Author: Jeff

Radial Level Design

Radial Level Design

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– Premise –

I wanted to write something like for a long time now. Talking about some of the process I’ve used in my career. This time, I’ll write about Radial Level Design. Most specifically the process I used to create London on Assassins Creed: Syndicate at the start of the project when we were only me as Lead Level Design and the Level Design Director Jo.

“What’s Radial Level Design?”, you’ll say. Or even, “What is this weird term?”

Well, this is what I’ll explain in the lines bellow. The goal is to share what I’ve learned on creating a city that exist in real life with all it’s landmarks and personalities in a video game.

Disclaimer: I’m not working at Ubisoft anymore so no image whatsoever will be taken from the actual game and I’ll even take a completely different city for the purpose of this explanation.

– The Process –

The first thing you have to keep in mind while doing a real city in a video game is that obviously, you won’t (well, most of the time I guess) be able to recreate that city as is. The goal though, is still to give a really good feeling of “I know this part!” to the player if they have already visited that city and to respect the city itself.

AC Syndicate was set in the Victorian London era during the Industrial Revolution. One thing that was really interesting and useful for us is that it’s during that time that a lot of stuff that we are still doing today came to be. Like, photography. That was so good for references purpose, even though most of the pictures were pretty much take 20-30 years later than our period in the game, points of interest in a city barely ever change though the years.

So, since I’m from Quebec, I’ll take the beautiful Quebec City as an example throughout this blog post and refer to the process we were doing.

Here is a google satellite view of a part of Quebec.

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– Step 1: The Landmarks –

The first step is to take a map and identify the landmarks and/or all the points of interest.

Landmarks are the spots where every tourists go visit when they are travelling.
Points of interests (PoI) are less important part of a city that still attracts a lot of people.
One last thing that is also a point of interest in itself is a park. Nature/vegetation in a city is always something that creates a wow.

These areas are the pillars of the city. This is where the majority of the production time will be spent. These areas can’t really be bent or altered.
This is also the areas that the player will remember in a game and help him/her navigate in the city remembering where he/she is.

In the map bellow I marked the Landmaks with blue dots, the PoI in orange and parks in yellow.

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– Step 2: The Main Roads and Water –

The 2nd step is to identify the main roads of a city and where the important water flows. I’m not talking about a tiny river here, I’m talking about a nice river or a lake.

Identifying where the main roads are will help you structure the city. The landmarks are where the attention will be gathered but the roads are the back bones, the spine of the city.

The rivers, on the other hands are good mainly to create guidelines to the players. How many times in your life as a gamer have you followed a river? That’s super easy to follow right? Also, sometimes, they are really useful as path blockers or end of map. How many game world end into the ocean at some point?

Another thing that can give a nice guideline to the players are railroads.
We don’t have a lot of important railroads in Quebec so I’ll skip that in the example.
On a side note, in London, on AC, it was on the contrary, really important.

In the image bellow, in blue are the rivers (not a lot!), in red, the main road.
There is also something pretty interesting in Quebec, the city is made on plateaus. The upper city and lower city are separated by a pretty big cliff. There is also another (even bigger) cliff going down the St-Lawrence river.
So, in this specific example, it’s pretty important to take that in consideration.
I represented that with the yellow lines.

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– Step 3: The Districts/Neighborhoods –

Normally this part should be easy. You basically have to split the city into districts. If you are recreating a real city, this should be pretty straight forward.
The goal here is to create zones, not too much, not too little.

Note: This is related to the game you’re doing. Maybe you need 50 different zones, maybe you need 5. So either way, don’t hesitate to merge some or split some if needs be. Back on AC, splitting London into districts, we ended up with 11 at first. (I’ll talk about that later because you always end up with less.).

You can see in the image bellow that I ended up with 9 districts in white.

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First interesting obvious point, just following the river/roads creates districts by itself.
Second interesting point I found that the game would probably be big enough cutting it after that big road to the left. There was just a park after that anyway!

Note: Even in conception, it’s important to think about the production of the game. What is useless now, will also be useless later. So don’t hesitate to cut stuff already.

We had the same thing happening on AC. There was one super cool landmark that was so off of the city that even if that was a really good one, we decided to cut it already at that state of conception.

– Step 4: The Cropping –

Alright, this is the most important part of the process and the hardest. This is also where the whole purpose of this process takes place.

Designing in Radial around the landmark areas after the cropping.

Right now, we have all that we need to create the city but obviously, it’s way too big for a game. Well at least, London was way too big as is, for an AC game. We had to cramp 50 square kilometers into 2×3 kilometers. That was a constraint we had for a lot of different reasons that I won’t explain here.

Note: Again, think about production here but it’s ok to think bigger. You’ll end up, I can assure you, cutting more and more during the production of the game.

So, what you do here is that you take the software that you want and you draw the global layout of the city taking every single landmark/PoI you’ve tagged above related to your main roads, rivers and other important thing you pointed out.
It’s time to go a little bit more micro and it’s time to bend reality.

Note: It’s important to remember that this is conception and that this step is strongly going to change for different reason in production. But this is just an example.

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This is what I came with.
I left the step 3 map under to show the difference in size.
Everything that was on step 3 is still in but is also way closer.
If you see, there’s now a green line (I forgot that on purpose for the sake of the example). Sometimes, you’ll find new interesting things to add as you discover the city more and more.
Around Old Quebec there’s a huge wall, remnant of the construction of the fort, around the city. It’s pretty important! This is the green line.
You can also see that I went from 9 districts to 7.
Cropping everything forced some districts to disappear since they were not needed anymore.
Another point here is that district 5 has no landmark or PoI at all. I like the shape of it since it completes the global layout of the map but if cuts are needed in production, I would kick that one out or bend it to merge with 4 and/or 6. Could also do the same thing with 7.

– Step 5: Radial and Micro –

Now, it’s time to go micro and crop again, on a micro scale, if possible.
For the sake of the example I’ll take the part of the map at the top-right with a bunch of blue points (landmarks).

At this step, the radial design finally comes to life.
There I take a closer look at the map, mark the exact landmark (blue in the image bellow) and make some kind of circular shapes around them.
I usually make a tiny shape around the landmark itself (orange) so the facade around the landmark looks exactly how it’s in real life. It’s important.
Then, I draw another shape around the last one, a bit bigger (yellow), this is the back of the facades and it should respect shapes, since it’s still pretty close to the landmarks.

Sometimes, really often in fact, landmarks are really close to each other so it’s pretty important to create shapes around them all in one. You can see that on the left of the image. There are 4 landmarks really close to each other.

After doing this for all the landmarks in an area, you can chop in the meat. Everything between landmarks are filler. Something that is not important to do as is. It’s shown in the second part of the image bellow.

asdasd.png

You can see here that, the right landmark is way closer. I chopped in the meat. Then, I draw the roads on a micro scale, leaving the mains roads that we had earlier in step 2 becasue they are still the back bones of the city and adding some more to make small areas, thinking about flow and other level design principles.

Then you rinse and repeat for all the landmarks, PoI and other marked areas of your city.

– Step 6: Finishing Up –

So at this stage, you’ll have a pretty detailed first draft of your city. For this step I won’t put an image because it’ll just look like a spider web with all the lines and circles but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now it’s time to put that in the game!

What I do normally is that I put the image I created in photoshop and export that so I can use it as a texture in a 3D software. I put that on a plane, scale it so it makes sense for the size of the main character and then I just create 3D shapes out of the image. Respecting everything that was made above.

Then you put that in the game editor, check the flow and the size, and tweak and check again and tweak again until it feels good enough.
At this point, it’s normal game development. Creating the vistas, the beauty shots, thinking about the flow again, going micro on the filler areas and so on. Then testing again and tweaking again.

– Ending notes –

So, like every single design process, this can be bent and changed, useful or useless. Everyone has his own way of designing things. I found that method was pretty good for planning ahead. It’s pretty straight forward and easy to do.

This is also a a method that can be used to create any kind of map in general. Obviously you will start from blank but building in radial around landmark is one pretty usual thing to do. With that, your layout, your world, will be structured.

Hope that gave you, readers, ideas for some future projects.

I would like to thank Jo Dumont, he’s the one that showed me this method back then.


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Speed “Level Design”

Speed “Level Design”

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Image from worldofleveldesign.com.

I discovered not so long ago, the existence of Speed “Level Design” on youtube.

It’s pretty much the same thing as speed drawing but it’s someone creating a scene in an editor.

It’s fun to watch and most of the time really relaxing thanks to their taste in music. Most of them ending up to be really good looking!

It’s like looking at someone doing a 3D painting.

Well, that’s my problem.

In my opinion, from the dozens of videos I’ve watched, this has almost nothing to do with level design. That’s why the title of this blog is quoted.

I could even dare to say that Speed Level Design is, yep, complete bullshit.

By definition, if we take the words Level and Design, I guess we could say that this trend is, yes, indeed, Level Design because there’s a level and there’s a design process behind it. More of an art/visual process though. That’s pretty much the only thing it has to do with Level Design.

All the videos are pretty much the same. They put a static camera in an angle and create a scene from that single point of view.
So how is it supposed to relate to any Level Design of a game? If someone, who has no clue about what Level Design is supposed to be, they will get a really wrong idea of what it’s indeed supposed to be.

Level Design is about gameplay, flow, difficulty curves, rhythm, emotions and yes composition. Calling something Level Design when the only process shown is composition is really more relevant to Level Art than anything else. Level Designers take the gameplay ingredients available to them and create fun out of it.
Creating a scene, yes beautiful, but filled with trees and rocks with a small pond and a boat has obviously nothing to do with what was written above.

Those video should be about taking an actual setup, a game, then creating a map for it. Creating paths, creating flows, then showing how do they approach their setup from different angle. Showing potential difficulty and especially explain why it’s supposed to be difficult and so on. Then in the end, making it beautiful.

But that defies the purpose of speed isn’t it? Obviously.

I know that watching a video about something that is not really good looking would be pretty pointless or really niche. People in general want to see beautiful things come to life. But yet, this is not the main goal of the Level Designer.

They should just call that Speed Scene Creation, Speed Environment Design maybe or even Speed 3D Art, something like this. At least it would not be giving a wrong idea of what Level Design is.


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PAX SOUTH

paxsouth

PAX SOUTH

– Premise –

Last year I went to PAX East. It was one hell of an experience and this time I was also able to go to PAX South in San Antonio.

It was probably as exhausting than last time but in some way, smoother. PAX South is pretty new so it’s really smaller than East and Prime/West.

Let’s write about this.

– Same but not the same –

I thought I would live the same thing again when I accepted to go to PAX South but luckily enough for me, it was pretty different.

Yes, the booth was the same but a bit better.

The computers were a hassle to plug and making sure everything was working was also pretty annoying every morning because, thanks to computer science, there’s always something that breaks. One day it was an HDMI cable, the other was a USB port, the other day the Ethernet, etc…

This time, since Early Access of the game came out in September, we were showing the campaign instead of the arena mode. I went really smoothly. People were enjoying the character creation and then the main campaign. They had 20 minutes and I’m pretty sure that the appreciation was like 99.9% positive.

Obviously, if you wait one hour to play a game, you’re there because you want to play that game.

I was still pretty surprised by the amount of player who never played the game nor the first one.

Anyway, everybody had a blast.

me
(Mathiew and me with my poker face)

– Shout out to the volunteers –

This time, there was no Lady Killer (even if Sarah and Kelsey were there <3). Instead, we had five volunteers with us.

Needless to say, they were all amazingly good.

James, Lori, Kyle, Mathew and Shawn. Five people from Texas. Five complete fan of the game. I think if I add all the time they played just the early access I probably bust 600 hours easily.

It was awesome to work with them. They helped us A LOT.

– I played the Switch –

YES.

Yes, I’ve played the Switch. When I saw that Nintendo was two booths away from our I was really excited. The first day, Thomas (the video guy) and me waited for 45 minutes before the convention started and we barely made it to play 10-15 minutes of Breath of the Wild.

It felt really good.

The controller, the graphics, the switch itself.

Yeah, day one buy for me!

– Still no time for anything –

Yeah, like last time, everybody start to work at the same time and end at the same time. So I didn’t had the chance to try anything except the Switch because they were open earlier for the press.

There was still a huge part dedicated to board games and table top games which I totally missed. I saw a lot of really interesting games and all but, obviously, had no time to play.

This is seriously some kind of torture. All the great stuff but you can just look when you take a 10 minutes break to walk around.

– Ending notes –

Like last time, it was an exhaustingly amazing experience. I wanted to go to another convention last time and I still want to go to another. Next one is PAX East in one month in Boston. Crossing my fingers so I can go there.

I also really want to go to PAX Prime/West.

There is still a lot of work to do with the game but we’re getting there.

us
Our amazing team: Kyle, Lori, James, Mathiew, Shawn, Sarah, me, Swen, Thomas, Michael, Kieron, Kiril

The Good old Days

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The Good old Days

Fuck new technology.

Yeah, that’s a harsh start isn’t it?

I decided to buy Final Fantasy XV on Xbone today (this article has no relation to FF whatsoever except to start the story). My Xbone is taking some dust here and there. I play a game and then my console goes to sleep for months. Last game I played was Darksouls III.

Whatever.

Seriously, every, single, time, I open my Xbone I have the same message, “It’s time to update!” and there we go. Four, five, six gigabytes of whatever to download. It takes forever, it’s not that my connection is bad or anything but I don’t download 1 GB per sec.

Then after the update is downloaded, the console installs it. At least, this part is pretty quick.

Then, hurray, you get in and also pop that CD in to… well, you know it, start another update. It obviously depends on the game, but it can takes a shit ton of time.

Tonight I had the chance, also, to fuck up my login so I was not able get into my account. You then have to change password, enter a few codes here and there, get some mails, reset other stuff and so on. It took me ages to understand that I had to go on the web and reset the account I was NOT logged in because for whatever reason, I was logged, on my laptop to another microsoft account that was not the one I was using for my xbone.

OK, that part, I think, is on me. But you know, when the only error message you get is “There is a problem on your account, go on the Internet to fix it”… well, fuck that.

Remember the good ol’ days? When you bought a game and it tooks you MORE time to get the cartridges from the Box that starting the game? You were putting the cartridge in, you were pressing power and BOOM you were able to play by pressing START. Yeah, sometimes you had to wait for a logo or 2, but that was it.

Even the freaking television now have fucking loading screens.

Maybe I’m being impatient or maybe it’s just fucking bullshit.

Back in the days, people had to do things without any big flaws because you were not able to update anything. Not the firmware of the console. Not the game. Nothing.

Fuck technology. Seriously.

PS: I opened my Xbone at 9pm. It’s 11:30pm now and FF update is at 49%. Fuck this.


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Pause Please

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Pause Please

I hate meetings.

I. HATE. Meetings. Seriously.

From every single bit of work I had to do in my career, I must say that meetings are probably the part I hated (and still hate) the most.

For me this is amazing how much time and money we lose in meetings. It’s rare, from what I experienced, that meetings were straight forward, to the point without any sliding whatsoever.

During the years, I’ve learned two things:

  • You don’t have to stay in a meeting where you strongly think you don’t belong
  • As an analytic person, I need time to give proper answer to problems

I’ve never checked if I had some kind of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or just that I’m a hyperactive guy (the second option may be more accurate) but I’m really hard for me to just stay at a table around a bunch of people arguing with each other for hours.

The people who know me all know that “I have to click”. Standing still for me is really hard. Weirdly enough, I lose focus after a short period. I start thinking about whatever else and I’m just gone mentally. So being in the meeting or not, at some point, doesn’t change anything because my mind is still gone.

Luckily for me, at Larian, I don’t have meetings. I think I had like 4 in one and a half year. Compared to the number of meetings I had at Ubisoft, especially when I was a lead (sic). I learned that I just had to leave the meetings at some point. It was just useless for me, most of the time, to be in some meetings and I was honestly thinking I was better used in front of my computer.

Going back to the second point I wrote above, I’m not an impulsive person in the sense that most of the time if I get in front of a situation or a problem, as an analytic person I must analyze every single possibility, every single outcome (to some extend) and then, I can say what I must say about a subject.

It is not because I’m a slow thinker, it’s mostly the opposite. I’m a really fast thinker but I need to think about everything.

When I’m in a situation where I have to give an answer quickly without analyzing outcomes I often struggle and I say things that I didn’t wanted to simply because I didn’t had time to think about them.

For me, going to a meeting is, most of the time, putting myself in a situation where I won’t have any control on the outcome because I won’t be able to give enough time to analyze all the possibilities. Obviously meaning that I would be better used anywhere else than there.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried different approaches like preparing myself to a meeting, learning about the subjects and all. It’s good. For real. I still have the same problem though. I come prepare, I explain my point, we argue and at some point, I’m back on square one. I need to analyze to give proper answers.

I know that I’m not alone having this issue but either we are not a lot or a lot of people are just not considering this as important as me to be able to properly think before answering.

So yeah, all in all, after 11 years, I still hate meetings!

 


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Being Healthy – A MUST

Mind-and-Body-Balancing

BEING HEALTHY – A MUST

– Premise –

Not so long ago, I wrote about teaching (or not) level design. In that post I said that I was going to give a workshop in Ireland. A really awesome trip for sure. But I had to cancel it.

I sadly canceled (read reported) it for the sake of my health.

I’m starting to get older it seems.

You know, there are stuff that I can’t do anymore like getting shitfaced one day and being perfectly fine the day after for example. I can’t eat a whole pound of poutine before going to sleep either. I’ll throw up for sure.

I almost passed out when I was at PAX in Boston. Probably a mix of not enough sleep, ending of a cold and the fact that adrenaline and redbull went out at the same time. Well at least, this is what I was thinking back then.

I canceled my trip to Ireland because I had A LOT of vertigo/dizziness for a couple of weeks. I didn’t felt great about it and I went to pass a lot of tests. Blood samples, electrocardiogram, ears, you name it. What I realized is that everything was A1. Heart is good, ears are good, blood is good, etc.

So? You guessed it. It was all due to stress and mostly anxiety. I had a hard time believing this, as a really down to earth guy myself but after thinking a lot about it I realized that it was probably true.

– Anxiety – The Cancer of the Century –

Funny enough (it isn’t really) I realized that a bunch of close friends of mine are all having anxiety to a certain degree. All of them consulted related to this. Lots of ex-colleagues also have the same problem.

I’m writing about this because this is probably the crap that affect most game developer. Anxiety is a nasty stress related problem and stress, you know it, leads to nothing good at all. Stress is the most evil thing these days and depression is more than often caused by it.

I know 5 people working in the industry who are not working right now because of this and know probably as much who had to stop working for a long period of time in the past for the same reason.

Luckily enough, I was able to figure that out before it was too late. Seeing how broken my friends are, I didn’t really wanted to end up like them.

The thing about a problem in the mind compared to a problem on your body is that it takes so much time to fix and that there’s no magical formula. When you break a leg, there is a specific solution to that and it works. When you are chemically unbalanced in your head only time and proper behavior will fix that. For some people it takes a month, for other it takes years.

– The Three Eights –

This is how I called them. The Three Eights. You have 24 hours in a day separated in three parts.

In a perfect world, your days should look like this:

  • 8 hours of sleep
  • 8 hours of work
  • 8 hours of something else (and it should be FUN)

Most humans, like myself, can’t really cut the working part. Some people work 7 hours a day but most people work 8.

Since you have to go to work and come back to work. Most of the time, you can easily add one more hour to that. You either cut on the sleep part or the fun part. I myself, for years, was cutting on the sleep part.

Getting back on the part that I’m getting older means that I need sleep to be able to work properly. We all know that not enough sleeps leads also to a lot of bad things and mostly to stress.

The thing that I realized when I was talking to my doc’ is that she really emphasized on the 8 hours of something else fun. I also discovered that my vertigo/dizziness was never happening when I was doing activities that I liked.

When I was coming back from work, I was thinking about work. I was reading stuff about work on the internet, going on forums and such. It was still strongly related to work. A big chunk of my something else was still work.

I had to cut that out and that’s what I made. I’m really trying hard to make sure that the 8 hours of fun I have each day is really 8 hours of fun and enjoyable activities.

You should do the same for sure.

– Don’t Wait Before it’s to Late –

So, to be short here. Listen to your body.

Your body is talking to you every day so is your brain.

As the saying,

“Being in a depression is not being weak, it’s because one was strong for too long”

People I know that are mind sick all told me that their body were sending them messages but they were not listening. We all know that in the industry, we’ll do, at some point, crunches. Seriously, don’t kill yourself for someone who doesn’t even know your name so he/she can make millions of bucks. Even if that person know your name.

Do overtime when it’s needed and that’s it. And even if it’s needed, you should not stick to it. I’ve had weeks of 70-80 hours of work in the past. I was young. I was fool and passionate. I’m still passionate but I don’t do this anymore. No one should do this. It’s plain bad.

Don’t push your body and especially your mind to a state you won’t be able to recover.

– Ending Notes –

The video game industry is one of a kind. It’s a competitive industry no doubt about it and what I mean by this is that you are always needed to push yourself to the limit. If also happen a lot of time that the limit needed is over your personal limits. Short deadlines, under-staffing, crazy mandate, etc, lead to bad planning and overtime, crazy overtime.

It saddens me to see so many cool people around me being mentally sick right now. All because some crazy producers pushed them way over their limits but they were too kind and said yes every single time without listening to their body.

Remember, work 8 hours, sleep well and enjoy the rest of your day with a happy mindset. Killing yourself at work gives you nothing.

“Oh it gives me bonuses” you may say.

Well, sorry to tell you that a few thousands buck won’t do any good if you can’t even go out without crying for no reason.

Peace.

 


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PAX EAST

PAX

PAX EAST

– Premise –

PAX East 2016 was the first time I was able to go to a game convention as a exhibitor and that was also the first time I was going to a game convention at all.

I must say that this was some really awesome and exhausting experience. Probably the most exhausting weekend I had in my life by far. It took me a few days to get back from that (mostly because I got sick but still).

So, why not write a blog about the experience I got and, once again, the pleasure I had to interact with Larian community.

– I’ve Never Talked that Much –

Seriously, I think that my throat is still not back at its full potential. This is just crazy the amount of talking I’ve done in these three days, saying the same thing over and over again.

We were presenting the brand new combat system we’ve made for Divinity Original Sin 2 or, well, the improvement we’ve made from the 1st game. That was still a lot of stuff to explain to people. Half (random statement) of the people hadn’t played the 1st one yet.

People had 15 minutes to try the game. That was pretty short but we had SO MANY people at our booth all day that it was the maximum that we could give. So I had to explain the whole combat system and the improvements we’ve made in like, 3-4 minutes to make sure the people who waited for like, one hour, had still 10ish minutes to play and that they knew what to do.

My speech was so tweaked by the end of the 2nd day, it was crazy. My mouth just became a machine expulsing words in a perfect way to make everyone understand in the least amount of time. On the 3rd day though, I was starting every one of my speech apologizing to people that my voice was complete crap. People laughed every single time, at least. Talking during 8-9 hours every day, three days in a row, is something.

Game conventions like this are a serious throat killing experience.

I talk a lot in general. I’m like that. My friends know about this. But I seriously never talked that much in a short period of time. When I was not explaining the game to people I was still talking to fans about DoS2 in general or with my colleagues.

I came home on Monday and took off on Tuesday. I haven’t said a single word during that day. It felt really great.

Seriously. Even for me.

– The People –

Wow, SO, MANY, people. And I’ve heard that PAX East is “small” compared to PAX Prime. I’m having a hard time thinking about how crazy Prime is about. I mean, at Larian, we are obviously not Blizzard or Wargamming or whatever other companies who attracts thousands of people. But still, the booth was full ALL the time.

Gates were opening at 10:00am and 5 minutes after, the booth was full and the line was already starting to be filled with people.

Amazing people.

Every single person who came to our booth really wanted to play the game and were amazed by what they saw. Even if that was just a small PvP demo to showcase the combat system.

On the 2nd day, I started to recognize people. I had at least a dozen of them coming back a 2nd time end even a 3rd time to play the game! They liked it so much that they were happy to wait like another hour during their day to replay that small demo for 15 minutes. For me it was just amazing. Amazing to see the support we have from our fans.

Even if we had a few hiccups, like game crashing for example, people were still having a lot of fun and they were all really comprehensive.

We had some pretty well known people coming also, Brittney Bombacher, AngryJoe, Jesse Cox, Bikeman, Tom Marks (from PC Gamer) and so on. I’ve also heard (and I was really sad because I missed him) that Total Biscuit came to our booth. He was really undercover though. It was really cool to see all these awesome people stopping by to play the game with Swen (Larian CEO).

I also had the best bro hug from Bikeman.

And I got a lot of other bro hugs from fans.

Good times.

– Lady Killer –

Lady Killer is a small transmedia/marketing/management/production group of awesome and beautiful geek women. They were working with us at the booth, helping us doing a lot of stuff, managing the cosplayers and ensuring that everything was going smoothly for us.

They are seriously killing it.

I had SO MUCH fun working with them and hanging out after each night.

Super professional and on point on everything.

I seriously wish two things now:

That I’ll be able to go to another game convention and that I’ll be able to work with Lady Killer crew again.

Seriously, go follow them @LadyKillerRocks

– Ain’t Nobody Got Time for This –

Yeah, the sad note for me at PAX was that, well, I was not there “to have fun”. I was there to work. Which is an awesome thing (if you don’t think about that fact that I haven’t had any weekend!). On the other hand, I would have really liked to be able to try some of the games there.

There was this one big Monster Hunter booth that I was just going crazy about. Was not able to play.

There was also that HUGE part of the convention only dedicated to board games. I was like, OMGOMGOMGOMG. But yeah, was barely able to speak to a guy from Cool Mini or Not on Saturday morning and that was it.

You basically just don’t have time to go around. If you have time, I would say that you are not doing your job OR because you’re over staffed for the event.

Our goal was to meet with the fan and talk to them about the game. Since the booth was always full, well, I was always having something to do!

But still, wouldn’t have been sad to have time to get around stuff, hehe.

– Ending Notes –

All in all, like I said above, it was THE most exhausting week end of my life but I had a serious blast there. I thanked Swen a few times for allowing me to be there. I know that I’ve made a good job there at least.

I will never get enough of Larian fans telling us how much they love what we’re doing.

So, like I said, I really hope that I’ll be able to go to other game conventions like this. Even if I’m sure that I’ll die younger because of that! haha.

But yeah, the expectations are starting to get pretty big. We’ll need to ship that big of a game at some point right?

Team Building

Team Building

echappetoi_teamb

– Premise –

Allright, that’s been a pretty long time since I blogged anything. Obviously, my goal is not to force myself to write anything anyway but when you don’t have any idea… I was in a three weeks trip to Belgium, in Gent actually, to work closer with my colleagues at Larian.

I’m leaving Belgium and then it just reminded me all the different trips I had in my career to meet the people I was working with from a distance. Every time was a super great experience and even if that was never really the goal, it all came to the same thing for me: Team Building.

– The Importance of Chemistry –

Like I said in my article about how Ubisoft was great, I traveled a few in my career. I’ve travelled for a lot of different reasons like having a training, a workshop, a course, getting involved in the tech creation, teaching people something and other things. Every time though, I really felt like it was more than that.

It was more than that because I was building stronger bonds with the people I used to write to on different chat software or people I used to call during work without knowing them.

Like I use to say a lot, “You never know someone until you get drunk with him/her”.

Every time I travelled I built chemistry with people. Not all of them, obviously. I didn’t had the opportunity to have a drink or go out with everyone I met but still, I have met and had fun with a lot of people around the world.

I find strong bonds or chemistry between people really important because, when you know someone, when you’ve speak with that person a lot, it helps a lot regarding communication. Speaking to someone you don’t know at all, someone you never saw in your life can be awkward at first. You don’t know how a person will react or whatever. It’s even worse when you have to write to them, there’s no emotion in a text. It’s totally different when you’ve met that person in real life. It’s even better if you were able to meet that person outside of work!

We all judge people of first impression. But you never know if you wrote to a person during he/she had a bad day. Maybe a person wrote to you when you had a bad day and you acted like an idiot because you were not feeling well.

I met a lot of people in my career that I was sure were complete retards at first but then, after meeting them in real life I realized that it was the total opposite!

– Do Something –

Yeah.

Do something! Go out with people. Have a drink with them. Go eat somewhere. Do whatever that can fit your and their tastes.

When I was a lead at Ubisoft, I really loved planning activities with my team. I knew it would help a lot during those crazy crunch days at some point. I knew that since people had fun with each other, that they became friends, that they shared stories and what not that it would help to do and say things right when the time would come.

You will always have these people who don’t want to get along. These people who will never go out. Maybe they can’t because they have kids for example, or maybe they just don’t want to. That’s ok. You may be able to get them out once and they’ll have a great time. But still, the important thing here is to create strong bonds with your team. Create stories that you’ll be able to share a few years later.

“You remember that time we got shitfaced at that bar and you were so drunk you got woke up by the janitor at 4 am in the toilet?”

That kind of story.

You’ll laugh. You’ll remember the good times you had with the people you’re spending SO much hours with.

You spend 8 hours a day with the same people every day during years. You should probably know them a bit more than just their name right?

– Ending Notes –

I’m an extrovert person. I like to go out a lot and meet people. It’s not for everyone I know that. But I also met a lot of introvert people in my career that are super awesome and even if that took them every single drop of energy they had to come out, I was able to know more about them and I was able to communicate with them better after.

Like I said, there are also the people who just don’t want to make friends. They just want to work 8 hours a day and go home. That’s ok. Do what you can with the people who wants to.

When you can put a face and memories on a name it’s always better. When you have a problem at work and you have to poke that guy on the other side of the world you had a pretty nice party with the other day I can assure you everything will get along really faster.

You can’t teach Level Design

You can’t teach Level Design

Image by peetcooper

You can’t teach Level Design

– Premise –

I wanted to write something about this after an interesting talk I had with Larian CEO, Swen, last week. We were talking about the value of a Level Design course in school and we figured out it was almost none. As a lot of you probably know, this is the job I’m doing for the last 10 years. I’ve learned a lot of things during that time and I systematically refused all requests asking me to teach level design in school here in Québec.

The twist though is that I’m working hard to build something so I’ll be able to do a level design seminar in a near future.

Isn’t it contradictory? Yes, it is!

The difference here is that I want to teach the basic. The obvious stuff that some people told me during my career and/or the stuff I found by myself that is perfectly related to level design. The stuff that would have helped me moving forward faster.

Still, you can teach people how to use editors or how to script. You can teach them how to create rational level design documents, how to communicate between department in a video game company or how to do mission/quest documentation. The thing, for me, is that it’s not level design.

Level design is creating FUN, creating challenging situation or creating beautiful moments that people will talk years after they’ve played your level. But fun is something that is hardly measurable and that is also really different for everyone on this planet

So?

– Teaching Editor A or B –

The obvious thing that you learn, as I figured out, in school when you do level design is how to use an editor. The most common right now is Unity. This is probably the most used editor around the world in indie/small companies. You can do a lot of stuff with this, like, everything in fact. The other one is probably Unreal. There are still a lot of companies using this editor I think.

They are both really simple to use so that’s great I guess.

The problem for me is that except if you are lucky to work for a company using Unreal or you go Indie and use Unity, this will be pretty much useless. Except for basic stuff like moving with a 3D view?

On all the project I’ve worked in my career I always used in house editors.

At Ubisoft I’ve worked on Jade, Blacksmith, Snowdrop, Anvil, Mosaic, Onyx, call them. These are all different editors that people won’t be able to learn ever outside. Now at Larian, this is the same thing, Divinity Editor is an in house one. At least this editor is up for people on Steam. Still, this is not the kind of editor you’ll learn at school. It’s too specific. As specific as any Ubisoft editors in fact.

– Level Design Port-Folio –

Every video game schools (I think) have a course to teach people how to create a port-folio. This is useful, seriously. You want to show the right thing to the right people in a good way. People pass something like 2 minutes looking at a port-folio. Better have the right stuff there.

It’s good for artists.

I’ve seen a lot of level design port-folio in my life, especially when I was hiring people to work on AC Syndicate and seriously, judging level design, especially if it’s static (like, not a video) is really hard.

Judging art is easy. It’s easy to see if something is good/beautiful/well made or not.

How am I supposed to see if what the person has done is good level design wise?

Is it fun? How can I see if it’s fun in the context of a game? Is that map too hard? Was it to easy? Is it a tutorial map? An end-game challenge? Is the flow good from where the player is in the game? Whatever… This all need context. You almost never get context on a port-folio.

Don’t ask why companies hire, normally, only level designer with experience. You can show stuff you’ve made in a production context. You can compare maps/level/missions in that game. You can see if that was well balanced and so on. Without this, it’s really hard to judge.

The only moment I was impressed when I was looking at port-folio was when people were showing me unusual stuff like a Starcraft 2 multiplayer map for example. But that was not impressing me for the right reason.

You always see the same things ! I’ve talked about it in my tips to enter post. This is also linked to the “Editor” part above. People learn to use Unreal, so they do shooter maps! This is what they learn. I can’t blame them…

– Trial and Error –

THIS.

THIS is level design.

Yep… This is how we ALL have learned. Ask any veteran level designer out there how they have learn to create fun, gameplay, challenge, etc. I bet they will all answer that they have tried.

They also have failed.

Way more often than they have succeed I’m sure about it. There’s a saying about learning more when you fail. Well, this is true for sure.

You can’t teach people how to try stuff. You just do it.

You create something depending on all the hundreds of constrains you have and after that you ask people to play it. Then you delete 95% of your jobs related to their feedback and you start over. You ask them to play again and again. You tweak your stuff again and again. Keeping the good, deleting/changing the bad until you see that people are enjoying what you’ve created. Then you move to another challenge/map/whatever and you rinse and repeat the step above.

Yes there are ways to teach the basics of flow, difficulty curve, composition, guiding by lights and other basic level design tools. It’s still something that you’ll need to try by yourself in order to really understand what it means.

– Ending Notes –

So, aspiring level designer, how are you suppose to get a job? This is probably a question you are asking.

There’s no easy way.

Well, you need to ship something somewhere somehow. Do a mod with a few friends. Do a multiplayer map that people will be able to play on any games workshop on Steam. I guess that would be a good thing to do.

I’m still building that level design seminar where I’ll talk about the basic points I wrote above. Still, the goal of that seminar will be to make people understand that you become a level designer by trying stuff and failing.

I want to do a seminar because that’ll be short. I don’t see how people can sit in a classroom learning level design for weeks. It takes a few hours to teach the basics. After that, go try stuff by yourself, this is the only way that you’ll be able to really learn.

Level design is ALL about trial and error.

 

EDIT: (02/03/2016) After a few discussions I decided to add something. My posts are normally straight to the point. This one is not different than the others. I know that a lot of people will probably disagree with me and that’s cool! There are a lot of level design teachers out there who would probably strongly disagree with me. Still, I think that their jobs are not really justified concerning pure level design. Anyway…

One thing that I forgot to write is if level design is different than any other art form/job? Maybe yes but probably no. Any kind of art will take years to master there’s no doubt with that and will also be achieved by a lot of trial and errors. I think, like beautiful stuff, it’s all relative to the person looking at it. I find things beautiful and some people obviously find the same things ugly.

Where I draw the line is strictly between jobs inside the industry. If someone ask a modeler to create a wooden door for, example, a “next-gen” realistic console title. You know how a door should be. Yes they can be whatever color you want but everybody know how a door is in the real world. Same thing for, I don’t know, a police officer. You ask a character artist to do a police officer. You know how a police officer should look like. You know how much detail you have to put on his mesh to feel realistic enough for that “next-gen” realistic console game you are doing. You know how much you can push that mesh to fit for the console. Yes, if you ask 10 top notch character artists to do a police officer, they will all look different. But still, they will look exactly how they should with the artistic direction you got. I’m not saying that it’s easy to be a modeler or a character artists, FAR from that. I’m just saying that it’s easier from an art point of view to know if it’s beautiful enough or not. Technology is moving forward and people know how to use tech to it’s maximum to create the most beautiful things art-wise. How you create a door won’t change if your target audience is 7 years old girls or fully grown men.

I wouldn’t say the same for gameplay and especially fun. Whatever the game you are doing, whatever the tech you are using, how you attack fun/challenge/gameplay will always be different; especially depending on the target audience. That’s why I say that teaching all of this is not like anything else, again, in video games.

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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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