Charlotte Corday, left of centre, being taken to her execution in an 1889 painting by Arturo Michelena. Image: Public Domain
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Ubisoft drops playable female character from Assassin's Creed: Unity because "it's too much work"

The developer has dropped female playable characters from the game because apparently it was too difficult.

Oh, video games. What is it about you that makes you so terrible with women? No other art form is so consistently dismissive, disrespectful, and indeed hateful about women regardless of genre. This isn't because gaming is inherently a sexist thing – and anyone who says it is doesn't understand gaming - but probably because the people who make the games are, themselves, completely naive about or dismissive of the issue, or very much not designing and creating games with the issue of female representation on their minds at any point.

Which brings us to Ubisoft, and Assassin's Creed: Unity, which was announced at the annual E3 games expo in Los Angeles this week. For those who haven't played it, the Assassin's Creed series is stupid but fun – you play as a man reliving the memories of his assassin ancestors, who creep and stab their way through historical periods like the Crusades and the Renaissance as part of some poorly-written end-of-the-world conspiracy cult narrative. Unity is the seventh installment in the series, sequel to the sixth installment, the confusingly-named Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. That was set among pirates, and Unity's schtick is to take the game to the streets of Paris during the French Revolution.

All of which is to say that it's a game where you play as an assassin, and the physical appearance of your character isn't essential to the plot (except for, eg, not wearing neon clothing when sneaking around in the shadows of a palace). Yet this is what happened when Ubisoft's technical director, James Thereien, spoke to Videogamer.com about why there isn't an option to play as a female assassin:

It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it's a question of focus and production," Therien explained. "So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it's something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision... It's unfortunate, but it's a reality of game development."

And then Ubisoft's creative director, Alex Amancio, said this in an interview with Polygon:

It's double the animations, it's double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets," Amancio said. "Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work."

"Because of that, the common denominator was [main character] Arno," Amancio said. "It's not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar."

That's right, ladies – you're officially considered an optional extra. This is an extraordinary thing that Ubisoft has managed, because the Assassin's Creed games are notorious for being bloated by mini-games and hidden extras, so much so that in an infamous reddit confession one of the developers who worked on Assassin's Creed III claimed that not only did most players and reviewers never unlock certain features hidden in the game, but that even he and his colleagues had no idea quite how many hidden features there were. Considering that there clearly were the resources to develop a high-definition recreation of 18th century Paris in-game, a complaint that adding an option to play as a woman would be too much extra work comes across as poor management at best.

And then there's Charlotte Corday, pictured above, the so-called Angel of Assassination - a nickname she earned after murdering Jean-Paul Marat, a Jacobin leader and one of the key figures of the revolution. She is, arguably, the most famous assassin of all from the time period that Unity depicts. 

We can accept that developing a female lead player for the game would have been a touch more difficult than the patch that a professional animator used to change the original Legend of Zelda so that the player played as the princess, saving Link, but come on. Female gamers shouldn't have to keep hoping that developers will deign to grace them with respect in a possible future patch, or - even worse - in some possible update that has to be paid for, with a playable female character included alongside other optional extras like costume changes.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit