News that Ubisoft scuttled plans for including female playable characters in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Unity was met by scorn and derision by many video game commentators last night.
Speaking in an interview with Polygon, Unity creative director Alex Amancio said that while they originally planned to include female assassins, the “reality of production” made adding the additional characters too costly.
The studio “had to” cut female assassins from the co-op mode, Amancio explained in response to a question from Polygon’s Ben Kuchera, because keeping them in would have doubled the cost of pretty much everything.
“It’s double the animations, double the voices, all that stuff, double the visual assets - especially because we have customisable assassins,” Amancio said.
As a result, “it was really a lot of extra production work,” Amancio continued. “And it’s not like we could cut our main character Arno.”
The developer’s explanation struck many Assassin’s Creed fans as odd since Ubisoft’s popular series of historically-themed open-world murder simulators has featured female assassins in a number of playable and non-playable roles for years now.
Since 2010′s Brotherhood, players have been able to suit up as female killers in competitive multiplayer modes and enlist female recruits into the team of assassins they amass during single player campaigns. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, a 2012 instalment for the PlayStation Vita, even had a women of colour in its starring role.
Other game developers such as Naughty Dog animator and former Ubisoft animation director (for Assassin’s Creed III, no less) Jonathan Cooper questioned Ubisoft's logic.
"In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two's work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations," Cooper tweeted.
Ubisoft issued an official statement on the controversy this morning.
"We recognise the valid concern around diversity in video game narrative. Assassin’s Creed is developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs and we hope this attention to diversity is reflected in the settings of our games and our characters.
"Assassin’s Creed Unity is focused on the story of the lead character, Arno. Whether playing by yourself or with the co-op Shared Experiences, you the gamer will always be playing as Arno, complete with his broad range of gear and skill sets that will make you feel unique.
"With regard to diversity in our playable Assassins, we’ve featured Aveline, Connor, Adewale and Altair in Assassin’s Creed games and we continue to look at showcasing diverse characters. We look forward to introducing you to some of the strong female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity."
This is hardly the first time a major game company has waved off including a more diverse set of characters by citing logistical hurdles. Earlier this year, another set of Ubisoft developers said that the company won’t be introducing gay protagonists any time soon “because of fears that it will impact sales”.