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Personal

To Shanghai

I’m moving to Shanghai.

Well that’s something. After six years here in Montreal, we’ve (my wife and I) decided to embark on a new adventure, and one that involves a return to Asia. It’s not a return to Japan, that I think many would have expected, but rather a return to China, which is how I started my Asia adventure in the first place.

May has turned out to be a defining month in my life — on top of the fact that it’s my birth month. It was in May 1997 that I first went to China, to the city of Tianjin for what was supposed to be a 10-week study program (an exchange program between my university in Montreal and Nankai University), and saw me changing my plans and remaining there until the end of the year. It was in May 1998 that I moved to Tokyo, which would become my home for over 15 years. It was then in May 2015 that I moved to Montreal to embark on a new journey working in the games industry (first at Eidos/Square Enix, then at Ubisoft).

And now, in 2021, it’s in May that I’ve accepted an offer to take on a new role at the Ubisoft Shanghai studio — I’ll start this new role in the summer, with the move happening when our visas our sorted, which we expect will be towards the end of summer, maybe September. After two years working in esports, this will also mark my return to game production — my new role, Production Services Manager, is a transverse role within the studio, working closely with all of the production services teams that support all of the production teams at the studio.

Why this move? After six years in Montreal, we felt like it was time to move on and experience something new. I’m incredibly thankful for the time I was able to spend at both Eidos Montreal and Ubisoft Montreal to “level up” this new career in games I embarked on not that long ago, but at the same time it hasn’t been as productive a time for my wife, in good part due to language issues, but we’ve had other challenges to deal with in our time here, and so we decided it was time for a new adventure in another city.

Why China? As I mentioned earlier, my first stop in Asia was in fact in China, as part of the East-Asian Studies program I was enrolled in at my university, which focused on the Chinese language and culture — and my time at Nankai University in Tianjin was spent studying Mandarin. It’s also where I met my wife, who was also studying Mandarin at the same university — and who, unlike me, continued to use it as part of her studies in the years following our move to Japan. So even though I have never been to Shanghai, I am excited at the prospect of rebuilding my Mandarin skills, and for my wife it means a chance to explore new opportunities in a language and setting that she knows very well. I’m also thankful to work in an expansive global company like Ubisoft, that let me find an opportunity like this, and that allows me to continue to build on the years of experience and contacts I’ve accumulated over my five years here.

So there it is, 2021 is turning out to be a big year for me, as I was hoping it would — it’s maybe a good sign that we’re in the Year of the Ox, which is my Chinese Zodiac.

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Personal

PauseTalk, Five Years Later

It just hit me today that five years ago this month I held what I then called the “final” edition of PauseTalk (Vol. 85) in Tokyo — here’s the post I wrote to mark that end. That event took place on March 2, 2015, and a few weeks later (on March 31) I would be leaving the city I called home for over 15 years.

Hey, do you miss running PauseTalk?

Of course I do. Not only was it a fantastic way for me to meet so many creative people over the years, it also made for a very fun and inspirational monthly outing. Imagine hanging out at a nice cafe, enjoying a few drinks, and chatting with an interesting bunch of people — how could I not miss it?

So then why, you may ask, have I never done something similar here in Montreal? There are definitely a bunch of different factors that make me feel like it wouldn’t really work here like it did in Tokyo. I’d say at the top of the list is that, because it was mostly attended by foreigners, it acted as a sort of support group for creatives based in or passing through Tokyo. But there’s also a more personal reason. For me, the events were a way to connect around and celebrate a city that inspired me and that I loved so much. I loved chatting about what was happening in Tokyo — on the cultural front — and to hear opinions from others, either as fellow residents, or through the fresh eyes of visitors. That passion for a city is just not something I feel I have here, and so organizing a PauseTalk makes no sense to me.

So, we’re never going to see another PauseTalk event?

As I wrote in that farewell post, I know better than to ever firmly close the door on anything. I was happy to “press pause” on the series when I left, as I still think it was the right thing to do — and the thing I was hoping would happen, to see others take up the mantle through creative/culture event series of their own, did in fact happen. Last year I did have the thought that on my next return to the city I would have liked to organize an edition, but that return (which happened in November of last year, as part of a business trip to attend our Rainbow Six Siege Pro League Finals) was a bit too short to be able to do something. But as Connery ended up doing in 1983, it’s usually best to never say never.

Oh, and there is a reason that I’ve kept the PauseTalk web domain alive all these years.

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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.

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Personal

Happy 2020

Back 10-15 years ago when I was the most active on this blog — and was mostly working as a freelancer — I used to kick off each year with a bit of a manifesto, laying out a bunch of new projects I wanted to attack that year. I haven’t done that in quite a long time — my days of organizing independent events, websites, and more are long behind me — but I’m feeling so optimistic about this year that I felt like I wanted to write something.

In terms of work, this past year was an exciting one for me, with my move mid-year to a new position (Senior Manager) and team (Esports) within the company (Ubisoft). Half a year later, I couldn’t be more excited about what I get to work on, and more importantly, everything that we want to accomplish this coming year (I of course can’t talk about it yet, but I can share my excitement).

This new role is not only in a world that I now find myself fascinated with, but it’s given me the opportunity to travel more for work, which so far as meant a few trips to San Francisco (where my boss is based), Las Vegas (for the Rainbow Six US Nationals Finals), and Japan (for the Rainbow Six Season 10 Pro League Finals in Tokoname). And this should continue in the coming year.

Outside of work, this blog continues to be a place to chronicle my silly movie marathons (the latest ones were for 1989 and this year’s October horrorfest), and who knows, I might suddenly have something else I want to chronicle or write about.

So goodbye 2019, thanks for the career level up, and here’s to an even more exciting 2020 and beyond!

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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!

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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.

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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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Meta Personal

May 2019 Writing Challenge

I’ve been feeling a bit bad lately that I haven’t been writing much here — something that I like doing for myself, as a continuation of what I started way, way back in 1998. So just like I gave myself a challenge to get back into reading books in a bit of an agressive way (2 books a month, which I’m still pretty much on track with), I’m giving myself a writing challenge as well, and that’s to write at least five posts a week — long and short — until the end of May. I’ll be off from work for the next six Mondays in a row (something I did in August of last year, that I found to be quite enjoyable), starting this week, and so hopefully that’ll help give me more time to write.

Here goes.

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Meta Personal

Twenty Nineteen

Changing the look of my blog used to be something I loved to do, whether it was creating a new look from scratch or heavily customizing themes and templates I would find online. I’d do it on an almost seasonal basis. This “design” aspect of blogging is something I’ve lost interest in along the way, with the only thing keeping me going being the desire to write. For that reason, when I started blogging more heavily again a few years ago, I was fine with using the default “Twenty Fifteen” WordPress theme.

This past weekend when I went into the back-end to write a couple of posts, I saw I could upgrade to version 5 of WordPress — which I did — and with it came a brand new default theme, “Twenty Nineteen,” which is what you’re seeing now if you’re reading this post on my website. It’s simple and minimalist, which is how I like my design, with some nice typography, and so I’m happy to switch to it. I still want to customize it a bit more (just tweaks that are baked into the customization options), and will add a few new pages to flesh things out (like an “About” page, which I haven’t had for years).

Part of the customizable aspects of the new theme that I liked was to have a little tagline at the top, following the site’s title.

Blogging since 1998.

Writing that, I realized that I didn’t really commemorate the fact that as of last year, I have been blogging pretty regularly for over 20 years. The archives on this site go back to 2002 (this is the first post), but that just marks my start of using Blogger as a proper engine for my blog (which later changed to Movable Type, and then to WordPress).

My origins of writing regularly on the web started in 1998 (in the summer I think) when I launched a site to celebrate Acadian culture (the French-speaking culture from where I grew up), and as part of the content for the site I wrote a weekly column about my life in Japan (I had moved there in May of that year). That site lasted about 3 years, and since I wanted to continue writing regularly about my life in Tokyo, I launched my own site, jeansnow.net. For at least a year, I continued to write and code everything in HTML, until I came across this thing called Blogger that looked like a pretty great way to automate a lot of what I was doing.

And now, over 20 years later, here I am writing this post.

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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.