How Assassin’s Creed Could Help Rebuild Notre-Dame Cathedral

When it was reported yesterday that Paris’ famous Notre Dame Cathedral had caught fire, millions of hearts around the world were filled with anguish and grief. The instantly recognisable building, of which construction began 859 years ago, has been through a lot in its weary life, having survived the decays of time, desecration during the French revolution, and the ransacking of two world wars. But as almost 500 firefighters battled the towering inferno which had engulfed the roof of the largest structure on the Île de la Cité, many thought that this was the end for the iconic church.

And plenty of media outlets reported that the structure was done for, too, sending Catholics and francophiles around the world alike into a deep despair. With little time left to lose, however, France’s emergency services managed to quell the maelstrom of flames which destroyed the roof of the building before they caused the predicted structural damage which could have completely, and heartbreakingly, annihilated the handsome cathedral.

Now, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to have the damage repaired within five years; a bold claim, but one which is not impossible. It’s important to France’s huge tourism economy, too, to have the famous French Gothic behemoth back in action; the structure boasts 12 million visitors a year–that’s more than The Eiffel Tower sees–making a return to its traditional form a major priority.

One of the methods for assisting those ultimately charged with the reconstruction efforts, though, is hardly traditional.

Ubisoft Montreal, a game studio responsible for the ‘Assasin’s Creed’ franchise, has an incredibly accurate digital map of the building, which featured in 2014’s ‘Assasin’s Creed: Unity’. Games from this series are famous for their realistic historical reproductions of real cities, with Ubisoft even employing an in-house team of historians to ensure accuracy, working alongside the development team to recreate correct aesthetics from different periods. The virtual model of Notre Dame is said to have taken two years to build, recreating exactly how the cathedral would have appeared as it stood in 1789.

Well, almost exactly. Ubisoft’s developers also added the famous spire to the game’s version, though it did not feature on the real building until much later, but what is fascinating is how the rest of the building was digitally recreated literally brick-by-brick, even down to the art on display within.

This is predicted to be incommensurably helpful in aiding the tourist attraction’s rebuilding. And it’s not the first time Notre-Dame de Paris has needed attention, either.

It was, in fact, left nearly to ruin until 1831, when auteur Victor Hugo’s seminal novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame–a tragic tale of a disfigured man who only finds love with the beautiful but doomed Esmeralda upon the sweet release of death; a story that would, of course, be completely bastardised by Disney some 150 years later–reinvigorated interest in the site, leading to the construction of a new spire.

Two days ago, that very spire collapsed under the burden of flame, though not all hope is lost. Many old statues had already been removed from its columns as restoration works were underway, meaning they were off-site and hence saved. And while the roof collapsed, taking the ashes of 1200-year-old oak with it (it is estimated that the 13,000-odd trees used to build the roof in the 13th century were between 300 and 400 years old at the time of construction), talks to source replacement oak, which would equate to about 52 acres of old-growth forest, are already underway, with some suggesting that replacements were deliberately planted a long time ago in case of a scenario such as this.

While the trees to replace the monolithic structure may be a source of contention for some, the world of gaming may have just provided architects and restoration experts with exactly the tools they need to ensure the impressive old building can be restored to its former glory, and prove to the world once again its resilience in the face of adversity.