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Balthazar Auger

The game designer’s tango…

3 min read

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.

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