Yesterday Polygon reported that Ubisoft would not include female assassin characters in its upcoming title Assassin’s Creed: Unity. When they were asked why, Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio said, “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work. It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”
Ubisoft’s technical director also told Video Gamer “It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things.”
But how does 3D animation function and is it really double the work for opposite sexes? “Skeletal animation is the process of taking a skeleton, which consists of a set of interconnected bones, animating it, and then attaching the vertices of a mesh model to the skeleton,” writes Marc Soriano, a professor at the Bourns College of Engineering. “Skeletal animation is typically used for animating characters that are complex and not amorphic. Humans, mammals, insects, and even invertebrates, such as worms are suitable candidates.” According to Ubisoft, creating a female character would require the re-creation of “over 8,000 animations” and whole new skeletal models. Jonathan Cooper, the animation director at Naughty Dog, claims the opposite.
In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations. http://t.co/z4OZl3Sngl
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) June 11, 2014
Cooper was also involved in the development of Assassin’s Creed III and tweeted the following.
It is true that when creating different characters, it makes sense to create different rigs and animation in order to give the models a sense of personality. I created a thread on Reddit (1 and 2) to get a professional point of view on the difference between male and female animations. Some agreed that male and female animation rigs could be used interchangeably.
Others disagree, saying it would take many production hours to create a whole new animation.
The lazy developer argument is, for the most part, insulting and untrue. Creating games requires an exorbitant amount of resources and hard working people. Games like Assassin’s Creed require multiple studios in order to ship a new title every year. However, Ubisoft has, in the past, been accused of recycling assets and animations for its other games. Most recently the studio was accused of using the same running animations from the Assassin’s Creed series in its latest game, Watch Dogs. “Watch Dogs uses a brand new engine called Disrupt, developed specifically for the game at Ubisoft Montreal. It’s not Assassin’s Creed engine” said Sebastian Viard, technical director at Ubisoft. Below are a few examples of similar animations of separate characters, sometimes from different games in Ubisoft’s portfolio.
Ubisoft might be pulling our legs when it says creating a female main character would be double the work. Technically female skeletons and animation rigs already exist in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Not only was there a female main character in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, but there have been female characters in every single multiplayer iteration of the franchise.
The animations above are very similar and are all from female characters in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The Brotherhood multiplayer character above doesn’t exactly have the same animations from later titles, but they are indeed very similar. So is the exclusion of female characters in Assassin’s Creed: Unity the “reality of development,” or is it just lazy? If it’s indeed true, wouldn’t that mean no female avatars in the inevitable multiplayer mode as well? After all, they would need to “recreate all the animations.”
There already exists a plethora of other Assassin’s Creed titles to pull animations and rigs from. It seems possible, or at least reasonable, to reuse the various animations and rigs Ubisoft has already created in past titles. Unlike most franchises, Assassin’s Creed is annualized, meaning a new game is released every year. Assassin’s Creed: Unity is (as of writing this) only four months away from being released. It might be possible that there was, or is, no time to create the female Assassin and optimize it correctly, but it seems strange, and unlikely, considering the number of playable female avatars in previous titles, as well as Ubisoft’s size and financial status.
What do you think? Is it developer laziness? Or is Ubisoft being reasonable? Let us know in the comments below.