To illustrate just how much effort went into the video game recreation Ubisoft has released a short Q&A with some of the developers originally involved:
How long did it take just to create Notre Dame? (answered by level artist Caroline Miousse)
Overall, it took 14 months of production to create Notre Dame, both interior and exterior, and it took three weeks to dress its interior in accordance to the Revolution era. This period includes research, testing, asset production and, of course, the numerous adjustments and bug corrections. It ended up becoming our benchmark landmark, both for navigation and visual standards.
How did the lead game designer manage to create it in-game? (answered by Alex Pedneault)
For a landmark the size of Notre Dame, with its scale and architectural intricacies, we could find creative ways to travel around, on it and inside it. For starters, climbing Notre Dame is a lot of fun – you need to climb up amongst the arches, gargoyles, and spires – one of my favourite things to do is to climb atop one of the twin towers just to get a view of the city. If you do want to go inside it, then we made sure you had several entrances – of course there is a main door, but it might be guarded by enemies…. If you take your time, and look for other entrances, you will find open windows, locks that you can pick, or a trap door opened by a friendly character. Once inside, it really is a massive environment – you can literally travel around the balconies of Notre Dame, and look down at the churchgoers and working clergymen. This is true for all of our landmarks – they were conceived as little sandboxes that encourage exploration.
What has been the creative process? The main challenges, etc.? (answered by level artist Caroline Miousse)
First of all, there was a great deal of research and analysis involved in the production of such a famous landmark.
Now that we rely on a 1:1 ratio for the buildings, each detail becomes more important and requires more production time. With the right research and the right references, we managed to recreate the most iconic details and set high creative standards.
To produce this incredible cathedral, my colleague Pascal Barriault (the texture artist) and I have met a few challenges. We were constantly asking ourselves the following question: what details of the building stuck in people’s minds? What kind of images linger when we think about this architectural masterpiece? As video games creators, we have to wonder how anachronistic we can be when recreating such an iconic historical monument…
Once everything was set, we started recreating the building while adjusting our initial creative standards to ensure we were not straying off course. The first ideas that came to us were not necessarily the best ones, or the most optimal. Consequently, I needed to piece together everything separately from different modules and construct Notre Dame as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. In the end, it was a gigantic headache. Each module had its own specific use and could be inserted in several different places. All in all, the cathedral is made of 359 modules, and that does not even include the unique objects furnishing it.
Once you start chopping up this very imposing building, you have to triple-check every single element and evaluate its potential for player navigation and how it will fit with the other modules. And then repeat the same process for each new level…
One of the main challenges was to adequately choose these creative beacons without having actually visited the real Notre Dame. You can find tons of images on the web, but I was always missing perspectives on a room or on a section of the building. But you can always rely on your imagination and that is precisely what makes our jobs so wonderful!
Another major challenge was that Notre Dame served as a benchmark for all our landmarks. Many tests were performed on that giant building. And of course, the bigger the landmark, the more complex it becomes and the more work it requires. Each time a module had to be modified, 10 other modules were affected… We called it the domino effect!
But the most exciting challenge in this new generation of Assassin’s Creed was the seamless transition from interior to exterior. Since our landmarks are conceived as riddles on the inside and on the outside, connecting both ended up being very tricky, especially when dealing with gothic architecture!
Personally, I wanted to challenge myself to understand church architecture. Since I had never been formally taught architecture, I had to figure things out on my own to recreate Notre Dame’s structure in the most realistic way possible. But learning about something that fascinates you isn’t that hard!
Is Notre Dame used as a benchmark for building the other major landmarks of the city?
Notre Dame is almost like reality (1 :1 scale). In fact, it is exactly 90% of the real scale. Although some of the buildings in Assassin’s Creed Unity can be below this scale, we decided to put as much detail in it as possible in order to create this breathtaking landmark.
One of the reasons we decided not to have such a big scale for every landmark was mainly because some of our landmarks were overlapping each other with the 1:1 scale. For instance, Louvre, Palais Royal, and Halle aux Grains.
In other words, it would have been almost impossible for the production team to recreate 100% of Paris city with a 1:1 scale as the navigation would have been almost endless, and this would have significantly impacted the production time.
In regards to the time allocated to create Notre Dame, the 5,000 hours is justified mostly by the research time, the creation and the in-game transition as well as for all the qualitative tests and memory tests for the then next gen consoles.
All in all, Notre Dame was the benchmarks for all the graphic tests and memory tests for the new generation of consoles for Assassin’s Creed Unity. On top of that, this building allowed us to estimate the production cost for all the rest of the world. It also dictated the guideline and the basis for further buildings development. Being the key famous landmark for the game, we put more emphasis on the fidelity of its reproduction – as we were close to 1:1 it gave us an impressive amount of detail to reproduce and expand.
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