On Wednesday, the whole world got to discover Valhalla, the long-awaited new chapter of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. A fascinating historical setting that will mark the imagination of our fans. Behind this large-scale project, a small army of talented people is working hard to provide fans with the ultimate Viking experience. Julien Laferrière knows a lot about this, since he has been managing the project as producer since the very beginning. During this week filled with brand exposure, he took a few minutes to discuss the project with us.
Ubisoft Montreal: Can you tell us about your professional career?
Julien Laferrière: In the beginning, I was the guy with a Computer Science degree who preferred to be in meetings rather than coding. So, I branched off to do project management in software firms, web firms and advertising agencies. I arrived at Ubisoft 13 years ago to work on IT project management, then became production manager on AC2, followed by associate producer on AC3, and finally producer on Far Cry 4 and AC Origins. I’ve been working on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for 3 years now.
UM: The secret is finally out, the next Assassin’s Creed will take place in the Viking world. What led you to this particular period in history?
JL: After AC Origins, the core team and I were already starting to imagine what to do next, as we wanted to work together again. We were ready to leave the world of Antiquity and the Mediterranean basin behind. Vikings called out to us – this time period was also buzzing in our community and fans were asking for it. The timing seemed excellent: telling the story of the Vikings; portraying them, understanding them and writing the story from their perspective. The fantasy is precise, easy to imagine and super inspiring!
UM: What captivated you the most with this time period, personally?
JL: I really like the fact that the history of the Vikings is very much based on an oral tradition. It leaves more room for interpretation and creativity. It’s a big challenge, but also a great opportunity. There is something visceral and powerful about playing a Viking. In addition, it is a society where women actively participated in the community and in fighting. Personally, I am fascinated by the Scandinavian countries. It was a dream of mine to explore their roots and history. In fact, in 2012 during a press trip to Scandinavia, we were already being asked when we were going to produce a Nordic AC!
UM: Can you give us more details on the gaming experience?
JL: We’re delivering the ultimate Viking fantasy. This is what guided all of our decisions when creating Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Players will have the opportunity to raid anywhere along the coast. The player will also be able to construct their own Viking village in England, and every decision they make will have an impact on their clan. The Vikings were explorers, and it is through this perspective that players will discover this new adventure.
UM: What game element do you think will most surprise fans of the franchise?
JL: This is not a game for fans only. It’s really for everyone who is drawn to this Viking adventure. There are a lot of things in the game that echo the years we built the franchise. With Ashraf Ismail as creative director and Darby McDevitt as narrative director, fans can look forward to an incredible immersion into the Viking world, but also a particular attention to the brand’s heritage. They will, moreover, appreciate the return of the secret blade!
UM: The production of an AAA video game spans years and our teams are sworn to secrecy on the game’s theme and time period. Your colleagues must be happy to finally be able to finally lift the veil on this great project! How is this moment experienced on the production floors?
JL: Right now the context is unusual due to confinement. I would have loved to be in the studio with everyone. Circumstances are a challenge, but nothing can take away the importance of that moment for our teams. We created a group conversation so that our employees could watch the unveiling stream with Bosslogic. They were able to comment and savor the reaction of the fans amongst themselves, even from a distance. Then they could share the trailer and update their LinkedIn profile by revealing that they are indeed working on the game. These gestures always represent a special moment!
UM: And more personally, to whom were you most anxious to reveal this next chapter?
JL: My family! There’s something magical about showing them what’s been going on a daily basis for all this time. Having their impressions and being able to talk about it with them is exciting – even if they are also my toughest audience! I’m also very excited to see the reaction of people who are not necessarily gamers.
UM: Did you do team activities inspired by Scandinavian mythology to soak up the stories and the atmosphere?
JL: With the core team, we went on a trip to Norway and England for inspiration and to witness the roots of history. Later on, we participated in a forest survival activity and a team building workshop navigating the St. Lawrence River.
A little anecdote: to soak up the Viking spirit as a team, we always end our emails with ‘Skàl’ – the Nordic version of cheers. Everyone also has their glass with a picture of the project for happy hours.
UM: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will launch on next generation consoles. Can you tell us a bit about the technological opportunities and their impact on the player experience?
JL: Technology is a bit of a franchise trademark. To be at the dawn of the new generation of consoles represents a superb opportunity for us. I have engineers who eat tech for breakfast! Pushing certain developments further with the firepower of the new consoles is extremely motivating.
UM: A game of this magnitude requires a big team. In addition to the main team behind the game, based in Montreal, how many Ubisoft studios participated in the development of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla?
JL: In total, 14 studios around the world are working on this project, including Montreal, which acts as the lead studio. Obviously, that’s a lot of people, but we remain one team. We inspire each other – there’s great teamwork all around the world.
UM: Do you have an anecdote about the production of the game that would be worthy of a horde of Viking warriors?
JL: During our forest survival exercise with the core team, the only instructions they had received were to pack a bag with essential items, go to the office and get ready for a night outside. My colleagues still ask me if I will kidnap them again at each team building activity!
UM: In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Eivor, the main character can be a man or a woman. Do you have a preference between playing the heroine or the hero?
JL: Personally, I have a particular attachment to playing the character as a female warrior. Maybe it’s because I have a young daughter and I find the model strong and inspiring. That said, both performances by our actors are exemplary!
A huge thank you to Julien for taking a moment to speak with us despite this very busy week for the franchise. To stay on top of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla news or to get the game for pre-order, it’s all here.