Ancillary materials for games are nothing new. There have been toys, posters, shirts and many other products based on popular games, and novels are in there somewhere too. BioWare has been especially good about rounding out their complex stories with novels that expand on the worlds and settings, but Ubisoft has been doing some interesting work as well. We got a chance to talk with Christie Golden, who has written novels for Star Trek, StarCraft, WarCraft and is obviously well versed in playing in the worlds of these big properties. Now she’s done the same for Assassin’s Creed, with a book that partly explores the historical worlds of the Assassins, and partly looks at the corporate culture of Abstergo Entertainment, the corporation trying to uncover the secrets of the Assassins.
Christie Golden: Very much so! I had such a great time working on “Blackbeard: The Lost Journal,” and the the Employee Handbook was a terrific idea that I had a blast working on.
CGM: What are the challenges when blending history with fiction?
CG: It’s almost a triple challenge when you are writing not just historical fiction, but “history” as another party has created it. I of course want to tell a good story, and while this isn’t a novel per se, it’s definitely fiction. I also want to make sure I know my history, so I did quite a bit of research on the French Revolution, as well as the characters who are featured in the “Historical Personages” segments. At the same time, I couldn’t disagree with the unique history created by the Assassin’s Creed games. So it was definitely something that stretched me creatively!
CGM: What was the relationship like with Ubisoft in creating this book?
CG: I have the most contact with my editor at Insight Editions, Vanessa Lopez, but there was some back and forth with Ubisoft this time around. They, more than anyone, seemed delighted by the idea of the Employee Handbook, and were great sports about providing some inside jokes (such as letting me use names of Ubisoft employees in places!)
CGM: There are a number of Abstergo corporate documents in the book like a non-disclosure agreement. Did you do any research to work on your “corporate-speak”?
CG: Is it bad to say I didn’t have to? Perhaps I have missed my calling and should be writing advertising copy! Seriously, it was great fun to write, and I found myself giggling quite a bit. I did do online research on how things like memos, the NDA, and so on would be written, to get the verbiage and structure right. But for the most part, I just let myself have fun with it. My favorite contribution was the suggestion for the new logo for “Herne+”. That still makes me laugh when I see it.
CGM: The book has a lot of beautiful artwork from many of the games, and some concept artwork for the Abstergo office. It’s a beautiful building, but after writing their corporate policies would you work there?
CG: I think I would balk at agreeing to have my memories wiped… but then again I hear they have a great benefits package. With dental.
CGM: Abstergo and the Templars have always been the antagonists in Assassin’s Creed, but Ubisoft has always tried to make their relationship with the Assassins more grey than black and white. How did you strike that balance in the book?
CG: With the storyline of Unity, the lines blurred even more. There were friendships here between Assassins and Templar, and in the case of Arno and Elise, something much deeper. The conflict is long-standing, but I think it’s poignant to realize that sometimes, the gulf can be bridged. When you read the book, I hope you are really pulling for Elise and Arno to get everyone to work together—but then, there’d be no game.
CGM: What research did you do to write the letters from the different characters in the game, like Arno or Robert Fraser?
CG: One of my gifts as a writer is an ability to imagine dialogue so clearly I can almost hear it. After having the chance to read the script of Unity, I could very easily replicate Arno’s playful manner of speaking. As Fraser was my own creation, I got to determine how he spoke and thought. I envisioned him as a rather stolid, boring character when we meet him, so when things start to happen to him as he spends more time “in the chair,” we see him becoming more artistic and lyrical.
CGM: Did you have any creative input in the way those characters were portrayed in this book and if so what was that input?
CG: I really…hmmm, “enjoy” isn’t the word, but…writing Arno’s letters to his father was very meaningful to me. In order to properly portray poor Fraser’s confusion and pain as he began to identify more and more with Arno, I took a lot of time in carefully crafting his word choice, inflections, and so on.
CGM: There is a lot of background on characters and events from previous games in the book. Is this for newcomers to the franchise who want to catch up or for longtime fans who want to dig deeper into the story?
CG: I think it has something to offer both groups. Longtime fans who know the details of the game will get a laugh out of spotting references from other games in other Abstergo Entertainment “products” (I especially enjoy “History’s Hitmen”). Newcomers might find it especially entertaining–their “progress” as a Templar agent should be particularly exciting as nothing is familiar yet. And everyone is going to appreciate some of the amazing artwork provided by Insight Editions. It’s just breathtaking.
CGM: At the end of the novel, a letter mentions the Templars are aware that Robert Fraser leaked Abstergo documents to one of the Assassins, Bishop. Will we see that information manifest itself in the next game and what does that mean for the future of the series?
CG: I have no idea if we’ll see that connection… but wouldn’t it be fun?
CGM: Where can people buy their own copy of the Abstergo Entertainment: Employee Handbook?
CG: Online, you can order it Amazon.com, BN.com, and www.insighteditions.com. Elsewhere, I’ve seen in Barnes & Noble. Check your local independent bookstore too!