Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a big game. Not just in terms of its commercial heft – it’s the latest entry in one of the most lucrative and popular video game franchises out there – but also its in-game size. The series has always been open-world, offering players a sprawling map with tons of quests, challenges and collectibles to get stuck into, but Odyssey takes things to a new level.
The game plants players in the sandals of one of two siblings in ancient Greece, just as the Peloponnesian War begins, and allows them to explore a lush and highly detailed representation of that classical civilisation. Odyssey is beautiful, to be sure, but the hook that keeps players glued to the game is its story, which uses the war as a backdrop and unveils a secret war between assassins and Templars for artefacts that promise great power.
Daniel Bingham is a member of the team in charge of the game’s narrative and he’s upfront with the size of the task he had, heading into the game two years ago.
“It’s intimidating. I had been away from gaming for a very long time. I hadn’t played a game in a while. But they gave us the time to research both the franchise and ancient Greece, so I’d played and read a lot by the time I wrote my first line of dialogue,” he says.
Bingham’s background is slightly unconventional for someone charged with plotting one of the year’s biggest video games; while copywriting for telco firms, he became a stand-up comedian and went pro for twelve years. It was during this time he tapped into his love of storytelling and working with other writers.
“I really wanted to work with a team – I’d written two one-man plays and I needed a team to write those. I found that collaborating with others produced some of my best work,” he says.
“I went back to school for writing so I could get more involved with maybe film or television. I hadn’t even considered gaming at this stage as a place or a medium that I could tell stories in.”
While at school, Bingham gravitated to video games – much in the same way most students do. He picked up a copy of The Last Of Us – the PS4 post-apocalyptic epic – and at that time, he says, a light came on.
“The character development and storytelling blew me away and planted a seed that gaming is a place that I could tell stories and thank God it did, because I’ve found that video games are perhaps the most collaborative industry for writers to work in,” he says.
“A writer for television or film doesn’t get to work with a quest designer or character artists. I got to work with the actors on the mo-cap floor when they were shooting our dialogue and scenes.”
While writing for a game is very different for any other visual medium, Bingham says there are similarities that keep the team on point.
“To compare it to a television show, it was very much set up the same way a TV showrunner would do it. They’d know the beginning, how it was going to end and the major beats in the plot they need to hit at certain stages. Then, because it’s the biggest Assassin’s Creed game we’ve ever created, we had a large team of twelve writers that would each write their own ‘episode’,” he says.
Bingham even got the opportunity to play a little Alfred Hitchcock and insert himself into the game – although players won’t ever get to see it.
“I was in there early on, but the developers took me out,” he laughs. “I got cut from my own game!”