Making Assassin’s Creed: Interview with Perrine Poiron

A few weeks ago, we reviewed the latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise in a two-part series (read them here: Gameplay review and Discovery Tour review). This week we were fortunate enough to speak with one of the Egyptologists who worked with the developers at Ubisoft to contribute to the Egyptology-side of the game: Perrine Poiron. We caught up with her via electronic owl to speak about her role in the development of Assassin’s Creed: Origins (ACO).

Meet Perrine Poiron

Perrine Poiron is a doctoral candidate in a cotutelle between Université du Québec à Montréal and Paris-Sorbonne, and focusses her doctoral research on the goddess Bastet, linked to pharaonic discourse and dynastic patronage in the Twenty-Second Dynasty (943-746 BC). She is research assistant for Prof. Jean Revez and works as an epigrapher for the Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall Project. She was a dialectal coach for the 2016 film X-Men Apocalypse and is currently a consultant for the new CBS tv-show Blood and Treasure.  She also continues to work for Ubisoft for the Hieroglyphics Initiative Project.

Perrine Poiron at the British Museum (Photo: Perrine Poiron)
Perrine Poiron at the British Museum (Photo: Perrine Poiron)

Nile Scribes: How did you get involved with the development of ACO?

Perrine Poiron: I was first contacted as a dialectal coach to help the team build a realistic audio environment. Then, I was contacted by Maxime Durand, head of the historical research of the game. I then answered a few questions, here and there, and finally, I was offered to work on researching and writing for the scientific capsules in the Discovery Tour.

NS: In your opinion, why was the Ptolemaic Period picked over other periods of Egyptian history as the setting for ACO?

PP: Choosing the Ptolemaic Period puts us into contact with some of the great names of history like Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. It was a good way to attract the interest from a different audience.

The game includes monuments in various stages of use or decline
The game includes monuments in various stages of use or decline (Photo: Ubisoft)

NS: What do you think was most successfully done as far as converting ancient Egypt into a gaming environment?

PP: I think the first thing that struck me is the beauty of the scenery and the landscapes. It really feels like being in Egypt: the precision in the changes of brightness. All the care that was taken for these details makes for me each place magical. But I must admit that I loved Memphis and Alexandria. Moreover, what may seem trivial for the players but seemed really valuable to me is the care taken for the monuments: some were already well damaged, recalling the current monochrome of Egypt, while others, always in activity, were preserved with the colours, the standards, and so on.

NS: There have been several attempts to produce games set in ancient Egypt. What makes ACO different?

PP: I think that the choice of Ptolemaic Egypt was wise, thus linking several elements of civilisations that interest different audiences. Second, the technology used to make the scenery and the environment was completely unique. All the investment of the historical and artistic teams of the game is evident in each part of the game.

Perrine Poiron at an ACO event at the British Museum (Photo: Perrine Poiron)
Perrine Poiron at an ACO event at the British Museum (Photo: Perrine Poiron)

NS: How can a tool like ACO be used effectively in academic research, teaching, and training?

PP: It could be a useful tool to be used in school. It allows students to discover different aspects of Egyptian civilisation, while the evolving environment provides a unique immersion. From a paedagogical and didactic point of view, I am convinced that this tool could be an asset for teachers, whether at the elementary, secondary, college, or university level. The use of the Discovery Tour (DT) can be done at different degrees. I myself used the DT with students in their last year of primary school. At the beginning, the teachers gave various projects to the students. Then, we voted and evolved in different rounds, where I answered questions. Finally back in class, there was an explosion of questions about different elements of civilisation and the history of ancient Egypt. They didn’t want me to leave….

NS: How do you see ACO fit in with recent digitization trends in our own field?

PP: It could be a gateway – a kind of first digital access to the historic environment. With the effort put into the creation of educational tools such as the Discovery Tour and technological tools such as the Hieroglyphics Initiative Project currently under development, this is a great promise of the digital possibilities that will be available later to students and researchers. It will further push both the way of learning and working. For this, we can say that ACO and Ubisoft act as precursors.

 NS: Can you tell us how you went about reconstructing the world we see in ACO?

PP: There was already a whole team of historians and Egyptologists who worked in consulting for the environment of the game and history. For the game itself, I arrived at the end of production, so my contribution was more limited. Concerning the research and the writing of the Discovery Tour, the difficulty rested especially on the writing of a scientific and up-to-date synthesis of the requested themes. As you know, some topics are sometimes more delicate than we think and we historians tend to want to explain everything and develop those. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves as it was not always easy. The Tours, once sent to Maxime Durand’s team, were so large in terms of material that from the 15 initial tours that were created, these were developed into the 75 tours now in the game.

Explaining how threshing and winnowing were done in ancient Egypt
Explaining threshing and winnowing with the Discovery Tour (Photo: Ubisoft)

NS: If you could use an Animus (virtual reality simulator) as did Desmond Miles in the game, which period of Egyptian history would you visit?

PP: I would love to explore the Minoan period (ca. 1,500 BC), or if I could, I would love to go into each grand period of Egyptian history. But: that is not a fair question!

Readers, have you played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet? What did you think of the game?