around them, and depicting aspects of that world that the medium might not have had the courage to tackle 10 years ago?

I think the industry is healthier than it’s ever been; you have games on phones, consoles, web browsers, dedicated handhelds, and you have everything from simple 2D games to huge, open-world 3D games, and every business model from pay once at $60 to free to play.

There is so much good content out there, but the business side is having a tough time tracking it all. And inside that, I think the next step is to be more courageous in terms of content and character. We’re definitely better than we were 10 years ago, when it wasn't even a discussion, but there’s a long way to go.

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Discussion

219 comments
madgame23
madgame23

Man I swear you people can be quite rude.  @RubMyDucky  Dude, for someone who has a profile pick of some weird science/ hardhat dude, are you attractive looking?  I think she looks great.  If you are that picky about your women, you must be a single individual who must have a stereotypical look on women.  The article wanted to give an objective look at how the company made the time period appear in the game.  Stop bashing people for what they write!

Liv2rok
Liv2rok

I think Ubisoft have really pulled it out the bag this time. Great time period, great choice of character! Really like how Connor speaks his native language to his fellow tribesman. I also love how he brutally dispatches the red coats! Ezio was a great character but there just wasn't enough brutality there. I think making the game into an 18 age rating will definately turn it up a notch. Research wise I think the Ubisoft guys have put in a massive amount of work that looks to have really paid off. If its as good as it looks I'll definately be rooting for AC3 to get GOTY. Really looking forward to  playing! 2 days left!

Vitex2003
Vitex2003

Respect to developers and people working on such things and giving us, game funs, nice memorable content and moments. I think the attitude told in article is future of the game industry and it should give even more such great games like this one.

Morfessa
Morfessa

Laura Parker! I found spelling errata! What am I going to tell your mother?! (^_^)v

altair-ezio
altair-ezio

Connor's not an indian for fucks sake he's a half british half "NATIVE AMERICAN" assassin. Indian people are from asia not north america. unless if they moved there but not in that time period

gogan1111118
gogan1111118

the article might be more appropriately titled rewriting colonial america.

timoteo2k1
timoteo2k1

As a person Conner might represent, an American with some native ancestry (1/8 Comanche) I think the PC tone of this article kind of offends me.

 

Just tell me the game is going to be good and why, i don't need an article that's 70% about not offending indians.

nomailx
nomailx

Ok, a Native Indian, with an Italian ancestor... I mean they are really really pushing it. Just the story of "how his parents met" could be an entire AC franchise.

Jake518
Jake518

I liked this interview. The period around the Revolutionary War is very interesting.

liononzion
liononzion

this game sounds better and better the more i hear about it. and there is so much still to wonder  about like whats going on with desmond

Ducez_III
Ducez_III

"I think more and more people will see the value and all the new stories you can tell by being more ambitious with your lead character."

 

I hope this quote rings true in the future. I'd love to play more games that explore different cultures, timelines, and social backgrounds.

 

sknight175216
sknight175216

It's the Revolutionary War people, not the Civil War. Very different ha ha.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

I'm kinda curious about this game. Don't get me wrong, I think the revolutionary war era is interesting, though there are a lot of interesting eras in history. But what do you think about when you think about assassins creed? I think about really interesting big ancient cities and using them as a sandbox to run around. Revolutionary war colonial america...did not have the most impressive cities. Half of america today doesn't have cities that it would be fun to run around on rooftops and going all over the place. Our cities are a lot more spread out then european and middle eastern cities. Did the revolution era have any buildings over 3 stories tall? I guess it'll depend how interesting they make running around the woods. Revoultionary france probably would've been crazy though.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

This was a very good article and an enjoyable, informative read.  Questions were good and interesting need more of this on triple AAA games.   

Hairygrim
Hairygrim

Some good questions from Laura. Although one which I would like to have seen the answer for is whether there was anything which they consciously chose to bypass historical accuracy for (besides the obvious fantasy elements like the PoEs & the rope-dart weapon) because they had to prioritise making a better game/plot.

NaturalDisplay
NaturalDisplay

American civil war = pass. The ACW is one of those periods which do not appeal to the 'majority' of those who are not American. There needs to be more games set in the more exotic ancient eras.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

I don't like this Alexander Hutchinson guy, very very arrogant. I remember reading how he assaulted other games with not much basis. Patrice Desilets, the original creator of Assassin's Creed was way better.

Lord_Uhtred
Lord_Uhtred

 @altair-ezio You do realize that Native Americans refer to themselves as Indians, even. That the official legal term is 'American Indian'. 

While this is a debate in academia. I think that the term 'Indians' applies, especially when Native Americans refer to themselves as so, as anyone who is born in America, would be a Native American, having been born here. Basically 'Native American' and 'American Indian' are and can be used interchangeably. 

Morfessa
Morfessa

 @altair-ezio I agree! The term "Indian" is still found in such inappropriate capacity? We're in the 21st century ... Indians are from INDIA ... as in ... the country called India. Why do people choose to propagate erroneous and unsuitable nomenclature?

timoteo2k1
timoteo2k1

Had kind of a "dohh" moment as I reread this comment after posting, whining about them worrying about offense and then saying "I'm offended", wrong choice of words, perhaps irritated or bothered would have been ,more correct.

Arda_Daghan212
Arda_Daghan212

 @nomailx It doesn't have to be Ezio but I also am interested to see how it ends up to be in Colonial America. Them assassins travel a lot don't they?

SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

 @nomailx

 HALF native american hes also half english so with family from europe having some italian ties isnt that farfetched

ElFlechero
ElFlechero

 @nomailx Conner isn't necessarily descended from Ezio; yes, Desmond IS descended from both of them, but probably from different sides of the family. I think they already said that Ezio isn't descended from Altair either, most fans just assumed that he was.

ElFlechero
ElFlechero

 @RedLegZeff Hopefully revolutionary France still will be crazy!! My fingers are crossed that the next sequel will take us there. If they make AC3 into it's own trilogy like they did with AC2 (AC2, brotherhood, revelations) that would be a really logical next place for Conner to go. They could even have him meet a descendant of Ezio there and Desmond could replay both their memories.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

 @NaturalDisplay Actually a game about the american civil war would be rather interesting. It along with the start of world war one was the major change to modern warfare. Large armies met, like in the middle ages, but with accurate advanced firearms, which led to some of the largest most bloody land battles in history. The american revolutionary war was rather small in comparison. Though if you want wars that the world cares about that is more limited as most revolutions and civil wars are by far more interesting to those in that country, unless you talk about how they changed warfare itself.

slomlo
slomlo

 @NaturalDisplay I don't see why it would not. AC2 was set during the Italian Renaissance, and Americans still bought it/I think the only people who are upset about this are people, generally from Britain, that seem to hate anything to do with America and think we are all fat idiots. I'm not saying you are, as you may just not like the period, but don't group yourself with everyone else in Europe, most of whom will still find it interesting.

TorMasturba
TorMasturba

 @NaturalDisplay You're entitled to your opinion but please don't assume that everyone outside of America has the same opinion as you.I'm French and I and a lot of my friends find the American civil war a fascinating time period to play a game in.

dom28
dom28

 @NaturalDisplay pass for you maybe, but no one really gives two shits about if your going to buy it or not. I know I'm getting it for sure and I'm gonna enjoy the hell out of it!

Lord_Uhtred
Lord_Uhtred

 @NaturalDisplay This isn't based around the American Civil war. That conflict took place less than 100 years after the Revolutionary War ended. Beginning in 1861.

Though it was a civil war as well amongst Britons, as most colonists were from English descent not to mention that we were under the rule of Great Britain. So while this was as much a revolution as well as a civil war, this was not a 'civil war' between 'Americans'. 

 

 

InvalidName13
InvalidName13

 @Gamer_4_Fun 

Hutchinson seems way more passionate about Assassins Creed than Patrice Desilets. Which in response to saying Desilets is better, WHERE THE HELL IS HE THEN? Oh right he left. Shows how much he really loved Assassin's Creed. And don't dare say its his, because some of the team did stick around and kept on trying to make the series better. Its the AC3 Team's game not Desilets'. And he wasn't its creator, he was just the game director. Id give creator credit to Corey May who's been there since day one, and has been the lead writer for ALL the Assassin's Creed games. So give him his credit where its due.

 

Hutchinson has opinions which make sense. To an extent. What he said about japanese games has quite some support behind it. Regardless of how their games are not on par with western games, they are still given satisfactory scores. He also said that Triple A games are dying. Its dying yes, look around, some of the biggest games ever made are coming from indie. (Minecraft, Fez, Super Meat Boy, Braid, DayZ the Arma 2 Mod) These are just some examples. And there is no evidence to support that its going away, in fact its getting huge. We haven't even reached the pinnacle point of Indie gaming. Especially now that Kickstarter has made it even easier for it to happen. So is triple A gamingdying? yes, will they ever die out, no. 

 

Ending points: Corey May is an awesome writer. Patrice did a good job but is now gone, get over it. And Alex Hutchinson is trying his best to satisfy the Assassin's Creed fans, he also speaks his mind which is something the games industry needs more off.

Kyrylo
Kyrylo

 @Gamer_4_Fun don't worry. Now he can forget about money from cameos in other games. every time he comes   with costumes or cameos, other devs gonna show him finger.

lordshifu
lordshifu

 @RubMyDucky oddly enough i only find her cute. For some unknown reason I cant bring myself to read it loud(what she reports), afraid that what i read out comes awry.

 

Bones9650
Bones9650

 @timoteo2k1 I thought that this article was more about them making sure that the game is historically accurate and not basing the game on what people think they know about Native Americans and the setting in general. The word offend or offensive comes up also once in reference to the masks that they were going to put in. Everything else is about accuracy. I do understand sensing a PC tone but that's probably because historical accuracy and a game like this being offensive is related. If the devs don't portray the Native Americans in an accurate way, then they will probably get offended.

Danituga
Danituga

 @ElFlechero  @nomailx He has a point in that... GS had a post about that also where they made a geneological tree of Desmond's family...

Lord_Uhtred
Lord_Uhtred

 @RedLegZeff  @NaturalDisplay Why are people still citing the American Civil War. There is a difference, folks..

Yes, I am anal when it comes to historical accuracy, as that is what I am, an historian. So, I'm not attempting to offend anyone..

NaturalDisplay
NaturalDisplay

 @dom28 And no shits will be given if you're going to buy the game and "enjoy the hell out of it" either. *lighthearted tone used here*

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

 @InvalidName13 You criticize your own work, you don't go out of line and talk trash about other's work especially something you don't understand like the japanese games. He is seeing through lens of a Western developer, he needs to understand  from the other perspective as well. The world is not half you know.

shingui5
shingui5

 Unless ofc i'm reading it wrong, as i noticed there is a key at the bottom, but it is in completely indistinguishable colours >_>

shingui5
shingui5

 @Danituga  @ElFlechero  @nomailx Huh, those two trees are odd.

The first states that, ezio is related to Altair. And the second states that desmond isn't related to Altair(infact in the second one, Altair's tree kind of stops)

RubberLucky
RubberLucky

 @Lord_Uhtred  @RedLegZeff  @NaturalDisplay Having an Assassin's Creed franchise game in any "modern" combat scenario would be an utter failure in my honest opinion.  The game would be too reminiscent of Splinter Cell: Conviction, mostly focused on contrived shooting mechanics.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

 @Lord_Uhtred  @NaturalDisplay Yeah I don't know why the original poster brought it up, maybe they're not american and don't get the difference. I was responding to them though. I don't think either setting would be bad, but not necessarily suited to assassins creed. You corrected him earlier in telling him he was talking about the wrong war, I stated why the american civil war does have some impact to nonamericans.