No place like London...
Simonsens, May 14, 2015

Here we go again. Ubisoft Quebec gave us a beginning of May that we’ll hardly forget. London, Industrial Revolution and like the wings of the legendary butterflies, also the Assassin clothes seem to have become darker due to the smokes and ashes that cover the British capital, melting into tones that made the Victorian Era famous.

The game, as we saw, is set in 1868 (and the nearby years), the most troubled period of the empire of Queen Victoria. Those were years of great excitement for the technological world, an excitement that will slowly lead us to the second Industrial Revolution. This impulse had important social implications that later began what we can consider the beginning of an urbanization process called Sprawl. This process is characterized by the increase of the surface of the city itself beyond the original borders (suburbanization), obviously to the detriment of livability, which starts becoming an unmanageable place in many ways, with social issues (caused by the physical alienation of the poor classes in the suburbs) and sanitary problems (containing epidemics was impossible). All these elements are the effects of a capitalism that started to take off during the Industrial Revolution inside an increasingly globalised economy. For these reasons, Queen Victoria’s London often is depicted as a problematic city, deep in dirt, disease and social illness.

Hence we can paint a tempting picture thanks to a simple description of the city profile and surely the Victorian London is a fitting background, as for themes and atmospheres, for stories like the ones of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

In this article, as in the previous ones I wrote in the past, I am going to focus on the characteristics of the architectures we saw during the few seconds of video and in the images released by Ubisoft, and, in this case, as we did for Paris, we’ll also try to understand the size of the game map and compare the dimensions with the original city.

The Industrial Revolution and the development of the steel industry, with the arrival of new knowledge about building materials (like concrete), brought about a prosperous period for the construction industry and for a new type of architecture that will lead to the movement called “modern”. Starting from the 17th century, North Europe began to show a considerable interest (and reassessment) in medieval architecture, which was seen under a new light and taken as an example of elegance of shapes that were considered lost. A cultural movement known as Neo Gothic appeared in England, a real rediscovery of the medieval architecture (the Gothic Revival), but supported by new discoveries on construction materials and techniques. The result of this cultural movement obviously is present in the game: the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben.

The proportion of the whole complex doesn’t respect the 1:1 scale used for Unity’s Notre Dame: it’s clear from the height of the openings. As for the Big Ben (which, in the era of Syndicate, had recently been completed) in this case it’s the part of the parliament that is more easily analysable (as for the number of images) and you can notice that the proportions between the clock quadrant and the frame around it aren’t faithful to the original dimensions and above the clock there are 5 niches instead of 7. Also, the actual structure soars more than its in-game version.

It’s also possible to see, on the right, the towers of Westminster Abbey, the spire’s tip of which was already visible in the images Kotaku leaked.
Another important building is the London Charing Cross station, fitting example of what the new technology produced in the construction field. The structure, designed by Sir John Hawkshan, had a characteristic wrought-iron barrel roof that covered the 6 station platforms. The roof (23 meters tall) collapsed in December of 1905, and the structure was condemned for around a year.

Another image that drew the attention is the one below, which may depict the interiors of the Bank of England.

In the gameplay video we were allowed to take a brief tour of the City. In a few seconds we could see a small part of the London map near four important landmarks: Saint Paul Cathedral, Saint Mary-le-Bow, St Lawrence Jewry and the Royal Exchange. See the picture below:

Especially for this area, we have to talk about the reconstruction process that started after 1666, the year in which the Great Fire of London destroyed a good part of the city and its iconic monuments and buildings. After the catastrophe, a good part of the reconstruction was assigned to the architect Christopher Wren. One of his most important works is exactly St Paul's Cathedral, one of the biggest ecclesiastic structures of England and representative of the English Baroque. Of this structure, it’s surely interesting to notice the massive 108-meter-tall dome, which takes inspiration from the work of Michelangelo for Saint Peter in Rome.

These buildings can help us make a topographic comparison with the real city. In order to do so, we can use the Mogg’s Postal and Cab-Fire Map of 1859 that can give us a close view of the actual urban structure at that time. Positioning the landmarks of the City it is possible to compare the proportions, but we’ll talk about it later. First, it’s important to see that the map (probably) won’t reproduce the whole city but only a part of it. Indeed the map of the borough we see in the gameplay video has a white border indicating the limit of the map itself. In addition to that, there isn’t a rural landscape, as in the maps of the past, but you can see a series of “walls” formed by other houses and structures, suggesting that the city is bigger than our range of exploration. Furthermore, for what it’s worth, one of the images of the limited editions shows a small map that seems to confirm my theory according to which Syndicate will feature only the part of London between the City and Westminster.

This is, in my opinion, a winning choice in terms of Level Design. Unity demonstrated that, however fascinating and ambitious the idea of recreating the city on a 1:1 scale can be, it’s sometimes hard to walk long distances, which are bypassed with the “teleportation”. Thanks to this expedient, it’s faster to go from a location to another but at the same time, it destroys the work and the intent behind the creation of the city itself, which was built to amaze the player and let him/her admire the architectural beauties. So in my opinion a more condensed map that doesn’t want to be too close, in term of size, to the real city, is, from the point of view of the gaming experience, more efficient.

Lastly, we can try to measure the map, but, as I did last year (although I got the size right :P), the calculation is based on inaccurate and hypothetic measures and so the results may be wrong. So this calculation doesn't want to minutely measure the size of the map, but just give an idea of the dimensions of the in-game city.

Let’s suppose that St Paul is recreated on a 1:1 scale, so we can have a reference size equal to the length of the cathedral, namely 170 meters. So, between St Paul and the Royal Exchange, there are around 430 meters, instead of the 650 meters of the real city. We have, therefore, the same scale as the Paris of Unity, in other words a scale between 1:1 and 1:2.

Now, bear in mind the previous image of the map. To obtain a hypothetic size of the whole map, we can do this: as the crow flies, the distance between the Royal Exchange and Westminster is around 3kms. Supposing that the 2:3 scale is correct, we get a diameter of about 2kms (radius of 1). We can calculate a hypothetic area with the following mathematical formula: A=r2x p. So we have: 12x3,14 and so: 3,14 km2.

Thinking about it and keeping in mind a considerable margin of error, we can say that the map of London is between 3 and 4 km2 wide, which makes it very similar to the size of Paris in Unity. However, bear in mind that in Syndicate we could use carriages, which will make the distances virtually shorter.

My small analysis on what we saw of the London of Syndicate ends here. We still have many months for discussing and following the development of the game. I hope you enjoyed this read and, who knows, maybe we’ll meet again after E3!

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