Discovery Tour Ancient Greece – a behind the scene look with Maxime Durand

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Today, we are launching the second installment of the Discovery Tour, offering young and old alike the opportunity to explore ancient Greece at their own pace. This immersive learning experience gives new life to the open world developed for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. We sat with Maxime Durand, the historian in charge of the Discovery Tour content to learn a little bit more about this fascinating project.

What is the Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece?

The Discovery Tour is an autonomous world inspired by Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where we reuse the universe of Ancient Greece and add a whole new dimension to it. It’s a way to learn about antiquity, and anyone can play it! Families, museums, schools, but also Assassin’s Creed players.

Why did Ubisoft create the Discovery Tour?

The Discovery Tour (DT) is the result of a pretty madcap idea from the Assassin’s Creed team. When the game was being designed, we went to great lengths to recreate the worlds of the past. We did extensive research, with the help of several researchers and historians. We thought it was a pity that once the game was done, we stopped using these worlds. We came up with the idea of breathing new life into them and making them accessible to other audiences. So much knowledge can be gained from a believable immersion into a period in history! And it’s something totally unique. There’s nothing comparable out there.

What are the main differences between the Ancient Greece and the Ancient Egypt Discovery Tours?

We learned a lot from the first Discovery Tour. We kept in contact with the teaching community and listened to player feedback to improve the experience and make it even more intense, while still maintaining the feel of the first DT. For example, accessibility and immersion, and of course the guided tours. All of that is at the heart of the project. We give players the chance to wander around as if they were actually there. We’ve also added guides who welcome you at the start and then reappear at the end of the tours. These guides offer you the chance to do quizzes and go over what you’ve learned during the tour. Another example of the improvements we’ve made is the use of more realistic cameras so we can more clearly represent the details of the era. Finally, we’ve included more gaming features, with notable improvements to the reward system. You learn about history, but also about video game development in some dedicated modules. And what’s also fun is that players are rewarded with avatars that are unique to the Discovery Tour, such as the minotaur, the unicorn or Pegasus, who you can fly with. It makes learning a lot of fun!

The last DT focused on knowledge. Who worked on that project?

It was a collaborative effort. I headed up the project, but I worked alongside a producer and directors from other departments. We also worked with the team from Ubisoft’s Quebec studio that created Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, including classicist Dr. Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta. Then we created a first selection of tours. The Olympic Games, the Acropolis of Athens, democracy, etc. Then we did a trial run of these in Montreal. For example, we tested how long each tour took. We then worked with historians to write the content of the tours and select the images taken from museums. We worked with experts from all over the world on it. From the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K., Romania and, of course, Greece. We always asked them to provide us with more data than we actually ended up including in the game because we wanted to be sure we had the most relevant information.  What was interesting was that the first DT made it easier to explain our thought process to them. They immediately understood what we wanted. For them, working with us has some huge benefits. They provide us with interesting content and can include it in their everyday work.

Have you carried out studies in schools to evaluate the impact on students?

From the very start, it was important for us to design a tool that would be useful in a classroom setting. Before even developing the first DT, we attended several conferences, spoke to teachers, and visited museums to find out what the actual needs were, which of course can vary from one country to another, not to mention from one generation to another. We also worked with the Université de Montréal and professor Marc-André Éthier before the launch of the first DT to establish if it had real educational potential. We had 400 students take part in the first study. The preliminary results were positive.

People were learning! Which wasn’t necessarily a given at the start. When you compare the results of students in a traditional classroom with those of students who did a Discovery Tour, the outcome is practically identical, even though the DT students didn’t have a teacher helping them. It’s incredible, really. However, for us, the ideal scenario is for teachers to use the DT in a classroom setting. The results that are currently emerging show that this is when its motivational effect on students reaches its peak. And teachers are happy because their students are engaged. So, the results in terms of learning are there. And we’re continuing to support research into the subject.

You’ve visited a lot of schools since the first DT. Did you come away with any anecdotes you’d like to share with us?

I’ve got a whole bunch of them! After playing the DT for the first time, one student said to his teacher, “This has been the best day of my life!” That proves that for students, it offers a lot of added value. It’s very motivating because it’s a language they’re familiar with. And they connect with the characters. It also encourages critical thinking as we broach issues such as equality between men and women and democracy.

Learning through play has been around for a long time. In your opinion, how has it evolved?

The objective has changed. Before, there was a very definite reward system in place. Increasingly, we’re now moving toward a system of player involvement that encourages other skills. We’re trying to apply the principles behind video games more to educational games. Nowadays, anything relating to player motivation is used more.

What is your vision for the future of learning through play?

In my opinion, games could never replace human beings. And all our studies show this to be true. But there’s room to do more. I think that we’re just at the cusp of all the potential that games offer in terms of learning.

What age group is the game aimed at?

It depends on the country, but we say from 12 to 98 years old! We want this to be shared! It’s an experience created for anyone who can easily access it.