“Assassin’s Creed Mirage” or if history is a video game – Le Devoir

Baghdad was founded in 762 at the height of Arab-Muslim civilization. A hundred years later, the Abbasid caliph Ja’far Al-Mutawakkil, their leader, was assassinated. Years of instability followed, during which Basim Ibn Ishaq became Baghdad’s master assassin. At least in Assassin’s Creed Mirage’s Baghdad.

Anyone who says video games make you stupid can cook an eggplant. Since the first Assassin’s Creed in 2007, the popular video game saga created at Ubisoft’s Montreal offices has managed to attract players from all walks of life. Teacher. And historians. So much so that the French video game publisher cannot simply produce a digital environment in the general colors of a time or place: it must very faithfully reproduce the smallest habits and customs of the moment.

It’s no longer just a video game, it’s a history lesson.

A vanished city

Over the next few days, fans of open-world adventures will find out how the residents of Baghdad lived in the 9th century through the approximately 30 hours of gameplay in Assassin’s Creed Mirage. You may be surprised to learn that 1,000 years later, Iraqi merchants were better at the icebox than Europeans. Or that they had in their military arsenal something that looked suspiciously like… a flamethrower? !

Raphaël Weyland is the historian who worked on this new game. To create this virtual, yet as real world as possible, the specialist in Middle Eastern history visited libraries and dusted off old manuscripts.

“The Baghdad we created no longer exists for a long time,” he said in an interview with Le Devoir. “The only building that still exists is a 2,000-year-old ziggurat called Dûr-Kurigalzu, which remains in almost the same condition today. »

Otherwise, Baghdad was destroyed by invasion and modernity. In short, according to time. Like other cities. “The replication of this city required different routes than the replication of a Parthenon or the canals of Venice,” explains the historian, since no visual support allows it to be represented today. We had to find ancient texts, stories, legends.

A return to basics

Was all of this necessary? Not really. “But it has become a trademark, perhaps for Ubisoft as a whole,” says Raphaël Weyland. “Do we have to know the story to play? NO. But in the game you can discover up to 66 historical elements about the culture of the place and time. Chances are, you’ll know more about this culture by the end of the game.

In Mirage, the player completes a quest that pits representatives of order and freedom against each other in an ancient battle. It is said that he is perhaps one of its assassins with the richest and most extensive history.

Those in the know already know who her character is. Basim Ibn Ishaq is a young thief who was “more pretentious than skillful” in his early days. During his adventures he must join a secret order and eventually become a master assassin. Basim Ibn Ishaq was from the previous installment, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It left its mark and fascinated players and decision-makers at Ubisoft so much that it released a spin-off game.

Instead of adding it to Valhalla as DLC, Ubisoft saw the character’s potential and decided to produce a full-fledged game. “It’s a kind of return to basics, we’re returning to the Middle East, even if we’re not really returning to the same universe,” says Raphaël Weyland.

The big story in miniature

The game returns to the origins of the Order of Assassins that gives the series its name. We see clothing, weapons and all sorts of elements that reinforce the feeling of belonging to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. This is how the small and the big story merge. “We are making great efforts to achieve this. If we could have defeated the elves against the orcs, perhaps things would be easier. » Although it has to be said that academics specialize in fictional languages ​​and cultures. Finally it goes to the Klingons from Star Trek…

“From a business perspective, I think the ability to virtually witness something like the death of Caesar or the storming of the Bastille brings an element of immersion that makes the player want to be there.” »

At Ubisoft, we assure that the release of a virtual reality version of Assassin’s Creed later this fall will enhance this feeling of reliving historical moments. Because immersion is more exciting in virtual reality.

The fun aspect remains important. Raphaël Weyland hasn’t worked on Assassin’s Creed for a year. He moved on to another Ubisoft title that also has to respect certain historical constraints, albeit differently. In For Honor, three factions meet: Vikings, European knights and Japanese samurai. This is anything but historically true. And at the same time, each group respects its origins in its own way.

Raphaël Weyland left a little “Easter egg” in Mirage: players who complete the historical quests will receive special clothing to dress their hero, a creation of the historian. This clothing is absolutely true to the period. Apparently.

Because if Assassin’s Creed is a game – and probably the pride of Ubisoft Montreal – it is also a setting where the story, the real story, literally comes into play.

To watch in the video