When game maker Ubisoft decided to set its new version of the popular Assassin’s Creed series in Revolutionary-era Boston, Maxime Durand undertook a historical dig that lasted nearly three years.
The team historian for the Assassin’s Creed III project, Durand gathered copies of more than 100 maps of 18th century Boston, New York, and surrounding areas, including some that were drawn by George Washington himself. He researched death records and obituaries to include real people who lived — and died — during the period, dug into archaeological findings, and browsed through archives of the Boston Public Library to accurately reimage life in 1770s Boston.
Scheduled for release Oct. 30, Assassin’s Creed III updates Ubisoft’s popular historical fiction franchise by placing its protagonist in Boston and New York during the Revolutionary War. Since the previous two versions and its various spinoffs sold more than 38 million games, the Revolutionary War installment is expected to be one of the biggest video games of the year.
While the end result of Durand’s meticulous research is a violent video game featuring bloody hand-to-hand combat on Boston wharves and furious naval fusillades, he and his team took their jobs as seriously as any academic historian.
That includes drawing colonial Boston in all its less-than-postcard beauty: The rough streets, sloppy with mud and water, have pigs and other livestock roaming along them; rats scuttle across the piers.
“It’s not as clean as old Disney shows,” Durand said. “It makes a difference in the game for us to go deep into the details of the 18th century.”
The assassin in the new game is Ratonhnhaké:ton, a half Mohawk Native American-half Brit who goes by the more conventional name of Connor Kenway. His mission is to fight against tyranny, with his targets British soldiers. Some of the action is pitted against the backdrop of famous events, including the Boston Tea Party.
About a third of the game takes place in Boston. The other locations are New York and the American frontier at the time: New England and the MidAtlantic. The game developers created animated versions of key Revolutionary landmarks, figures, and battles.
Players will be able to follow important historical figures such as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere on their way to meetings. There are recognizable Boston landmarks throughout, and the game even includes a perspective from the original Beacon Hill before the top was removed for fill in other parts of the city.
Creative director Alex Hutchinson said the Ubisoft development team spent a lot of time interviewing historians, researching online documents, reading historical books, and visiting Boston.
“No game has gone there before,” Hutchinson said of the kind of detail Ubisoft brings to its products. While Greater Boston is home to numerous well-known game makers, none have recreated the Hub in as much detail.
Durand said he printed the map of Boston Ubisoft made for the game and checked it against the modern city.
“I walked around with it and found the main streets are still the same,” Durand said.
The goal of the series is “not only to entertain, but to teach,” he added. “And no one could ever show Boston like we did.”
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