"To tell the origins of a character whose potential we loved": Assassin's Creed Mirage devs on the protagonist, setting, and more (Exclusive)
In many ways, Assassin's Creed Mirage is the franchise's return to its roots, and that is something players have been hoping for. From the thematic approach of playing as a Hidden One in the Middle East to the gameplay approach of a genre shift to a more linear action-adventure stealth route. Since its launch, the game has established itself as one of the best in the Assassin's Creed series.
Although originally planned as an expansion to Valhalla, Assassin's Creed Mirage was expanded to a mainline title at the Ubisoft Bordeaux studios. Typically, mainline Assassin's Creed titles are developed by Ubisoft Montreal or Ubisoft Quebec studios, with Bordeaux focusing on expansions like Wrath of the Druids. Mirage was also an opportunity for the studio to design and shape the AC title from the ground up, in their own vision, with Stephane Boudon and Sarah Beaulieu leading the charge as Creative and Narrative Directors.
Stephane Boudon is a Ubisoft Veteran starting level designer for the Red Steel franchise, Rayman Raving Rabbids, and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier; he later became a Senior Game Designer on Watch Dogs. Before Mirage, Boudon worked as the Content Director for Ghost Recon Wildlands and Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
As for Sarah Beaulieu, she joined the gaming industry with independent studios like Old Skull Games for a mobile game (Detective Jackie: Mystic Case), Draw Me a Pixel, Atlas V (AR and VR productions), Cineteve Experience, and Floreal Films (VR project). However, before that, she had over a decade of experience writing for theater movies, doctoring scripts for cinema and TV, and teaching scriptwriting. Before Mirage, Beaulieu worked as a writer on Beyond Good & Evil 2.
In a conversation with Sportskeeda, Boudon and Beaulieu dived deep into their experience developing Mirage.
Assassin's Creed Mirage Creative Director Stephane Boudon and Narrative Director Sarah Beaulieu on building the world of Bagdad, exploring the character of Basim, and more
Prior to Assassin's Creed Mirage, the Ubisoft Bordeaux team worked on the Wrath of the Druid expansion for Valhalla, which, in many ways, laid the groundwork for some of the horror elements explored in Mirage with the Jinn.
While Sarah Beaulieu, the narrative director for Mirage, didn't work on Wrath of the Druid, she shared the experience of the team going from developing the expansion to a mainline title. She said:
"Personally, I didn't work on Assassin's Creed Wrath of the Druids. However, I know that the Bordeaux team, including myself, is proud to have had the opportunity to develop an Assassin’s Creed game. We took this responsibility very seriously; it was a strong desire from the team to return to the roots of the franchise."
Following Valhalla's success and Ubisoft Bordeaux's praiseworthy work on Wrath of the Druids, Mirage was originally planned as a year-two expansion to Valhalla, much like Dawn of Ragnarok.
However, soon after, the team decided to turn it into a standalone mainline title. Speaking of the decision behind this shift, creative director Stephane Boudon and Sarah Beaulieu, the narrative director for Mirage, collectively mentioned:
"The decision to make Mirage a standalone was made in a few weeks. We had the opportunity to return to the Middle East, to tell the origins of a character whose potential we loved – Basim. It was for these two reasons that we decided to make Mirage a full-fledged game. Also, as fans of the early Assassin’s Creed games, we saw the opportunity to return to a more condensed formula and to work on an open city as a playground for an assassin."
Mirage is often hailed as the franchise's return to its roots after the trifecta of RPG games. While fans were initially excited about the RPG direction with the phenomenal debut of Origins, they missed the series' core stealth action-adventure aspect when it came to Odyssey and Valhalla, even though both games were successful in their own rights.
When asked about the decision to return to the franchise's more condensed roots after the three RPG games, Boudon and Beaulieu stated:
"Assassin’s Creed Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla made you live epic fantasies where only the RPG style could reflect your progression and the choices you have to make to forge your destiny as a medjay, a demi-god, or a Viking. With Assassin’s Creed Mirage, we wanted to make you live the experience of an Assassin and his coming-of-age from a street thief to a Master Assassin."
Compared to the previous protagonists, Basim is the first character whose future was established beforehand as a prominent side character in Valhalla. Speaking on the matter, the developers shared:
"Unlike the other games the destiny of Basim is well known, which is why for us it made perfect sense to move away from the RPG as we wanted a more condensed progression to highlight this rise in power and a more intimate storyline as well."
Modern-day segments in Assassin's Creed have always been an exciting, albeit inconsistent part of the game ever since players first discovered Desmond in the original title. In recent entries, the focus of the modern day has shifted to Layla, with Valhalla's ending twist (Spoilers!!) trapping her in Animus and bringing Basim to the modern day.
Although this did seem to set Basim as the first AC protagonist to be present in both the past and the present, the team at Ubisoft Beourdex consciously decided not to explore the modern era. Speaking on the matter the developers said:
"There are no modern-day segments in Mirage. The introduction sets up a few elements before entering the Animus, but we chose to focus solely on Basim's story in Baghdad."
The settings of each Assassin's Creed title play a vital role in setting up the game's atmosphere and characterizations. Be it the Italian Renaissance or Industrial Revolution London, the games have been set in some of the most iconic periods of history, where the heart of the world was, and Mirage is no exception.
The eighth-century Bagdad was the beating heart of the Islamic Golden Age, being at the center of arts, science, medical developments, and the silk route connecting the Eastern Asian empires to the Western European kingdoms. Speaking on the experience building this historic city, Boudon and Beaulieu stated:
"During our early research, we quickly identified Baghdad as the perfect city for an Assassin’s Creed game. Our games are known for being gateways to historical moments. The city of Baghdad in the 9th century had never been represented in a video game yet. It was a period when the city was at the center of the world, a multicultural and commercial crossroads. We had the opportunity to rebuild this city, to show people how important this place was."
"It was also a period where the Golden Age was beginning to transition into a more challenging time. Assassin’s Creed games often depict these pivotal periods."
While Bagdad has been pretty prominent in history books, much of the city's history has been lost to time. That presented a perfect opportunity for the developers to have creative freedom in building a bustling city and designing a living, breathing world. Speaking of the experience, the two developers said:
"Recreating Baghdad was a thrilling experience for us. Of course, we worked with experts and historical materials to bring the most accurate possible depiction of Baghdad, but because it is also a lost city with almost nothing left from that time, it was also a chance for us. Naturally, this lack of information let us have creative freedom on architecture, building placements, and urbanism to create the gameplay and the story we wanted."
Of course, besides making it historically accurate, the developers also had a responsibility to make it fun from a gameplay perspective, which, in the case of any Assassin's Creed title, is parkour. From jumping over rooftops to climbing buildings to doing the iconic leap of faith, Bagdad is a city ripe for a return to the roots with parkour. Speaking on designing the city, the developers further added:
"Going back to a scope focusing on an open-city was also a major improvement for parkour. Indeed, the density of the buildings, those iconic flat roofs, and minarets, helped us to build parkour highways in the best way possible, bringing intricated and full of opportunities parkour routes and challenges, exactly like in those early games."
Since its introduction in Unity, black-box missions have become beloved mechanics in the core Assassin’s Creed experience. The individual missions present you with a sandbox with multiple ways to execute a target with additional side objectives. Speaking on the Blackbox mechanics, Boudon and Beaulieu said:
"Each of our Black box is different in that sense, some are linear focusing on immersing you in a specific context, others are more open letting you decide how to tackle your objective. That’s because we built those black boxes missions with the narrative context in mind and with the strong thematic each location you’ll visit and investigate can bring."
Mirage is very much a linear experience. However, toward the middle of the game, it opens up the opportunity to approach different targets in any order the player likes. Speaking of the experience, the developers stated:
"From the beginning of the project, we wanted a character-driven game, meaning we knew where we were going with Basim and how he would evolve. Therefore, we chose a more linear introduction and a more linear ending than the previous games. But to ensure that the player feels the freedom they've been accustomed to in the recent Assassin’s Creed games, I was asked to keep a more open part in the middle of the game. Therefore, the player is free to approach the assassinations of the various targets in the order they prefer or to explore the world and go back to the main story whenever they feel like it."
Mirage has become easily one of the best Assassin's Creed games in the modern era, with Basim undoubtedly becoming one of the most interesting protagonists alongside Ezio and Edward. While rumors suggest next year's title, Codename Red, will be a more RPG-esque approach in Feudal Japan, it is yet to be seen how much it will be affected by Mirage's success.
Check out our Assassin's Creed Mirage Review.