Thursday, 11 September 2014

Ubisoft Defends British Accents In Revolutionary France

Ever since reaching the American War of Independence, the Assassin's Creed series has had an interesting relationship when it comes to British characters. More often than not resorting to show them in a more villainous light (to the point where trailers for Assassin's Creed: Rogue place clear emphasis upon how the Templars are wholeheartedly backing the Empire), they were often pushed to be associated with the antagonists but now things have taken a turn for the downright bizarre. To the surprise of many, the upcoming Assassin's Creed: Unity has repeatedly featured extremely noticeable British accents among Paris' population, from the commoners to the noblemen rather than native French. In response to this criticism, the series' creative director Alex Amancio had this to say on Ubisoft's blog:

“The idea is that the Animus is translating everything into the language you’re playing in. That’s why, since you’re an Anglophone, you’re hearing all the dialogue and cinematics in English. It would really make no sense for there to be a French accent because that would mean that this French character is trying to address you in accented English. Everyone in the game is not trying to speak English for your benefit.”

Now in fairness there is some grounding for this. In the first Assassin's Creed, Altaïr did speak in a fairly obvious American accent and looked more or less like Desmond. As such it's not entirely a sudden shift for the series and is instead more of a return to an old one. Also in the interests of fairness however, this was swiftly abandoned in favour of accents and the series never looked back. Every protagonist from Ezio onwards stuck to their own native accents and it added a level of immersion to each game, and even the first Assassin's Creed gave just about everyone their own accents. If someone was a Templar they could be speaking in a Germanic, French or English accent, and equally you could instantly tell if the guy you were talking to was a Saracen. Even the quest givers did this, sticking to their native tongue.

The article does address this but it also retains a few rather questionable elements. For example, the development team openly admits that it is going with the old Hollywood trope of having English accents. You know, the one where they're used to make somewhere feel foreign and old-timey no matter how out of place they might be. This would be fine, but this team has also previously prided itself upon a conviction to sticking to historical details with some admitted embellishment here and there. Returning to a trope which is being mocked and parodied ever more in modern films is fairly questionable, at least in my personal opinion.

This isn't helped by claims that listening to French accented English would be bizarre, citing negative reactions to Assassin's Creed II's Italian accents. The specific statement given is that “It’s a new generation and the story is a little bit more serious, and having everyone speak in a thick French accent would detract a lot from the experience.” This just bares the question of why they couldn't simply give them a toned down accent. No one is asking for Mad Prince Ludwig from Blackadder to make an appearance (as glorious as that could be) and having a French accent hardly robs a role of all credibility. 
Furthermore the claim that there was a backlash to Assassin's Creed II's accents is questionable given most of the replies found in the blog's comments section, with many claiming they enjoyed it. Plus, even despite this, later games hardly abandoned accents and even the recent Assassin's Creed 4 still retained a variety of different tongues of nations.

The good news behind this is that there will be some choice for a French language for those desiring Paris to actually have a native population. By enabling French language they will be able to play through the game with English subtitles and, even without that, the surrounding background crowds will still speak French. The cockney English they displayed during trailers was simply a placeholder language until it was fully implemented.

Overall, while it's an odd choice, at least there is a way around it. This is something which is more strange and unusual than it is insulting, and it's certainly less problematic a subject than Ubisoft trying to sidestep a lack of female Assassins in its games.


  1. This is one of the weirder news stories I've seen pop up, and also a very strange one for people to latch onto, I guess handwaving it away with "videogame logic" doesn't quite work with Ubisoft employees?

    I don't have a problem when people try to handwave something away with videogame logic, I just have a problem when they try to explain it, and do it poorly, as you say here their explanation opens up a whole new can of worms.

    Ubisoft seems like they just can't win, every time they do something people get annoyed, and then their explanation makes people even more annoyed, like how they released the cover of Farcry 4, and people yelled at them for being racist, then they came out and said they weren't racist or sexist because person on the cover wasn't the hero, and the enemy generator would generate an equal amount of both genders, and then people accused them of being sexist AND racist.

    I know that sometimes they set themselves up for this (like saying why there are no female assassins), but they're taking a lot of flak lately for what I think are really just minor issues.

    1. Oh they are minor issues, there's no argument there, but they're ones the company could so easily sidestep with little to no problems. It's not as if they've not done female characters before, we've even seen female Assassins in Brotherhood, and accents are something they've done fine. Now all of a sudden they seem to be backpedaling on points for no reason and just opening themselves up to problems.

      Those were ones they had created for themselves, but I would argue that the Far Cry 4 issue was more out of public overreaction. Let's face it, if there's a villain in a game with coloured people he's probably going to be racist or pick out anyone native to torment. There's a difference between racism on the creator's part and depicting racism in a game. That's to say nothing of the response you just brought up, which is just bloody stupid on the part of whoever argued it.

      Admittedly though, i'd still argue their continued demonisation of the British Empire and forcing it into being the villains' main ally in every game is a bigger failing on the potentially offensive front, but that's a subject for another time.