Waking up early is never easy for me. As a notoriously poor sleeper, I’m often late to slumber and a real grouch in the morning. However, after Ubisoft generously invited me to attend a digital event on the creation of their new Viking playground how could I refuse? My love for history far outweighs my need to sleep so I was delighted to put on a big pot of coffee and learn everything I could about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – Not a Loki event
There were four panels total, each with a different group of speakers. These panels featured Narrative Director Darby McDevitt, producer Julien Laferrière, level design director Phillippe Bergeron and Raphael Lacoste the art director as the core developers.
Cecilie Stenspil and Magnus Bruun, the two lead actors also joined as well as composer Einar Selvik. A number of historians and professors were also included such as Thierry Noël, Lucie Malbos and Ryan Lavelle.
The Ultimate Viking Fantasy by Assassin’s Creed
We started with “The Ultimate Viking Fantasy by Assassin’s Creed.” This was a fairly general panel, focusing on the broad strokes of the game. When asked about why they chose this particular time period the answer was charmingly simple: Vikings are awesome! They then went into detail about how they prepared four presentations to pitch to Ubisoft heads in Paris, each focused on a key even in Viking history.
To the teams delight their favourite option was green-lit almost immediately: the invasion of England. That’s right, famed invader England once was threatened by a taste of their own medicine! Following Origins and during the development of Odyssey the team kept track of player retention to decide the scale of their new world and length of the story.
Speaking of the story, they had to change some of their approach to side-missions. Now that you’re playing as the invader it wouldn’t make sense for English locals to ask for your aid. You’ll get quests from fellow Vikings mostly. These will be based on the episodic nature of Viking literature.
A Hela Good Time in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The lead actors described the sheer volume of their work for the game, comparing it to shooting ten seasons of a show. You can change Eivor from male to female at any point with an in-game Animus explanation. This meant both actors had to record all the dialogue and the final script came to over 36,000 lines: not counting grunts and screams!
To create this authentic experience the team went on a trip to Norway and England. This also helped with the sense of scale. Their highlights included a stay at a Viking longhouse where they pretended to be guests of a Jarl, as well as fishing and hiking outings. This adventure also led to the art team designing a much more colourful game as they witnessed the vibrant beauty of these locations. Of historic interest, they also visited Hadrian’s Wall and the site of the original Viking invasion.
History is Our Playground
Next up was the panel entitled “History is Our Playground”. This is an in-game slogan used by the malicious Abstergo Corporation but here it was anything but. A surprising revelation from the lecturers in attendance was that Wikipedia is in fact a good source of information! As long as you scroll down on every page to use the citations instead naturally. For detail-heavy endeavours like this, they recommended sticking with experts but when there are gaps in information to get creative.
For example, there’s a 30 period in this history where a war is meant to have happened but historians have yet to nail down exactly when! This allowed the developers to use it in a way that best suits their story. Another great source of information was the Domesday Book; a great survey of England and Wales from 1086.
Viking trend in entertainment
Following this was a talk about the “Viking trend in entertainment”. The inherent appeal of Vikings as the idea of an almost superhuman warrior was discussed. Their role as a link between different peoples and places as they explored Europe was another fascinating point. Recent popular TV shows such as Vikings and The Last Kingdom have further expanded their popularity in pop culture.
This lead to a discussion about the music of the game. Einar Selvik had experience in this field and even worked on drunken reveries and battle cries to keep a consistent musical voice on the experience. Before he was hired Ubisoft had been using his work as temp music and he was always their first choice. Selvik used the lyre and horns frequently, loving the unpredictable behaviour of the latter. A short pre-recorded video of him performing was then played, a wonderful preview of the soundtrack to come!
Nordic Mythology and the Sagas, Medieval England
The final panel was “Nordic Mythology and the Sagas, Medieval England”. Here we learned that much of what we know from Norse mythology is from the 13th century. Most of this information comes from Hávamál, a book supposedly written by Odin himself chronicling his adventures. The stories included words of wisdom like “Take care when going through a new doorway!” My favourite was “Get a good nights rest, don’t take worries to bed”.
Blending the mythology with the Assassin’s Creed lore was an interesting challenge which led to the Seer character. This figure is responsible for showing visions of Ragnarok in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, setting the events of the game into motion. The possibility of visiting other realms was also mentioned. Personally, the idea of assassinating Frost Giants is very tantalising…
There you have it! A feast of Viking knowledge worthy of the halls of Valhalla. Of course, this is only scratching the surface of what looks to be an incredibly expansive world of Gods and monsters. Most surprising for me was realising how much I’ve missed getting up early for history lessons since secondary school!