Launching on October 5, Assassin's Creed Mirage takes place in ninth-century Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate, a golden age not only for Islam, but for art, science, culture, poetry, architecture, and so much more. To help the development team at Ubisoft Bordeaux make Mirage as culturally, religiously, and historically authentic as possible, three Ubisoft employees brought their local and global expertise: Mohammed Alemam, localization and social media manager at Ubisoft MENA (Middle East and North Africa); Malek Teffaha, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Senior Manager of Project Management; and Maya Loréal, Senior Manager, Inclusive Games and Content.
The three joined forces with Ubisoft's Humanities & Inspiration taskforce, led by Thierry Noël, in-house historians Dr. Raphaël Weyland and Maxime Durand, and Strategic Alliances director Amy Jenkins. Loréal managed relationships, and Alemam and Teffaha served as cultural, religious, and linguistic consultants. The three were integral to helping build the game from the ground up.
The development team didn't use the group to check work they had already done. Instead, they asked them to build a lexicon of works and phrases they could use. Alemam and Teffaha ended up constructing a database of expressions, words, pronunciations, spellings, and audio recordings. After that they reviewed scripts and voice actor recordings to ensure everything was accurate. "The development team really trusted us," says Alemam.
Alemam and Teffaha point out that none of their work would have been able to make an impact if not for the team at Ubisoft Bordeaux. "Even without our involvement, they made it a priority to move away from stereotypes and do things as authentically as possible," says Teffaha. "When they encountered elements they were unclear on, they would immediately come to us for guidance... we felt involved in the creative process from the get-go. We weren't just validation checkmarks, we were partners with the narrative team, the art team, and in some instances even the gameplay team."
Part of telling an authentic story set in Baghdad is ensuring that the Arabic spoken - even in the English version - is not only accurate, but properly pronounced. Fortunately, Alemam's experience as a localization manager for more than 10 years means he's an expert when it comes to the Arabic language. "Trying to spell Arabic words with Latin letters is near impossible," says Alemam, explaining why simply spelling out the Arabic words phonetically wasn't a solution. Instead, Alemam recorded audio of himself pronouncing every Arabic word and ensured there was a dialect coach present at recording sessions to help the actors.
The pronunciation of Arabic words was necessary, but a familiarity with Arabic as a whole was important, even for the English dialogue. "Almost all the actors who play a key role are actually of the same various Middle Eastern nationalities as their characters," says Teffaha. "That means that even when they're speaking English, they're able to do so with Arabic attenuation."
The Basim players meet in Assassin's Creed Valhalla is older, while the Basim that stars in Mirage begins the game at the age of 17. "The team wanted to go with a younger actor," says Teffaha of the decision to cast Lebanese-born actor Lee Majdoub. "They took that opportunity to look for an actor that could more authentically represent him, especially in a setting where he's more likely to speak Arabic than he was in Valhalla."
Language was doubly important for Assassin's Creed Mirage, as it will be the first game in the series to be published globally with full Arabic localization. "It's the most ambitious Arabic localization in games, period," says Alemam. "The goal for us is that when you play it in Arabic, you're not going to think 'this was translated from English;' it's going to sound and feel as if it was done in Arabic from the beginning."
While Islam isn't a main focus of Mirage's narrative, it is impossible to separate the setting from the influence of the religion. Mosques are prevalent throughout the city, veiled women walk amongst its crowds, and in multiple instances, characters recite the shahada, a declaration of belief in Allah and an acceptance of the Prophet Muhammad as God's messenger.
Walk around the streets of Baghdad long enough, and you'll hear the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, played near mosques. In real life, the Adhan is recited five times a day, coinciding with the requisite prayer; in Mirage, however, it is recited just once a day.
"The in-game day is about 15 minutes, and the Adhan recording we settled on is two to three minutes," says Teffaha. "So, you can imagine if it's happening five times a day, it's basically being recited non-stop."
The team decided just to play the Adhan at dawn to communicate to players that it is a scheduled event that isn't recited all day long (as was the case with a muffled version of the Adhan in Assassin's Creed Revelations).
Assassin's Creed Mirage also aims to educate audiences in-game on a wide variety of topics thanks to the in-game History of Baghdad feature. "It really took me aback the first time I saw an entry on the five pillars of Islam," says Teffaha. "I don't think there's ever been a major AAA production on this scale that has ever talked about the five pillars of Islam, or has been dedicated to teaching people what the pillars are."
The Middle Eastern influences in Assassin's Creed Mirage appear in nearly every aspect of the game, like the soundtrack that features the music of Layth Sidiq, a grammy-nominated violinist; the Mirage-specific redesign of the Assassin Crest, which reads "Hidden One" in Arabic calligraphy by calligraphist, Hatem Arafa; or the wanted posters that are directly influenced by ninth-century art styles.
Ultimately, it's this attention to detail and commitment to creating an authentic experience that has Alemam so excited. "In the open world, you can encounter musicians, and I find myself just standing there listening to the oud playing. This became a passion project for me, it's not just part of my day job."
Assassin's Creed Mirage launches on October 5, and is available for pre-order for PC via the Epic Games Store and the Ubisoft Store, as well as for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Amazon Luna. The game is also included on day one with a Ubisoft+ subscription. Before you play Mirage, be sure to check out our recommended PC Specs.