IT HAS been a very busy year for the Ubisoft team, with at least three major releases under their belts.
While the outstanding Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and innovative Watch Dogs: Legion have garnered the bulk of the attention, Immortals Fenyx Rising also deserves some focus, especially as it brings something different to the table.
As a gaming parent, finding stuff that my kids can play and enjoy is frequently a challenge – a lot of games are either aimed at very young gamers or mature teenagers, but finding something for primary school and early high school-aged kids can be harder.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is aimed squarely at that demographic and both my primary-school aged children loved it – it was accessible, not too complicated, bright, humorous, and challenging without being frustratingly difficult.
Jeffrey Yohalem is a Writer’s Guild of America Award-winning and BAFTA-nominated games writer who is the narrative director for Immortals Fenyx Rising, and said while Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Immortals Fenyx Rising shared a lot of DNA – the latter game being borne out of the former project – they were separate entities with different tone and themes.
“The comedy in it (Fenyx) really makes it different to Odyssey – you have clumsy nerdy main character learning to be a hero,” he said.
“It’s almost like Fenyx sailed from the world of Odyssey into Immortals.”
While Odyssey certainly has its share of lighthearted and comedic moments, the developers decided to bring that to the forefront in Immortals.
“Growing up I loved fantasy books about a normal person being put into a magical situations,” Mr Yohalem said.
“I also loved comedy – The Naked Gun, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, The Princess Bride – and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring them (those inspirations) together.”
One of the comedic highlights of the game from my perspective was the banter between Zeus and Prometheus – I thought it was really well done and genuinely funny, and not just because I studied Classical History and enjo
Mr Yohalem said the interplay between the two was inspired by TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Rick & Morty – the “fire and water combination; that jock vs nerd situation” – and said the relationship between the two Immortals could best be described as that of “Frenemies who know everything about each other”.
Recording the dialogue for the game – which involved classically trained actors – required some innovation and different approach, especially because it all had to be done remotely.
“Normally I would be in Greece or in London working with the actors,” Mr Yohalem said.
“We couldn’t do mocap because it wasn’t safe so it all had to be animated – which is great for players because you got this bespoke animation style.
“We recorded the entire game twice – we did the first time over (Microsoft) Teams, then animators animated on top of that, while we re-recorded professionally – it took around six months, which is double the length of a normal production.”
One of the innovative approaches to recording was to play back the scene as if both actors were present in the same studio, but leaving the final actor’s lines out and then re-recording them to make the bridges work.
“90% of comedy is timing,” Mr Yohalem said, adding the actors were fantastic and bringing in classically trained actors and accessing their funny side had been one of the highlights of the project for him.
Mr Yohalem said that besides the different tone to Odyssey, Immortals Fenyx Rising’s humorous approach felt like the right thing given how difficult the past year or so has been for a lot of people.
In particular, he was keen to make something light and accessible rather than dark or post-apocalyptic,
“I think it’s much needed that we went in the direction of humour – it felt like the right call,” he said.
Balancing the humour in a way that was edgy for teens without being condescending or inappropriate was a challenge too, and one the developers worked hard on to make sure they hit the mark.
“The best books growing up were the ones were that didn’t talk down to me – like Roald Dahl, he treated the audience like little adults,” Mr Yohalem said.
One of the key messages of the game is ‘It’s OK to be yourself’, Mr Yohalem said – and it is very much a message that will resonate with the teenage audience the game is aimed at.
“In modern times we’re under a lot of pressure to be perfect – when you look at friend’s (social media) feeds they have the perfect food, the perfect life…. there’s the pressure to be perfect and the impossibility (of that),” Mr Yohalem said.
He said the Greek message of balance – light and darkness, comedy and drama, mistakes and the moment of triumph – played well into this theme and gave players a chance to explore it as they played.
“Not only are the mistakes they make and the ways they fall short OK, but your negative traits can be harnessed to make you a hero,” he said. “The only problem is if you repress them and discard that, it makes you into a monster.”