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June 20
2014

E3 2014: Ubisoft and the Lack of Lady Assassins

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Assassins Creed Unity Arno Dorian
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Assassin’s Creed: Unity was one of those games that I didn’t have any interest in when I first saw it, but cared more and more as the week went on and I got to see the ideas and mechanics explained and demonstrated more fully. It’s now become the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever actually looked forward to. I was interested enough that I let the fact that all four of the playable characters were white males slide right by me without comment. Yes, I’m owning my white male privilege; or something. Others, however, did not miss that issue and brought up the question as to why there was a lack of female character options for the game. So why is that so? Creating a female character would have been too hard.

Cue headdesk.

From Ubisoft technical director James Therien:

It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. 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.

Countering that was Assassin’s Creed 3 animator Jonathan Cooper who said that creating a female character would have taken a few days, at most, which sounds plausible given that Therien admitted that there are “tonnes of resources” and “huge teams” at “nine studios” all on the game.

Assassins Creed Aveline

This is such an easily avoided PR bungle that it’s amazing they stumbled into it. The game takes place during the French Revolution, and given the roles of women (and minorities, for that matter) in that society at the time, having a male protagonist might be justifiable. Though it is worth noting, as Susana Polo at the MarySue has, that one of the single most well known French assassins of the French Revolution was Charlotte Corday. A woman. As for the four all being clones of each other, well…that’s because they’re all supposed to be incarnations of the protagonist, Arno Dorian.

Having four white males as the protagonists for Unity is a valid, if lazy, choice. However, given the problem women already have with representation in video games, this choice and more importantly the subsequent statement was remarkably culturally tone-deaf, particularly after the incredible creation of female assassin Aveline for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Many, including those who have worked on the series, have even noted how Aveline shares many recycled animations with past male assassins, making the “it’s too hard” argument ring even more questionable.

Intentional or not (most likely not), Ubisoft effectively said that representing half of their audience in their game wasn’t worth their time or effort.

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About Christian Walters

(Writer) Christian lives in El Cerrito, CA which is close enough to San Francisco to count. When not busy being unimpressed by press releases and AAA hype, he spends his time singing, finding heavy things to pick up and put down, and occasionally going out on the town in naught but cowhide. He has worked in the industry with companies like Sega of America and Trion Worlds, and one day hopes to design a game of his very own.

6 Responses

  1. avatar Ann says:

    Games have become more than a simple “put female head at everybodies body”. Sure, they could include everything, but it takes time and time is more money and work. Are you willing to pay for that?

    “Intentional or not (most likely not), Ubisoft effectively said that representing half of their audience in their game wasn’t worth their time or effort.”

    And here we go again. … Gaming these days…

    • avatar Thorin says:

      They already made a female assassin and she DID use the same animations as the male ones. Past developers on the series have admitted this.

      Ubisoft can spend tons of time and money making a scale model of Paris (apparently it’s a 1:1 recreation from what I’ve read) with thousands of interactive NPCS but can’t be bothered to spend what would amount to a day’s amount of work to make some female body models? (according to one developer who has worked on the series: http://www.gameranx.com/updates/id/22530/article/assassin-s-creed-unity-adding-female-assassins-would-only-take-a-day-or-two/)

      It’s just lazy. And we’re talking about one of the biggest game companies in the world. They could easily afford a few days of extra work to add a pretty common multiplayer feature.

      Honestly if they hadn’t said anything this wouldn’t be as big a problem. Yeah it would have sucked that there’s no girls but at this point that’s the deafult. But a developer went out of his way to say that women are too much work to add into the game, and THAT is what really upsets me. Especially because they’ve already done the work in the past.

      • avatar Nexus says:

        Well it sounds like there’s an in story reason for there only being white males. With all 4 characters being aspects of the same person.
        For me story supercedes putting in a female PC just to please part of the target audiance.
        Now it remains to be seen how much this will play into the game’s story (though I’d imagine a lot) and sure they could have gone with the old ‘in touch with his feminine side’ thing. But maybe that’s just not the story they wanted to do.

      • avatar Ann says:

        “They already made a female assassin and she DID use the same animations as the male ones.”

        I know, but I would not put a portable game on the same level as a game for the big consoles. At least at some point. Sure – they made the “copy famale head on something” – but isn’t it great they did think that over and at least thought it over? I mean: It IS a lot of work if you want to make a female body with it’s own clothes, animation and whatever.

        “Honestly if they hadn’t said anything this wouldn’t be as big a problem.”

        I doubt that, looking at how gaming seems to work these days. They said their point – the rest is made up. It is the most easy way (maybe even lazy) to say it is always the most obvious one: laziness, sexism, homophobia, …

        Anyways, some games are based around the same experience for everyone and don’t work with selfmade avatars. Assassins Creed is ONE of those games. Not to mention most of the game is based on some memories and stuff. Even a girl in that Animus-thing could have memories of a male live… at least if you believe in that. Plus: As Nexus said it could be the same person. Maybe not Zelda: 4 Swords-like, but something similar.

        It’s just making massive waves again… for almost nothing. The game will be the same – even if there were females playable – and don’t start arguments like “people could benefit from this”, cause I highly doubt a digital, playable female assassin in this game, or any other game, would change – for example – the female problems in india.

        • avatar Ann says:

          ACK where’s that edit-function?

          “but isn’t it great they did think that over and at least thought it over?

          this one is off, so just remove one think part. :D

        • avatar Nacho says:

          “It IS a lot of work if you want to make a female body with it’s own clothes, animation and whatever” it says several times in this article and comments that the programmers of Liberation admitted that it would only take a few days to program a female assassin. Even if it was a lot of work, the parkour system in Unity is redone, meaning they had to start animation from scratch either way; creating a woman would not have been extra work, it would just have been different from the male counterpart. (And yes, snaps to Ubisoft for “at least thinking it over”, but that’s a defense that’s just adding insult to injury, what you’re really reinforcing is that Ubisoft thought it over, and decided that it was not a good idea to feature a female protagonist out of four options… oops).

          “Even a girl in that Animus-thing could have memories of a male live…” And yet it would not change a thing. Aveline de Grandpré was the ancestor to the MALE who sat in the animus in Liberation, according to your logic you can only have an ancestor if they’re the same gender as you and miraculously reproduced on their own. The rest of your arguments are too pointless to even correct.

          “and don’t start arguments like “people could benefit from this”, cause I highly doubt a digital, playable female assassin in this game, or any other game, would change – for example – the female problems in india.” In case you didn’t notice, there is not one universal problem with sexism, there are hundreds, and underrepresentation of women (esp. women of color) in the media is one of them. You don’t find the cure for cancer by eradicating world hunger, you work on finding the fucking cure for cancer. Women NEED representation, we NEED to see other women and be able to identify with them. I could write an essay on this but this isn’t exactly the time or place for that, if you’re gonna discuss further on this at least look up “(the impact of) representation of women in media”, I’ll give you a quick example: After Lupita Nyong’o was declared the world’s most beautiful woman, a young black girl decided to not bleach her skin, all thanks to *cough* REPRESENTATION IN MEDIA. Do your homework before you start argumenting.

          All in all I’d say good on you for trying, but this makes so little sense that it’s more damaging to your cause than helpful. And don’t get me wrong, I know I seem like a negative pissbaby, but this is actually a lot more important for a lot more reasons than you think. I’ve loved Assassin’s Creed games for a long time, but even if I love the franchise, I’ve got to be critical and not swallow and accept everything “because most parts of it are really good”. You can still be a fan of something and someone that’s not 100% perfect, as long as you stay critical to what they’re doing wrong.

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