2015 was quite a milestone year in my career: I hit the 10 year mark as a videogame developer - being lead gameplay programmer at Ubisoft Quebec. And I fulfilled a dream I had since my first day working in our industry - shipping a AAA game as a member of a lead studio, with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
After the game was released, we sat down as a team discussing the reviews. There was this great overall feeling of "we did it!" And of course we also started talking about the future; specifically, were there things we'd like to improve? Yes. Lots of things.
Then, after the celebrations and the high fives I went on vacation and, as seems to be the case when you reach such an important milestone and suddenly have time for yourself, I began thinking about my future as a AAA game developer in a AAA lead studio. When you think about your future, your mind comes across many scenarios, from boring to crazy. And in that process I got thinking about the things that keep me rolling every day when I wake up:
What is great about AAA games with lots of content is that the sky is (almost) the limit - as a developer you can think (really) big. It's all about grabbing the opportunities. A core value in our team is that everyone can influence the creative process and provide input into it whether you're a veteran or an intern - anyone can have a good idea.
I remember during an early phase of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate we were brainstorming about the horse carriages. Since the game was taking place in London during the Industrial Revolution we wanted them to be systemic and dynamic. Then we got excited; if we're going to have systemic carriages, then we should also have full-fledged parkour and fight on top of them! And since we'll have parkour and fight on moving objects, we should totally have systemic trains, just because trains are awesome! And then someone from another studio suggested that the Assassins’ hideout could be a moving train. The ball got rolling and we began prototyping right away.
Being able to think big on AAA projects is great, inspiring and motivating.
There are many aspects of our own culture that I appreciate, for different reasons:
Production wise, Ubisoft is structured to enable several studios to collaborate on one project. In the case of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Ubisoft Quebec was designated as the lead studio, but a total of ten different studios contributed to the game. We all know the challenges of developing AAA games with huge teams spread in different time zones. It's damn hard, mistakes are made, and there are lots of sleepless nights. But when all those teams are working with passion towards the same goal, you realize it also strengthens the overall development of the game, and that lots of beautiful things will emerge from this process.
Personally, I think our collaboration model is a more human way to develop AAA games. When the pressure is on, we know that we can and will get help from other studios if and when we need it. While in production, we're under a lot of pressure to get things done; after all, we need to deliver all the promises we made back when we were excitedly brainstorming all those cool features. And we all know unforeseen problems will arise. So, getting that extra help is greatly appreciated. And I do think having that support network in place helps retain more senior team members, like myself, who are likely looking for a certain level of stability in this industry. (I have two wonderful kids, it’s great to see them :) )
On another spectrum, there’s this beautiful thing happening when you’re part of a big team working on a huge AAA game involving studios all around the world. It’s when all the pieces are coming together and you find yourself being surprised and amazed about your own game. You arrive at the office in the morning, sync to the latest build and you’re just wowed. I love that larger-than-life feeling.
Our team at Ubisoft Quebec consists of highly-skilled people from various fields of expertise. It's a rich blend of colleagues (friends, really) who have been working together for more than ten years, coupled with newcomers, whether that’s seniors from different countries, cultures and studios or juniors who are bringing their own perspectives and energy. Most importantly, we're a group of people that cares about each other while being able to challenge ourselves and push each other forward.
As a lead programmer, I always say that my job is to make sure we ship a great game (the results), all the while making sure that the team will want to make another one after (the motivation). Those two objectives must be equally balanced. The good news is that when we finished Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the first thing we wanted as a team was to regroup and sail towards a new adventure.
So 10 years in, this is where I stand. On a personal level, I feel that I'm in the right place at the right moment and I still want make people dream with the games I create. This is an industry full of challenges, but also opportunities. Imperfect as our AAA development process might be, at the end of the day, what we’re doing here works. I’m confident that with the rest of the teams in Quebec we’ll continue to deliver great things, take on the challenges and continue to improve – for ourselves and also for the gamers.