A University of Edinburgh art historian has helped build the immersive digital world of ninth century Baghdad for the latest installment in popular video game franchise Assassin’s Creed.
Dr Glaire Anderson, of Edinburgh College of Art’s School of History of Art, worked with game developers Ubisoft on Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the upcoming instalment in the Assassin’s Creed® franchise launching worldwide on October 12, 2023, which follows the early years of protagonist Basim Ibn Is’haq in the capital of the medieval Abbasid caliphate.
Dr Anderson provided expertise on medieval Islamic history, art, architecture, archaeology and civilisation to Ubisoft’s in-house history team, and contributed to a new educational feature, ‘History of Baghdad’, which offers players an interactive way to learn more about the game’s rich setting.
Picture - in-game image of Basim in the Bazaar from Mirage, from where the codex feature can be accessed
Stéphane Boudon, Creative Director for Assassin’s Creed Mirage at Ubisoft Bordeaux, said: “The ‘History of Baghdad’ is our new historical codex feature – information that players can find in the world, telling them about the culture, tradition and daily life of 9th century Baghdad.
“In addition to providing intensive seminars on medieval Islamic Art to the Ubisoft in-house history team, Glaire and her students contributed directly to this feature, reviewing texts written by our in-house historian Raphaël Weyland, and suggesting illustrations from museum collections.”
Picture - an example of the codex feature accompanying the Bazaar historical site
Players can discover a total of sixty-six historical sites throughout the in-game world of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, each serving as a portal to insights about the era, divided into five categories: Art & Science; Beliefs and Daily Life; Court Life; Economy; and Government.
Dr Anderson (pictured above) was one of four key advisors on the development of Assassin’s Creed Mirage, alongside Dr Vanessa Van Renterghem, specialist of medieval Baghdad; Dr Ali Olomi, Scholar of Islamic History; and Dr Raphaël Weyland, expert in Middle Eastern history. Museums contributing to the History of Baghdad feature include The David Collection, the Institut du monde arabe, The Khalili Collections, and Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.
Dr Anderson, who specialises in the history of medieval Islamic art and architecture, originally began using video game engines during her research, to visualise historic environments and architecture. She said:
I showed my work to my son, who was about 11 at the time, and he said, ‘Oh mom, if you’re interested in that kind of stuff you should check out Assassin’s Creed!’ I did, and I loved how they were visualising medieval Islamic monuments and urban environments.
"Then, when I learned they were engaging with museums and academics to enhance the educational aspects of their games, I reached out to Ubisoft’s head of world-building, historian Maxime Durand.
The University’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, helped me formalise the relationship.
The impact on my work has been dramatic. Collaborating with Ubisoft has allowed me to bring my work out of the university and share it with a broader audience of people of all ages who play video games. I respect what Ubisoft have achieved and how they are helping people engage with history. ”
She worked with two postgraduate researchers as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Digital Lab for Islamic Visual Culture & Collections, and was supported by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Barakat Trust. Dr Anderson added:
I've taught approximately three or four thousand university students in the US and the UK about the architecture, art, and history of the caliphal period over the course of my career. That's ordinary impact. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed games have introduced millions of players of all ages around the globe to medieval Islamic art, architecture, and history. That's extraordinary impact.”
Aileen Appleyard, Edinburgh Innovations’ Head of Business Development for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science, said:
We’re very proud to have supported Glaire in her work on Assassin’s Creed Mirage. It’s a brilliant example of the knowledge and expertise our CAHSS academics can bring to a whole range of industry applications – from gaming to international law to sustainable finance. We encourage others to get in touch with us at EI to discuss consultancy and other collaborative opportunities. ”