Before going on, I would invite you to go read;

https://jfgnord.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/ubisoft-is-great/comment-page-1/#comment-45 by Jean-François Gagné

http://gingearstudio.com/why-i-quit-my-dream-job-at-ubisoft by Maxime Beaudoin

They are more social people and they express themselves publicly a lot better than I do.

I'm writing this because I want to look back to the last ten years of my professional life. If I go see my LinkedIn, it says I started working for Ubisoft in June 2005 as a level designer. Crazy how time flies. Could I have predicted where I am now back then? Hell no. Can I say where I'll be in ten years? I sure learned I can't predict any of that.

 

Fifteen years ago, I discovered how to modify existing video game because of a single one; Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force from Ravensoft. I guess it's their fault if I'm making video games now. Five years later, I was hired at Ubisoft Québec.

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One thing I know is when I joined Ubisoft I was an ass, and a rather big one. I was young - I'm still is... I was just younger - and sure I knew everything I had to know. Having my producer tell me I was an inch from being fired sure knocked some sense into my head. I'm still an ass - one does not outgrow that - but I believe I'm a more survivable one now. A proof I got of that is that I have three other people following me in that crazy adventure of starting a video game company from scratch.

The first game I made for Ubisoft - Rainbow Six: Critical Hour - wasn't so great. To be honest, it was rather terrible and was plagued with issues. It was made from a new studio from people who mostly didn't know each other and for many, haven't worked on a video game before. It was a punch in the guts, but a needed one. I'm grateful I wasn't fired back then, it would have been hard. 

However, that first game was a wakeup call of another matter; the video game industry wasn't the dream job I had expected. I had to revise the views I had on it and on myself. I would lie if I didn't think to quit a few times; while it was a welcome learning experience, it wasn't always pleasant. For one, I discovered overtime and the cruel reality of seeing your work - that you worked overtime on - dumped for pointless political and sometime unexplained reasons.

My advice to newcomers? Be careful, because there's a good chance reality won't be similar to your expectations. Also, if you somehow expect to come out of school into the video game industry and you believe you can survive there without learning constantly new things, you're in the wrong field of work. I'm not sure just how fast other industry evolves, but the video game is a crazy one. We are talking here of new technology coming out every few months, sometimes even faster. If you want to stay competitive, you got to stay ahead of the wave and learn everything new before others do.

rainbowsixvegas pspbox thumb Surfs Up Thumb

The next two games - Rainbow Six: Vegas for PSP and Surf's Up for PSP and DS - went a lot smoother in all aspects. While the first game almost crushed me, those two made me understand all wasn't lost and it was possible to actually have fun while making games. Both went relatively unknown, and while they were somewhat profitable, it was seen as a success for a new studio.

It's also at that time that I got corrupted by others coworkers. Let's say I came out of four years of college and two of university without having attended a single party. They found a way to "fix" that. I'm not a really social person, so it was truly quite a feat that they got me there.

But I did learn something very important from those two rather unimportant games; you should be there first for the people, second for the work and lastly for the game. There will always be a "next game", so the game in itself - while important - should never be the primary reason you work for a studio or another. Took me a while to figure that out. A lot of studios try to hire people by promoting what game you would be working on. What about the people? If I'm to see the same people five days a weeks, I better enjoy talking to them, otherwise, no matter the game, time will be long!

After that, let's assume you work with lot of awesome people, and you actually enjoy working with them. Remember, good friends don't always make good co-workers and vice versa. What of the job? The game could be low budget title without much scope, if you actually enjoy the work you're doing, you can have ton of fun.

Truly, the game itself comes last. It is still important! After all, the video game industry is a world of creativity, and it's rewarding to see something totally new take shape with your help. If it's something good and you can be proud of it, the better. However, don't put too much expectation on them, as they come and go.

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Ah, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands for the Wii. It was the first time I actually did overtime for my own pleasure - we were simply that committed to making that game. The team was awesome, the work was gratifying, and the game was something never seen before when it comes to that kind of navigation game. It's from that production that I learned to code and from which I moved from level design towards a more technical oriented role.

It was also a totally different beast; the previous games were made between six and eight months each. They needed to be done fast and to quickly move on. This game on the other hand took almost three years to make. The personal investment is at a totally different level. We were making something unique, and we were given the resources to do it.

What I learned from this game is that there is quite a difference between producing a game, and creating one. It's not the size of a game or the time you spend on one that make the difference, it's how much you actually can craft it. So far, I've only talked of game that followed a pre-determined franchise. While it is also true with "Prince of Persia" as it is quite a well-known universe, we had tremendous liberty to reinvent the formula to make a totally unique game for the Wii.

On the other hand, I also learned something about large corporation the size of Ubisoft; it's all about politics. At some point, a few months before shipping, the marketing department came to see us and tried to explain why they would not invest in promoting that specific game. Instead, they would promote the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 version made by Ubisoft Montréal. Our game box would be the same as Montréal's, and while their version would take the spotlight, we would be announced as a kind of port for the Wii. While our game had nothing to do with Montréal's version - expect that they both sported the name "Prince of Persia" - the other version would be displayed as being the main one.

Four months after shipping, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands for the Wii couldn't be found in any retailer's store where I lived.

If you can actually find a copy, I would tell you to give it a go. It has some much bonus content we added on our own time. You can see from the box art above, it even contains a port of the 1992 Prince of Persia version. Porting such an old game and making it work on the Wii is no small feat. Our team could have easily decided to not go the extra length, but they did. Even without the marketing, our version still got better reviews and I've read threads online of people saying they actually really enjoyed it. Which really, is the best you can ask from something you help craft.

In all, this is the game that got me believing I was doing the right job, the one I would be happy to do the rest of my life. While being at it, I would like to apologize for the crystal puzzle. I've heard some disliked it a lot.

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I see Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood as pretty much a continuation of the previous project. Yes, it was a big AAA title, but our mandate was small and fun; we did Leonardo's inventions. We made crazy things in the last game, and we were asked to do the same for a much bigger one. I still believe this one to be the best Assassin's Creed game for lot of different reason.

Unlike Prince of Persia, it was a rather quick job; not even a full year of work. One of the things that made our part of creating that game work well was that at any time, if something went really wrong, our work could have been removed without affecting anything else. This lack of dependency made our work and our relationship with the other studios involved go rather smoothly.

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Assassin's Creed III, on the other hand, was a monster in all aspects; a team beyond huge, in so many studios around the world, insane budget, humongous marketing campaign, and crazy expectations. The timeline was a bit short considering the amount of content, but it was totally feasible.

However, it is still the game that made me leave Ubisoft. What went wrong?

For one, our work suddenly got pushed in the center stage. Every mission of the game was to start in the map we were building; the Homestead. There was no "cutting our content out" if something went wrong. Suddenly there were dependencies everywhere. I believe that for this reason, our studio - Québec - and the main one - Montréal - had to do a lot more communication.

The issue is that Montréal already had their hands very full, with a huge team to manage. Email can only do so much to convey importance or precision to some issues. In many cases, we had to wait for their decision, and we were under the same deadlines as them. It's only natural that they would focus first on their own problems before looking at our owns. In a few case, we decide to move forward because we had been waiting for weeks for an answer. When they finally had time to help us, it happened more than once that they asked us to scrap our work because it wasn't following what they wanted.

Now, it's never fun to be asked to redo your work. However, it's rather nerve wracking when it's because of some communication failures or because someone is simply too busy elsewhere. Towards the middle of the development, I found myself doing more communications than actually work. Calls, emails, messages, scrums, meetings... Management wasn't my forte and obviously not what I wanted to do.

A few other events with Montréal - which I won't talk about - made this situation even worse. Coworkers stood up for me, and for that I will always be grateful. However, the damage to my morale had been done. Before that moment, internal politics was something remote, something I didn't have to preoccupy myself with on a daily manner. Not anymore, I was right in the middle of it, and it's something I do not enjoy at all. The fact that this production lasted over two years wasn't helping. I bit the bullet, hoping for better after.

Turkey

( image from http://assassin-turkey.tumblr.com/about )

For the record, the Assassin's turkey was pretty much the last content I made while working for Ubisoft.

When I was told the next project would be the next Assassin's Creed, I decided it was time for me to leave.

Bridge Logo

For the next six months, I tried a few things on my own; but mostly worked on Bridge; http://bridgedevice.net/

The idea was nice, but I never did anything like that. It ended up a failure, but a good one I guess.

While I learned a lot about a lot of things - like making a website - but nothing else really panned out. I had some money on the side, so I was able to survive without a paid job for a while. What I did for most of that time - I would say - was to try to build back my morale. But reality caught up as my bank account was running low.

bkom

A friend told me they would need a technical guy in the studio he was working for; http://bkom.com/

You should keep an eye out for them, they are growing quite fast!

Bkom is in some aspect the total opposite of Ubisoft; they are small, working mostly on mobile games, and they make games for third party licenses. I learned a lot there, but things different from what I was used to. For example, how to ship a game for a cell phone, and how to do it with a team of twenty people or less. The challenge is quite different, sometime more rewarding.

I'm not at liberty to say which games I work on for them, but you can go look at their website. They managed to rank up quite an impressive list of clients such as Hasbro, Marvel, Disney or Wizards of the Coast. They have quite some ambitions!

Three months ago I left Bkom. What's happening now is also something I never done before, but something I believe those last ten years prepared me to do. With a few friends, we started a new video game studio named Cradle. (https://www.facebook.com/CradleGames/) We got ton of help from a lot of people, and it's going a lot more smoothly than we believed it could ever be. We should have some announcement very soon about what we are doing, and I really hope gamers will like it. The challenges are once again quite different; such as finding more people to come join us or shaking hands with lawyers and investors.

 

After having worked on two start-ups - Ubisoft Québec and Cradle, on AAA titles and on mobile budget games, where is the best place to work? I don't know. I would say it's different for everybody. If you have the opportunity to work for Ubisoft, you should probably take it; it can be a lot of fun. Participating in a start-up is also quite the experience, only a lot different. I don't believe the game or the place itself is what make a job worth doing; it's the people you do it with and the job itself, and I know there's a lot of very awesome people in the video game industry.

 

Marc-André Jutras

Dude who does technical things

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