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 🙂
Also, follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/JFGnorD

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”.

 

 

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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!

Board Games Review #1


– Jeff’s Board Games – Eclipse –

– Premise –

One of my friend gave me the idea to blog about board games after a discussion we had together. I don’t have any idea about the format I’ll use for that since all my blogs are wrote on the fly but I know one thing though. I’ll write about the board games I have in my small collection. I’ve around 55.

For my first blog I’ll will write about the best game I’ve ever played, Eclipse – New Dawn for The Galaxy.

The design of this game, the mechanics and how everything interact with everything else is so perfect that this game is easily on the top spot for me. I’m a hardcore player though. So it may not fit to everyone. If your kind of game is Blokus or Bang, it may not be for you though.

TL;DR at the end with PROs/CONs

Let’s do this.

– Game Details –

Designer: Touko Tahkokallio
Publisher: Lautapelit.fi
Number of Players: 2-6
Playing Time: ~30 minutes/players
Age: 12+

Theme: Science fiction
Type: Strategy
Win Condition: Be the one with the most victory points
Board: Hexes
Difficulty: Medium/Hard

– The Basics –

After the initial setup, each player choose a color/race and everything related to it, ships, race board, tokens, etc.

Then, turn by turn, each players decide what to do with their own colony.

They can:

– Explore another spot in the galaxy;
– Influence a planet to “own” it;
– Research new technologies;
– Upgrade their ships;
– Build ships or structures;
– Move ships for hexes to hexes (this is also used to attack)

The more the player do actions, the more resources it will cost. Obviously, the more you do, the more the colony will need.

After the player thinks he has done enough on a turn, he then decides to pass and the next player starts his turn.

The game always end after 9 rounds. Which is great. No never ending games.

After the set of 9 rounds, the player who has the most victory points (VP) win the game.

– The Kick –

The basics sounds really like any other games right? Pretty much. But I’ll explain some mechanics in details here to give a bigger picture.

Let’s start with the bread of the game, the hexes.

They look like this:

– The Worm Holes –

On the outer part of each hexes, there are worm holes (the white half circles). When you explore and draw a hex, you need to place at least one worm hole connected to another worm hole of another hex on the table. This is needed for traveling. Placing how the hexes connect with each other is a great part of the strategy to decide who will be able to navigate where. You can close the access to your galaxy with another player or open it so you can access that player planets!

– Planets –

All planets give you resources if you populate them. Each planet has a resource color that matches the one on the race board (see below) for you to exploit.

Also, each hex gives a number of victory point if the player control that area at the end of the game. The more area you conquer and keep, the more VP you’ll have at the end of the game.

Hexes can also have enemy neutral ships that you need to defeat in order to get access to that area and secret tiles containing ancient technologies (pretty powerful) or even lots of resources. You can also decide to use these tiles as VP at the end of the game. Yay for other way of gaining VP than combats!

Now let’s go with the race board.

This is how it looks in game:

This looks intimidating at first but this is pretty straight forward in fact. There are just a lot of place to put stuff that you buy and build. Also, all your resources are placed there.

– The Fleet –
The top part is your fleet. You have 4 types of ships.

– Small interceptors;
– Cruiser;
– Mighty Dreadnoughts;
– Planetary Defences

They are fully customisable! You can choose to have super high hull defence ships to tank in battle, choose to have Dreadnoughts with mega cannons that destroys everything or even have suicidal interceptors with missile launchers that they can only use on turn one of combats.

You can also build orbital stations to help you gather more resources and Monoliths that gives lots of VP for a big amount of resources at the end of the game. But beware, if you build one on a planet and another player conquer that planet and own it at the end of the game, that player will gain the VP! This is an option to gain VP without fighting. High risk, high reward.

Full customisation is really awesome. Every game you can try different strategies.

– The Tech –
The center part is the technology section. This is where you put the technology you research. This can go from better guns to better resources gathering from your planets.

There is three different sort of technology

– Military;
– Grid;
– Nano

They are all focused on something like weaponry, ship upgrades, resource gathering and such.

The cool thing is that the more of the same technology you have, the more VP you get. This is another option to get VP without attacking other players.

– The Colony –

This part is where you manage the resources of your colony and your colony itself.

There is 3 resources in this game

– Orange is Money;
– Pink is Science;
– Brown is Materials

It costs money to be able to feed and use your colony. The more you use it, the more it cost money as said above.

You need to spend Science in order to research Technology.

You need to spend Materials in order to build.

As you can see the cubes (blue) in the image above, the more cubes you remove from the race board and put on the hexes, the more resources it generates each turn. Numbers are going up.

The other part is the action sections and the cylinders are there for that. As I said, the more you ask your colony each turn the more it costs. You can see the number going down from 0 to -30. This is what it’ll cost the player at the end of a turn. At least, you get them back from the action part every turn. But beware, the more planets you own, the more it also cost (obviously) since you need to put a cylinder on each hex you own. The bigger your colony, the bigger the cost!

– Resources Tracking and Combat VP –

All the way around from right  to bottom, there is a counter. This is where you put your resources counter so you can keep track of each of them.

After a combat, you get 1 or more VP token. On them there’s a number. You need to put that token on the left of the resources section face down so other players don’t see it. The more you destroy in a fight the more you will pick from the bag so the better your chance to have a big number on it. You can only take 1 per fight.

This is an Eclipse board after a few turns. Beautiful isn’t it?

–  SO? –

All in all, I like everything (almost) about this game.

It’s not that complicated to understand if you already have played real board games before. The setup time for that game is pretty short also, which is cool. Games pieces are great and easy to spot when you play.

But what I really like is all the resources spending in the game all linked to each other and the fact that there are a few different path you can take to acquire VP and win the game. Also, the ship customisation is really great. After a few games, you can also choose to play alien races instead of the humans to have another way of playing. All races have different starting tech and powers.

On a personal side, I hate luck. For me the best games are luckless, 100% strategy, where, if you win, it’s because you are better that the other, nothing else. This game though, as some part of luck. The combats are made with dices. The hexes you draw when you explore are random so are the VP tokens you get after combats. But, you can manipulate luck on some. The more you kill stuff in a fight, the more token you can draw so better chances to get a big number for example. You can also customize your fleet to hit more easily (lower dice number needed).

To any strategy board game fans, if you haven’t played this game, you need to.

Jeff’s rating of Eclipse, 9/10

TL;DR

PROs
– Great game mechanics
– Fleet customization
– Lots of way to win
– Cool theme
– Different races

CONs
– Lots of choices
– Pretty hardcore
– Takes a lot of place (need a big table)
– Games can be long even if it’s always 9 rounds

Entry “Cost” of the Video Game Industry

– My tips to Video Game Industry –

– Premise –

The video game industry is one of the most lucrative industry in the world (55.05 Billions US dollars in 2015). It’s no wonder why people want to join this new industry. It seems there is a lot of money to make. Well, it’s partially true but still. The fact is, compared to ten or even fifteen years ago, there are so many more people who want to enter and there are a few places available.

You have two options. Either you apply to a job at any company in the world or you start your own. Here, I will cover the first option.

My goal here is to give my five personal tips to people who wants to join the industry so you can be a little bit more prepared. Some of them will probably sound obvious and/or stupid but what I’m writing here is still what I think will give you a better chance to step inside. I can assure you that I’ve done a lot of interviews with people applying to a job in my career and saw even more port-folios. It was not always great.

Here we go.

(Now with a TL;DR at the end!)

– TIP 1 – Be the Best –

Yeah, I start with that. Why the f**k you may ask? Well…

There are thousands of people, in all of the video game job departments, who come from school and want a job. There are not thousands of job opening. Simple formula, demand versus offer. There are some jobs that are probably easier to get into. Let’s say programmer. Not that it’s easy to be a programmer, far from that. It’s more that we need tons of them. It’s still goes back to that first point, there are a big amount of programmers every years who come from school too because people know that we need a lot of them.

So, you need to be the best or, close to it.

I’m not saying that you need to be the best in the world but, from all the people out there you need to make an impression for sure. Aim high, you’ll get great results.

Here in Quebec, you can get a diploma in Game Design. There are around 100 people every year who come from that particular discipline in Quebec City. How many inexperienced Game Designer do you think the companies here hire? My guess is probably one or two. Most probably one in fact.

You need to be the best.

– TIP 2 – Work your a** off –

When you are done from school you normally have a port-folio. Especially if you are an artist of any sort. Programming port-folio is a different story I guess so is game design.

Most of the time, what you have done is school is the bare minimum of what you want to show to anyone in the industry to try to get a job. Sometimes it’s even bellow that.

There are a few people who can get a job straight after the school with only what they have done there. What they show really need to kick a** though.

You need to keep working on your stuff when you are done with school. It’s so important to be able to show something else because like I’ve said with TIP 1, there are thousands of people who come out from school at the same time and probably a few hundred in the city that you live. This means that the people who were in the same class as you will show exactly the same thing as you and vice versa. The same gun, the same low poly character and the same scene with some lighting.

You really need to have more than that to show.

Also, most of the time now, the first job you will probably get will be a contract of a couple of months. There is, sadly, a big chance that the employee will lay you off after. A lot of companies hire people for the incoming crunch and then they lay them off after because they don’t have any job for them when the project is done. I know a lot of people who has experience that.

You need to keep your port-folio up to date at all time because of this.

At least, if that happens, you’ll probably have something to show from the game you worked on.

So, never stop working on your stuff.

– TIP 3 – Create Stuff that Matters –

This is really simple but it seems that it’s not always that obvious. If you want to work for a company you need to show stuff that matters to them.

If your dream job is to work on a 3rd person shooter for company X, create stuff that will be related to a 3rd person shooter that company X has done or is doing. Same thing if you want to work on that RTS franchise of company Y. Create RTS stuff!

It’s that simple. You need to change what you are doing in order to have more chances to step into company X or Y door.

I’ve seen a lot of port-folio with totally unrelated stuff that we were doing at the company I was working for.

Also, create and show stuff that is related to the job position that you dream of.

If you apply to be a Level Artist. Show scenes that you have done. If you want to be a modeler, show assets that you have created.

The person who will watch your port-folio has a small chance to be interested with stuff that is not related to what he/she is looking for.

That gun belongs to the modeler.

– TIP 4 – Be ready to move –

The cool thing is that there are a ton of game companies in the world.

The sad thing is that they seems to be all located in the same spots.

Obviously, where there is already a pool of people, companies what to go there to exploit that pool of talent. Sometimes, companies will also open a studio in a country where the cost of workers is pretty cheap but I’ve no idea if you want to work there. Maybe? Anyway.

Still, if you want to have better chances to get into the industry, be prepare to move. There is probably a small chance that the city you live in, if it’s not a pole like Los Angeles or Montréal, will have tons of video game companies.

If you are inexperience there is small chances that you will be brought by a company on the other side of the world. It can happen though! But it’s pretty rare. At least, you can probably move in the country that you live in. I’m pretty sure all the developed country in the world have a few video game companies.

Don’t be afraid to leave the cozy city you always lived.

Keep the faith and apply everywhere.

– TIP 5 – Be a Professional –

Even if in fact, you are not one still, you need to behave like one.

A professional will show polished stuff. He will show an awesome looking port-folio. He won’t do any mistakes when he write stuff. (I’m pretty sure there are some mistakes here, haha, anyway.) And so on…

If you send a motivation letter to a recruiter with mistakes for example, you’re done.

It’s over.

They haven’t even saw your port-folio! Maybe that was the best one but they will never know. They receive hundred of resume every day, they don’t have time to waste.

We see a lot of crazy stuff you know. At least you are sending an email, it’s not like you would spilled coffee on your motivation letter.

Even if all the point here are 100% important, I could concede that having an awesome port-folio is more important than this. But still, remember that if you show errors, mistakes, unfinished work, buggy levels, you’re done.

Everyone makes errors, yes but…

…A job application needs to be perfect.

– End notes –

I know, it all looks pretty dark right? It’s not that it’s all dark though. The important thing to remember is that there are so many people applying for jobs in the industry that you really need to make an impression.

If you have the will power and the talent, I’m sure that you can get a job somewhere!

TL;DR. There are thousands of people applying for jobs every years so you really need to be in the top to be able to get one. If the stuff that you show is just “meh” you won’t get a job 99.9% of the time. Work hard play hard. Be a professional and show awesome stuff. Everything will go well.

Thoughts About My Carreer

– Journey Though the Past –

– Premise –

Hello there, a few people asked me to talk about my last job. Mostly what I was doing before Larian and how it was.

One thing that I want to be really clear with is that I haven’t left Ubisoft because it was bad or anything like this. I left Ubisoft because I was working there for 10 years (which is pretty huge in the video game industry) and I wanted to live and feel something new. The fact is, I was not even looking for any opening at that point. It’s just that Larian arrived at the right time I guess.

I will probably compare my job now and my last at some point but still, for me, Ubisoft is my roots and it’s still in my heart, a great company filled with many great people and talents. I know that we always hear the opposite but people outside have “no clue”, if I can say it like that.

I can get pretty mad when someone who never worked at Ubisoft say this and that about the company thinking that he knows about something you know!

Anyway, let’s get started.

– The Video Game Industry –

I can say that looking at the video game industry from the outside seems to be really bright and shiny.

In fact, it’s not.

In the last ten years, tons of articles went out on the internet to talk about what is the video game industry from the inside.

It’s really not that shinny. It’s now a known fact now.

“But you play games all day!”

Yeah, well, at least now, I think that anyone under the age of 40 know that it’s not true at all.

But on the other hand, this is far from only dark and grim days.

I don’t think I would have stayed in the industry for ten years if that was THAT horrible like medias like to say. It is also a lot of fun 95% of the time. It’s just that crunch time can be a little bit hard on one person health.

At least, I can be happy that it never affected me badly. I’m still pretty young!

– My First Steps –

You know, more than ten years ago, if you would have asked me if I would ever work in the video game industry, I think I would have laughed at changed subject. It was not even something I was thinking at all.

I was creating maps/levels when I was young. I was creating worlds for my D&D campaign and even creating board games. For me, that was just for fun though. I wanted to create stuff so my friend could play.

The first map I ever created was in Heroes of Might & Magic 2. That was a long time ago…

But some day, in 2005 my cousin told me that a big video game company was coming to Quebec City and they were looking for video game testers. That company was Ubisoft.

I had no clue at all what was Ubisoft.

I had no clue at all what was a video game tester.

Still, it sounded interesting! So I applied and got an interview. It went really well and I got hired. Not my cousin… sadly.

I was just barely twenty years old when I first stepped in the Ubisoft Quebec office on the 7th of November 2005. I will remember that day forever.

– The beginning –

As said above, I was a tester at first. It didn’t lasted long though. A big ten months. Still, it felt like years.

I know a lot of people who really like video game testing. I’ve worked with a bunch of super great and talented video game tester in the last 10 years but that was not for me. After 3 or 4 months I was bored to death. For me, cleaning dishes in a restaurant when I was 15 was more entertaining than testing video games.

People were always saying the classic: “But you play games all day! How can it be boring?”.

First, the last thing a tester does is playing the game. This is really far from playing.

Second, you work on unfinished, buggy and unstable games. This is NOT fun at all.

Still, ten years ago, starting as a tester was a good way to step in the video game industry and it is still a good way today. Harder, but still a good way.

– The Real Thing –

In October 2006, a nice guy and friend of mine at Ubisoft asked me if I would like to be a Level Designer.

I had no clue at all what was a Level Designer.

You can see that, often, I’ve no clue at all…

Anyway, I owe the job I have right now to this guy, Soni. My first Level Design lead. The guy who trusted me and brought me in his team as a Level Designer even though I had nothing to show to him except a few map I created on paper for my D&D campaign.

My first project has a Level Designer was the game of the animated movie Surf’s Up, for PSP/DS/GBA.

Yeah, I’ve worked on one of the last GBA game made by Ubisoft.

I remember my first design, it was so bad. Even ten years later, I remember that it was complete crap!

I’ve walked a long way since.

– Ubisoft –

So, I’ve worked at Ubisoft for about ten years.

One third of my life was at Ubisoft. I’ve worked as a video game tester, a level designer, a game designer and a lead level designer throughout these ten years.

Ubisoft is a BIG company.

It now has something like ~7000 employees all around the world I think; Maybe even 8000. I don’t remember.

When I started at Ubisoft Quebec, we were 101 employees. The studio hired a little bit more than 100 employees on the first year. I was the 99th.

In the first few years I knew everyone at Ubisoft Quebec. Every single person. If felt like a big family.

We were also all pretty young. The age average was around 26 years old. We had happy hours every 2 or 3 weeks. We were working on small projects that lasted a couple of months. We were hanging out a lot too. We were partying and drinking beer all the time… When you rethink about it. How the hell were we able to ship games?

Really, great times.

It started to become bigger when we started working on Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands. It was my first big project. It was also the case for a lot of people in the studio. At that time, the term senior almost inexistent in the studio. We were all pretty much juniors except from a few people who came from Ubisoft Montreal.

Forgotten Sands ended out to be an awesome success for us at Ubisoft Quebec and latter, because of that, we had the opportunity to work on the Assassin’s Creed brand.

I’ve worked on almost every AC games since Brotherhood. I’ve also worked on Revelation, AC3, AC3: Tyranny of King Washington, AC4 and AC Syndicate.

I’ll talk a little bit about AC Syndicate.

This was, the first giga-mega AAA title of Ubisoft Quebec. We were the lead studio for that project and it was a really big challenge for us.

We hired a lot of people. Seniors of 15+ years of experiences and other big names.

I’m really proud of all the things we’ve made on AC Syndicate. This is seriously a ton of brick like we like to say around here.

But, like some other people before me, this was too much. Creating a colossal game like this is not a small task and it’s also not for everyone. Creating an AC game takes 800+ people on 7-9 studios. It didn’t felt like a family anymore for me.

When I left Ubisoft, we were around 375 employees scattered on 6 floors. I had a lot of colleagues that I was not seeing any more at all because if you don’t need to go on the floor that they are, you will never see them.

I think I left because of that. I was missing this family environment that I had at the beginning of my career. Also, working on the same brand over and over was not helping I guess.

I had some breaks though! I created with one other guy, Guillaume, the online collecting card game Might & Magic: Duel of Champions. This is still today the project I had the most fun doing. We were around 30 people on that project when I left it to go on AC3. I seriously had a blast.

I also had a break when I worked on The Division for almost 2 years.

Speaking of The Division, I had the chance to travel a lot thanks to Ubisoft. I went to Paris during 2 weeks and went 3 time to Sweden. One time was during more than 3 months! I’ve made a lot of friends all around the world because of that. Without Ubisoft I would never had the chance to do so. Some of my personal friends from Ubisoft also traveled ten times more than me!

Like I said at the beginning, Ubisoft is filled with veterans and talented people. No matter what people are saying, because this is what you read 99.9% of the time on the internet, Ubisoft releases good games and every single employees who work on games want to do the greatest game ever created.

I had a great time at Ubisoft. Ten years of joy, happiness, rage, sadness and all. Like every other job I guess. Nothing is perfect. I needed to live something else. I would have stayed there in fact. But then came Larian Studios out of the blue.

– Larian –

I had no clue at all what was Larian Studios. You see a pattern right?

I didn’t knew exactly in what I put myself in when I signed my contract at Larian. It all went so fast in fact. I made a test, passed an interview and signed the contract. All that in something like 2 weeks.

Something inside though, was telling me that it would be a great adventure, for the good, and the bad.

The studio director, Edgard, was not there when I came to the interview but luckily for me, Swen was in Quebec that week.

I had an interview with the CEO of the company. I was like, seriously?

I saw really fast how great of a person Swen is. That was also the weirdest and funniest interview I had in my life.

50 minutes.

5 minutes of talking about myself.

10 minutes of talking about Drizzt, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance.

35 minutes of talking about Dungeons & Dragons.

That’s it! Then he asked me when I was able to start. Isn’t it awesomesauce?

I left a company of around ~7000 people and a studio of 375 employees for a company of ~90 people and a studio of 13 people. I was looking for a family place. I found the best one around I would say.

This is so great to be able to talk to the CEO of the company every day.

This is also so great to go around the internet and see that 99% of the time people are saying great and constructive things about the company you work for.

This is SO different.

Nothing is perfect but it’s a lot of fresh air for me.

– End notes –

Not so long ago, I was asking myself, have I made the right choice? You’re never 100% sure when you change job. I was an old one at Ubisoft. Now I’m a n00b.

All in all, I’m pretty sure I’ve made the right choice.

If it’s like Ubisoft, I guess I’ll by at Larian for 10 years right?

My Love for Larian Community

Larian Community

– Premise –

For the last 35 days I’ve worked on the Larian Studios 2nd kickstarter as some kind of community manager. It was for Divinity: Original Sin 2.

I learned a lot during these 35 days and I wanted to write a few lines about it.

– Why? –

A few years ago, when I was still working at Ubisoft. I created, with other people, the online collecting card game Might & Magic : Duel of Champions. This was my first professional experience with community back then. Not because I was interacting with them but because I was ready every one of their feedback all over the Internet. This created a sparkle in me that wanted to push me toward community management.  Long story short, this never happened (there was no opening).

A few years later, working for Larian, I discover how incredible our community is. I went from a world where the loudest people were  99.9% negative about the work you do to a world where the loudest people are 95% positive and constructive about what you do.

In short, I really wanted to do something to work with all of them.

– How? –

How did I managed to end up as Jeff – High Commander of the Brotherhood of norD?
Well, all thanks to Swen, Larian CEO, he just allowed me to do so!
You know, when I started working at Larian I also started reading almost anything I could find about the company and I just kept doing the same when the Kickstarter launched. I was reading everything on our forum, on reddit, on the Kickstarter comment section and all around the Internet where I was able to find data or people talking about it.

At some point I just asked Swen if I could be part of the small team who were working on the Kickstarter and he just said yes without hesitation. The fact that I was in different time zone than all the others also helped a lot.

– The magic –

Something happened on the Kickstarter comment section when I arrived. You know, all the people who were taking care of the Kickstarter except Swen were Writers. As you may know, I’m a Level Designer.
I learned that the community was following the Devins. A cult they created around the Writers. (Devin is a writer).

Since I’m a Level Designer, I created a paradox in that Devin universe and some of the people on Kickstarter started to follow me instead. I’ve no idea why though… I then created The Brotherhood of norD (norD is my nickname).

Really fast, I went from a no-name to someone people were eager to talk to.

I started to be really present on the Kickstarter comment section, I also started posting a lot on our forum as myself, Jeff, the Larian Level Designer.

Lots of crazy stuff also happened during that 35 days, people created things about me, about the furry hat I was wearing and all. Crazy I must say!

– Watch out on what you say –

Writing in the name of the company you work for is something fun and stressful. You need to think twice (and more) about everything that you say/write.

Fans will mostly take everything that you say for granted and/or they will interpret it on their own. Then they will post that somewhere and then, you’re done.

I made a mistake and even if, in the end, it turned out pretty well, I felt really bad about it.

You know, I speak French 99% of the time. My English is far from perfect. So sometimes I want to say something but I don’t use the right word because my vocabulary is kind of limited. This was part of my mistake.

Basically, two RPG communities that have a pretty nice rivalry were doing a fundraiser for our Kickstarter. One day, people were talking about it on the comment section and I decided to have a look at both. They were mostly at $4000 each. They both wanted to rise to $10000.

I said on the comment: “They should merge together so they will be closer to $10000.”

This was the mistake.

The word merge was the mistake.

I didn’t knew, but it was mostly like if I would have asked North and South Korea to merge together. Not that I’m comparing both community to South and North Korea but it felt like it.

Since, like I said, English is not perfect for me. The thing that I really wanted to say was: “They should both merge their funding so there would get closer to $10000.

Why was it a mistake?

Well, people of the community were also on the comment section obviously and they saw that. So they quoted me on their forum and I really looked like an idiot I guess.

I really learned something there.

I can say to you that I was thinking twice before posting anything after that.

I felt so bad about it that I even stopped all interaction with the community for a whole day.

– I hate hearing myself –

Swen needed to travel to San Francisco for TwitchCon. So since it was going to the United-States, he decided to do a stop in our studio in Quebec. That was the first time he was able to come visit us for months.

One of the cool idea he had was to do a Kickstarter update showing Larian Quebec team. Since I had some kind of reputation now and also because I’m a veteran (he really like to say that) I had to speak about Level Design and also myself on a camera.

You know, us, Québécois, are not the best English speakers normally. Especially when you learn English all by yourself like me.

I hate my English accent so much!

Doing that video was a great experience though. That was cool to see how they were doing that from the inside instead of just seeing the finished product.

I think we had to redo my part ten times!

When the update went live, I watched it and obviously, I heard myself speaking.

GOSH….

– And now it’s over –

These 35 days flew really fast. It feels like I posted for the first time on Kickstarter yesterday. I must say that it was probably the most exhausting 35 days (especially the last 2) of my career.

For something like 30 days, I was doing community stuff ~16 hours a day. (Not that anyone asked me to do it but because I wanted to do it). I was also answering questions and speaking with people when I was home. Even on my cell phone when I was not able to be close to a computer! Kickstarter, reddit, twitch, forum and other stuff all open at the same time.

I know now how to manage a Kickstarter campaign and deal with people of the community for sure!

I’m exhausted and happy!

But I’m also sad.

Now, the Kickstarter is over. I won’t have these awesome interaction with the people out there anymore.

It’s over.

The last two days were incredibly fun. I  was on stream for ~32 hours in two days. That was the best part of all this for sure.

– End notes –

I’ve said that countless time in the last few days but I’ll say it again.

Thank you to every single one of our ~45000 backers.

They helped us reach more than 2 million dollars but mostly because they are so supportive!

I learned a lot because of you people.

I’m already looking forward for the next one.

My All Time Favorite

Chrono Trigger 20th anniversary

– Premise –

As my 1st blog post and since I will be mostly writing about gaming here, I will take a few time and put words about my personal greatest game of all time: Chrono Trigger. The game that changed me, as a gamer, forever.

Why? Because thy year, 2015 was, like the title says, the 20th anniversary of this masterpiece.

I remember back in the days, I was going, every Friday at a video game rental store to rent one game for the weekend. Some day, I stumble across this awesome box:

I was like, wow, this is seriously bad ass. I need to play this game.
So I rented that game and went home.
I was probably 10 or 11 at that time. My native tongue is French and English was pretty much nothing except Yes and No at that time.
Imagine playing a RPG without being able to read English.
I DIDN’T CARED, that game was so beautiful and fun.

I was renting this game every weekend and I was always stuck at the same place, every time, every week end.
This mother fucker.

I was way too n00b to understand that I had to kill the Bits before attacking the eye in the middle.

Anyway.

WARNING : SPOILER AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED THIS MASTER PIECE OF A GAME.

– Gameplay –

There were a lot of “breakthrough” mechanics in this game at that time. Chrono Trigger brought really new things to the genre that were really awesome.

– Combat –

The combat mechanic was probably the easiest to see at first.
It was still turn by turn like any JRPG, but monsters were moving so you could time some “Tech” to hit more than one enemy. You were not able to move your characters but waiting for enemies to be at specific spot was pretty nice and new.
They also included dual and triple tech. You could choose to do super duper awesomely looking magical attacks with 2 or even 3 characters in your party.

– Time Travel –

In some JRPG, you had a huge part of the game on a world then something was happening and then the world was changing and you were playing on another world, like FF6.
But in Chrono Trigger you were time travelling in different eras. You had 7 time periods to visit (1 was much only the ending boss).
But the most awesome thing was that some actions you were doing in the past were affecting the future. Like opening a chest in the past would put that chest open in the future.

– New Game+ –

THIS, was new. That was the first time people saw that feature.
You just fought your way against this awesome game and then you discovered, after the credits, that you could restart the whole game with the character you had. How about some awesome speed running! This was opening a whole new level of awesomeness related to the endings of the game that I’ll talk later. Also being able to almost one shot bosses at the beginning.

– Characters –

Another thing that was really nice with this game was the Characters. All party member were awesome by themselves and had a really huge back story. Except probably Crono. He didn’t really have any back story…

You had a sword master frog, a completely bad ass prehistoric women, a cute inventor, a big ass robot and so on.

– Story –

The story was so great too. I liked it a lot more that any other game because it was related, at some point, as humankind history. That huge meteor falling from the sky killing all the dinosaurs and then creating a long ice age and a pretty dark future where humans where fighting just to stay alive against robots.
(Ok, we’re not fighting against robot for now.)

It started as a super peaceful game, you played a random guy going to a festival near your home and encountered a cute girl named Marle (Nadia!). Then you went to see your old friend Lucca and her new invention and BOOM, the tone is set. Marle is teleported somewhere. You went after her and you discovered that you were 400 years in the past.
I won’t resume all the story here, I’m pretty sure if you are reading this, it’s because you have played the game.
But yeah, the story was so great and involving.

– Endings –

There were 12 endings in Chrono Trigger. (They even added more in the PS1 and DS versions). With new game+ you were able to go fight the ending boss at different point in the game. (You encounter him quite a lot in fact). Depending on the point in the game you could had a different ending.
There was even one that you killed him before the ice age so all humans where reptile instead! That was a funny one.

– And so on –

You know, I could write during hours about this game. I still beat this game every few months. I’ve done so every years since 1995 I think. I can’t get enough even if I know this game by heart, even if I went through it countless times.

That’s why I wanted to write about this master piece to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary.

For the love of all video game history, if you haven’t played this game, you should. I really encourage you to do so. If you have played this game in the past, you should replay it and see, why, even today, it’s still considered one of the greatest video game of all time.

On an ending note, I’ll say that, again, I REALLY like this game.

My Chrono Trigger stuffs
My Chrono Trigger stuffs