Each Assassin's Creed game has experienced its own challenges in depicting historical themes.
Every time you load up one of the four Assassin's Creed games, you get this message:
This is likely because if you didn't play the whole thing to see how everything ties together into the overarching conspiracy, you might be led to believe that someone had an agenda.
The first game takes place in the classical era in a very Arab-centric series of locations with an Arabian protagonist fighting against the forces of The Crudsades and the Catholic Church. The game depicts the first major conflict between the Assassins and the Templars. with the later being a force who uses death-dealing to maintain peace and justice, while the former is a power-hungry group of megalomaniacs who will stop at nothing to enforce on the world their own vision of how it should be run and organized.
The game makes it clear that the modern incarnation of that organization has become seperate from the church, labeling itself the Abstergo Corporation. But through most of history it was essentially a secret arm of the Roman Catholic church, run from a post in the Vatican.
It's all rather abstract in that first game, with the most concrete connection being the need to kill a few actual Crusaders in some of the missions. The final villain turns out to have come from within the Assassin's organization, corrupted by the power the Templars represent.
The second through fourth games, known collectively as Assassin's Creed II, take a more direct approach, having moved the story ahead to a new world-center, Renaissance Italy, the protagonist fights directly against the forces of The Pope, and in Brotherhood, is even forced to directly confront Pope Alexander IV with intent to assassinate him after leaving him alive at the end of the previous story, though the pontiff's son, Cesare had already taken care of it.
In the upcoming sequel, Assassin's Creed III, time will jump again, this time to Colonial Era America. The player will take on Connor, a half-native man trained up by the Assassins. The time period and location means that, while the Pope may no longer be directly involved in Connor's plot, he will be surrounded by a conflict between American Colonials and British Imperials, violence toward Native Americans, and the beginnings of American slavery.
Potentially this will be the most controversial Assassin's Creed game yet, and thus Gamesindusty International magazine asked Assassin's Creed III creative director Alex Hutchinson and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation - the mobile platforms version of the game - scriptwriter Jill Murray about their philosophy toward designing a game that includes such potentially inflammatory topics.
"Usually we're trying to be truthful," Hutchinson said. "And we like it--I should say we don't mind it--if the truth is uncomfortable, if we can back it up with facts. When we were dealing with the Borgias, we were saying the Pope is a really bad guy. But if you do any amount of research, it's pretty clear we didn't make this up and it's pretty well documented. And it's the same with the Founding Fathers. These are real people; they have their ups and downs, their opinions. And when we can find documented evidence of an opinion they had or something they asked for and it was just true, then we were happy to put that in the game. But we tried not to have our subjective layer come into it; we saved that for the fictional storyline and the fictional characters."
The Fictional storyline he's referring to is the planned DLC adventure for the game entitled The Tyranny of King George, which you can read more about here.
"As basically a bunch of often middle-aged white guys and girls working on a game, we knew we were not experts in Native American history," Hutchinson said of the upcoming game. "A lot of the things we thought we knew were wrong, or caricatures, or exaggerations of the truth."
This led to exhaustive research by the team, similar to how they handled previous incarnations; commendably, trying to be as well-informed as possible about the cultures and figures of the time they were writing about. The more controversial, the more careful they need to be about being accurate. They decided that they did need to draw a line this time however, and chose not to deal with the slavery of the era.
"We tried to present [slavery] objectively without crossing over into commenting on it," Hutchinson said. "We didn't want to take one step into that issue and then not deal with it, so really for us, it's not a topic we try to tackle in this game."
Murray, however wasn't able to take the same course, as the protagonist of Liberation is a freed slave, and completely skirting the issue would be poor characterization. "For me the importance of talking about things outweighs the fear," Murray said. "The fear you can deal with by doing your research, by talking to people, by really looking deeply into the character, understanding how they work, how they respond to their environment. To me, it's so much more important to talk about things, I'm willing to set the fear aside long enough to do my research and make sure I get it right."
The interviewer also brought up the topic of the difference between the adverts on either side of the Atlantic. Some observant fans have noticed that the ads in the US show Connor mostly killing British soldiers, while the ads in the UK depict Connor killing mostly American soldiers.
"On the team, it's been funny because we know the story and what happens," Hutchinson said. "You're very much in between these two forces and you're essentially killing Templars. You're not really killing Redcoats or Bluecoats. You're killing the fictional bad guys, so it's more on the marketing side that people have been debating. And we also know that as soon as the game is out and people play it, a lot of this will go away."
To see the remainder of the interview, including a short discussion of the role of women in the video game industry, check it out onGameindustry International.
Assassin's Creed III will be on the shelves and download services on October 30th, 2012. It can be preordered wherever you preorder your games, including Amazon. The five expansions, announced previously, will all be available, along with additional multiplayer content, before the end of Spring 2013.