Selecting victims in Assassin’s Creed 3: These are real people, and this is where and when they died
It hasn’t been widely reported, but Assassin’s Creed 3’s creative director Alex Hutchinson claimed that each of the named victims killed in the series has been a real person. When your character kills these historical figures, he does so in the right year, in the right location. The cause of death is not necessarily accurate, as there's just not much documented evidence of real people murdered by hooded assassins. But if you research the named characters that fall to Altair and Ezio, you'll find that their in-game deaths line up with history. This adherence to historical mortality presented difficulties for Assassin’s Creed 3, a game that takes place during the American Revolution, in an era of history dominated by the near-mythological figures of our founding fathers.
Finding the right deaths
“It’s super difficult, this period, because no one famous dies,” Hutinson said. “We have a rule: Everyone dies in the right year, at the right place. They have to be real people.” All the Assassin’s Creed games have held true to this. “We don’t get enough mileage out of it, I think it’s kind of magical, and yet no one knows. I don’t know how we make it more obvious.” Historical accuracy is important to the game’s sense of place, and Hutchinson wants to make sure it sinks in. “Every single person is a legit person, and they die in the right place at the right time,” he repeated. Identifying people for the protagonist to kill is one of the first tasks undertaken when an Assassin’s Creed game goes into production. The development team creates a huge list of people who lived and died in those specific years in that specific setting, and then they have to find people who died in certain locations. They also have to make sure those people die in a specific order, so that the linear story of the game makes sense. “In the American Revolution, no one of note dies,” Hutchinson explained. “None of the founding fathers die, all the generals of the British Army pretty much die of old age back in England. Only poor people died.” And those poor folk are eclipsed in the shadow of the (surviving) major historical figures of the era. Luckily, the setting allowed for a wide variety of people who were into less than legal pursuits. This opened up many doors for the game’s narrative. “We had to find people who died, and then find out what they were doing,” Hutchinson said. “Many people were in semi-shady stuff, whether it was slavery or they were running counterfeiting rings. It’s a new country, so it’s the Wild West.” The adherence to historical death raises an interesting question: What happens when someone plays the game and recognizes a character? Or if a family name is used, someone does some digging, and the player discovers they just killed one of their own ancestors? “We’re really close now. This is someone’s great-grandfather,” Hutchinson said. Which made things difficult when naming the Templars in this game: with real people involved, they had to sensitive about who they are calling out as the game's bad guys. Some perspective helps: “For us they’re not villains, they’re misguided. Everyone is trying to save the world, they’re just doing it a different way. For this script we worked on it, and we really got [the Templer] perspective,” Hutchinson explained.
Benjamin Franklin’s love of women, and the loss of bodily fluids
“His nose is super-hard to model. Fucking upsetting. Even when you’ve got those statues,” Hutchinson told us as we looked at pictures of famous figures from the American Revolution. George Washington’s nose may have been hard to model, and the reality of the man may have been that he was portly but dressed well. The idea of the super hero from paintings and modern day depictions may be inspiring, but it’s not accurate. These are the areas where Assassin’s Creed 3 may get to have some fun with American history not by taking liberties, but by telling the truth. Fans assumed Ben Franklin would assume the da Vinci role from previous Assassin’s Creed games, but that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny; Franklin never drew sketches of tanks or fire ships. He also spent much of his time in France. “So we got him in a little bit, we went with the more unusual sides of him. Like his love of women,” Hutchinson explained. If you go back and read the unedited writing of Benjamin Franklin, you see just how… well, bawdy the man was in life. Franklin once made the argument that if you’re going to take a mistress, you should take an older woman for your companion. “He said that women dry out, but they dry out from the top down, and therefore the bits that you need never dry out. I know we’re going to get [complaints], but this is all public record.” I had to look this up for myself. Benjamin Franklin gave this advice in mistress selection in a letter, and the section discussed above is even worse with the original text. Here are the words of Benjamin Franklin, with the original capitalization and punctuation: “Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.” There were other reasons for prizing age, including Franklin's advice that you’ll likely make a young woman miserable in your affections, but will almost assuredly make an older woman happy. Once you begin to read the words of our Founding Fathers, you’ll find a very different picture than the one taught in school.