Developer taking a hard stance on female protagonist

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Taking a look at French developer Ubisoft’s CV – from Far Cry to Splinter Cell to Watch Dogs – we see a common trend: great games, sure, but great games dominated by male protagonists.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Most big-name franchises are predicated on a male protagonist, but some news that surfaced earlier this month brought all this to the forefront.

Ubisoft is in some hot water for cutting a female playable character in its upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the eighth console game in the series and the first made exclusively for the new generation. The original plan had been to include such a character, which would have been a wonderful shift to see in the male-dominated series.

In the company’s defence, the game’s development is already stretched thin. The addition of four-player co-op notwithstanding, 10 different Ubisoft companies have been working on the game for three years. Time is tight and the pressure is on to bring the Assassin’s Creed series to this new generation of gaming consoles. Adding another main character means new models, designers, artists, motion-captures, and a slew of other resources.

In this light, Ubisoft’s reasoning that a female character would have meant a great deal more work is understandable. In an interview with video games news site Polygon, Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio said that adding a female assassin would, “double the animations, double the voices … and double the visual assets."

However, insiders say that, given there have been female characters in previous Assassin’s Creed games, it wouldn’t be the mountain of work that Ubisoft is making it out to be. And let’s not forget, if the addition of a playable female protagonist had truly been an integral, foundational part of the game’s development, inherent to the spirit of the game, then Ubisoft would have made it happen.

My suspicion is that the company initially sent out the idea of a female playable character as a way of building up hype, but that the realities after the fact were too much. And if you read between the lines of words of Ubisoft technical director James Therien, you’ll see what I mean.

"It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” Therien told VideoGamer.com.

Once again, if the focus had been on bringing true diversity to the game, it would never have been an option for the female protagonist to end up on the cutting room floor.

This Assassin’s Creed, slated for release on Oct. 28 of this year, is meant to get back to the basics that made Assassin’s Creed famous: a large sprawling landscape to explore while you use your skills as an assassin to turn the tides of social and political upheaval.

Unity will be set in Paris during the French Revolution, a time when women were fighting for the right to education, let alone trying to break free from domestic roles. How could anyone expect a woman of 18th century Paris to be an assassin?

On the flip side, it makes me think that a female assassin at that time would have actually been a better choice. Imagine the backstory, the character development, the revitalizing blood that this could have brought to the game.

But perhaps that type of forward thinking wasn’t what Ubisoft considered important in, what Therien calls, the “reality of game development.”

When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.

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