TIME Video Games

Video Game Feminist Cancels School Speech Amid Shooting Threat

Anita Sarkeesian pulled out of and event at Utah State after a mass shooting threat

A feminist speaker well known for her videos criticizing the role of female characters in video games canceled a Wednesday speech at a Utah college after learning the school would allow concealed firearms at the event despite an anonymous threat against her life.

Utah State University staff members were notified of a threat to carry out a mass shooting at the school if Anita Sarkeesian, author of video blog “Feminist Frequency,” was allowed to deliver a speech on women’s role in video games, the Associated Press reports. The threat was delivered by someone claiming to be a student in an email claiming they would commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if Sarkeesian’s speech continued as planned.

“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” said the email, the Standard Examiner reports.

The university decided Tuesday it was safe to commence with the presentation after consulting with law enforcement. However, the school also said it would allow attendees with a valid concealed firearm permit to attend the presentation, in accordance with state and local law.

Sarkeesian then decided late Tuesday to cancel her speech. A university spokesman said the FBI told officials the threat is akin to similar intimidating messages received ahead of public appearances by Sarkeesian, who has often been the target of Internet harassment from those who disagree with her beliefs.

[AP]

TIME Video Games

Don’t Blink: Assassin’s Creed Rogue Is Coming for PC

Ubisoft confirms its ice-pirate tale of an arctic Assassin gone rogue is coming to Windows PCs early next year.

The best place to play the Assassin’s Creed series remains a Windows PC, if you don’t mind waiting.

This isn’t a subjective thing: If you want the games to run at your monitor’s native resolution, for the older ones to look as good as they’re ever going to, and now to play the highest-fidelity version of Ubisoft’s upcoming ice-thronged conclusion to the Kenway saga, you’ll want a box that runs Windows. The catch: you have to wait for that last perk until next year.

Ubisoft just confirmed Assassin’s Creed Rogue will hit PC in “early 2015.” It did so in a slightly sneaky way, too: at the close of a brand new story trailer.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue lets you play as Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin who’s thrown in with the rival Templar faction. You’ll spend much of your time skippering arctic waters in a ship capable of river travel and parkouring across frozen ice-scapes, which is another way of saying “Assassin’s Creed IV with snow.”

The no-longer-exclusive PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game arrive on November 11 this year, the same day Ubisoft’s franchise rethink Assassin’s Creed Unity arrives for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One. But where the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions top out at 720p (1280 by 720), the Windows PC versions of these games have included subtle visual enhancements, and best of all, they run at whatever resolution your system’s capable of.

TIME Video Games

Is This Video Game Collection Worth $164,000?

Forget all that mad money, where the heck do you stash over 5,700 video games?

How do you value over 5,700 video games, more than 50 game systems, complete Nintendo and Sega game sets, and the ever-indefinite extension in such taglines “more”?

I have no idea. I collect rare books and I still haven’t the faintest. But someone has to try, and this Wyoming-based eBay seller’s come up with a round number for his apparently vast and immaculately groomed lot: $164,000.

$164,000 sounds like a figure arrived at carefully. Not $150,000, not $160,000, but $164,000. That has to be the result of an additive calculation, an item-by-item tabulation, not some ballpark figure plucked from the ether in multiples of ten- or fifty-thousand bucks.

More than 4,000 of the games are Nintendo-related, says seller reel.big.fish, with the majority from the 1980s and 1990s (he calls this period “the golden age” of gaming, which, just forget all the problems with such nostalgic labels, identifies the demographic the eBay sale’s targeting). The collection includes “multiple complete sets from Nintendo and Sega,” and “arguably” every retail game Nintendo put out from 1985 to 2000 (in the video below, the seller notes he’s only missing Stadium Events, though he has a reproduction cart). Other systems represented in the software mix include Atari, PlayStation, Sega, TurboGrafx and Xbox.

Want every Nintendo 64 console color variant? Custom hand-built and painted shelves (yes, shelves)? Complete-in-box Mario and Zelda sets? Eighty-one variant carts sorted by the number of screws (I had no idea this was a thing)? All 14 Virtual Boy games plus a 15th “bonus import”? Rare development carts? Dust covers for every single NES game? (I don’t, but maybe you do, and the sale currently has over 3,700 watchers, over 950 views per hour and over 50 inquiries so far.)

If you want to see the complete list, the seller’s put up a Google Doc spreadsheet with everything here (warning: it’s godawful slow to scroll, at least on a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro). The seller says there’s no breaking this thing up, though I’d wager a gazillion people are going to ask for the privilege anyway. And note that $164,000 is just the asking price: he’s taking offers.

And if you want a tour of this fellow’s video game room–over 11 minutes of wall-to-wall game rubbernecking!–your wish is granted.

TIME Video Games

Want to Visit a Slice of Destiny DLC Bungie Hasn’t Unlocked Yet?

A YouTube Destiny player illustrates how to triple-jump your way to an unfinished area and a marginally higher score.

This is what happens when boredom ensues in Destiny: you spy a tantalizing column of light, notice the architectural lattice surrounding it, nose around the framework until you discover a way to leap into that column of light, and presto: Scotty’s beaming you up.

YouTuber Nowise10 just released a video that details how, in Bungie’s sci-fi multiplayer shooter, he (I’m assuming “he” because of the YouTube avatar) was able to force his way into an area called “The Terminus” while exploring Venus. It’s part of an upcoming 2015 DLC release titled “The House of Wolves” that we’ve known about since well before launch (it’s the second of two expansion packs—the first is called “The Dark Below”).

But specifics, like the name “The Terminus” itself, were unearthed more recently when players discovered a glitch in the game that revealed information about the upcoming DLC packs. Bungie acknowledged the glitch in a note explaining, no surprise, that the content packs were unfinished, and that the details might or might not change.

Nowise10’s discovery looks extra-impressive because of how improbable it is. For starters you need to be able to triple-jump and balance like a funambulist. And then you have to be bored enough to wonder whether it’s possible to find your way into an unreachable column of light (that just so happens to really be a gravity lift). And then you have to be patient enough to string guesswork trajectories together, and dexterous enough to land on (without slipping off) all the slender alien trelliswork.

But maybe I’m overstating the difficulty. Watch the video and you’ll see Nowise10 almost casually navigate the precarious route without slips, tumbles or do-overs.

The reward if you make it? A vacant new area with, according to Nowise10, three dead ghosts. Finding ghosts in Destiny is a side-game where you recover little polyhedral robot-things, and those things unlock an achievement and bolster your grimoire card score. There’s thus a score-related incentive for players to pay a visit to The Terminus, which I’d assume means Bungie’s going to have to update the game to remove your ability to do this in short order.

TIME

‘Broad Consensus’ that Media Violence Can Lead to Increased Child Aggression

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Getty Images

In the past, there was a perception that the field was divided about whether violent content leads to increased aggression in children, but this study refutes that notion

The vast majority of parents, pediatricians and media researchers all believe that violent movies, video games and television shows can lead to increased aggression in children, according to a new study published in the journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

In the past, there was a perception that the field was divided about whether children’s behavior could be affected by violent content. This study dispels that notion completely by showing that, in fact, there is broad consensus that violent content can lead to more aggression.

For the study, the researchers — Professor Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, Carlos Cruz, a doctoral student at Ohio State, and Mario Gollwitzer, a professor at Philipps University Marburg in Germany — surveyed 371 media psychologists and communication scientists from three professional organizations; 92 members of the Council on Communication and Media of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and a nationally representative sample of 268 American parents. The study revealed that 66 percent of researchers, 67 percent of parents and a whopping 90 percent of pediatricians agree or strongly agree that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior among children.

Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University believes the journalistic drive for fair and balanced reporting is partially to blame for the view that there is a lack of consensus. “I think there’s a perception partly driven by the mass media that the field is divided,” said Bushman. “When they report on a finding that violent media produces aggression in children, to find a balance, they find someone else who disagrees with it. It leads to the conclusion that scientists don’t know about this topic and that the field is divided. But the field is not divided. There is broad consensus that violent media leads to increased aggression in children.”

He compared the drive for balanced reporting to John Oliver’s piece on climate change, in which the late night host revealed the trouble with showing a one-to-one debate, when in fact 97% of the science community believes climate change is real and happening. To make the debate more representative of reality, Oliver invited three climate change deniers to argue against 97 climate scientists who believe in global warming.

The results in Bushman and his team’s study go hand in hand with a study published last year in the journal of Pediatrics. That study, lead by researchers Lindsay A. Robertson, Helena M. McAnally and Robert J. Hancox showed a link between children and adolescents who watch two or more hours of TV per weekday— in which most of the content contains violence — and antisocial behavior in early adulthood.

But there are other factors besides screen time and violent content that can lead to aggression in children. “Many factors can contribute to increased aggression in children. Things like being male, poverty or having a low IQ are not easy to change, but limiting exposure to violent media can be changed,” said Prof. Bushman.“This is one of the factors that people can do something about.”

Aside from going full-Tipper Gore and founding a media watch group and petitioning Congress to limit violence in the media, what can a parent do? Bushman has a few suggestions: Limit screen time, monitor what your kids are watching or playing online and talk to your kids about it. It’s what Bushman does with his own 14-year old son. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day —[My son] has more than that. But, we carefully screen the content,” said Bushman. “There’s no TV in his room, he has an iPad, but has to use it with the door open and give us the iPad at night. All TV programs with violent content can only be accessed via password. And the internet filters out violent content. There are no video games that are age inappropriate.”

When asked if his two older children — ages 18 and 19—ever show their younger sibling something inappropriate, Bushman laughed. “Their dad has been studying the affects of violent media for over 25 years. They know better.”

TIME Video Games

Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Amiibo Are Going to Make 2014 After All

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros. Wii U arrives on November 21, along with Nintendo's first 12 amiibo toy-game figures.

Was that ever in doubt? It was. I’ve heard more than one forum-goer, podcaster and Nintendophile fret about possible Super Smash Bros. Wii U slippage into 2015 in the wake of E3, where the company’s gaze was fixedly on the 3DS version.

But no, Super Smash Bros. Wii U is coming this year, and you can throw down with the likes of new characters from the Mario series, Punch-Out!!, Pokémon X and Y, Xenoblade Chronicles and more on November 21.

That’s just a few days after the season’s final heavy-hitters make their showings (Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 4, LittleBigPlanet 3 and Grand Theft Auto V are due on November 18). It’s also the final Friday and weekend before everyone hops into planes, trains and automobiles for destination Thanksgiving-ville (and, more crucially for both sales and retailer stocking reasons, it’s a full week prior to Black Friday).

Nintendo’s also revealed that November 21 will be the day it simultaneously rolls out its preliminary amiibo lineup. Amiibo is Nintendo’s characteristically quirky-sounding vamp on the vaunted toy-game. Like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, players buy clusters of figurines (in this case, Nintendo-specific) which are then capable of wirelessly interacting with Nintendo’s 3DS and Wii U, as well as–and here’s one of amiibo’s unique selling points–swapping data between the two platforms.

To make a data transfer happen, you just tap the figures on the Wii U GamePad, and Nintendo says several of the figures work across multiple games. Upcoming games that support amiibo at launch will include Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Mario Party 10 and Yoshi’s Woolly World, as well as Mario Kart 8, but Nintendo’s not saying when the latter will happen, and notes the game “may” require a software update to make it amiibo compatible (why “may” and not “will” is anyone’s guess).

In the initial November amiibo wave, Nintendo’s rolling out Mario, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Link, Fox, Samus, Wii Fit Trainer, Villager, Pikachu, Kirby and Marth (that’s 12 in all). It’ll follow with a second wave in December that’ll include Zelda, Diddy Kong, Luigi, Little Mac, Pit and Captain Falcon (six in all, or 18 all told by 2014’s close).

Checking up on sales of the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., Nintendo says the beat-em-up’s done quite well, sales-wise, turning out more than 2.8 million copies sold worldwide, counting both retail and digital versions (it launched on October 3 here, and on September 13 in Japan). In fact, Nintendo isn’t doing half bad this year in first party sales, considering the Wii U’s chicken-egg install base problem. Mario Kart 8, its Wii U-buoying force of gonzo-racing nature went on to sell in the vicinity of three million copies after its arrival last May.

Nintendo says Super Smash Bros. Wii U‘s suggested retail price will be $59.99, while its amiibo figures will sell for $12.99 a piece. Nintendo’s special Wii U adapter that’ll let Smash fans use up to four original GameCube or WaveBird controllers with the game will sell for $19.99. If you don’t have a GameCube controller, you can pick up Nintendo’s special (and I assume limited time offer) Super Smash Bros. Wii U one for $29.99. Of if you just want to grab everything in one package (game, controller, adapter) Nintendo’s selling a bundle for $99.99. All three of those SKUs will be available when Super Smash Bros. Wii U launches on November 21.

Last but not least, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Nintendo’s Mario-series-spawned puzzle game starring a character that looks like a mushroom (but isn’t), will launch on December 5 for $39.99. Nintendo says the game will support amiibo figures as well, but sometime in 2015.

That’s Nintendo’s holiday in a nutshell. It’s also IP proving grounds time. With Disney’s and Activision’s respective toy-game updates just out, will Nintendo’s amiibo resonate? Will kids clamor as much for Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong and Zelda as I’m assuming they’ve been for Disney’s formidable stable of Marvel superheroes, or Activision’s reinvigorated originals by studio Toys for Bob?

Nintendo’s strategy, I’m assuming, involves Smash-bashing its way through the holidays, clinching a noteworthy chunk of family gaming sales, then emerging in 2015 with brag-worthy handheld and set-top sales figures. Trouble is, no one knows what’s coming in 2015 or when. Star Fox? Splatoon? Zelda? Xenoblade Chronicles X? Mario Marker? Yoshi’s Wooly World? We’ll see.

But Nintendo’s been lurching from first-party blockbuster to first-party blockbuster. That may be enough to tread water, and at least the company’s finally delivering on its first party promises. But since games take at least a year if not two to develop top to bottom, and given how much more technically advanced (read: not possible on the Wii U) today’s multiplatform superstar games are, it’s hard to imagine third parties falling off their horses in January 2015 and crossing their fingers the Wii U’s going to be able to keep pace with (much less supersede) its rivals through 2016.

TIME Video Games

Sigourney Weaver: Why I Signed On for Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation
Sega

This one was different from other game projects she'd been approached for, the actress tells TIME

In the 35 years since Alien was released, the classic movie has been the source of inspiration for several video games — but Alien: Isolation, out Oct. 7, is the first one that snagged star Sigourney Weaver to voice the part of Ellen Ripley. Though the main game focuses on Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, Weaver’s character shows up in some of the game’s extra downloadable content.

Here, she talks to TIME about why she decided to return to the Alien world, what that was like and whether she’d ever go back to it on the big screen.

TIME: How’d you get involved in the game? Why this one?

Sigourney Weaver: I had been approached to participate in a couple of different Alien games but I felt that this one was very different. First of all, there was a desire to put the player into the world that [director] Ridley Scott created, which is quite a terrifying one, and to let you loose in this situation that was so powerful in the first movie. That’s the experience of the game that I had to do with. The regular game, what touched me about it right away was Ripley’s daughter Amanda, who’s mentioned so briefly in Alien — there’s a whole other life, a story about her and her colleagues in space and the connection between her and her mother. They’d never had that connection because Ripley died or disappeared so long ago. So I was immediately intrigued by the idea that they had chosen to pick up this small but potent detail and turn it into an experience.

How was it pitched to you?

They did have to educate me in what kind of game it was. This was a very passionate homage to Ridley’s work that I think is quite unique, and to recognize that people would love to be in that world, navigating this empty, not really empty, ship, with a flamethrower. I thought it’s pretty juicy.

What’s not to love?

Again, I’ve only seen my part of it. The other part of the game, which has to do with Amanda and a whole other generation, I’m looking forward to seeing.

Are you a gamer yourself?

We have Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi and stuff like that. My husband and daughter are enthusiastic, and I enjoy it. And I’m actually delighted that games are expanding and giving you more substance besides the basic target practice. Now it’s a much more immersive experience for the player, in a sense the player gets to do what we actors do, which is to go into a make-believe world and totally believe that you’re there. Of course, we don’t get killed quite as often. Or, if we do, we don’t get another chance to come back.

That’s a cool way to look at it. When did you first see that similarity with acting?

I think after Avatar, I realized that people really love going into these worlds and having an experience. I totally get that. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger and this is a particularly cool entry into this world.

What was it like to return to the character?

As if I’d never stopped doing it. I opened my mouth and I heard her voice. It was a surprise to me. It was a powerful experience.

It’s been 35 years. What do you think has allowed the movie to have such extreme cultural staying power?

I have to credit Ridley for creating an experience of space which was so much closer probably to what it would be like — a real place where people work, a dirty, gritty real environment with a real company to work for that has other priorities. I thought he brought such a fresh eye to the world of science fiction, which, frankly, was usually pretty sterile, and certainly not haunting and creepy. [Other sci-fi] was sort of fantastical with girls in tiny bathing suits, the ones I’m thinking of. It was a very visceral experience to make the film so it doesn’t surprise me in that sense that it would still be a very visceral experience for an audience member, even today, to watch it. The interesting thing about science fiction is that it’s always relevant. It’s always out ahead of us. And I do think people love to be terrified. Alien terrifies you in a wonderful and eerie and elegant way.

It was one of your first on-screen roles…

Well, you’re very kind to say I’d done anything before. I had a walk-on in Annie Hall and a tiny part in an Israeli film. I didn’t know anything when I started and I remember the first week, Ridley came up and said, ‘Can you try not to look in the camera?’ I said, ‘I am trying not to look in the camera but you keep putting it right in front of me.’ I didn’t know anything! I hadn’t really thought much about film. As an actor, I was pretty fixated on theater and a lot of it was classical theater, so I was just in heaven running around these gorgeous sets. I couldn’t believe they had created this whole world, making it so believable, for me. And I learned everything on that film.

You recently did another Ridley Scott movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which is coming out soon. What was it like to work with him again?

He hasn’t changed much. He’s a genius with a camera, and all the details of this world were fantastic. I just felt so incredibly thrilled that I got to be an Egyptian queen, something I’ve wanted to do since fourth grade.

It sounds fun.

Get out of the way of the chariots! That’s going to make a great game.

Would you ever do another Alien movie if it became a possibility?

I was loath to do a fifth one — we were supposed to do 4 and 5 together, and I felt that I was very ambivalent about that. At the same time, I’m aware that we never finished the story. Part of me would be very intrigued by doing that with the right director. But beyond that, it’s just an idle thought.

TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Will Only Run at 1080p on PCs

Both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game are locked at 900p and 30 frames per second.

Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity, a sneaking game about two secret societies warring during the French Revolution, will only be capable of 1080p display resolution if you’re rocking a Windows PC.

The 1920-by-1080 club’s doors are officially closed to game consoles, says Ubisoft. What’s more, both consoles will top out at 30 frames per second (enthusiasts tend to prefer games that run at 60).

Speaking with VideoGamer.com, Unity senior producer Vincent Pontbriand said the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One CPUs weren’t up to the job of juggling the game’s massive crowds.

“Technically we’re CPU-bound,” he said. “The GPUs are really powerful, obviously the graphics look pretty good, but it’s the CPU [that] has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running in parallel.”

Ubisoft

Pontbriand says Ubisoft Montreal’s design team, which had been hoping for a “tenfold improvement” in A.I. performance from the new consoles, was surprised and frustrated by the bottleneck. “It’s not the number of polygons that affect the framerate,” he said. “We could be running at 100fps if it was just graphics, but because of AI, we’re still limited to 30 frames per second.”

Frame rates aside, the pixel difference between 900p and 1080p would in theory be a GPU- and not CPU-related bottleneck, thus locking both consoles at 900p may have been a political decision.

Indeed, Pontbriand told VideoGamer.com that the studio “decided to lock [both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions] at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff.”

PlayStation 4 and Xbox One buffs have been locking horns since the systems launched last November over worries the Xbox One isn’t as powerful as Sony’s system. The concern is premised on the way each system displays graphics, and games released for both consoles have so far run at slightly lower resolutions on the Xbox One, though developers have argued the differences are visually trifling.

Last fall, when Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag arrived, both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions ran at 900p. But Ubisoft quickly released a patch that upgraded the PlayStation 4’s visuals to full 1080p. Given Pontbriand’s statements, it seems unlikely it’ll do something similar with Unity.

The corollary to all of this? The highest fidelity version of the game, assuming you have enough processing gas to cook with, is going to be on Windows PCs.

TIME Video Games

How Assassin’s Creed Unity Navigates the French Revolution’s Politics

Assassin's Creed Unity's creative director explains how the game engages with the French Revolution's controversial, often lopsided-looking political ramifications.

“[Just] as the French revolution … understood itself through antiquity, I think our time can be understood through the French revolution,” said Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, in a December 2001 Jacket interview.

Indeed, the French Revolution is one of these ever-topical historical periods brimming with controversies and lessons. It resonates across the political spectrum, and artists have explored it in countless books, movies, paintings, musicals, musical works, plays and more.

You can add games to that lineup on November 11, when Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity rolls out the most elaborate interactive simulation of the tumultuous time yet conceived.

It’s not a political game in the sense others that grapple with events like the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or food imports in the U.S. head-on are sometimes described. But the label or category “political game” can be misleading. It suggests there’s such a thing as a nonpolitical game. That’s a misnomer. Even a game as inocuous as Pac-Man can have political implications, and positioning a book or film or video game as apolitical, say for commercial purposes, to avoid alienating potential buyers, is as political a maneuver as any other.

Assassin’s Creed III tried to square this circle by relegating its political commentary–some of it witheringly critical of American historical revisionism–to optional encyclopedia entries. The trenchant stuff was there, but mostly happened offstage.

Where does Unity sit on that spectrum? Does it dig into the French Revolution’s political ramifications directly, or circle the periphery? I put the question to Unity director Alexandre Amancio late last week. Here’s what he told me.

We’ve already seen the series’ ethical framework shaken in recent games, with storylines that question both the Assassins and Templars’ motives. Is Assassin’s Creed Unity a continuation of that degree-by-degrees shift, or a more radical rethink?

I think Assassin’s Creed Unity takes things even further than we’ve seen to date. I think the French Revolution is the perfect setting for that ambiguity, because if you look at the French Revolution itself, the idea behind it is obviously that this is one of the first populist movements, when the people revolted against this old-school autocratic society. But the way the French Revolution proceeded, up to the Reign of Terror, you can definitely see how something that starts off as a genuinely positive idea can turn into a bloodbath and chaos.

Ubisoft

You’ve described protagonist Arno’s story as a redemption quest. Redemption from what?

At the beginning of the game, Arno’s adopted father dies, and the father happens to be the Grandmaster of the Templars in France. And because of certain details surrounding this death, Arno feels somewhat responsible.

So joining the Assassins is a means to an end for Arno. By joining the Assassins, he feels he has a better chance at redeeming himself for this mistake. That may sound counterintuitive, because if you want to avenge the death of a Templar, you wouldn’t join their enemies.

The thing is, and this goes along with your question about moral ambiguity, that the Templar Grandmaster is murdered because of a plot within his own order. There’s an extremist movement that causes a shift in leadership, so it’s sort of a coup. And part of trying to figure out who was responsible for the death ties into finding out who actually murdered the Grandmaster and why the Templars are shifting ideologies, but it’s also mixed in with the French Revolution and who’s pulling the strings behind both things.

This is how we tie Arno’s redemption quest in with the Revolution. A lot of the elements we see in the French Revolution we try to echo and mirror through metaphor. It’s the idea of extremism and how if you take two separate political entities and you take them to extremes, they wind up looping back and becoming the same thing.

You see this especially at the beginning of the story, where the Assassins and Templars are getting a little closer, because they’re figuring that the state of France is hitting such a critical point that it might explode. So by maybe moving toward detente and working together, maybe they can prevent the situation from deteriorating into a bloodbath. But what you see is that there’s elements on both sides who’d rather see society crumble, and so the game is sort of a study of that.

Speaking of the factions, if we’re thinking on the grand scale of human history, specific political ideologies tend to be short-lived. Creative license aside, isn’t it stretching the bounds of plausibility to portray the corruption-obsessed Assassins and control-obsessed Templars as these ideologically cohesive movements for millennia?

The more you play on these high-level universal truths and the more you tie them to different areas of the narrative, whether it’s the character’s personal story or history itself, or the events, the more I think they start to permeate the whole experience. I think that’s how you build a deeper and more satisfying experience, where it’s not just surface and touches every part of the fabric of the narrative.

The Assassins certainly go through that. I think that’s reflected through Arno. Arno’s character arc is a reflection of the Assassins’ progression, from the beginning of the revolution to afterward, and how he understands the truths that were told to him at the beginning.

Any time you read scripture, you’re always responsible for interpreting it in a certain way. So the same text that you read before and after a traumatic event might have a totally different meaning. Y0u might realize that something you thought was an absolute truth at one point in your life, after certain trials and tribulations, you look at that same phrasing and you see in reality that it meant something completely different.

This is Arno’s character arc. It’s about the meaning of what it is to be an Assassin, and what the tenets of the Assassins truly mean. The reason we did this is that it’s a renewal for the series and a new beginning for the brand. It felt like this study of what it means to be an Assassin was very important for new players as well as those who’ve been playing the story for a long time.

Ubisoft

Now if you look at the Templars, you have a similar thing going on, but with a different take altogether. The idea is that if you look back at the historical Templars in the Middle Ages, there was a great betrayal, a purge of the Templar order executed by Philip the Fair [Philip the IV, king of France in the late 13th century] and the Pope [Clement V]. This was the historical end of the Templars. And if you look at what Jacques de Molay [the last official Grandmaster of the historical Templars] was actually doing, he was already shifting the world toward something else. He thought that autocratic control was not the way to go, because people are always going to rebel against control and seek freedom. Even if the Templars believed people needed to be controlled, he understood you will never be able to change human nature.

So he was shifting the order toward something else, like a banking system, maybe something where people would control themselves if the system was built to reflect human nature. And if humans could regulate themselves, maybe it would be much easier to control things. But before he was able to undertake this, there was a betrayal and the Templars were purged.

What we’re seeing in Assassin’s Creed Unity, is somebody rising up, finding these old texts and realizing this guy was a prophet, that he was centuries ahead of his time, and this is what has to be done, and that the French Revolution might be the perfect setting to pull the strings and shift the world from something involving autocratic control to something more governed by desire and money and the economy.

How politically pointed can you afford to be in a game that’s part of a multibillions franchise, played by players of many political persuasions? How corporate-beholden are you to keep the political implications of this plot point or that one anodyne?

Very little, because that only becomes delicate when you want to take a strong position with a certain kind of view.

What we actually try to do, and I think this is just a personal belief that we have, is to avoid reducing history. You can’t start taking sides, because that makes it biased, and what we’re really trying to do is expose every slice of history in the most unbiased way possible.

It’s obviously incredibly difficult. History is always subjective, because it’s written by people, and no matter how objective you try to be, human nature makes it subjective. We try very hard to portray things as factually as possible. But for instance, we discovered that the French Revolution even today is controversial. Historians and specialists of the period don’t agree with everything and every event. We consulted with two historians on the project. We had a full-time historian on the project, but we worked specifically with two people known in French Revolution scholarship circles, and we had them review the entire script. And we noticed that even between them, there were things about which they didn’t agree. One of them thought that portraying a certain event in a negative way was positioning us in a Royalist category, for instance. You know, the September Massacres are called the massacres and not “the jubilation” for a reason, right? However well-intentioned the initial purpose was, the fact remains that it was a time of chaos.

So they weren’t always in agreement, but one thing the historians were in agreement about was that we portrayed the French Revolution in the game in a very objective way. They felt it was faithful to the gray area of this period. The very fact that our narrative is not about something that’s moralistic in the sense that we’re not forcing you to side with a certain camp expresses this. Our story is about individuals, about how these events take them down a road where they’ll learn things about themselves and their own views. We’re not trying to expose the evils of society and say these people were wrong, these people were right.

If anything, what we end up saying is that everybody was wrong. It’s a human thing. We believe in a certain truth or certain ideals, and then because we’re protective and convinced by these ideals, we fall into the trap of taking them to extremes. And the thing is, most often the truth’s somewhere in the middle. If anything, we’re trying to say people should try to keep a more open mind about the other side’s position on the political spectrum.

Ubisoft

You’ve also said that in Unity, unlike in Assassin’s Creed III where as Connor you were involved in or even instigating pivotal events in the American Revolution, that’s not what you’re up to as Arno. You’ve called Unity more a romance that happens to be framed by the Revolution. But romances are really, really tricky to pull off in any medium without botching the chemistry or coming off as oversentimental. I can’t think of a non-indie mainstream game that’s really done it.

You’re absolutely right. When you’re making a game about anything emotional, cinematics are your way of telling the narrative. The thing is, when you’re watching a cinematic in a game, you’re removed from the core of the experience, which is your input with the controller.

You mention indie games, and I think there are some that have succeeded in having you really experience emotion or feelings for NPCs when you’re playing the game by generating those things through interaction. The reason a shooter is visceral is because the movement and pressing of the button is exactly reflecting the emotion you’re trying to convey, say stress, adrenaline and so forth. Every time you’re able to provide input through the controller and directly reflect the emotion you’re trying to convey, it works. On the other hand, when you’re asking the player to be passive in watching interaction between characters on screen in a cinematic, of course the player’s going to feel removed, because games aren’t films.

What we tried to do is make the romance, as much as we could, happen during gameplay. Of course there are some cutscenes where a little bit of exposition takes place, but that’s inevitable. We really try as best we can to have the characters interact during gameplay. I think that’s how you get players to feel something in a video game.

Now another thing we did is the fact that, because the nature of a romance story is the interaction between two characters, and usually the gameplay is about you stabbing people or sneaking around the world, it makes it very difficult to do romance as something other than a side element. But because we made Arno’s romantic interest, Elise, a Templar, because she is from a different faction than the player, all of a sudden that makes it more relevant. Even if their ultimate goal is the same, because she’s affiliated with the losing part of the Templars, the one that got purged, their methods might differ, and their motivations certainly differ.

I really like opposites, and I like exposing the opposites, because I think that it’s through showing the opposite of something that you can strengthen what you’re trying to convey. Elise is motivated by a desire for vengeance. Arno is motivated by a desire for redemption. These two things are very different, because one ultimately leads to your doom, while I think the other can lead to you actually being saved.

By making their objectives the same, but their motivations opposite, hopefully their interactions will create tension, and players will feel this impossible decision and the inevitability of the relationship as they move forward. Ultimately the romance part of this game is a Cornelian dilemma, where Arno is stuck in this impossible decision, where he ultimately has to choose between the values of the Creed and his love for this woman who happens to be on the opposite side of the spectrum.

TIME Video Games

Twitch Takes a Step Toward Greater Broadcast Transparency

The popular player-driven video game streaming service says it'll take a proactive stance on increasing transparency for sponsored content.

Transparency is one of these noble words you hear a lot these days, but it’s rarely paired with practical definitions — and least of all with tangible action.

What does it mean to be transparent if you’re a company paying a celebrity to endorse your product? How do you divulge an ethically sufficient amount of information to stave off allegations of shilling?

Gaming channel Twitch is taking an interesting, proactive stance. The just-bought-by-Amazon company announced on its blog that it will immediately put into practice new policies designed to make clear what is or isn’t a sponsored broadcast.

“While we have always encouraged our broadcasters to acknowledge if they are playing games as part of a promotional campaign, we are now establishing a much more transparent approach to all paid programs on our platform and hope that it sets a precedent for the broader industry,” writes marketing VP Matthew DiPietro. “Simply put: We want complete transparency and unwavering authenticity with all content and promotions that have a sponsor relationship.”

What will “complete transparency” look like, specifically, on Twitch?

The company says “all copy and graphics” related to sponsored content will be identified clearly, including “sponsored” tags that’ll appear on streams and newsletters, letting viewers know that the content is sponsored by a brand. All Twitch front-page, social and email promotions will also be clearly identified, says DiPietro. Twitter dispatches, for instance, will include language like “brought to you by” or “^SP” to indicate a “sponsored tweet.”

Twitch

Furthermore, Twitch says it never has, and pledges that it never will, demand that “influencers”–the people paid by the brands to do whatever they do in the videos–express positive or negative sentiments.

Note that these are explicitly for “Twitch driven” campaigns. It’s not a service-wide mandate, in other words. In an update to the post, Twitch addresses sponsor relationships that occur outside the purview of Twitch’s campaigns, writing “we encourage all broadcasters to follow FTC guidelines.” The FTC guidelines are here, but they’re still only guidelines, not regulatory rules.

(In a response to a comment, a Twitch spokesperson says the company requires all broadcasters to follow the FTC’s Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements, but that appears to conflict with the note at the blog’s top, which stipulates that Twitch only “encourages” this.)

Short of locking the whole outfit down, Twitch is probably hoping its “lead by example” approach will influence all of its broadcasters to be FTC guidelines-compliant. It’s an interesting experiment, and speaking from a viewer standpoint, essential. Now we wait, and watch, and see how well it works.

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