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GDC Europe: Embrace The Constraints of Your IP, Says Ubisoft's VandenBerghe

At a lively, Gamasutra-attended lecture given by Ubisoft creative director Jason VandenBerghe, the industry veteran offered up a set of rules for tackling the creation of video games for existing IPs, which he had dubbed "The Magic Gun."
At a lively Gamasutra-attended GDC Europe lecture given by Ubisoft creative director Jason VandenBerghe, the industry veteran offered up a set of rules for tackling the creation of video games based on existing IPs, which he had dubbed "The Magic Gun." In order to create the best product possible, developers must embrace the constraints of an existing IP rather than seeing them as a hindrance, he said, and "revel in what makes your IP different." VandenBerghe told attendees the best way to go about tackling the situation was to first become a fan of the IP by finding a teacher and learning the possible constraints of the IP. Finally, developers need to embrace these constraints and consider how these can be used to your advantage or worked around. He covered a variety of IPs which Ubisoft has worked with in the past and present, including Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Marvel and Ghost Recon, going into detail about the constraints involved with each and how they were tackled specifically. VandenBerghe went into the most detail regarding the James Bond IP which, noting that working on a Bond game is the best way to understand just how restrictive working with film IP is. The character of James Bond is so well known around the world that "everyone is an expert," explained VandenBerghe, "and each person's Bond is slightly different than everyone else's." He described when he first started working with the James Bond IP, and was hearing about constraints from the rest of his team such as "we can't shoot enemies in the back" and "we can't put in bathrooms. Bathrooms aren't allowed." At the time, he asked himself, "is it really possible that the people who own the number one film series in the world are that fucking stupid?" He decided to investigate the James Bond series, and read every one of Ian Fleming's James Bond books -- this allowed him to understand why the fans celebrated the series so much. He then approached Danjaq, the company which owns the IP for the James Bond novels, as he believed its employees would understand James Bond the best -- "they were the teachers," he explained. VandenBerghe visited the Danjaq headquarters and showed as much interest as possible in the series, at which point he found that the company was far more open to talking about the constraints of the IP and possibly working around them. For example, the company did not want James Bond to kill innocent people who were not a threat. As a workaround, Ubisoft would make seemingly innocent enemy soldiers have short conversations that the player could hear, in which they would talk about bad deeds they were planning to commit -- hence, allowing James Bond to kill them. By working with Danjaq, VandenBerghe said that he and his team were able to find ways around the majority of constraints. He noted that if a constraint was going to impede the game in some way, and there was no notable workaround, the feature would simply be cut from the game.

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