Video Games & learning Part 1

The original Assassin’s Creed was a breakthrough in the historical genre gaming market. Previous ‘history’ games had come before it however; Assassin’s Creed took the world by storm generating over $20 million in sales. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has gone on to sell over 70 million units, thus making it the most successful game franchise to date. Nevertheless, why do the Assassin’s Creed games have such a big saleability factor? What is it that makes people want to play these games?

Chris Challinor

Chapter 1 – In the beginning

The assassins pursued their objectives by the covert killing of their enemies
The original, although repetitive at times, set the precedent for one of the most successful game franchises of modern times.

Set during the Third Crusade, Assassin’s Creed showed a willingness to interact creativity with historical accuracy. The Third Crusade was called following the capture of Jerusalem, from Christian crusaders, by Saladin following his success, and the defeat of the main crusader army, at the Battle of Hattin in 1189.

What is interesting is that there were a real group of assassins at this time known as Hassassins or Hashashin’s (throughout they will be referred to as Assassins for sake of simplicity), located in the castle of Alamut in modern day Iran. Their origins are a direct result of the First Crusade, with the order eventually being wiped-out in 1256 by the Mongol invasion. The group would rarely attack ordinary citizens, a direct influence on the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed.

Alamut, being located in Northern Iran, is quite some distance from the Holy Land; over 1,200 miles see Figure 1. However, during the mid-12th century the Hassassin order captured fortresses in the Nusayriyah Mountain Range in modern day Syria.

Alamut Castle, Iran, distance to Jerusalem, Israel.
Figure 1 Alamut Castle, Iran, distance to Jerusalem, Israel.

One such fortress was Masyaf, featured in Assassins Creed as the home of the order. Masyaf is approximately 236 miles from Jerusalem, clearly a much more comprehensible distance to travel compared to Alamut in Northern Iran see Figure 2. A large feature of the gameplay, in Assassin’s Creed, is the movement between Masyaf and the various cities. As you can see from the maps, being located out of Masyaf makes travel between places such as, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre, more realistic. The fact remains that the Assassin’s order did have a base of operations, and the game employs this throughout its storyline.

Masyaf Castle, Syria, distance to Jerusalem, Israel.
Figure 2 Masyaf Castle, Syria, distance to Jerusalem, Israel.

Assassin’s Creed encompasses many different missions and challenges. It is quite difficult to assess the accuracy of every task undertaken by Altair but major events in history do appear in the game.

The Plot

The Plot of Assassin’s Creed is outlined as such:

Altaïr is first shown attempting to retrieve one of a series of artifacts known as the “Pieces of Eden” from Solomon’s Temple with the help of Malik Al-Sayf, and his brother Kadar, but they stopped by Robert de Sable, Grand Master of the Templars and sworn enemies of the Assassins. While retrieving the treasure, Altaïr breaks all three tenets of the Assassins’ Creed in an attempt to kill Robert, but he ultimately fails. In the following commotion, Malik’s brother is killed, and Malik’s left arm is crippled and later amputated. When Altaïr returns to the Assassins’ stronghold at Masyaf with apologies, Malik, who survived de Sable, comes back with the artifact and disparages Altaïr because of his arrogance.

After narrowly defeating a retaliatory attack by the Templars, Al Mualim, leader of the Assassins, demotes Altaïr to a novice but gives him another chance to rise through the ranks of the Brotherhood. Al Mualim assigns Altaïr the task of assassinating nine key figures across the Holy Land in Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus, aiming to bring peace between the Crusader and Saracen forces. Each target is based on an actual historical figure from the Third Crusade, including Majd Addin, Garnier de Naplouse of the Knights Hospitalier, Jubair al Hakim, Abu’l Nuqoud, Grand Master Sibrand of the Knights Teutonic, William of Montferrat, and Robert de Sable.

Altaïr completes each task, learning how each target is connected to Robert and the Templars and how together they aim to end the Crusades and place the Holy Land under their own control. With men on both sides killed, he discovers that Robert’s last plot is to attempt to unite the Christian and Muslim forces against their new common enemy, the Assassins themselves. Altaïr defeats de Sable before Richard the Lionheart, failing to convince the King that an end to the war would be welcome to both sides, but ending Robert’s plot. From de Sable, Altaïr discovers that Al Mualim was himself a member of the Templars and used the Assassin to kill the other members who held to secret to the treasure’s power, so that he could selfishly keep the artifact for himself.

As you can see, there are quite a few characters that Altair encounters, most notably Richard the Lionheart and the main protagonist for the story Robert de Sable, Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Robert de Sable was elected Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1191 with his first order of business being the purchase of Cyprus from Richard the Lionheart. The Lionheart had captured Cyprus en route to the Holy Land to take part in the Third Crusade. Upon landing in the Holy Land on the 8th June 1191, Richard quickly secured leadership of the crusading army mainly due to his wealth and military prowess. Richard is encountered in Assassin’s Creed, following Richard’s successful siege of Acre. Historically, Richard was ruthless. He personally oversaw the execution of 2,700 Muslim prisoners including women and children.  Based on this information it is clear the Holy Land was a hotbed of intrigue during the Third Crusade.

One of the main assassination missions, in Assassin’s Creed, is the assassination of William of Montferrat. In the game Altair assassinates a middle-aged William of Montferrat. Historically, William V de Montferrat was in his eighties in 1191 however, his son Conrad de Montferrat was a leading figure of the Third Crusade and suffered a similar fate to that of William of Montferrat in the game. Conrad de Montferrat was assassinated in the streets of Acre in 1192. Traits of his character are rolled into that of his father, William of Montferrat, in the game. This is clear evidence that the creators of Assassin’s Creed did use a historical assassination in order to directly influence one of the main plots of the game. Read gives further insight into the assassination of Conrad de Montferrat:

The killers were Assassins, sent by Sinan, the Old Man of the Mountain. His purpose was unclear. Conrad had antagonised the Assassins by seizing a cargo ship that belonged to them and had refused any restitution; however, suspicion also fell on King Richard. Conrad’s close friend, the Bishop of Beauvais, whom he had visited just prior to his death, was convinced that the killers had been commissioned by the English King. Others argued that it was not his style to dispose of an enemy in such an underhand way; but the outcome was certainly to his advantage: within two days of Conrad’s assassination, his widow, the 21-year-old Queen Isabella, was betrothed to Richard’s nephew, Count Henry of Champagne.

It is evident that the use of real life events provides a creative stimulus for the game developers. Jade Reymond, the producer for Assassin’s Creed, created a series of ‘Dev Diaries’ during the production process of the original game.  One of the original ‘Dev Diaries’ in which Reymond describes how the developers consulted historians for the archive material to make the game as accurate as possible. Reymond also explains how the main missions all involve ‘real’ people who were killed in 1191. As stated above one of those ‘real’ people was actually an amalgamation of two historical figures. Nevertheless a lot of historical research was put into the development of Assassin’s Creed for the reason, as Jade Reymond describes, to make it as real as possible.

It can be concluded that Assassin’s Creed feels like you are actually experiencing the 12th Century in the Holy Land. Through a lot of research, the game developers took the time to make it as accurate as possible to improve the playability and the quality of the game. Creative and artistic license was replaced by genuine historical research that could be attributed to the games saleability and the popularity of the franchise. Assassin’s Creed set the baseline for the series and the history continued to flow into future titles.

Check back soon for the second part of this article.  Want to get in touch? click here for the contact form.

The Team @ TeacherTech

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