LOS ANGELES (AP) — Judith Flanders has never played video games — not even "Angry Birds" — so no one was more surprised than the historian herself when she was approached by the developers of the "Assassin's Creed" franchise to serve as a consultant on the latest installment, set on the streets of 19th-century London amid the Industrial Revolution.
"It's like you're an expert on a faraway place," said Flanders. "You've learned the language. You've met people from there. You've read every single book that was ever written. Now, you're invited to go there. That was the exciting thing about this project for me. It was like going to that foreign place that I've been reading about for 20 years."
While the story line of "Assassin's Creed: Syndicate" centers on twin assassins amassing a gang to fight the power-hungry Templars, the author of such novels as "The Victorian City" and "The Invention of Murder" was more concerned with re-creating the language and minutia of daily life during the Victorian era throughout the game's open world, where the twins do their bidding in 1868.
"I worked a great deal on the vocabulary," said Flanders. "I found several ways you could say '(expletive) off' in the 19th century."
Flanders was tasked with fielding an array of questions from the developers at Ubisoft, such as: What times did the bells at St. Paul's Cathedral ring? What was the proportion of men to women on the streets? What age did children start working?
Russell Lees, a writer on "Syndicate" who has worked on previous "Assassin's Creed" games, said Flanders' expertise informed his work on "Dreadful Crimes," a series of downloadable mysteries for the PlayStation 4 edition of the game, out Friday.
"Mostly, she would review what I'd written after the fact," said Lees. "Occasionally, I'd get bad news where I'd made assumptions that weren't correct. We had one mystery about the gas company and how people used candles. It just wasn't the way that I had assumed, so I had to completely rethink the mystery to conform to what would actually be the case."
Flanders' most complicated task involved how pubs would be represented in the game, which features recreations of such iconic locales as Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. She said Ubisoft's legal department decreed that no real-world public house names could be employed in "Syndicate," but she wasn't pleased with the alternative presented.
"If you've ever been to London, you know there are 9 million pubs named the Crown and Anchor or the Princess Charlotte or whatever," said Flanders. "They ended up generating this list of pub names that didn't match any real pub names at all. I had a little historian hissy fit. I told them they're stupid and unbearable. They sound like wine bars from the 1990s."
During her research, Flanders came across an article published in 1853 about pub signs in London. She persuaded the developers to employ the names when designing the drinking establishments in "Syndicate." Now, players can virtually mingle with such historical figures as Charles Dickens in pubs with names like the Cauldron and the Duke of York.
Such details are what bring "Assassin's Creed" to life. Before London, previous editions of the series re-created settings such as the Middle East during the Third Crusade, the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy and Paris during the French Revolution.
Where to next? Spain, apparently. An "Assassin's Creed" film currently in production will focus on a 15th-century Spanish assassin played by Michael Fassbender.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang .
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