|Game: Assassin’s Creed series||Release: Nov 2007-Present||Platform: PC / 360 / PS3||Creative Director: Patrice Désilets|
In the case of the emblem of the Assassin’s Order from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, it is entirely possible I am reading more into it (interpreting) than was originally intended. As a fan of design I am constantly in search for the motive and the meaning of why things look the way they do. In many instances, a work of design was obviously done in haste and without thought about how it can relate entire concepts, emotions, and work in tandem with the project it represents.
When I am able to see beyond the art and have an idea as to the artist’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations behind what he or she is trying to communicate, the quality of the artwork is improved significantly. Given the high-level of aesthetic consistency across the Assassin’s Creed series, the amount of subtle ingenuity in the mark cannot be mistaken for coincidence.
The emblem can be seen throughout every game in the series, with last year’s release of Assassin’s Creed II and the upcoming “Brotherhood” semi-sequel really establishing a strong visual theme around the triangular shape. The symbol appears in many places within the game world, often used to denote a particular location that is unique to the Assassin’s Order (waypoints, tomb entrances, and the like) as well as within the game world as seen on the collectible flags in the original Assassin’s Creed and even the metal-work of Ezio’s outfit in the sequel.
|Collectible Flags in Assassin’s Creed||Hidden Tomb entrance from Assassin’s Creed 2
(the skull is set inside of the emblem)
|Menu design in Assassin’s Creed 2||Map in Assassin’s Creed 2|
Deconstructing the symbol:
Like some of the most expertly crafted logos and emblems in use today, the Assassin Order’s emblem contains a few ‘layers’ or components of visual information that are not at first apparent. Each separate piece contributing to and establishing a consistent visual identity for the franchise.
|Deconstructed pieces of the Assassin’s Emblem|
Lets start at the top with the most obvious use of the mark; that it depicts a stylized letter ‘A’. Like a modified speak-n-spell ‘A’ is for ‘Assassin’. While a little trite, it’s a simple connection and the designer’s at Ubisoft have implemented the mark well in the logo for the game:
|Assassin’s Creed logo (base)|
It would’ve been very easy, and typical, to have made the first capital “A” in “Assassin” the emblem itself. Credit is due for the more dignified and reserved presentation of using a serifed font (appropriate for a series of games set in historical contexts, a sans-serif font would like strangely modern and out-of-place; despite the story content) over top the “A” mark.
As we begin to examine the separate pieces of the logo, bear with me. Oftentimes I am too eager to find meaning where none exists, and it is entirely possible I am doing it with this analysis. Again I must stress the high-level of commitment to establishing a consistent visual identity for the Assassin’s Creed brand. When you work with a concept that is so well-implemented and realized, it will inform many facets of the overall project. So while I advise you take my meandering comments with a tiny grain of salt; realize what a fantastic job Ubisoft has done with the art direction for Assassin’s Creed.
|Bottom flourish shape of main “A” letterform|
The small, curved, embellishment at the foot of the logo serves a few purposes. One, it balances the emblem vertically. While alone, the “A” shape is still eye-catching and bold, the bottom element is curved upward, mirrored by the bottom of the “A” and visually “holds” the symbol in place. In this manner it acts like a ribbon across a Medieval crest or a flourish that accompanied many Renaissance-era lettering samples as seen below:
|Renaissance-era “A” decorative lettering|
Although the first Assassin’s Creed, the DS title “Altair’s Chronicles” and the PSP-only “Bloodlines” are set some 300 years before the above art style became commonplace, the overall aesthetic is heavily influenced by the deeply religious-influenced imagery of the Crusades as well as the Italian Renaissance, both time periods which the series has covered so far. Its interesting to note that this shape vaguely depicts a stylized bird in flight.
|Flourish shape and bird-in-flight|
This bird metaphor is something I will discuss later in the post.
Moving onto the main “A” shape of the emblem, the outside of the two angles forming the shape have been flourished with outward curves terminate in two sharp points. While not meaningful in any specific way alone, their shape and placement at the bottom of the “A” makes them a little sinister; calling to mind images of sharp, deadly weapons. The image below from the teaser campaign for Assassin’s Creed 2 depicts the emblem almost specifically rendered as a weapon, complete with tapered blade edges and fuller (the groove used to lighten a weapon without diminishing its effectiveness):
|Assassin’s Creed 2 teaser image|
Also borrowing from the Renaissance-era of typography the “A” character is not perfectly symmetrical. One of the angled segments of the shape is thicker than the other, a very common style among older or classically styled typefaces as seen below:
|Assassin’s emblem compared to classic style”A”|
It is unknown to me whether this “A” was originally part of a font and then modified for the logo, or created entirely by hand.
This brings us to what I would consider the most interesting and perhaps “ingenious” element of the Assassin’s emblem. In typography a counter is any empty space that is wholly enclosed within the letter’s shape. For example the white space in the upper part of the number “9″ is a counter. The two spots of empty space in “B” are also counters. For lack of a more articulate expression this is often referred to as “negative-space”.
The mark of the Assassin’s Order does not contain a technical counter, the “A” shape is not fully enclosed along the bottom. However there is a shape there that I believe ties into many of the most recognizable and identifiable images from the Assassin’s Creed series.
|Assassin’s emblem compared to classic style”A”|
Intentional or not, this shape can be found in many locations throughout the Assassin’s Creed series. Its form, in my opinion, is too similar to many of the iconic visuals and themes in the games to be mere coincidence. Hold onto this thought for the next paragraph.
In the series, birds play a significant role serving both as visual cues for where the player can leap from rooftops and activate viewpoints as well as an obvious metaphor for the bird-of-prey-like swiftness and lethality of the members of the Hashshashin. This metaphor carries into many of the achievement and trophy names for the games as well as the clothing design for the main protagonist characters of the series. When viewed straight-on or from the side, the hood of both Ezio and Altaïr’s garb distinctly takes on the shape of a bird’s head; most closely resembling a hawk or falcon. You can see a super-imposed comparison in the image below:
|Eagle shape overlayed Altair hood||Eagle shape of Ezio’s hood|
Similarly, the shape itself is not unlike a bird’s talon or beak when viewed from a top-down or straight-on angle. This may be taking the visual metaphor too far, but part of me wants to believe this was intentional.
While the “A” itself is worked into the clothing it is this shape that is easily seen on the costuming for both characters, most prominently on Ezio:
|Counter shape in Ezio’s costume design|
And for the the most interpretive part of all, this shape, and the Assassin’s logo in general, seems to invoke the appearance of the the assassin’s themselves. The assassin, his arms outstretched in anticipation of the fatal strike, his eyes shrouded by the hood of his outfit, is a familiar image for anyone who has followed this franchise. Loosely, this visual has a triangular shape, both in the body posture and the face of both Altair and Ezio. This counter shape seems to reflect the lines established by that artwork.
Regardless of the personal bias I have injected into this analysis, it is clear that the staff at Ubiosft Montreal cares a great deal about the visual identity of this series. Their dedication to maintaining a thematic and consistent output of imagery is to be commended not just within the game design world, but across the entire spectrum of the visual arts. Rare is the case where a concept has so strongly informed and uniformly driven an aesthetic inside of a game. For their part, Ubisoft has answered the tired and baseless question of “can games be art?” in such a nuanced and talented way with the Assassin’s Creed franchise that it seems silly the question should ever be posed at all.