Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Assassins Creed and Female Protagonists

I was perusing the recent E3 shenanigans when I found an article about Ubisoft and admitting that there was plans to create a female avatar in the latest Assassins Creed but it was ultimately cut.  The arguments why they character was cut is limited to soundbites, but ultimately comes down to scheduling.  The arguments and outrage against the choice seems to be disproportionate with the decision, as the general outrage via articles and their subsequent comments indicate.

From personal experience, on its face, it sounds easy to create female avatars.  This is a very high-level and naive view of the amount of time, effort, and energy it takes to create a player avatar.  There is a lot of work, start to finish, that goes into creating a player character.

So, lets start from a very high level here. Ubi is speaking from experience. The PSP Assassins Creed IV title featured a unique female protagonist.  They have made more than one Assassins Creed title, so they understand the time and effort it takes to not just make a good looking protagonist, but a digital star. Ignoring the marketing aspects here, it takes months of concept art development and approval.  This is followed by many more months of high-res and low-res model development, refinement, and approval based on unique costumes and various assets associated with the avatar.  Then we're talking animations.  Not only does it require capturing motion-actors, but also creating a visually pleasing and exciting fighting style that at least matches the existing combat players expect.  Most of all, the style needs to be visually unique to justify the investment and potential of the character.  It takes a year, at least and as a very conservative estimate, of constant development to create a compelling and unique character.

Further, had they simply changed the gender of the character without the accompanying style and characterization misses the point.  It would've been a hack. A cheap and easy hack, sure, and would have worked only superficially but would have left the audience with a big shrug.  Why take the time to build a unique character and simply reuse the entire animation suite for a completely different character?

The other problem is the wealth of content already available to the studio based on the rest of the franchise.  There are a lot of animations already available and, depending on the character, would apply more smoothly for a male as compared to a female character in a very general sense.

Finally:  we need more strong female protagonists in games.  I am entirely for it.  That means female protagonists that get the same time, effort and energy as their male counterparts.  And that means they looked at the production triangle and determined that the time and money were not moving, which meant that they had to lower the quality to add another feature.  Given this is a flagship series for Ubi, producing a low quality character was unacceptable. Argue for more female protagonists, but understand that it is a feature like any other piece of content and one has to abide by the immutable production triangle.  If Ubi wants a female protagonist, they want her to be the protagonist as in previous titles, and want her to be unique.  A female assassin in AC should be unique.  

Anything less is a disservice.

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