University of Winchester expertise helps lend authenticity to latest instalment of successful Assassin's Creed video game

24 Nov 2020
Viking camp with people mingling and talking around the fire

Two University of Winchester academics shared their knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history, culture and language in advisory roles for the latest instalment of the highly successful Assassin's Creed action role-playing video game, which has just been launched.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla, developed and published by game company Ubisoft, invites players to journey into the epic, rich world of a Norse Viking raider during the Viking invasions of England in the 9th century. As Eivor, players lead their clan on raids to find resources and treasure to build their own Viking settlement in England.

Ryan Lavelle, Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Winchester and an internationally-recognised expert in Anglo-Saxon Winchester and King Alfred (pictured below), met with a group of Ubisoft games developers when they undertook a tour of historical places as part of their inspiration for the game.

Man standing in front of King Alfred's statue in Winchester

"Over two days my contribution was as their itinerant history teacher travelling to a few locations in our patch of southern England, of the kingdom of Wessex and King Alfred, including Stonehenge, the Uffington White Horse, Portchester Castle, and of course, Winchester, said Professor Lavelle.

"I was asked about many different aspects of life in England at that point in the Viking Age, from laws and government to the nature of the royal court. My job was made easier by the fact that there were many fans of TV drama The Last Kingdom in the crew, but it was the real history rather than the TV series or Bernard Cornwell's books that we were dealing with, and I made that my focus.

"Those two days were something of a whirlwind but my abiding memory was of sitting on the grass with the crew at White Horse Hill, Uffington. in Oxfordshire, pointing out the landscape below while getting buzzed by a drone which had been brought specially for the occasion - that incredible mix of tech and an ancient landscape."

Professor Lavelle, who has been an historical advisor on all four seasons of the critically-acclaimed drama The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix, also features in a podcast series associated with the game, Echoes of Valhalla, which is available on Spotify.

Senior lecturer in English Language Dr Eric Lacey also shared his expertise in Anglo-Saxon culture and Old English language with the Assassin's Creed: Valhalla developers.

He helped to build the Wordsmith, a naming generator in Old English, which developers could click on to generate place names, personal names, and object names.

"Ubisoft wanted a 'playful' way of generating names and inspiration for naming things, people, and places, and so I created a database of name elements for this purpose, explained Dr Lacey.

"The various elements were coded to differentiate what could be part of any name, what could only be part of personal names, what could only be part of place names and so on, and I also helped code in rules for which elements could appear where. For example, æðel (famous), can appear only at the start of a personal name and scir (shire) can only appear at the end of a place name."

Dr Lacey also recorded a series of interviews, to be shared throughout the company, on various aspects of Old English language, its contact with other languages, and life in early medieval England, such as their perceptions of their landscapes, their understanding of the supernatural, their 'learned' and 'folk' traditions, and day-to-day life.

About Assassin's Creed Valhalla
With development led by Ubisoft Montreal, Assassin's Creed Valhalla offers players the captivating experience of playing as Eivor, a legendary Viking raider, in a beautiful and mysterious open world set against the brutal backdrop of England's Dark Ages. Players can take advantage of new features, including raids, weapon dual-wielding, and settlement building. Assassin's Creed Valhalla is available on worldwide on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation(r)4, PlayStation(r)5, the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft Store on Windows PC, as well as on UPLAY+, Ubisoft's subscription service and Stadia. Assassin's Creed Valhalla will launch on Amazon Luna alongside the launch of the Ubisoft channel.

Thumbnail and banner images courtesy Ubisoft.

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