Month: January 2016

Ubisoft is GREAT

Ubisoft is GREAT

maxresdefault – Premise –

With my last blog post concerning my opinions on what is AAA game production I talked with a lot of my friends, coworkers, ex-coworkers and people around the Internet about the impact on these kind of posts and other things.

I have also read a lot of replies on my friend’s first post and it always come to the same thing, Ubisoft Bashing. It’s a trend right now, and I hate it. It’s probably better now than what it was when Unity came out for example. Ubisoft bashing was all over the place like it was the only bad thing that ever happened in the industry. That was pissing me off at the time and even now, I’m not even at Ubisoft anymore and that pisses me off.

I was not the first to talk about my passed experience and my friend Max was not either. In the last 10 years I saw a lot of posts here and there about people who left Ubisoft (or other companies). Sometimes anonymously, sometimes saying who they were. Some were just plain trash talking, other, like Max’s posted was really professional. The thing I haven’t seen at all (correct me if I’m wrong) is saying how great, as an employee, Ubisoft is/was. So here, I’ll write about my last 10 years at Ubisoft. I’ve stayed here for 10 years because it was GREAT.

– So what is Ubisoft (for me)? –

– The differences between studios –

First of all, I’ve worked at Ubisoft Québec (if you don’t already know). I started my career a little bit more than 10 years ago, on the 7th of November 2005 as a video game tester. Ten months later I became a Level Designer and I moved forward with that and that’s still what I’m doing professionally.

Ubisoft is a really big company. I don’t remember the number of different studios Ubisoft own but they have a lot all around the world. You can also add studios that got bough like Red Storm, Massive Entertainment, Bluebyte and so on.

Because of this, because of the mentality of every countries, habits and all other things, all Ubisoft studios are different. It’s a multicultural company and that’s really nice. I went to Ubisoft Montreal a few times, I worked at Massive for a few months but I mainly worked at Ubisoft Québec. I met a lot of Ubisoft of employees from all around the world in my career and I’ve learn stuff from every one of them.

You can have totally different experiences depending on the studio you work on but still, the same “base” is there for all the studios and I must say, Ubisoft base is great.

– Flexible Hours –

This is a common thing I think in most of the video game companies now but still, it’s part of what define Ubisoft. You can go to work almost between a certain period of time and leave after a certain amount of time (depending on the country you are working). So if you get a pretty big hangover because you were partying the day before, well, instead of going to work at 7 in the morning, just go at 10! There’s no problem with that.

Also, you are not “punching” your time. You know, nobody gave a single damn if I was working 7 hours on one day because I had to go to the dentist for example or that I needed to do whatever else. Your job is done? Sure, take that free hour. Go spend time with your family. Go do whatever you have to do that is important. If your job is done, what is the problem anyway?

– The Environment –

You know, age of people working in the video game industry is low. People are still pretty young. The industry is also pretty young so that’s probably linked I guess. People are getting older that what it was 10 years ago obviously but it’s still the case. The majority of people are under 40.

Young people means FUN.

You know, drinking beer on the job, throwing football between the desks to other people, Nerf gun fights, babyfoot/ping pong/pool table, lounge with all the consoles, arcade, gym, etc. This is what defines the environment.

One other cool thing is the open area. Well, for me it is. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s really nice to be all in the same space without any little walls blocking us. It’s easier for communication. It’s cool to see people around, hearing a joke here and there, screaming nonsence stuff at other… Having fun!

– No “Clients” –

This is not true for everyone but most of the dev teams don’t have “clients”. What I mean by that is that you never deal with the outside world outside of the job. Why is that a cool thing?

Well, you put the cloths you want at the office. Nobody will give a damn about what you are wearing.

You have a mohawk? Nobody gives a damn about it.

That mohawk is pink, blue and purple? Nobody gives a damn about it.

You have 12 piercings? Nobody gives a damn about it.

You have tattoos all over the body? (I worked with a guy like this and he’s awesome) Yet nobody gives a damn about it.

No clients means casual as f**k!

– Free Foods and Drinks! –

Every morning we had fresh fruits for everyone. On Friday, we had super tasty fresh bagels. The fridges were always open so you could have any kind of juice, water and/or soft drink if you wanted.

At Massive, it was even better! Every morning, we had breakfasts. Sandwiches, cheeses, delis, etc.

We also had a lot of cool events related to foods were we were able to tastes awesome stuff like teas, chocolates, wines and so on.

– Parties/Happy Hours! –

Obviously, since we are “young” in the industry, we like to party a lot. At the beginning of Ubisoft Québec we had happy hours every 2 weeks or so. Free beers and foods for everyone. On AC Syndicate, it became a habit. We had happy hours every week with free beers and stuff.

Parties is also a big thing at Ubisoft. Parties are BIG and awesome. Obviously, with open bar… We had all kind of crazy things at our parties. I was there for 10 years! So that’s a lot of parties to go. Every Christmas, every shipped projects and other reason where all good to throw a party somewhere. About the crazy stuff, I can remember parties with inflatable fighting ring, flame spitters (?), jugglers, dancers, fit man in kilts, Tyrolean traverse, pirates, music bands, sugar shacks, bus trips, and so on.

That was something.

I’m missing that for sure!

– Traveling –

This is one big thing at Ubisoft. You can travel a lot if you want to. I haven’t travel that much for personal reason but I still when to Paris for two weeks and in Sweden three times and one of them I lived in Sweden for four months. All that being paid!

I’ve a lot of ex-coworkers who traveled a lot more than me. Going all around the world.

Like I said above, Ubisoft is big and has studios all around the globe. More than often you will be sent on a mission for a few weeks/months in another country for various reasons like mentoring, learning new tools, teaching stuff, helping starting up a projects and so on. And remember, ALL PAID.

– Resources Sharing –

Again, because Ubisoft is SO big, there are a lot of resources sharing between studios. You know, when you want a crate in your game for example, you don’t ask a modeler to create another crate that was created on another projects in the last year. You take a crate in the shared asset bank and you pimp it a bit for your project.

There is also a pretty big intranet site that looks like any other social media but more focused on sharing information. There are a lot of people sharing how they work, their tips and tricks and other things like this. Lot to learn there.

There is also countless training videos around there where you can learn a lot of stuff. I know a guy, who was a level artist and became a level designer just because he learned a lot by himself using these training videos.

– Talents –

There are a lot of people at Ubisoft, a few thousands. One thing that is pretty amazing is the number of persons there who are SO talented. You can learn a lot in your department and even in other departments just by speaking with other employees around the globe. It’s good for the company, it’s good for the juniors, it’s also good for the seniors and it’s good for the point above (resources sharing).

– And so on… –

I could probably continue talking a lot about cool things. Some of them are probably also available in other video game companies. There are probably also a lot of other companies who gives even more stuff than this! I could talk about insurance plan at Ubisoft (that is really super duper awesome) for example or the classic bonuses after you ship a project (and when you are on a project). That big money you get and say “Well, cool, thanks! I was not expecting that”, etc…

– Ending notes –

So, all in all, I wouldn’t have spent a third of my life in a company if it was not that great. I seriously think that more people should also write/talk out loud what were the awesome things they experienced in they career after leaving a company or even when they are still working for a company.

I’ve no idea if this post will get a lot of attention because it’s always better for the big lines to say that something is BAD or why someone LEFT. Because of the blog I posted to follow what my friend Max has said I never got that much people ending here. That would be great that double this amount would see this one instead.

I still hope that a lot of people will read it and realize that there are grey zones everywhere. For me, there were way more “white” zones than “dark” zones at Ubisoft for sure.

Seriously. If you read this, I’m not asking that normally but SHARE this post everywhere that you can. I want to know that people will also be aware that most of the time (by far) it’s AWESOME to work for Ubisoft.

EDIT (29/01/16): Thanks to everyone who shared this blog post. I’m really happy to see that a lot of people also like to read about the good stuff of the industry, not just the bad. ❤

EDIT#2: To whoever shared that in Romania, you guys just made that blog post explode. Thanks for passing by!

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Inside vs Outside AAA

Inside vs Outside AAA

– Premise –

One of my ex-coworker, Maxime, wrote an article on his new-indie-company blog that got a lot more views that he was expecting. If you haven’t read it already (because it was on all the big sites), have a look right there : Why I quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft. It’s pretty good.

I wanted to write about this because of the “storm” that article created.

I must say that it really surprised me how much attention it got because for me this is “obvious” things. Day to day business and nothing more. Well, used to…

But then, I realized that these kind of things are not “going out” a lot. People, gamers, have no clue for the most part how it’s done in the inside. The typical stuff we hear from non gamer is, “You play games all day.” Then the stuff we hear from gamers is normally, “That company sucks hard, all their games are shit, etc, etc”.

So, let’s talk about this.

– The Outside –

From a developer with more than ten years on my belt, it’s hard now to put myself in the place of someone who has never worked in the industry. Like I said above, all the stuff that seems to be so “incredible” for people outside is just day to day business that I lived for the last ten years. Like many others.

There are so many people talking about so many different subjects on so many different website related to the gaming industry but a few of them dare to talk about “the real stuff”.

I can understand why, I mean, the industry is pretty small. Really small in fact. Everyone knows everyone to some extent. You don’t want to trash a company just for trashing it. You’ll be flagged for sure.

People knows about the basics, the stuff that gets out like crunches, unpaid overtime and so on but people don’t know how it is on a daily basis. Long crunches leads to burnouts. I’ve a few friends who had to leave for a long time because they were totally burned down.

Some people say that we play games all day. Other people say that “we’re just making games”. Well, a job is a job. Yes, creating games is awesome but that’s still a job. There are good stuff and bad stuff in every job. Video game development is no different.

I’m glad though that Maxime dared to talk about his past job at Ubisoft in a really professional way because all the points he said are valid and really true. Because of that, more people know about the inside. The part of the industry that is pretty well hidden. Some day it’s really bright, some day it’s not.

So, let’s talk about it.

– The Inside –

I won’t repeat what Max said in his article because I don’t have the same parkour nor the same background. On the other hand, we have worked on a lot of project “together” during our 10 years at Ubisoft.

He left a few weeks after me if I remember correctly.

All in all, I think we have left Ubisoft mostly for the same reason.

I also tasted “the forbidden fruit” of small team awesome development on Duel of Champions. Luckily for me though, the game I co-created (I was Game Designer on the project) got released compared to both his two small games Maxime worked on.

My dream was never to work on AAA games or anything like him though. I just wanted to make games. Games that I would be proud to say that I’ve worked on like Prince of Persia Forgotten Sand Wii, Duel of Champions and AC Syndicate.

Maxime wrote that he left because he had no motivation anymore because he didn’t had really any impact on the game as an architect on Syndicate. I’ve no idea about his job back then but I can understand why. It was really different as a Senior Level Designer and also Lead Level Designer though. I had a lot of impact on the game. I built the whole skeleton of London from scratch with the World Director. It was a really big challenge to fit London in a 2×6 km map without losing any key locations. London is what it is right now mostly because of what we’ve done back then at the start of the project. I’ve also worked on all the districts to some extent and was in charge of one. I also worked on a lot of milestone demo and other stuff.

All in all, my impact on the game was really big on my point of view.

But I still left Ubisoft and I’m also not interested in the job interview I get from big companies anymore.

Why did I left then?

Well, like Maxime wrote, in big teams people get super specialized in one way of working. I really realized that when I was doing the test for Larian before I got hired. Basically, I didn’t knew how to do “anything” anymore. I’ve worked on six Assassin’s Creed games. That was what I was doing since Brotherhood. AC, AC, AC and AC games… I had a small break with Duel of Champions and The Division. But they were small breaks. I really knew how to do AC games but that was it! When you are doing the same thing over and over for years. You forget everything else. There’s a joke we were saying back then about “a dude” who was in charge of placing bird shit on roofs. You know, it sounds funny but that was not far from the truth.

The first half of Syndicate I was a lead Level Designer. I was in charge of a small team of six Level Designers. That was my goal at Ubisoft for a long time. I wanted to be a mentor, someone in charge. I became Lead LD on The Division. I was also lead on Black Flag but both of these project were nothing compared to Syndicate. It was fun the first year, when the team was still relatively small. Under 100 persons or something like this. When production really started though, that’s when shit started to hit the fan. Being a lead was not exactly how I was seeing it anymore.

I’m a Level Designer, I need to work and create stuff in the editor. That’s my trick! But yeah, as a lead, I was doing task management, planning, bug assignments and other stuff like this. That was when I was not in meetings, because, on a project THAT big, you are always in meetings. If fact, I was doing overtime just to do some Level Design… One day, I decided to take a step back and asked to be a “normal” Level Designer again. It was the best move for me and the project (LD-wise).

Another thing that is “shocking” on big projects like Syndicate is the layer of managers. From a “floor employee” to the Creative Director you have layers and layers of management, leads, project managers, associate producer, producers, coordinators, production managers, etc. There were also managers to manage managers because they were so many. That was seriously crazy. We had people who were only tracking information between studios. That’s what they were doing eight hours a day. Forwarding info from a studio to another. Too many chiefs I must say…

Also, probably like any big companies, not only in the game industry, when you are that big, there are a lot of political games all around the place. It’s even “worst” when you are a manager. It’s incredible how you need to make sure what you say, write and do is politically correct every time. You can’t do any mistakes or you’ll get burn really hard. You need to be friend with the right people and walk straight. I got a lot of friends who got burned just because they said legit stuff to “harshly” or because they were “saying the truth”. In my mind, making games were all about fun no?

Over the years, all these “smalls” things became bigger and bigger and at some point I decided to leave. I wanted to know something else. To learn new things. To see how other people were doing games.

All in all, I’m really proud of what AC Syndicate became even if I was not there at the end. It’s a really great game. But like Maxime and all the other seniors who left, I guess that was just too much for us. I’m sure some people say that we are leavers or anything like this. That we could not handle that big machine. Maybe it’s true but I don’t take it that way.

 

– Ending notes –

Compared to Maxime, I didn’t went Indie. Well, in some kind of way yes maybe. I work for an  indie company now. It’s so different on many level. It’s cool to not feel like a number anymore. It’s also awesome to know that the CEO of the company knows you really well. Life at Larian is not perfect but it’s really great. For me, it’s better that way. Smaller, more human approach on projects. What Ubisoft Québec used to be back in the days in fact. A place where you knew everyone.

PS: Agree/disagree, questions? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment 🙂
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EDIT (27/01/16): One important thing to note there though is, probably compared to Maxime, that I would have stayed at Ubi if it would not have been for Larian opening a studio in Quebec. I will also write another post to talk about my life at Ubi in detail because it was a great 10 years for sure. I just found out that AAA production is probably not for me so I left to work on “smaller” projects but more importantly, to see “something else”.

 

 

World of Simulator Simulators?

World of Simulator Simulators?

Or Who’s Doing the Dumbest Game

Premise

I can’t remember these days because I was not alive but back in the 80s, video game had a pretty big crash. There were a ton of shitty consoles on the market and game companies where making games like mad men. All gamers probably know what happened back then with the pinnacle of all, E.T. on Atari 2600. People where like “Fuck that industry and their shitty products!”.

I don’t want to say that we’re going into a crash because a lot of people already talked, wrote and screamed about it. I don’t really think that’ll happen. But, why, seriously why, are all these people doing shitty games?

I was about to go to sleep but I saw a popular new release on steam. It’s called… nah, I don’t even want to write the name. People could get interested! I’ll write a few lines instead.

AAA Money Sucker Simulator

Games

This is how I categorize games now a day.

Am I just an old fart who can’t enjoy anything anymore? I don’t think so. I look at game differently for sure since creating games is my job. Like a movie maker probably has a hard time “not complaining” when he watch a movie.

But  seriously. This is how it is right now.

On this post, I just want to talk about the green part.

STUPID INDIE GAMES

For me, it all started with Goat Simulator.

I thought it was funny and “new”. I mean, an open sand box where you do whatever you want with a set of mechanics. You character is a goat. Cool I guess, goat where trendy at that time.

I wonder why it was not a cat simulator that came first though…

Anyway.

I don’t understand people. All these shitty stupid games are doing so well. People enjoy them SO MUCH. But I’m wondering if people really like them or just buy those games because it’s even more stupid than the last one they bought.

I Am Bread for fuck sake! Yes there is gameplay and all but, seriously? You play a fukin’ bread slice. At least, gameplay is decent I guess.

But more recently you have crazy stupid games beyond comprehension.

Who’s Your Daddy… One guy play the dad and one other play the baby. If you are the baby you have to kill yourself. If you are the dad you need to do whatever possible so the baby don’t die. Why the?

Shower with your dad… Beyond shitty pixel art (Realm of the Mad God has its charm at last!) where you play a naked kid seeking for his naked dad taking a shower. Don’t hit the wrong dad though! If you see what they did there…

I could give more example but I don’t want too, people could go buy these games.

On a more serious note. Why are people buying these games seriously? I can understand people who wants to create them, people out there put their green thumbs up on all of these games on steam whenever there’s a new one. It’s even better for them it’s is dumber than the last one I think.

Conclusion

It may sound like a bland rank post. But that’s not exactly my purpose. Venting air was not the purpose either. I would seriously want to know why people are supporting devs who are doing these piles of dump.

I also seriously hope that it’s a trend and that it’ll die soon. Like clickers game for example. It lasted a few and that was perfect.

PS: I really like clickers. I love numbers. Numbers are cool.

 

 

Passion, that state of mind

Passion, that state of mind

– Passion –

It has been a long time since my last blog post. I must say that I didn’t had anything interesting enough to write about. For this one post, I’ll change the format I usually do with the premise and all and I’ll just write stuff. It may be a bit chaotic.

My friend Robin was telling me that he got hooked by my blog and started his own. I must say that it’s pretty nice and I’m glad someone started to write about stuff “because of me”. He also told me that he was waiting for my next post! But still, I had nothing worth a text. Then we talked a bit about random stuff and one thing came out of this, we were talking about the great time we had when we worked on Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands and how passionate we were.

So why not writing about this?

Passion.

But, Passion, related to, obviously, video games. Even more, related to working in the industry.

During the last ten years, I worked on a lot of different projects. I also worked on personal projects “on the side” (they never saw the light of days though). Some of them were awesome and some of them were boring as shit.

One thing that was obvious on all the projects I worked on was, when I was passionate about them, I was working 200%. On the opposite, when I was not, my work was not that good. I’m this kind of person. When I’m passionate about something I’ll work/spend time so much and so hard without even thinking about it. Sadly, when I’m not, I’ll need to kick myself just to do the bare minimum. That sucks, seriously. I know people who can motivate themselves even when they hate what they are doing. Sadly, I just can’t.

I remember back on PoP. Some of my colleagues and myself spent a lot of time, overtime in fact, working on bonus maps. Stuff that was not planed in the game. Maps that were not even part of the story. We were doing that because we were passionate so much about the game and we wanted that game to be the best PoP ever. I even worked, at some point, 14 days straights on that project and I was not forced too. I just wanted to do it. Just for the sake of doing bonus stuff. This is what passion can do to someone. Maybe it’s because I was younger. Who knows?

Obviously, companies, in my honest opinion, should try to focus on stuff related to what drive their employees. Is it easy to do? Hell no. I know it. Especially when you work on a AAA studio. Projects come from head management and you work on that. It’s also pretty rare that you can choose to work on something. More than often managers put you on a project and that’s it.

I had the chance to choose in the past and I must say that I had the opportunity to work on projects that were awesome. Like Might & Magic : Duel of Champions. Another project where we were able to see what a passionate team can do. The whole team was playing the game every day, people were tweaking their decks and all. Everyone on that project was playing every time. That was really awesome to see and the energy people had on the project was contagious.

Sadly, I worked on less projects I was passionate about than the opposite. As a gamer, it helps when you work on projects that you would play. For me, that was not really the case at Ubisoft. I’m proud of every single project I worked on but as a gamer, Ubisoft games are not the kind of games that I like.

So coming back on the point I was talking about earlier, it would be more of a dream to “ask” companies to create games related to the likings of their employees. I guess a few can do it, like Valve for example. I’ve heard that people work on what they like and want. But well, that’s probably why they release one game every 1000 years. But that’s another story.

So I guess the “solution” for me was to find the companies who make the games I liked and work for them. I’m now at Larian. They make RPGs. That’s a style of game that I like a lot. It’s not my perfect type of game as a gamer, I’m an RTS guy. But still, as a gamer, I play RPGs, so that’s pretty awesome!

Maybe the most obvious but also hardest solution for someone who seek passion work would be to start his own company. That’s a bold move though and also pretty risky.

On the other hand, even when you work in the “perfect” environment, sometimes, you have your days/weeks of “meh”. This damn thing when you need to kick yourself to go to work even if everything is awesome. I have this kind of “problem” every few months and I must say that it’s pretty hard for me to get back on track. I don’t know why because, this mood arrives and leaves as fast. One day it’s going “meh” and then the other day it’s going well.

Being passionate about your work is a weird state of mind isn’t it? But one thing for sure is, when you’re “in the flow”. Get the shit done!