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  • Fact or fiction: Montreal-made 'Assassin's Creed III' delivers entertainment

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    Published 11/28/2012 12:40:36

    TORONTO - Ubisoft Montreal left almost no stone unturned in attempting to create a video game set in the 18th century around the American Revolutionary War.

    Artists were dispatched to the northeast U.S., centuries-old drawings were pored over, a historian was hired and a string of consultants were brought on board — from a Mohawk expert to a mixed martial arts fighter/coach assigned to oversee fight moves.

    Philippe Ducharme, associate producer of "Assassin's Creed III," says it was all done "to make sure whatever we were pushing forward in the story of the game — in the characters, the images, the different architecture, anything that was in there — was actually coherent with the historical period that we were portraying."

    The work paid off in rave reviews of the game — the latest instalment of a made-in-Montreal franchise that has sold 40 million copies since its launch in 2007.

    "Hugely seductive," said Eurogamer.net.

    "A beautiful and exciting experience that you'll remember for years to come," enthused Gamespot.com.

    But "Assassin's Creed III" also drew a recent negative editorial from the Globe and Mail, saying it distorts history.

    "To suggest indigenous peoples rallied to the side of the colonists in their fight for freedom grotesquely twists the facts," the editorial says.

    Ubisoft declined comment on the criticism. But others had plenty to say, with most noting it was a video game and not a documentary.

    "I once saw a hedgehog take 23 minutes to cross a street. Sega Genesis, EXPLAIN THYSELF," tweeted one wag.

    The "Assassin's Creed" series may be set in historical backdrops but it is framed by fantasy, including the enabling plot device of the "Animus," a device that allows a modern-day protagonist to experience his ancestral memories.

    Ubisoft historian Maxime Durand, while also declining comment on the Globe editorial, said in an interview that history was blended with entertainment.

    "While the team working in this game has been very serious in its historical approach, the main goal has been, and will keep being, the entertainment of millions of gamers," Durand, hired to help with the game, said in an interview with video game web site Dork Shelf (http://dorkshelf.com/)

    "Assassin's Creed III" is the fifth main title in the franchise, following "Assassin's Creed," "Assassin's Creed II," "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" and "Assassin's Creed: Revelations."

    "Revelations'' took the gamer to the 16th-century Ottoman Empire in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Earlier titles featured backdrops of the Third Crusade and the Renaissance.

    For the 29-year-old Ducharme, the latest version of the game is the result of years of improvement by the AC team in Montreal.

    Pre-production goals included adding in naval battles, more fluid game navigation, a new fighting system, and everything from showcasing bigger crowds to more elaborate weather.

    The ambitious message was delivered in a December 2010 meeting to firm up the pre-production plan.

    "The message was, 'Yes, "Assassin's" is a very strong brand but we want to innovate pretty much everything,'" related Ducharme, who joined Ubisoft a little more than two years ago from a competitor. "We wanted to add freshness to everything that was in there.

    "We set the bar extremely high.... It was the first time in a very long time that the 'Assassin's' franchise was taking such a big step forward," he added. "When I joined in pre-production, that was extremely ambitious. My eyes grew very, very big when I saw all the videos the team had been working on."

    The game offers a sumptuous setting, and game navigation — as promised — is very intuitive as gamers take the lead character up the side of a mountain or a tall tree.

    At the peak of production, Ubisoft Montreal had some 250 people working on the project with help from other Ubisoft studios around the world.

    The Quebec studio looked after the homestead that expands as the game's hero progresses.

    The Singapore studio looked after the naval component of the game, while developers in Annecy, France, worked on the multiplayer aspect of the game. Ubisoft Sofia handled the PSV version.

    "We feel we really set out with an extremely ambitious goal and we delivered on what we said we would deliver," Ducharme said in an interview.

    "There's a lot of pride taken by the team with delivering such a huge title. There's not many games out there that have such an overwhelming production value and we're extremely happy with what came out of it."

    Notes: The "Assassin's Creed" franchise has already spawned books and now a movie is in the works. Actor Michael Fassbender is attached to the project, a partnership with New Regency and Ubisoft Motion Pictures, but Ubisoft officials would not say in what role.

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