Ubisoft Outlines Historical Context for Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Guys with swords say, "I want to be rich"
As with all previous Assassin's Creed titles, Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag will be based in and around real historical events and people, though it'll naturally be fairly liberal with its storytelling. While Ubisoft's choice of pirates in the Caribbean may be surprising on paper, the developer's released a new historical context video and Q & A to highlight that the era wasn't all about about peg-legs, bad teeth and chatty parrots on shoulders.
The title's scriptwriter, Darby McDevitt, debunked some of these myths in the Q & A.
There are truths, falsehoods, and a few facts that have been stretched to a breaking point…
Eye patches and peg-legs were real, but not ubiquitous; most men who lost a limb simply lived with its absence or left the ship entirely. Parrots were also common, but mainly sold as pets to colonists in the northern colonies, not carried about as chattering companions…
There were no instances of anyone walking the plank in the Golden age of Piracy, as the first recorded instance happens around 1750, and most pirates would have preferred marooning anyone they had a quarrel with… that is to say, they’d leave them alone on a deserted island, with a loaded pistol and a small quantity of Rum. This was a keen method pirates had of absolving themselves of blame for any death or mischief that occurred later.
The familiar way of “Talking Like a Pirate” is overblown, through there is certainly a real precedent for it. But the truth is, pirates came from a wide variety of backgrounds, so their ways of talking would have been just as diverse. Sailing aboard a pirate Schooner in 1716, you’d have heard a collage of voices from Bristol, York, Cardiff, Glasgow, Cork, London, Portsmouth… just to name the British sailors. Still others were French, Dutch, and Afro-Caribbean.
In terms of the game itself, the early 18th Century was chosen to feasibly tie-in with the time-frame of Edward Kenway, the father of Haytham Kenway in Assassin's Creed III, and as it was an important period in the escalation of piracy in the region. The Treaty of Utrecht left the British Empire with less territory on the Caribbean, and lots of men were jettisoned from the Navy as a result. They took to piracy to seek fortune, to survive and, perhaps, seek revenge on the Empire and King that had sold them short.
But of course there were definite events that sparked this particular surge, and in the case of AC4BF, it is the Treaty of Utrecht that pushes our characters into a life of maritime crime. This treaty, which effectively ended all hostile engagements between the major European empires, led to a massive purge of active British soldiers from the royal navy. The British just didn’t have enough land in the West Indies to warrant a massive standing army. So it’s not difficult to understand why so many sailors now idle and out of work, would turn to plundering Spanish ships for a quick score of rum, food, tobacco, sugar and gold. And once they got used to the idea of plundering Spaniards, why stop there?
McDevitt makes clear that plenty of research has gone into Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag to make its environments authentic recreations, arguing that the "overall 'feel' of this world is astounding, and far richer than any pirate themed experience ever made."
The biggest difference will be in the scope of our portrayal. When we wanted to make a game set in this era, we didn’t say “We want to make a Pirate game”… we challenged ourselves further with “We want to make a game about the early 18th century, of which pirates were a large part.” And I think we have succeeded. We wouldn’t have been content to simply paint everything in this world with a pirate theme – this would have been dull and easy. Instead, we focused on bringing the entire era to life… and this means paying attention to as many details as possible. What songs were the people singing, what crops were they growing, what sort of people were roaming these oceans, what was life as a sailor like, etc. Assassin’s Creed has always put a huge emphasis on historical immersion and AC4BF is no exception.
You can check out the video below, which has a few snippets of gameplay footage at the end.