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Ubisoft's new swordfighting game is a lesson in persistent pitching

For Ubisoft Montreal creative director Jason VandenBerghe, getting For Honor greenlit wasn’t a forgone conclusion. In fact, it was a concept more than 10 years (and multiple rejections) in the making.

During Ubisoft's annual E3 press conference today Jason VandenBerghe, creative director at Ubisoft Montreal, unveiled the new property For Honor, a 4 vs. 4 multiplayer game (with a full campaign mode) that pits knights, Vikings, and samurai against one another.

The teaser trailer for the game seems to be well-received, but for VandenBerghe, getting the game greenlit inside Ubisoft wasn’t a forgone conclusion. In fact, it was a concept more than 10 years (and multiple rejections) in the making.

“If you think back 12 or 13 years ago, pitching a game with this type of subject matter, it just wasn’t cool, right?” he explained in a press briefing prior to today’s unveiling. “So the culture has shifted. We’ve had Game of Thrones, these massive successes that have made the subject more approachable.”

He also said that this generation of consoles helped get past the technical challenges of such a game. “There’s a lot of tricky stuff that makes this kind of character work.”

VandenBerghe started thinking about the concept for For Honor while he was taking a course on Western martial arts. He was thinking about the flow of combat, and the use of melee weapons, and, like a game design often does, how to apply that to a gamepad. VandenBerghe said he found himself walking down the sidewalk, thinking, as his hands held an imaginary game controller.

The game is built around the swordfighting mechanic that he and his team devised, dubbing it the “Art of Battle” system. He said it’s a new organization of the game controller, one that uses the right stick for sword combat.

Yannis Mallat, head of Ubisoft Montreal, explained what it was like when VandenBerghe pitched the idea (yet again), and how he approved it. “When I met Jason, I think it was clear that he didn’t just have an idea,” Mallat said. “All creative directors have an idea, but when you invest in something, you want to make sure it’s more than an idea.”

Mallat said that in his pitch, VandenBerghe drew the analogy of how the PC used to be the only viable platform for first-person shooters, because no one had yet come up with a true gamepad-based console solution. Vandenberghe said he thought he had the adaptation for intuitive swordfighting for a console controller.

Vandenberghe added, “[Getting greenlit] is also about finding the opportunity to make the right pitch. I got better at it!”

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