Assassin's Creed's new life as a virtual museum
Assassin's Creed is a series of historically themed action games that take place in digital recreations of places such as Revolution-era Paris, medieval Jerusalem and 1860s London. Playing this game involves climbing up ancient buildings and mingling with the residents of cities of the past, meeting (and occasionally assassinating) historical figures as a member of an ancient, clandestine brotherhood working against the Templars.
Ubisoft employs a team of hundreds of artists, historians, writers, coders, sound designers and more to create these virtual places. The latest Assassin's Creed game, Origins, is set in ancient Egypt - a time and place redolent of historical discovery and mystery, the subject of thousands of school projects. It has been enormously successful, selling millions of copies, supported with the usual drip-feed of paid-for extra content that follows almost all big video game releases these days. But in February, Ubisoft tried something different: it released a different kind of update for Assassin's Creed Origins - one that turned it into an interactive museum.
The Discovery update, as it's called, removes all combat, missions and story from Assassin's Creed Origins, leaving you free to explore its detailed recreation of ancient Egypt at leisure. Furthermore, it adds in 75 interactive tours, written in collaboration with Egyptologists from around Europe, which teach you about everything from mummification to the city of Alexandria, like the audio guides that you can pick up at museums.
Its developers asked educators and researchers at schools, museums and universities to offer feedback on the early designs and they discovered that it has the potential to be an extraordinary learning tool. When 300 10-year-old students in eight different schools played around in Discovery Tour's ancient Egypt as part of their classes, their teachers found that it helped students to retain a lot more information.
The Assassin's Creed team first considered making a combat-free educational version of the game back in 2009, when the series was tackling Renaissance Italy, but the restrictions of time and money made it impossible. "This has been a dream for a long time," says Maxime Durand, lead historian at Ubisoft Montreal. "I started here in 2010, and it's always been in the back of my mind. But this time [with Origins], I really wanted it to happen. It was the 10th anniversary of Assassin's Creed, we had this fantastic setting. [I feel that] we also have the legitimacy to do it now, after all these games showing that we treat history with respect."