Patrice Desilets: 30 words on creativity, plus a peek at 1666

In his talk at the Reboot Develop conference, Patrice Desilets discussed 30 words that he associates with creativity...and showed off some in-engine footage of his game 1666: Amsterdam

At the Reboot Develop conference, Assassin's Creed director Patrice Desilets shared 30(ish) words that he associates with creativity. Though some were related directly to him and his experience, they all came back round to general relevance to game developers in the end. 

Here's the format I'll use for his talk: I'll share the word, followed by the description he gave. I've left in cases in which he addressed Gamasutra directly, because, as Desilets said, “Everyone I know is in the front row.”

1) Concept

“If I talk, one minute, on one word, and I have 30 words, then I have 30 minutes. In this way, concept is kind of a mathematical solution to a problem that you have. I use that also to buy Christmas gifts. Each year I try to find one concept to give to all the family members. One year it was tickets to a show.”

2) Creativity

“The most important thing is that I'm not special because I'm a creative director. I believe everyone is creative, and the core of creativity is finding solutions. You have a problem, you find a solution to it, and people go 'wow, interesting!' and that's it.”

People though the rewinding of time in sands of time was interesting. “We were dying a lot, and it was like 'uh, respawning is boring.' So I had this idea to just have a rewind. It's normal. It's a human thing to be creative.”

3) Quebec 

“It's a really creative place. Why are we so creative in Quebec? I believe it's because we are small, and when you're small you have to yell a bit more to eventually be heard. I believe you all come from a place. A city, a state, a country. You can draw on where you come from for creativity. Talking about yourself will make different products, and at the end of the day people will appreciate it.”


4) Assassins 

“That's why I'm here, I guess! The main thing about assassins is the core creed. 'Nothing is true, everything is permitted.' And this is how I actually live my life. I removed a bunch of social masks, and to be creative you have to have as little mask as possible. The mask tells you, 'you shouldn't do this, people won't like this, to be successful, you have to do this.' Just let it pass through you.”

5) Panache Digital Games

(for those of you keeping score, this is three words)

“Without a good excel sheet that goes and pays the people you cannot have a company. Panache is a team, all the tips are the single members of the team, but together we're stronger.”

6) Dialog

“I strongly believe it's all about the dialog [with the player]. Some people start having the dialog while they're making the game – it's called Early Access or Kickstarter. But even when you're making a game just in your studio, you're having a dialog with someone at the end. For me it's a little boy in Minnesota. Why Minnesota? Because it's fun to say. Min-ne-so-ta. I'd like to meet him some day.”

7) Remix

“Everything is a remix. Nobody's really creative, really. You mix stuff you saw, things you read, you mix it together. Nobody ever came up with everything new, that doesn't exist. You can steal some ideas from games I made, I'll steal from yours, don't stress.”

8) Vomit

“I say that often to my team when they're saying 'uh, we're not ready' – just vomit! Just do it! Just write things, just do a prototype, and out of the thing that comes out, there are still some pieces that come out that are good that you can still eat. You got that Gamasutra? Little pieces of bacon you can still eat.”

“Really, just do a first pass. Don't think, don't judge, just make it creatively and something will be good.”

9) Technology

“At the end of the day, it's 1s and 0s and you have to remember that.”

Desilets here referenced having to do Prince of Persia: Sands of time with 32 megs of ram. The OS of the PS2 took up two megs, then the rewind took 5. There were only 25 megs left for the rest. “My idea of a rewind was a good idea, but someone has to come up with the algorithm to make it work. You have to manage resources, and you will push forward some technology at the end. It's being creative with your technological tools.”

10) Pyromaniac

“Sometimes you're a firefighter, sometimes you're a pyromaniac. If you're a game designer, you're a pyromaniac for the rest of the team. You're like 'oh, but what if we did this!' and then everyone says 'oh, here we go again.'”

“Game designers are pyromaniacs, so be careful and aware that you'll be hated. You have to have social skills. You have to go out and have beers with people, and have a smile, because people will hate you. People say 'oh, I could do it. I could design instead.' But not everyone can.”

11) Sell/Play/Tell

(note: also three words)

“This is the way I divide the creation of a game. Conception, production, preproduction doesn't mean anything to the outcome of what you're doing. In conception you have to understand what you're selling at the end of all the phases, not what you're gonna tell. Sell is the actual end product. The dream that everyone can understand.”

“Once you have a prototype, and you understand the ergonomics of it, then you have something. Only after that can you tell the story. The mechanics are the real story. Players hit buttons, and if the buttons work it's fun, and if they don't, it's not. So then you go back to the selling part.”

12) Theatre

“Stage, Shakespeare, is what I use to describe what we're doing to my team. Being live, that's the dialog. I'm here, in real life [at the conference], and it'd be a lot different if I were on a screen. And in theatre they fake a lot of stuff. With some lighting and a palm tree on the side, now you're on a beach. I use this theatre a lot with AI. Your leopard you're building has to be on screen, on time, so you can give the emotion. I use it a lot as an example, and now my team understands, and they will yell that at each other. 'You've done too much! It's theatre!'”

13) Pioneers

“We all are pioneers. If you had to write a book today, there's a lot of people before you who wrote amazingly good books. There's kind of a formula to making a good book. So you start out thinking 'oh, it has to be better than this.' But for us [in games] we're still trying to figure out what this is. And that's great. There's no stress – you can be wrong, because we're all pioneers. Like VR – nobody really knows what it means, or what it will do, is it really about video games, or will it be around in 5 years? It's magical, we're lucky! We have a new toy to play with.”

14) Beatles! 

“Some people don't like the Beatles, okay, so chill out! We feel like we have to please everyone, but you can't. It's impossible. Don't take shortcuts to please 10% or 15%. There are probably a couple million people who are just like you. And some who are not. So don't stress about that.”

15) Time

“Time is something we don't control as human beings. We all run up against this, we worry about how we're gonna eventually die, but we are all gonna die, so don't worry about it. This is why we look at our phones. We're like 'ahhh, I'm gonna die, and I'm worried and oh! [looks at phone] Facebook!'”

“Also it's kind of my thing. Time is something that's good for games, and good for creativity.”

16) Yes

“Yes is the most creative word in any language. When you say no, it's the end of creativity. It's the end of the journey of an idea. It's really strong, and it destroys any creativity. When you're in a meeting and you come up with an idea, and someone says 'nah' – that's it. Even if you don't like the idea, say “yes, or...” and then, it started with a normal bear, but out there there's a unicorn. At the end of the path there's a unicorn. That's an amazing quote for Gamasutra. It could be the title!”

17) Marathon

“You have to stick with some of the ideas, in this long marathon. But sometimes you have to switch, you have to change, but that's okay, because you have to finish the marathon.”

18) Tease

“I like to tease, I think you may understand that I like that. In level design and game design in general, Nintendo taught us how to do it. Tease every feature and mechanic, not by playing it, but by showing it with another character, or the UI, and then teach it. And then let the player practice. And then there's a boss, or a harder part of the level, and then they master it.”

19) Silence

“Our life goes really fast and it's really loud. And sometimes with creativity you have to be in silence. I do that with hockey. I play that, on Wednesdays, and then I come back home, and instead of doing something, I go on my couch and I do nothing. There's nothing, there's silence. And often this is when the best ideas come. Sometimes, whatever you do, just take 5 minutes of pure silence, and you'll see it does this amazing thing to your mind and your soul.”

20) Contrast 

“It was my art director who taught me about that. You can't always be in the same vibe and color, and contrast shows it. Sometimes when you're stuck, think, what's the exact opposite of your problem - and maybe somewhere in there is the solution.”

“If we were in a state of orgasm all the time, orgasms would not be fun. So that's what the contrast is all about. Sometimes you have to be in a state of non-orgasm. That's another good quote. [points at me] Put it with the unicorn somewhere.”

21) Ratio

“When you start, just give some ratios so people can understand the numbers behind it all. On Ancestors, I gave the ratio, what's the length of a chapter. 15 minutes of narrative, 45 minutes of open world. At the end it will probably be 22 minutes and an hour and a half, or maybe 5 minutes and 32 minutes. It doesn't matter – it's the ratio that's important.

“As soon as you can, try to put some scale, some scope in there. Put those numbers in there, just vomit them, and you can massage from there.”

22) Justification

“I hate when games don't justify the way they are. Common sense is important if you want to sell at the end. In Ancestors you play as a narrator, like a BBC style documentary – I justified the reason why you're there in the past. If you can find any justification that's not gamey, it makes your game look better.”

23) Job

“Please don't have a job. You can't punch in and punch out. It doesn't work like that, ever. 85 years and then we're done, roughly. Please don't have a job. Have a passion, a career, but not a job. Not in the game industry, or the game business, or the game art. If you don't like it, just change, do something else. Having a job and creativity, it just doesn't mix.”

24) Standing

“Sometimes you have a problem – don't write a mail. Stand up, talk to your buddies, take them to lunch. Be a primate, a bit. Not the mutant ones we all are. Standing up, the reason why we're here and have big brains and do video games is because thousands of years ago there's one creature who stood up.”

25) Tourist

“Always be a tourist, wherever you go. Be like 'wow!!' Take the little back alley you never take. It'll help you see new stuff and see new people! The tourist is a state of mind. But for that you need to stop looking at your phone, and look up.”

26) International

“We're talking to the entire world. It's amazing. Everything you make will be played by somebody somewhere all over the world. People send me real, written by hand letters, from all over the place, and I feel blessed. Maybe this word is a bit about this blessing. We're so lucky that video games, the nature of the language of video games is international.”

27) Transparency

“Don't hide anything from anyone, really. It doesn't matter. With my team, they know it all, all the time. The studio is a square, so nobody can hide, or miss a discussion. You have to be transparent these days with your gamer as well. You can't hide. They will know, and they will comment on it. I believe that if you're being transparent, they'll let go of a lot of stuff.”

“I believe there's a sphere of ideas on top of us somehow, and I believe the really creative people can access that better, but they have to be transparent.”

28) Rock 'n Roll

“Just like real rock n rollers, we're still here. Yes there's money involved, yes we want to buy a freaking house in Hollywood before Beyonce. It's good! It's cool! The video game guy got the house before Beyonce.”

29) Love

“Creativity is about love. It's about sharing. Love your ideas, love your dream. Love is the real answer to all your problems. It may sound cheesy, but it's true. What we're doing at the end of the day is an act of love.”

30) Surprise

“Last week it all ended well. I'm very happy. Love to them all, and I got my game back. I worked on this two years. So I just wanted to show you what we had in 2012. I'll make it eventually.”

At this point he showed an in-engine demo playthrough of his recently-regained property 1666: Amsterdam, which we recorded here, via cell phone.

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