Assassin’s Creed and the Real Italia: Venezia (Part 1)
The Assassin’s Creed series is well known for its incredible open-world design, always emphasised by the stunning pan shots when your assassin synchronizes atop a tall perch. The rich history and mythology support the intriguing narrative well, creating a fascinating, addictive experience.
Italy’s iconic cities Venice (Venezia) and Rome (Roma) are two of the most beautiful, well-designed locations in Ezio Auditore’s narrative – both steeped in historical intrigue, timeless art and grand architecture. How do they compare to the real locations? How have they changed from the Renaissance to modern day and how have they changed in the transition to video games?
“Ah, Venezia! What other place is as beautiful, as stable, as perfect?” - Alvise da Vilandino (Assassin’s Creed II)
The gorgeous city of Venezia is nicknamed ‘The Floating City’ due to the fact that is it made up of 118 tiny islands, connected by bridges and split by various canals, the largest of which being the Canal Grande (in Venetian, Canałasso).
Many of the geographical placements are different within the game to real life – and whilst some of this could be put down to change over time between the 1400s and 2012, some of these would have not existed (rivers appearing in different places; various piers, seafronts and piazzas – squares – and whole areas of land appearing smaller than in real life). The lagoon islands that are visible from Canneregio, the northern district of Venice, such as Murano (famous for its incredible glassmaking) and Torcello (home to the Throne of Attila), seem to have been omitted. In the modern day, colossal cruise liners replace the large ships and the irritating bards who constantly stand in Ezio’s way are replaced by annoying street vendors who stop passers-by to see their array of cheap toys. The guards who populate Italy in the game – many of them working for corrupt officials – are replaced in the 21st Century by much friendlier, helpful and efficient law enforcement: the Polizia (regular police), the Guardia di Finanza (Italian finance police, ‘Revenue Guards’) and the Carabinieri (military police).
The streets are also much wider in the game than in the real Venezia, allowing Ezio to blend in crowds in stealth missions rather than be easily caught in the very narrow streets. However he would easily find his way around Venice nowadays, as there are many ledges and beams Ezio could easily climb onto to reach a roof. And with the streets being so narrow, it would be even easier to navigate the rooftops.
Quite noticeably on the seafront near the Palazzo Ducale, palace of the Doge (who was the leader of the city), one can see that one of Venezia’s most famous landmarks – the grand church, Santa Maria della Salute – is missing. It is normally very visible across the water. But its omission is due to the fact that it was not built until long after Ezio’s time, completing construction in 1687. It began construction in 1631, after a bout of the plague swept Venice in 1629, which wiped out a third of the Venetian population. The name of the church translates to ‘St. Mary of Health’.
The Ponte di Rialto – the Rialto Bridge – is another famous Venetian landmark that appears very differently in the game as a large wooden bridge. In 2012, the bridge is a sight to behold (particularly at night) – a magnificent, grand structure of stone, hosting several permanent tourist shops. Its difference is due to the fact that in 1521, after suffering various damages (in 1310 it was partially burned in a revolt and in 1444 it was damaged under the feet of a parade-watching crowd) it had collapsed, and so it was put forward that the bridge should be rebuilt in stone. Michelangelo was among several designers considered for the project, but the job eventually went to Antio da Ponte and the new bridge was completed in 1591 after three years construction – almost a century after the events of Assassin’s Creed II.
The developers of Assassin’s Creed II had a long discussion about how to present the Rialto Bridge, as the game’s creative director Patrice Désilets told Joystiq:
“We had a big debate at work about the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Rialto Bridge, historically, at the time of making our game… wasn’t the bridge that you can see now in Venice… it’s roughly 100 years later. They were talking about doing the bridge like that, but all the political people couldn’t agree upon how to make a bridge, and that’s why it was still in wood — and we are making it in wood. We could have taken the decision, saying, “Oh, let’s do the bridge and everybody understands or sees or knows that.” But what’s the point in going there and saying we’re historically accurate if we’re not?”
The accompanying Rialto markets seem to hold much more appetizing wares now than the adequate stalls that populate the same markets in the game, full of fresh fruit and wide varieties of frutti di mare (seafood).
Next time: the Venetian churches, the Plague Doctor and Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Square.
Interview quote source – Joystiq