Next week, Ubisoft is doubling down with the simultaneous release of Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, a PlayStation Vita-exclusive spinoff set in pre-revolutionary New Orleans featuring a black woman of French descent in the leading role. Her name is Aveline de Grandpre, and if you care about in diversity in video games, you might want to pay attention.
Dork Shelf spoke with Liberation scriptwriter Jill Murray during last week’s Assassin’s Creed III launch party in Toronto, discussing Aveline and the Vita game’s historical roots.
Dork Shelf: With Liberation, the franchise is heading to a new continent and a new historical era. How much research did you have to do, and how do you incorporate all of that history into the script?
Jill Murray: We do about six months of research and we’re always refreshing our research as we work. The way we fit it into the script is simply to put historical events first. We never try to find historical events that will fit our story ideas. We find out what’s available to us, and then we wrap the story around it using history as our guide.
DS: Are there any particularly amusing anecdotes you came across during your research? Did any of that trivia make it into the game?
JM: Actually, the whole historical setting is a bit strange. We’re set in Louisiana at the same time as the American Revolution, but we’re dealing with the French and the Spanish. Louisiana at the time was a French territory. In a treaty it had been signed over to Spain, but no one bothered to tell the people who lived there. Five years went by, and finally Spain decided to send a governor, at which point the French citizens were like, “Uh, yeah, not so much, guys” and tried to stage a rebellion. That’s where the game opens.
Because we’re near the Revolution but not yet in the Revolution, we’re not too concerned with England except that Spain – under no circumstances – wanted England coming any closer to its properties in South America. It would secretly go and do things like steal gunpowder from the loyalists and give it to the patriots.
DS: Since you’re dealing with Spanish and French culture while writing for a primarily English audience, was it difficult to blend those three cultures while also making each one resonate?
JM: The most challenging thing is getting all of the languages together for the crowd life. It was such a melting pot of different cultures; it would have been busy with all kinds of languages. We have amazing localization teams that translate the game into all these languages, so we do have the setup available to us to have as many languages as we need.
DS: How important is that background dialogue when creating the world of New Orleans? As a scriptwriter, how much do you focus on general atmosphere relative to story?
JM: The history is more of a touchstone. While you’re writing a story, you don’t necessarily want to be concentrating on that too much. You want to have it already absorbed, and then you want to go back to it later to verify what you did. While you’re working it’s very focused on the characters, in particular Aveline, but all the supporting cast is interesting, well-rounded, and a lot of fun to work with. When you get into the script, you’re working more with the relationships between different characters and their personal stories.
DS: Let’s talk about Aveline. She has such a unique background for a video game protagonist.
JM: Her mother was a Creole slave from Saint-Domingue, which is where Haiti now is. Her father is a wealthy French merchant.
DS: The previous Assassin’s Creed protagonists have all been men. Does having a female lead change the way you write the character?
JM: I’m never sure what to make of this question. As a woman, I don’t approach writing women as a challenge. I don’t feel like I have to go very far outside myself to find an adventurous woman.
DS: In trailers, we’ve seen Aveline display abilities that haven’t appeared in previous Assassin’s Creed games, such as when she presents herself as a woman in society in order to lure people. Does her identity influence the way the character moves through the story narratively and mechanically?
JM: Absolutely. It’s who she is and what her place is in society. Unlike certain past Assassins, Aveline is a character whose family is alive and well and around her at all times. And let’s just say they might not be aware of all her activities. She’s this well-respected lady. She’s coming into her own as a businesswoman in her father’s footsteps; at the same time, she’s never forgotten the slaves of New Orleans, who she’s deeply connected to through her mother’s side. She’s worried for their plight, and when she’s doing missions to help them, she dresses as one of them. When you’re dressed as a lady, guards are actually looking out for your well-being until you do something to suggest that they shouldn’t. When you’re in your Assassin’s guise, you’re much more notorious, which is a nice touch to acknowledge that marauding around town in this hooded garment is maybe not the best way to go unnoticed.
DS: How do you think people will respond to Aveline? Will we see more characters like her coming to the forefront in gaming?
JM: So far, the response I’ve observed is something along the lines of, “Oh my god, yes! She’s awesome!” And she is awesome. She looks so powerful. At the same time, she’s beautiful. She looks like she’s going to take everything on and rip the world to shreds to get what she needs. Hopefully, this helps usher in more characters like her, and that we see more of these well-rounded female characters.
DS: How much of a challenge was it to incorporate Liberation into the broader Assassin’s Creed III storyline?
JM: It could have been very difficult, because Liberation is created in [Sofia,] Bulgaria many time zones away, but we did have a small core team based in Montreal. We’re able to touch base with the core Assassin’s Creed III team very frequently, so it wasn’t too difficult.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation for PlayStation Vita will be released in North America on Oct. 30.