Aleteia

Notre Dame rebuild may refer to video game for architectural accuracy

Assassin's Creed: Unity
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‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’ contains a near perfect interactive replica of Notre Dame.

It has not been a month since the world watched in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral went up in smoke, causing the spire to topple in the blaze. Already the restoration effort has drawn over $1 billion dollars in donations, and it may be getting some help from an unlikely source.

For over a decade the Assassin’s Creed game franchise has pitted Assassins (the player, representing a movement to establish peace through free will) against their sworn enemies the Templars (very loosely based on the Catholic order of military knights who fought in the Crusades, and representing the desire to impose peace through control). Each game takes place in a different era and highlights struggles in some of the most famous historical settings, including Jerusalem, Rome during the Renaissance, the American Revolution, the Caribbean during the peak age of piracy, and many more over the course of over 25 titles.

Now, however, a game series that has pitted players against Catholics in the past may be the saving grace of Notre Dame, as the restoration effort is turning to the game’s 2014 release, Assassin’s Creed: Unity for a visual reference to the world-famous cathedral.

Unity takes place during the French Revolution of the 18th century. Ever since this game was released it has been praised for its accuracy in depicting Paris in the late 1700s. Ubisoft, the French-based game developers who produce this series, were especially proud of their recreation of Notre Dame, which is practically perfect.

Immediately after the cathedral fire, Ubisoft donated $500,000 and offered its virtual Notre Dame files, as well as all its background research, to the restoration effort. For a week after the fire, Ubisoft also made Assassin’s Creed: Unity free to download on the PC.

While it may seem like a publicity stunt, there is more historical value within the game than most would assume. It took Caroline Miousse, assistant art director at Ubisoft Montreal, two years to accurately model the cathedral. While the architecture is practically perfect, the in-game cathedral is missing a few works of art that were protected by copyright, and at the request of players the spire was added to the game, although it was constructed in the 19th century and would not have been standing during the French Revolution.

The production team also brought on academic advisors in order to more accurately capture the essence of 18th-century Paris. One such consultant drew research from architectural archives, paintings, and even engravings in order to produce a historically authentic atmosphere.

The result is a beautiful digital reconstruction of Notre Dame, which the players can fully interact with. If you are familiar with the Assassin’s Creed gameplay, you can already imagine yourself scaling the side of the great cathedral as though you were Quasimodo. In fact, when the game first came out many reported that they weren’t even playing the game, rather just virtually touring Revolutionary France.

The reconstruction was such a hit that the next title, Origins, set in Egypt, included a “Discovery Mode” setting that turned the whole game into an Egyptian museum and allowed players to learn archaeological and historical facts about the pyramids, the Sphinx, and more.

The game’s insistence on accurate representations of historical sites has paid off in a big way, as Unity will be an invaluable resource to the restoration efforts at Notre Dame.

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