At rAge, we got the chance to sit down with Daniel Bingham from Ubisoft Quebec. Bingham was a scriptwriter for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and helped bring the world of ancient Greece to life right in front of us.
So what is a scriptwriter? How many people does it take to write a game like Odyssey, with its long journey through the Peloponnesian War? Well, we asked him that, as well as a bunch more. Check the video below, which means you can hear it straight from the man himself, in his own words and voice! Added bonus, I don’t need to sit and transcribe an interview. See we all win. If you asked Markos in Kephallonia, everybody benefits!
So sit back and listen to how a new creed game is made, what it is like joining into such a long, established franchise and possibly the most important question ever, Alexios or Kassandra?
Update: We apologise again for the sound quality, so here is a transcription of the interview. Technology is somewhat wonderful, I guess.
Garth: Hey SA Gamer I am here with Daniel Bingham. He is from Ubisoft Quebec, and is a scriptwriter for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. My first question is what is a scriptwriter?
Daniel: Oh man well, first it started with the research. Because the game Assassin’s Creed is very historical I spent about a month just researching before I got to write a single word of dialogue. We showed up and they were like “Here, watch these videos, read these books, meet with our historian”. So that was the beginning of it. Then we would all sit down with our creative directors and they would give us the full story; the big picture: The beginning, the middle, the end and all the major story beats that they want to hit along the way. ACO is the biggest world we have ever created so we also have the biggest writing team that we have ever had. So we had about 12 writers across 3 different studios. So they broke us off into different episodes, different parts of the world, very much like how a TV show would break a season into different episodes, that’s what we did. You’re given certain regions of the world to write in, and along the way certain writers became attached to certain characters. Like I got to write a lot for Barnabas and Leonidas and Herodotus.
Garth: I wanted to ask if you wrote any specific characters and you mentioned Herodotus. What kind of processes and challenges are there for writing a character that is respected and a real historical figure?
Daniel: It is a little nerve-wracking at first because you want to get it right. Fortunately for people like Herodotus, Sokrates… Well, Sokrates didn’t write anything himself but he has been written about a lot so there was a lot of reference material to get a sense of how he sounded. Herodotus as well, I read a lot of things that he had written just to get a sense of his style and how he spoke. He liked to embellish a lot, he would like to be poetic at times so I tried to incorporate that and then you like to put your own spin on things to bring these characters to live. I took as much as I could from what I read and then added a bit of my own seasoning if you will.
Garth: Is there a specific quest or section that you are particularly proud of?
Daniel: Mentioning Herodotus, there is a part (I don’t want to spoil anything for the players) but there is a moment where Alexios or Kassandra meet Herodotus and they have a few conversations and there is one conversation in particular that they have where he tells the player “You carry the spear of Leonidas, act like it”. It was just a little line that was written but that moment got put into our reveal trailer that we showed at E3 and I think it was the coolest moment in the trailer. The way they brought that to life is just, as a writer, super cool to see.
Garth: How do you manage fitting into the Assassin’s Creed lore and franchise?
Daniel: Books and books of stuff. I am still learning like I didn’t even know that Abstergo makes nutritional supplements and *laughs* I’m still learning the lore. It is a lot.
Garth: Is there someone that you correspond with while writing? Like a lore expert or do you have to go reading yourself.
Daniel: It is a bit of everything. This is my first Assassin’s Creed project. This is my first video game project so we had people like Melissa MacCoubrey the narrative director. She knows all the lore, she has read the encyclopedias, so I would consult with her a lot. The I would also go and find whatever was available online. We have all the books in our studio so I would be flipping through the pages and also playing as much of the other games as possible.
Garth: How would you say work in other fields have translated into game writing?
Daniel: Well, I was a stand-up comedian before this. Which has been an interesting difference cause now I have to wait three years to hear the laugh. But I think my entire creative career, every aspect of it – writing for a web marketing company, advertising, doing stand-up comedy, being a story-teller, studying film and television, I think all of it together is what prepared me for this.This is the most collaborative project I have ever worked on. Being an actor as well helped me when I could be with the actors during the motion capture sessions or when they were in the voice recording booth. I know what it is like to be in their shoes so I am able to communicate with them. Everything that I learned prepared me for this project.
Garth: How much extra work into writing a story with two possible protagonists?
Daniel: *laughs* I don’t even know how to measure that. The story is the same for both characters so it wasn’t necessarily double the work.I often felt like I had to split my brain in two when writing for them because there are moments in the game where I felt very much like I was writing for Alexios and there were other moments where it felt very much like I was writing for Kassandra and we would have to go back and make sure that it would fit for both. It was definitely an incredible experience as a writer.
Garth: Do you have an idea of a rough word count of the game?
Daniel: Word count no but I think in terms of lines of dialogue it is somewhere around 32,000 lines of dialogue. I know we have 30 hours of interactive cinematic dialogue so that is roughly three seasons of Game of Thrones.I know we have more lines of dialogue than they had lines of verse in the poem The Odyssey.
Garth: So in AC Origins we had neket-iadet and now we have malakes, and stupid malaka. Do you specially look for a curse word that becomes a part of the story?
Daniel: In the earlier days, in earlier scripts we had a wide variety of curse words.One of them was I think sting-ray face. I forget what the Greek word for sting-ray face is but as soon as we found out there was a curse word for sting-ray face, we were calling everyone sting-ray face. At a certain point along the way they told us to cut it back then malaka became the one, the global curse word that everyone recognises and everyone knows.
Garth: It really stays with you, I am calling people stupid malaka.
Daniel: I know I am using it all the time. The word itself can be used in a variety of ways. Malaka, malakas, malakias, a very diverse.
Garth: Are you an Alexios or a Kassandra?
Daniel: Ah the question. Honestly Alexios definitely delivers some lines in my favourite way but I think overall I enjoy playing as Kassandra.
Garth: What is your process for writing bad guys, because some of the stuff they do is pretty dark.
Daniel: I like to put myself in a very dark place. I like to call myself a method writer so I like to draw as much as possible from personal experiences (not that I have done evil things) but I like to try get myself in that frame of mind as much as possible so often I will listen to the darkest music I can get my hands on, a lot of Game of Thrones soundtrack actually. I was listening to a lot of that while writing scenes. Reading dark material, watching dramas and drawing inspiration from everywhere. Music for me is a big one. I like to have some background music playing to get me in the mood. We have a few bear quests so I would be listening to the Revenant soundtrack a lot for those ones.
Garth: Even with the heavy story and events, this felt lighter than Origins. Was that playing to one of your strengths with the stand-up comedy?
Daniel: As a comedian I did try to inject humour wherever was possible but I think some of my prouder moments are more of the dramatic ones. Thankfully because there is such a wide variety of quests, it allowed me to capture a wide variety of tones.
Garth: On the ship Barnabus tells a lot of tall tales but you never hear the full story.
Daniel: Are you wondering if we have a vault with all the endings to those stories? Maybe in the DLC you will get to hear the endings. Barnabus was one of my favourite characters to write for. He is super fun. We like to think of him as a Greek Santa Claus. He is great and as a huge fan of ancient Greek history myself, we got to put a lot of it through his voice. A lot of his knowledge about the world and the gods and the mythology was super fun.
Garth: It was interesting seeing a deeply spiritual pirate.
Daniel: Well he used to be a mercenary himself and well things happened and he switched to a more spiritual path for sure.