Tag: Level Design

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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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?