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Personal

4 Years at Ubi

I mentioned it on the day of on Twitter/Facebook, but this past weekend — specifically February 15 — marked my 4th anniversary of working at Ubisoft here in Montreal. I’ve written in the past about how I ended up here, so what I’ll say now is that I’m just as happy working here as I was when I started. And what better way to mark this anniversary than at the Six Invitational, the culmination of all of Rainbow Six Siege‘s competitive programs — and even better the fact that it was an electrifying event.

The view from above at this past weekend’s Six Invitational event in Montreal.

I think the best part of my “life at Ubi” has been the opportunities I’ve been given to explore so many aspects of this industry I love so much, through the shifting roles I’ve had — from Production Coordination to Project Manager to Senior Manager, from the For Honor production team to company-wide online/live operations teams to esports. Everything I’ve experienced on all of these projects and teams has given me insights that has always translated into the next project/team I’ve embarked on, and that’s what career growth is all about.

The most important part of all this though is of course all of the amazing colleagues and teams I’ve been able to collaborate with over these four years — big hugs all around.

Categories
Games Personal

Senior Manager, Esports

Back in May I was very happy to note that it had been four years since I started working in the games industry, and that month also marked the start of a process that has led to today, which is my first day in a brand new role: Senior Manager, Esports.

Yes, I’m still at Ubisoft, and still based in Montreal, but after about three and a half years with the company (going from Production Coordinator to Project Manager to this) and close to three years on the same team, this marks a big turning point for me, and it’s a role I’m incredibly excited to take on.

Another big change is that although I’ll continue to be based in Montreal, I’ll now be reporting directly to our NCSA (a designation that refers to the Americas) Director of Esports in San Francisco. I’m also excited that the person in question is Che Chou, who joined us in January, after years at Blizzard, 343 Industries, and Microsoft (here’s an interview he did with Polygon back in May). Also important for me is that I initially know him from his years in games media, and especially The 1UP Show, a web series about games I used to watch avidly and admiringly.

(Also, this is now the third 1UP Show alum I’ll have worked with, following Mark Macdonald and James Mielke.)

What does the role entail? I won’t be organizing or running events — we already have amazing people doing that — but instead will be working with Che on growing our esports activities at Ubisoft, and working with productions on making that happen. It may sound like it’s a big change from what I’ve been doing so far, but it actually builds nicely on the various roles I’ve had so far within Ubi, and my interactions with all of our teams. It also means I’ll get to travel a bit more, which I’m excited about.

So yeah, electronic sports, here we go!

Categories
Events Games Personal

Friday Fluke

Pretty much ever since I’ve worked at Ubisoft Montréal, I’ve sent out an email at 16:oo on Fridays to invite everyone on the team to take it easy as we head into the weekend. It started out as a pretty typical “beer mail” — as Production Coordinator on For Honor, one of the things I did was order and stock up the beer fridge (along with soft drinks) — and over time I started having a bit of fun with the email. When I changed teams (the Game Operations Online team), I kept doing it, even though it wasn’t really a habit the team had — I remember the first one I sent, grabbing a beer and then standing alone, with no one else drinking. Eventually they caught on, and on top of sharing a drink and chatting, it turned into playing games and the like.

Last year I decided I didn’t want to call it the “beer time” anymore — because of the alcohol connotation that could make non-beer drinkers feel uninvited (even if we stock up on other things, like sodas, juices, kombuchas, etc.) — and decided to brand it as the “Friday Fluke.” I’m part of a team called Harbour (offering online solutions for all of Ubisoft), and the “fluke” is a part of an anchor, and so I saw this as an “anchor” for the week — and I also liked the other connotation that the word has (an unexpected piece of good luck).

With that change, I’ve been turning that end-of-week time into more of an event, and the latest thing I’ve introduced (as of a few weeks ago) is that we kick it off with someone doing a presentation about something personal using the PechaKucha format (20 images/slides x 20 seconds), in order to get to know each other a bit better. It’s been great so far, with everyone doing a fantastic job with what they shared, even if they were a bit nervous about trying out the format. I myself did a couple (to get people used to it), first a rundown of my 10 favorite anime series, and then for the second one I broke the format a bit, giving my 20-second thoughts on all 25 James Bond movies (I included Bond 25).

After that we usually end up playing games in a large group, usually of the social deduction variety, things like Werewolf, Secret Hitler, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, The Resistance, Coup, etc. For Werewolf, after playing through two copies of Werewolf Legacy, I’ve now started creating my own scenarios, but that’s for another post.

I’m sharing this just to put it out there that the end-of-week “beer time” that is not uncommon in game studios (we used to do it during my time at Eidos Montréal, in the Square Enix Montréal studio, as well) doesn’t have to be just that, and can be turned into more of a social event, in which everyone can feel like they can be part of it, and contribute.

Categories
Personal

Four Years a Game Dev

It was four years ago on this day (Monday, May 11, 2015) that I started my first day as a game developer. After leaving our life in Tokyo at the end of March (on the 31st) and spending a month in my hometown while I continued to look for work, we moved to Montreal during the first week of May so I could start the following week at Eidos Montréal.

Thinking back, it was a bit of a crazy idea to suddenly do a career change and make the decision to find work in the games industry. As I’ve written before, it wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I persevered, and I find myself still incredibly thankful to be working in this industry (now at Ubisoft Montréal, for just over 3 years).

Sure, I do miss my life in Tokyo, all of my friends there and all the amazing people I worked with, hung out with, and shared fun times with, but I have no regrets. Four years a game dev.

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Personal

Who Am I?

The Interview

At work I produce a weekly newsletter for our team (we’re over 300, with the majority in Montreal, but with a few satellite groupings around the world) that’s meant to be a fun, social update on what’s going on within the team. I do it because I like the exercise of producing it each week (it’s not really part of my “job description”). The main feature of each edition is an interview with someone from the team — to help us get to know each other better — and this week I was the one who did it. I figure why not share it here.

Jean, since when have you been working at Ubisoft + how would you describe your job/role to your grandma (or to your 5-year-old niece)? 

Next week will mark my 3rd anniversary at Ubisoft [hired in February 2016]! I tell people that my team helps support all aspects of the company, from the nitty-gritty of the games all the way to our customer support. I think that’s easy enough to understand. 

What is the most interesting job you had before joining Ubisoft? 

I was director of the PechaKucha organization – a series of events that happen all over the world (in over 1000 cities) in which artists/designers share their work, but also a format, in which a presentation is made up of 20 slides, and they advance automatically every 20 seconds. I also ran the monthly PechaKucha Night series in Tokyo, and so I’m pretty excited to try and bring some of that vibe to the UDC Micro Tech Talks I’m hosting and helping to organize. [UDC is the annual internal Ubisoft Developers Conference, held at the Montreal studio, and I’m producing a lightning talk event this year.]

Could you tell us about your most embarrassing moment (at work or elsewhere)? 

I feel like I probably do an embarrassing thing every single day of my life, and the trick is just to own it. I’m especially fine with it if it makes people laugh. 

Is there a project/achievement you are really proud of? 

I’m generally proud of anything that people end up enjoying, and I’d say recent projects include last year’s hackathon [an internal hackathon I helped organize for the team], and all of the newsletters I produce for our teams, including, of course, this very newsletter [my work relates mostly to product management, and one of the things I like to do is produce newsletters to update users/stakeholders on the state of our internal tools and services]. 

Do you have a favourite movie, TV series, game, comics, book and/or album/band?  

Oh boy. 

Movies: I’m a huge James Bond fan, and have owned the entire series on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and now watch them digitally. I re-watch them quite regularly. Right after this are probably the first three Indiana Jones movies. I also need to point out the films of Zhang Yimou, which impacted my choice to study Chinese culture and the language (and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor). 

TV: My favorite series of all time is Twin PeaksGame of Thrones is right up there too. I also loved Freaks and Geeks, even though it only lasted one season. 

Books: When I was a kid, I really loved kid-mystery books (Le Club des CinqLe Clan des SeptFantômetteLangelotLes Trois Jeunes Détectives) and as a teen, the most memorable was probably the DragonLance Chronicles trilogy. These days, I love reading game-related books (Masters of DoomBlood, Sweat, and PixelsSignificant Zero, stuff from Boss Fight Books, etc.) 

Magazines: I’ve been a huge magazine addict all my life. When I was a kid, it was Electronic Fun with Computers and Games and Dragon. For a good part of my life it was Wired (and so I was especially thrilled to be a regular contributor to Wired’s Game|Life blog for a while). These days, it’s Monocle and Edge.

Comics: My favorite comic series of all time is G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, written by Larry Hama, that I read as a kid and still read now. 

Bandes-dessinées: Pretty much the classics like TintinSpirouGaston LagaffeAstérixLucky Luke – and Yoko Tsuno

Anime: My favorite anime series of all time are Cowboy BebopMonster, and Samurai Champloo. In movies, pretty much all the Ghibli movies, and the work of Satoshi Kon (Perfect BluePaprika) and Mamoru Hosoda (Summer WarsThe Girl Who Leaped Through Time) — and Akira. As a kid, it was Albator (Captain Harlock). 

Video Games: My favorite series is The Legend of Zelda, and in general I’m a big Nintendo fan, and especially love Mario platformers. 

Board Games: For dungeon crawling it’s Gloomhaven, for social deduction it’s Coup (and Ultimate Werewolf Legacy, for its narrative track), and for narrative it’s Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game.

Music: My two favorite bands of all time are The Pixies and Pizzicato Five. 

Could you share one surprising thing your colleagues do not know about you? 

Even though I lived over 15 years in Japan, before moving there I was actually studying Chinese (as part of the East-Asian Studies program at l’Université de Montréal). As part of those studies I went to a university in China (Nankai University in the city of Tianjin) for an intensive language program, met a girl who was Japanese, and moved to Tokyo with her. We’re still married today. 

What was your best vacation ever? 

The most memorable one was probably our trip to Peru three years ago, and hiking up to Machu Picchu.  

Categories
Game Boy

Game Boy 010 – For Honor

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

This coming week will mark my 3rd anniversary of working in the games industry — I moved to Montreal during the first week of May 2015, to start work at Eidos Montréal a week later on the 11th. It’s also interesting to see that the first game I worked on, For Honor, is not only picking up steam more than a year after a release (and it was a strong launch), but it’s also celebrating with a Free Weekend event, in which you can play the game for free until Sunday on PC, PS4, and X1.

After exiting Eidos Montréal — or more specifically, the Shinra Technologies project — at the start of 2016, I was then hired by Ubisoft Montréal in February, and it was to work as part of the live team on what was to be the launch of an ambitious new IP for the company. Better known for its open world games, this was to be a multiplayer-focused “live” game, and it was exciting to be part of that of that final year of production before launch.

I still remember the first time I saw mention of For Honor, as part of its unveiling at E3 the previous year, and thinking that it looked like a cool game, of course not knowing at the time that I would eventually be joining its production team.

As the game was preparing for launch (on February 14, 2017), I moved over to a different team at the studio, and so no longer “lived and breathed” For Honor, but it’s still a project I feel a strong attachment to — even if it’s not a genre of game I generally spend a lot of time playing — and I’m happy that following the launch of dedicated servers a couple of months ago, the game is still getting a lot of love and attention. And as has been announced, there’s more to come, with some reveals coming at E3.

It’s also great to see that the documentary about the making of the game, Playing Hard, is currently showing at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto — it originally aired as 3 episodes on TV here in Quebec last December, and has now been edited into a film. I’m quite happy to have this document of a production I was a part of, and even though I’m biased, I think it’s a pretty great story to tell (check it out for yourself, to see all of the drama that can happen in this world of AAA game-making).

So yeah, with the Free Weekend happening, this week I just wanted to take a moment to think back on the experience I had working on For Honor, and hope a lot of people who haven’t had a chance to play it will take the opportunity to do so.

Categories
Game Boy

Game Boy 008 – Terrace

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

I’ve now worked at Ubisoft Montréal for just over two years — my first day on the job was February 15, 2016, which is an easy date to remember since it was exactly a year before the release of the game I was hired to work on, For Honor (which released on the heart-filled February 14, 2017).

I quite enjoy working at the studio. After my first year on production, I moved over to a service team, which has also been a great experience — and it gives me a chance to work alongside a great many of our game projects, both in and out of Montreal. But the studio itself is also quite an interesting place to work in. Up until January of this year, I was working in the studio’s “main” building (yes, the studio is so big that it covers a collection of spaces in the Mile End neighborhood), called Peck. In January, our team moved over to one of the floors in a 12-story building on De Gaspé avenue.

One of my favorite things in this new space — apart from the great view we have of the city since we’re on the 12th floor — is the big open area that’s located near the location of my desk (and pictured above). With all those giant tables (and there’s another even larger one that you can’t see, in the foreground, along with a comfy couch and chairs), it’s just perfect for us to play various card games and board games either at lunch time or after work. I run a Magic: The Gathering league inside our team, and so most lunch times we’re using those long tables to play our matches. We also play other card games, as well as board games, like Gloomhaven, which I organize on a mostly weekly schedule. But I’m lucky not just for the nice space we’re afforded to play in, but also for the fact that I have so many colleagues I can convince to play with me — which I guess is not incredibly surprising when you consider that we work at a game studio.

But going back to Peck, the best feature of that 5-story building is the rooftop terrace. It’s open all summer (or rather from late spring to late fall), and on top of being a nice place to go hang out or to eat your lunch outside, the studio often organizes happy hours there — and for some of them, you can even bring a friend or family member along.

The reason I bring this up is because this week it was time for the annual winter happy hour, when they open the terrace for one special drink-up in the cold and snow. This was my third one, and although it was still pleasant — and I downed quite a few mugs of hot cider — I was a bit saddened by the lack of snow this year, although 0 degrees Celsius was definitely more agreeable than the -20 we got last year.

Categories
Games Personal

Moving on Up

Please allow me a bit of flag waving. First off, I was very pleased to see the following list by Forbes of the best employers in Canada, with Ubisoft Montreal (where I work) coming in at #6, and then #1 for the province of Quebec. I find it to be a pretty great work environment, and so it’s nice to see it recognized as such.

Also, this week marks my first official title change since I started working in the games industry in 2015 (following my move from Japan). After working as a production coordinator at both Eidos Montreal (on the Shinra Technologies project) and Ubisoft Montreal (first as part of the For Honor team, and then on the studio’s Game Operations Online team), I’ve now taken on the role of project manager. I actually did the transition back at the end of the summer, but it took a while for all of it to become official (it accompanied a level change, which I’m also very happy about).

Pictured above is the meeting room I book every week to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at lunch time with a couple of colleagues — we started with episode 1 of season 1, and are now in the middle of season 2.

Categories
Games Personal

Interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and Yves Guillemot

The moment I saw Shigeru Miyamoto walk out on stage at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, I was ecstatic. It’s no secret that I have quite a bit of fondness for Nintendo, and so to not only see the company I work for collaborate with them, but then to also see Miyamoto himself help with the promotion, it was awesome. The game itself, Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom, looks super fun and I can’t wait to play it. Here’s a Eurogamer interview with both Miyamoto and Yves Guillemot talking about the collaboration.

Yesterday was Ubisoft Montréal’s annual assembly, and not only did Yves show up to talk at the assembly, but I also had a chance to take a photo with him (below), and at the same time tell him how happy I was that we were collaborating with Nintendo like that, and how excited I was when I saw Miyamoto on stage at our press conference.

Categories
Games Personal

2 Years a Game Dev

Today marks two years since I became a game dev.

After leaving Tokyo on March 31, 2015 and then spending a month in my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, we moved to Montreal on May 5, with my first day as an employee at Eidos Montréal — part of the Shinra Technologies team, based in the Square Enix Montréal studio — on Monday, May 11.

A lot has happened in these two years. After the Shinra adventure ended in January 2016 (due to the unfortunate cancellation of the project), I started at Ubisoft Montréal the following month — on February 15, to be exact — happy to join the For Honor team to experience the final year of development of this new franchise for the studio (the game came out on February 14 of this year, almost exactly a year after I started). For the past six months I’ve had the great joy of working as part of the studio’s Game Operations Online team (or GO-2, as we call ourselves), a service team that supports the live aspects of the studio’s various productions via operational guidance and tools.

What an interesting journey it’s been so far.

I have a ton of people to thank for helping me along the way, whether it’s through guidance, support, or plain ol’ friendship, and instead of going through a long list of names, I’ll give you all a big collective hug.

I’ve had a lifelong passion for games, and it became my dream to work as a game dev. Here’s to many more wonderful years in this industry.