The game designer’s tango…

Some weeks ago was my last day as an employee of Ubisoft’s Paris Studio.

Having stayed there for two years and four months, having shipped a game and completed another production, I’ve moved back to sweet Buenos Aires town, where I’ll be staying from now on.

I have much to say about that period, and sadly I fear I will bore you, since you probably don’t remember why you subscribed to this blog’s feed anyway, or got here by accident. But hey, It’s my site, so I can do whatever I well damn please.

I started there straight after my second-year student project passed the final teacher’s examination, as an intern on Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party. That kind of transition can be delicate; you go from believing you’re the most awesome dude in the world to being crushed by all these guys seniority, experiences and professionalism. Obviously the learning’s not over.

So I soldiered on, learning the ropes, and managed to get one or two mini-games on the disc I was pretty proud of. I also had one of my ideas kinda stolen (but hey, it became a cool minigame afterwards too, so no worries) and countless others aborted in various stages of completion, mostly due to my inexperience.

It’s amazing how much you learn on your very first professional production. Yes, both production exercises we had done while at school were terrific experiences, but nothing else can teach you what being a game designer actually means…

…for Ubisoft, at least.

The designer’s role in a big company is delicate: you’re stuck between 3 supervisors, you have no ownership but full responsibility; other professions view yours as one of goof-offs that runs on passion in stead of true skill and everyone thinks they can do better than you. When you do have carte blanche on something it’s usually too trivial to matter or treated as a “crazy” prototype with no chance of moving forward without an infinite string of review meetings. Or you might be asked to cripple something you lovingly designed and replace it with a plagiarism of what Nintendo did.

Integrity++ right?

But hey, even that sounds pretty nice when you’ve been doing it for only six months and all your best friends are working within a six-foot radius.

That is, obviously, until they get arbitrarily shifted from project to project and ultimately booted out. Like what happened to Atien, who was put on a really great and revolutionary project, then shuffled over what would become Just Dance when that other project was taken out back and shot in the head. He had worked on that for six months but hey, he took it in and was key in making that game the hit it was (and all in a new low record of time and budget). I mean, the guy did gameplay design AND interface programming, he always managed to keep it simple enough to make dancing so fun and is responsible for at least half the sales of that game, hands down.

A few months down the road and Atien gets “non-renouvelé”, technically fired in french labour law, and replaced with interns. The circle was complete.

Due to a folly of the fates, I was kept. While Atien had worked on four games and shipped two of them, I was still in the process of producing the second. While he was the only designer on his team, I was one of a team of five. Some bullshit about quotas and priorities. Go figure.

Ironically I was already planning on resigning, so that put a nice bow on my resolve of doing so. Because how big do you need to get to allow yourself the luxury of passing on great talent? Worse, how big do you need to get to allow yourself to NOT care about talent? Clearly if Atien was let go, then Ubisoft wouldn’t miss me; every year a fresh batch of younger, cheaper interns is ready to replace the crusty old OMG-2-years-experience game design veterans. The emotional bond was severed.

Nevertheless, “Raving Rabbids: Travel In Time” will be a great game. Play it in good company.

Burning the candle on n ends (with n > 1)

Picture this: after having graduated from a fairly prestigious public game school with a heavily academic and independent-development-oriented curriculum, you immediately land a job at a big-name publisheloper (publisher + developer) as a designer on a top seller, yearly released license.

As usual with that kind of gig, the pay is nice, you have lots of good workplace relationships, you have vast resources at your disposal and the overall quality of life is better than average. On the other hand, you also need to learn how to cope with the -sometimes Escheresque– logics of HR, Business and Editorial services. You also need to deal with yourself-from-two-years-ago constantly whispering you’re sometimes just reinventing the wheel and treading familiar paths.

Is there a way to reconcile what you were taught to do and what you are doing now? Let’s find out together.

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Sid Meier’s Colonization Returns!

Over at Gamasutra:

Take-Two subsidiary 2K Games announced today that developer Firaxis is currently working on Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization for PC, set to be released this fall. A “complete reimagining” of the original Colonization, it again puts the player in the role of one of four European powers seeking to establish colonial dominance over the New World. Continue reading

Reconnected

The long hiatus is over, I have Internet access at home once again. Granted, I havent been completely disconnected, since I’m now interning at Ubisoft, but I like keeping my Ubi work and my personal work separated.

I could also have posted from an internet cafe, but, hey, come on!

Newness is around the corner.

Lame excuse ahoy!

Okay, sorry I haven’t been able to pay more attention to this blog, it’s just that I’m putting in a bit of overtime on M.A.Z.E. to compensate the week I’ll be spending at GDC, which is also taking me time to get ready for.

I’m sure GDC will provide me with good stories to tell, and I’m also sure I’ll be unable to update this until I come back.

If you are attending GDC, I’d be glad to meet you! I should be stuck at the IGF Booth during the expo (Wed. to Fri.) to demo Poesysteme, and I think I won’t miss the IGDA party either (Tuesday, I think).

So, until then, then!

Poesysteme wins its first contest!

In the mailbox today, excellent news! (for me)

Cher Balthazar,

J’ai le plaisir de vous confirmer que vous avez été retenu par le jury du concours SACD – GDC pour partir à la GDC qui a lieu du 18 au 22 février, à San Francisco, Californie, USA.

Tout d’abord, bravo pour votre jeu “Poesysteme” qui a fortement impressionné le jury SACD qui s’est tenu lundi 5 novembre à Paris.

Want to know what it means exactly? More after the jump.

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The Things I Do…

I understand that i should introduce myself a little, as I’m starting this from scratch in english ; All previous content was in french before, this blog is a sort of writing exercise… So, “excuse my french”!

I am actually a second-year Game Design student at ENJMIN, located in Angoulême, France. This public institution is rather new, even by the game industry standards, but is already proving to be one of the leading creative forces in Europe, as far as videogames are concerned.

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