This serves as a preliminary analysis of the ACO Discovery Tour. The interactive projects are available here. For more information on these specific project methods, see these posts on the temporal and spatial mapping projects.
For the past few decades, digital games have become a common method for learning and engagement. The study of serious games and gamification are not new fields though the ability to access serious games and creating a game has become more accessible for individuals. The acceptance of games as a form of engaging education has also increased and the idea of edutainment as a method for learning has been discussed in academic literature. Additionally, the unique second-person experience of playing a game differs from that of engaging with a text, film, or audio by allowing the individual to engage in a beneficial way with the material. With these factors of accessibility and acceptance of the use of games, recent studies have also shown that a large portion of the population has played some type of game, making it a relevant and necessary discussion as a form of pedagogy. In particular, Assassin’s Creed as a franchise has been studied in various aspects of pedagogy, culture, and built environments.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a digital game based in 430 BC Greece. The game itself is primarily open-world, meaning players are able to explore the built virtual landscape of Ancient Greece as the embodiment of a fictional character – either Kassandra or Alexios. Ubisoft, the game development company, reconstructed Ancient Greece in immense detail for the game to provide a realistic and immersive environment for players. The engagement in the game of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey comes from not only the player’s ability to interact with various characters and stories but also in the ability to learn about and explore the Ancient Greek world and culture as understood and interpreted by the development team.
The game and its narrative provide a backdrop for the Discovery Tour. This is a separate part of the game, with educators and individuals being able to purchase the Discovery Tour on its own without the content and story of Assassin’s Creed. The Discovery Tour was released in 2019 as its own entity, free to those who already own Odyssey, thus allowing players to explore the environment built for the initial game within an educational context. The players of the Discovery Tour can explore the vast and detailed reconstruction of Ubisoft’s Ancient Greece while interacting with specific points of interest (POIs) and cinematic sequences called “Discovery Tours” which take the player through the specific game area and its assets as a way to present the information. Within the POIs and Tours themselves, there are optional sections showing further information, which appear as a button prompt for “more info.” This information is presented as written text over top of a static image of an artifact, painting, or picture and the metadata from where the static image was taken is displayed at the top of the screen (Figure 1). In this way, the players can view the interpretation of the specific game area or site and the static image in a critical way while learning about Ancient Greece.
Figure 1. Screenshot of a POI from the Discovery Tour with the interpretation on the left and the metadata at the top of the screen.
The static images are of interest in the analysis of presentation and interpretation to the player. The Discovery Touris interesting as an artifact in and of itself, with the game and its built environment becoming a snapshot of the current interpretation and understanding of the Ancient Greek world. This means that the Discovery Tour and the built environment of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can be explored archaeologically to determine various aspects of the game, its content, and the development of the tours. By examining the game as an artifact, and the static images as features of said artifact, an archaeogaming analysis can occur. As an artifact of the current archaeological interpretation and historical analysis of Ancient Greece, the Discovery Tour’s presentation of data and static images becomes particularly interesting to analyze. Additionally, the metadata present for each of the static images allows further exploration into the game development process. Using the metadata, the temporal and spatial location for each of these static images can be mapped out and visually presented for analysis.
The Discovery Tour metadata was provided to the authors in the form of a document with the static image, interpretation, and metadata present. This information was compiled to create two separate entities for spatial and temporal locations. Points of interest (POIs) for Ubisoft development stations were not included The spatial locations were visualized using the ArcGIS web platform by Esri and the temporal locations were visualized using the TimelineJS software by Knight Lab at Northwestern University. The temporal data for entry into TimelineJS was manually input into the Google Sheet template provided by Knight Lab. This meant that for each POI the data was manually entered into the Google Sheet.
The metadata for each image had to be categorized and sorted to map the locations of each of the static images, as well as sorted by location and time period. This means that for those images from museums, like the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California or the Louvre in Paris, France, were sorted and the coordinates for that museum or company were input into a spreadsheet. In the case where the images were not from a museum or company, the real-world location of the provided picture was used. This was done using the accompanying descriptions of each image. For example, if the static image was that of the Athenian Agora, the coordinates input for that location. Similarly, the number and time period for each static image were entered into accompanying columns on the spreadsheet for analysis in ArcGIS. The categories were that of antiquities, meaning images of artifacts of Roman or Greek periods, 17th Century through 20th Century works of art or pictures, and contemporary or modern pictures. The count for each of these was entered into the spreadsheet to function as a heat map in ArcGIS. Upon completion of the spreadsheet, the data was imported into ArcGIS online.
A total of 429 POIs, including those associated with Discovery Tour locations, were mapped. Out of the 429 POIs, there were 52 separate individuals, museums, or companies credited for the static images. The number of museums and points of interest per country were determined through the processing of compiling the metadata (Table 1). In terms of the number of points of interest provided for each location, the GIS map shows clusters in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These spots of concentration are the locations of static images of antiquities held in the Louvre in Paris, the Classical Numismatic Group in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (Figure 2).
The number of static images were also sorted by time period (Table 2). Out of the 429 static images, 284 of those images are antiquities, being from the Mycenaean period to the Roman period. Fifty are contemporary images or works of art. For 16th through 19th Century works of art and images, there is one from the 16th Century, four from the 17th Century, five from the 18th Century, and 35 from the 19th Century. Some of these works of art are reproductions of antiquities, some are paintings or other works of art, and some are excavation drawings and records. The resulting temporal and spatial map that was created is available as a dynamic and interactive map for further analysis and interpretation.
|Museums and POIs by Country
||# of Locations
||# of POIs
Table 1. Number of museums and points of interest (POIs) per country.
Figure 2. Screenshot of the ArcGIS map created to show the spatial locations for each static image.
Table 2. Number of static images per each time period.
The clusters of antiquities, specifically the hot spots from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and the Classical Numismatic Group, can be evaluated in several ways. There seems to be a clear indication that a number of Ancient Greek, and occasionally Roman, antiquities are housed in Western countries. The Met in New York City and the Louvre certainly contain numerous antiquities. The hotspot in the United Kingdom from the Classical Numismatic Group shows a specific location for the holdings of images of classical coins. In terms of game development, it is important to note that these two museums have the resources to house and present their images online. The game developers may have targeted specific museums and websites to obtain the images of the antiquities. The Louvre and the Met are well-known museums and the game developers may have known that these museums would have the images they needed online and would be able to obtain the rights to put the images into the Discovery Tour. These three institutions have the largest presence in terms of the heat map; however, it is important to note that they are not the only spots of concentration for the static images—though they are the highest spots of concentration. Other sources for the static images are mostly in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
The spatial mapping of this data shows that most of the images presented in the Discovery Tour come from these large institutions, and that only a handful of images come from modern Greece. On the map, the images from Greece are that of modern pictures provided by individuals and the public domain. While it is helpful to evaluate the 51 pictures provided by individuals, these are mainly the real-world locations as they exist in the modern period. There are several outliers, such as an image of metals from Bolivia.
As far as the temporal location of each static images, there is a clear cluster of images of antiquities. Though there are 85 images from the 19th to 21st Centuries, the most common images shown are those of an antiquity. When considering the interpretation, most times the static image is temporally relevant to the information being presented. This means that when the game is talking about the Mycenaeans, the image being presented is related temporally to the Mycenaeans and not the Ancient Greeks. When touring specific sites in the virtual world, the static image presented tends to be that of the modern condition of the site. The 16th through 19th Century works of art, specifically paintings, are generally associated with the illustrations of Greek myths.
The detail in the built environment in the Assassin’s Creed games has received attention as of late, especially in relation to their digital reconstruction of works of architecture. More recently, the Discovery Tours of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey have become a source of pedagogical debate, in both the academic discourse as well as in the promotional materials and initiative by Ubisoft themselves. The Discovery Tour combines the created assets of the digital game and its narrative by a high-budget studio with the ideas of gamification and serious games. While the Discovery Tour provides these ideas of edutainment, there is much to be studied from more than a pedagogical stance. The Discovery Tour, and indeed the game of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,becomes an artifact and a virtual built environment for exploration by the player and archaeologists alike. The current interpretation of Ancient Greek history can be seen in the built landscape as well as in the tour stations themselves in the interpretive texts and static images.
Within the exploration of the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Discovery Tour, there are several conclusions from the presentation of information and development of the games that can be drawn. Temporal information seems to generally line up with the presented text during in each of the Discovery Tour POIs. The exceptions to this are in cases of attempting to illustrate Greek mythology using more modern paintings and those showing the current state of the archaeological site. Spatially, the static images provide a different understanding of the current location of antiquities, the accessibility and availability of the images to developers, and the game development process. It appears that, at least for the development of the Discovery Tour the antiquities are currently being held in countries like the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. The exploration of the archaeological materials being housed in these countries and the analysis of the specific types of materials would benefit from further analysis and evaluation in the future. Additionally, the role of these museums and their online collections suggests an accessibility and availability for licensing for the game developers. The static images and their online presence in an easily searchable database of materials allows for ease of access when looking to represent a specific topic being discussed, meaning that it is possible that the game developers may have targeted specific museums or institutions when looking for static images. This would be in line with the fact that at least a third of the static images were from the aforementioned three museums and institutions.
Future work is necessary to better understand the association of the different periods and areas of the map. Additional exploration on the specific images associated in specific instances in the tour would also be beneficial. The potential for further analysis and evaluation of the Discovery Tour is evident in the continuing work of digital and experimental archaeological practices, combining the use of geographic information systems with other archaeological techniques to further interpret and explore the modern game development systems, virtual museums and online presence of museum artifacts and materials, and the representation and current discourse in archaeological, historical, and museum fields.
-Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
26 February 2020