'Assassin's Creed' offers surprising help in Notre Dame restoration
As images of flames engulfing the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral began spreading on April 15, 2019, Maxime Durand initially thought it was a hoax.
"It really took me a full day to put words to the feelings that I had regarding this," Durand told Business Insider in a phone interview on April 17, 2019.
Notre-Dame is personal to Durand. He's the historian in charge of overseeing historical representations in the blockbuster "Assassin's Creed" franchise, and he spent four years overseeing the creation of "Assassin's Creed Unity" — a game set during the French Revolution that contains a stunningly accurate depiction of Notre-Dame Cathedral as its centerpiece.
"I think a lot of my colleagues joined me in that same feeling where we didn't know how to react precisely," he said. "Our first thought wasn't on 'Assassin's Creed Unity' until we started seeing the reaction from the fans who started playing again and sharing reactions on social networks. That really surprised us."
In the following days, the French game developer and publisher behind the "Assassin's Creed" games, Ubisoft, pledged half a million Euros to rebuilding efforts.
The company also offered its expertise, which makes a lot of sense: Two Ubisoft staffers spent "over 5,000 hours" researching Notre-Dame Cathedral, inside and out.
"Because this is 'Assassin's Creed,' players are able to climb over and go everywhere on the monument, so we have to make sure that the details would be well done," Durand said. "Because [Notre-Dame Cathedral] was the most iconic monument that we had for 'Assassin's Creed Unity,' obviously we really wanted to put in all the efforts to make sure that it was really, really beautiful but also representative of the monument."
That said, because of the fact that "Assassin's Creed Unity" was developed between 2010 and 2014, Ubisoft wasn't yet using 3D mapping technology to recreate monuments. Fans hoping that Ubisoft has detailed blueprints of the cathedral may be disappointed to learn that this isn't the case.
"I've seen some comments this week of people mentioning that we probably sent an army of drones to scan the whole monument back in these days," Durand said. "Reality is that photogrammetry — the ability to scan monuments — was technology that we added later in the 'Assassin's Creed' franchise, on 'Assassin's Creed Origins,' actually."
If Egypt needs help rebuilding an ancient pyramid, Ubisoft is ready — that isn't the case for Notre-Dame Cathedral, unfortunately.
"Back then we really relied on pictures — photos, videos — of modern day Notre-Dame," Durand said. Ubisoft does have "a huge database" of information on the cathedral, and that could no doubt help in the rebuilding effort, but Durand is skeptical that the French government will come asking.
"I'd be very surprised if the architects that will work on the spire will actually engage us in participating," he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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