Montreal

Explore Notre-Dame Cathedral before the fire, compliments of Ubisoft

The 2014 game Assassin's Creed Unity, made by Montreal game developer Ubisoft, includes a one-to-one replica of Notre-Dame Cathedral, which took artist Caroline Miousse around 5,000 hours to create.

Assassin's Creed Unity artist spent 5,000 hours creating virtual version of cathedral

Artist Caroline Miousse at Ubisoft created the virtual cathedral from scratch, a process that took around 5,000 hours. (Submitted by Ubisoft)

Not long after a fire tore through the roof and spire of Paris's Notre-Dame Cathedral, many turned to an unlikely source for solace: a virtual replica of the building in the video game Assassin's Creed Unity, made by Montreal's Ubisoft.

Ubisoft historian Maxime Durand was initially surprised to find that the 2014 game brought comfort to people saddened by Monday's destructive blaze, but he quickly realized why.

"Every time we reproduce an era, people are interested by history," Durand told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Wednesday. "It's real; it's alive for them because they play the game."

"It's the most accessible way to visit the cathedral, even for people that will never have the chance to go to Paris."

Here's a short video of a game player exploring the inside and outside of the cathedral.

The virtual version within the game is a one-to-one replica, the first that Ubisoft attempted. Durand said creating it took about 5,000 hours of work.

"One person, Caroline Miousse on our team, built the cathedral from scratch," he said. "And she had never been to the cathedral before. She only saw it after producing the virtual version."

Durand said that the game version is not completely accurate. Some of the dimensions have been altered to enhance the gameplay — which allows a player to climb the entire structure. 

But some of the "liberties" Ubisoft took with history now seem fortunate.

Although the game is set during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, when the cathedral's spire had been removed, the game version includes a replica of the spire built in the 19th century to replace it. There are also 19th-century gargoyles. 

Ubisoft announced Wednesday that it is donating €500,000 (around $750,000) towards the cathedral's reconstruction. It is also making Assassin's Creed Unity available free on PCs for a week.

Asked about the game's potential to be used to help restore the cathedral, Durand downplayed the suggestion.  

"I don't think the architects will need the video game," he said. "We were able to do it without even sending the artist to actually see the cathedral beforehand."

It might be years until visitor can go inside Notre Dame de Paris, after a devastating fire ravaged parts of the historic cathedral Monday. But thanks to a video game developed here in Montreal, people will still be able to virtually visit the monument in all its glory. We speak with Maxime Durand, one of the Ubisoft historians who helped recreate a super detailed version of the cathedral for its 2014 game Assassin's Creed: Unity. 9:13

With files from Montreal's Daybreak

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