PDA

View Full Version : Gameinformer: Patrice Desilets talks Assassin's Creed, 2010 departure, lawsuit & more



ACfan443
07-21-2015, 02:58 AM
This was the story GI did a while back as part of their June issue (previously subscription bound), but has now been officially posted online as a standalone article: http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2015/07/20/life-after-ubisoft-again.aspx

It's a fantastic read and I highly recommend working your way through all nine pages, here are a bunch of quotes I've picked out:


Immediately after walking into his office, Désilets was summoned to the seventh floor – the home of the suits and ties that handle the studio's business affairs. Dropping his bag by his desk, he hopped on the elevator. When the door opened, he was greeted by Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat and Cédric Orvoine, who had recently been promoted to vice president of HR and communication at the studio. Seeing the pair there was not uncommon – they typically visited the office every couple weeks to oversee the administrative transition.
The meeting was short. Orvoine handed Désilets a piece of paper with one concise paragraph informing him that as of that moment he was terminated for cause due to his failure to deliver an acceptable prototype of 1666, which was in violation of his contract. Désilets asked if he could speak to his team and gather his things. His request was denied. As he was being escorted out of the building by "two burly and intimidating" Ubisoft employees, he said, "I'm being escorted out of the building like a thief, and I'm not the thief here. Somebody is stealing, and it's not me."


Désilets is eager to jumpstart his second attempt at life after Ubisoft. Though his quarrel with the French company is far from over – he's currently suing for more than $300,000 and the rights to his unfinished game in a case that could drag on for years - he's not waiting for the court decision to dictate his future.

Birth of Assassin's Creed:


Given his success, Ubisoft tasked Dési lets and an all-star team of developers with transitioning Prince of Persia to the Xbox 360 generation of consoles. Over the course of conception, the project evolved in an unexpected direction that left the prince behind. The new pitch was a fast-moving parkour game with an assassin motif, a new historical setting rarely seen in video games, and a sci-fi wrapping that chronicled the historical battle between two opposing clandestine factions.

Assassin's Creed debuted to great enthusiasm and strong sales. Ubisoft greenlit a sequel immediately, and Désilets' team blew the doors off the industry with the next game. With Assassin's Creed II, Désilets once again cracked the vaunted 90 threshold on Metacritic, and set the momentum for a billion-dollar franchise that now spawns yearly sequels and has amassed more than 93 million lifetime sales.

Brotherhood, and leaving Ubisoft:


As Désilets started conceptualizing the next game in the series, Brotherhood, internal discussions brought up the idea of placing him in new role that would name him the creative director of the overall Assassin's Creed brand. Désilets asked for more creative autonomy and economic incentive, which Ubisoft rejected. In May of 2010, he resigned from Ubisoft.

"I'd been working there 13 years in a row," Désilets says. "Every single morning and night. I was there since day one of Ubisoft Montreal, when I was 23. When I woke up at 36, I was like, 'Okay I'm not happy.'"

The realization sank in shortly after the birth of his second daughter. "Three days after Penelope's birth, I was back at work doing a blueprint of Brotherhood," Désilets says. "Four months after that I realized I had a second daughter I didn't know at all. It's funny, because I still feel like there is this gap between Penelope and I."

Joining THQ and subsequent development of 1666:


When Désilets signed on with THQ in 2011, executive vice president Danny Bilson was in the process of amassing a slate of new titles aimed at transitioning the company from an overreliance on licensed children games to a stable lineup of franchises the company could control.

The contract Bilson offered Désilets gave him all the incentive in the world to deliver a hit game. Should Désilets meet a certain sales threshold for any of the three games outlined in the deal, he would be given the opportunity to negotiate for total control of his studio and become fully independent. But before he could get his project off the ground at the Montreal-based studio, he and THQ hit a roadblock.


THQ Montreal began working in earnest on Désilets' new creative vision, which he came up with during his sabbatical. While on a vacation in Amsterdam, his girlfriend Emily mentioned what a wonderful setting the city would be for a video game, filled with canals, walking paths, and impressive architecture. One of the buildings they passed had the number 1666 engraved in it.

Désilets decided this would be the perfect open-world setting for his next third-person action/adventure project. For years, these games have been governed primarily by combat. Désilets wanted 1666 to push beyond those boundaries while exploring the role of the devil in society. The team began prototyping ways to create meaningful and engaging gameplay without continually falling back on sword fights and fisticuffs.


Development hit an unexpected snag when THQ started shuffling internal projects. The publisher shifted the Homefront sequel to Crytek UK and transitioned the Montreal-based staff that was working on the game to 1666, which was still in the conception phase (when you just need a handful of key thinkers). Suddenly, a staff of 40 that was intended to work on a first-person shooter was expected to form the backbone of a staff meant to create an open-world, third-person action/adventure game.

"Conception is looking at mud, and some people are not used to that," Désilets says. "They're more comfortable at the end when the mud is done and they are given Lego blocks and told to build. I had a bunch of people like that, so they didn't understand. As soon as you tell people in the game industry it's not about killing people, they're like, 'What are you going to do?' A lot of other stuff. So people were stressing, where I wasn't. I was like, 'Just let me do my game.'"

Bankruptcy / E3 demo:


THQ filed for bankruptcy in December 2012 with the intent of selling all its assets to Clearlake Capital Group, essentially making THQ a private company. The board of directors opted to replace Bilson with Naughty Dog founder Jason Rubin to guide the transition.

Morale in the office was low, but THQ Montreal continued to chip away at 1666. Désilets felt the game was far enough along that he put together a demo intended for show at E3 2012. Called the Brel E3 Demo (named after the famous Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel), the teaser gave a tour of the open world while Brel's 1964 song "Amsterdam" played. To Désilets, the trailer had one big kicker: Despite its polished look, it wasn't a CGI video – it was an in-engine video of somebody playing the game.

Désilets says Rubin asked him not to show it. "He didn't want me to show it because it would create some noise, and people would be more excited about 1666 than the game that [THQ] needed to ship that year to keep the company afloat - which didn't work," Désilets says.

Dissolution of THQ and Ubisoft acquisition:


"We spent like two hours in the meeting," Désilets recalls. "We pitched the entire game design, the tech, and showed our E3 demo." Patrice asked them if they liked it and they told him they did. Before they left, Désilets remembers telling them "Now it's on your side of things," to which they replied "Don't worry, we did our homework."

Ubisoft inherited his contract, which was unique compared to those of the other creative directors at Ubisoft – and in the industry as a whole. Mallat brought up the possibility of renegotiating the contract, and Désilets expressed his wishes to have his agent handle any of these discussions.


Negotiations continued from the end of this meeting through May 7 with no substantial progress. In March, Ubisoft introduced a new wrinkle in the negotiations when its lawyer mentioned the company could terminate Désilets for cause thanks to a clause in his original THQ contract that required him to deliver an "acceptable prototype" of 1666 on or before July 30, 2012. This threat seemed strange to Désilets considering that deadline expired roughly six months before Ubisoft acquired the studio.

As far as Désilets was concerned, that prototype was delivered before the July 30 due date in the form of the Brel E3 Demo intended to be shown at E3. "For Assassin's Creed, at the end of conception I had a movie," Dési lets says. "At the end of 1666's conception, I had a video of someone playing in an engine. With everything I know about making video games – and I think I know a little something about making video games – that was an acceptable prototype. THQ never mentioned it wasn't. [Ubisoft] waits one year after and tells me it's now unacceptable. Why buy it in the first place?"

Showing the demo to Yves Guillemot / further contract negotiations:


Following the demo, Désilets had a brief one-on-one with Guillemot. "He told me that he wanted to make the game, but it will cost a lot, so how can I control you?" Désilets recalls. "I said, 'Yves, we have a contract, but it's not that difficult. You call me – this is how we control now. We talk. I'm reachable, and we can have a discussion together. A month after that I was fired."

From here things got messy. Ubisoft issued a public statement saying Désilets had left the studio, to which he fired back his own statement saying he was terminated by Ubisoft without merit and he planned to fight for his team and his game. On an earnings call later in the year, Guillemot elaborated on Ubisoft's decision to part ways, saying "After more than two months of discussions with [Désilets], we couldn't align our vision both on project development and team management, so consequently our collaboration has ended, and we have suspended 1666 for an undisclosed period of time."

On his new studio "Panache Digital Games":


After working the long hours that are frequently demanded (or self-imposed) at the big studios, Désilets says one of the goals with Panache is to do a better job of protecting the work/life balance so many other career fields enjoy but seems ever-elusive in game development. The studio doesn't want to keep time sheets to make staffers feel guilty about going to a dentist appointment or leaving work early to pick up their kids from school. They are encouraging the opposite.

"For me, it's including my family in our adventures," Boivin says. "I love the idea of having my kid and my wife come over on a Saturday afternoon and putz around the studio and be a part of the experience."

This is just one of many ways Panache wants to distinguish itself from The Way Things Were Before. Their goal isn't to grow into a publishing empire to rival Ubisoft. Instead, they intend to form a small-to-midsize team of fewer than 100 experienced developers. Chaos is inevitably a part of the equation when going indie, and the team is okay with that.

There's a whole lot more on his new game "Ancestors", but I figured I'd bloated the OP with enough quotes so check that out on page 8 and 9.

Edit: I forgot to mention, there's a section in which the author reports on Ubisoft's perspective on the whole 1666 dispute so it's worth checking that out too (bottom of page 5).

Xstantin
07-21-2015, 04:19 AM
Amsterdam sounds like a cool setting for a video game. Nice to see they took inspiration from Rembrandt and Vermeer, too bad it didn't happen.

kosmoscreed
07-21-2015, 04:46 AM
Soul crushing, wish him the best.

SixKeys
07-21-2015, 11:40 AM
Thanks, been waiting for this article to go public.

VoXngola
07-21-2015, 01:05 PM
This hurt reading, I can only imagine how it hurt Patrice back then. Unbelievable, I wish him all the best luck in the world.

Sushiglutton
07-21-2015, 02:11 PM
Interesting read!

So Patrice's THQ budget was $35M and Ubi wanted to increase that to $100M? Reason having to do with: ""(...)a good balance between graphics and gameplay (...) We couldn't find that in this occasion.". Hmmm I wonder which half was lacking?

Anyway as much I'd wanna play 1666 I'm glad Patrice stood up for his creative freedom. He wanted to create something genre defining. I'm sure Ubi would have conformed the game into their open world game template. Tons of collectibles, checklists, companion apps, the entire campaign being a tutorial for the systemic content, massproduced "content" etc.

Also good of Patrice to bounce back so quickly and I'm really excited to play Ancestors! Playing as an early ancestor in the wild discovering fire, who comes up with a crazy concept like that :D?

ACfan443
07-21-2015, 04:00 PM
Interesting read!

So Patrice's THQ budget was $35M and Ubi wanted to increase that to $100M? Reason having to do with: ""(...)a good balance between graphics and gameplay (...) We couldn't find that in this occasion.". Hmmm I wonder which half was lacking?

Anyway as much I'd wanna play 1666 I'm glad Patrice stood up for his creative freedom. He wanted to create something genre defining. I'm sure Ubi would have conformed the game into their open world game template. Tons of collectibles, checklists, companion apps, the entire campaign being a tutorial for the systemic content, massproduced "content" etc.

Also good of Patrice to bounce back so quickly and I'm really excited to play Ancestors! Playing as an early ancestor in the wild discovering fire, who comes up with a crazy concept like that :D?

I would imagine a sizeable chunk of that budget would go towards marketing, exclusivity deals and the like.

But yeah, I definitely get the impression Ubi wanted Patrice approach the game's development with their trademark formulaic model so it would sit neatly alongside their other AAA titles rather than grant him creative leeway to make something that was potentially 'unsafe' and out of line with what works.

Then there's also the possibility that they felt uneasy with a new historical IP siphoning sales from AC's consumer base and possibly even throwing the brand out of relevancy, their safest, most reliable source of income. I wouldn't be surprised if their long term plan was to slap on the 'Assassin's Creed' title and turn it into ACXII: Amsterdam, though this is a bit of a stretch.

Anyway, I'm really looking to Ancestors as well, seems like a unique concept, but I'm apprehensive about the whole 'episodic' thing. We'll see how it goes.

Sushiglutton
07-21-2015, 05:20 PM
I would imagine a sizeable chunk of that budget would go towards marketing, exclusivity deals and the like.

But yeah, I definitely get the impression Ubi wanted Patrice approach the game's development with their trademark formulaic model so it would sit neatly alongside their other AAA titles rather than grant him creative leeway to make something that was potentially 'unsafe' and out of line with what works.

Then there's also the possibility that they felt uneasy with a new historical IP siphoning sales from AC's consumer base and possibly even throwing the brand out of relevancy, their safest, most reliable source of income. I wouldn't be surprised if their long term plan was to slap on the 'Assassin's Creed' title and turn it into ACXII: Amsterdam, though this is a bit of a stretch.

Anyway, I'm really looking to Ancestors as well, seems like a unique concept, but I'm apprehensive about the whole 'episodic' thing. We'll see how it goes.


Good point, the $100M may be all inclusive while the $35M was just a development budget, didn't think of that! Having two historical IP:s, presumably a bit similar (conspiracy, mystery, open world etc) would have been a bit odd. I'm sure that was part of the reason they canned it. That said I def think they should move away from AC and start a new historic IP. Best way to make something fresh and exciting again.



I don't mind the episodic model. It makes a lot of sense financially and I think the project has a much greater chance of succeeding given that they don't have to release a full game right away. Given the concept of visiting key moments in human histroy the division also makes sense. One thing I am a bit sceptical of though is this:


Many episodic games are hitting the market in the wake created by Telltale's The Walking Dead, but since the vast majority of these are story-based experiences, they lack replayability. This gives players several opportunities to jump off the bandwagon, something Panache hopes to avoid. Its vision? A story-heavy game where the player is left in a persistent open world after completing the narrative.

I just don't see how they would be able to produce an OW that would be able to keep players invested for supposedly many months. That sounds way overly ambitious to me. The important thing is to get the narrative part spot on imo. I wouldn't worry too much of the end game as that is rarely fun in OW games anyway.

VestigialLlama4
07-21-2015, 06:39 PM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uPZIG5BHD4

Here is the Jacques Brel song that he was going to put on the planned teaser for 1666. Covered here by David Bowie in English. The french version is also pretty intense as well.


At the end of 1666's conception, I had a video of someone playing in an engine. With everything I know about making video games – and I think I know a little something about making video games – that was an acceptable prototype. THQ never mentioned it wasn't. [Ubisoft] waits one year after and tells me it's now unacceptable. Why buy it in the first place?

This alone makes Ubisoft's actions dubious. I mean an actual game engine of in-game footage is a bit further on than what you expect at a conceptual stage.


Then there's also the possibility that they felt uneasy with a new historical IP siphoning sales from AC's consumer base and possibly even throwing the brand out of relevancy, their safest, most reliable source of income. I wouldn't be surprised if their long term plan was to slap on the 'Assassin's Creed' title and turn it into ACXII: Amsterdam, though this is a bit of a stretch.

This is probably the major reason for it. Patrice Desilets said in an interview in French that he started becoming interested in doing games that don't have violence in it and exploring historical action-adventure without Assassinations or killing people. ''Ancestors : The Humankind Odyssey'' as he says in that interview also deals with that.


"Our ancestors back then weren't that violent," Désilets says. "They weren't fighting each other. Cooperation and compassion are really part of the reason why we survived...There's no evidence of war before the invention of agriculture on this planet. That doesn't mean they didn't exist, but we've never found any evidence of it. There's not a lot of human beings on the planet, and once you first come across one, your first thought is not of killing them. It's like, 'Holy s--- - there's somebody else! Let's try to help each other to survive because there's not a lot of food and there's a lot of beasts out there.'"


1666 sounds like Okami, revolving around fantasy and painting (this case Rembrandt). I wouldn't put it past Ubisoft to put 1666 out as some kind Chronicles:Amsterdam or DLC and add in Assassination missions into the game. Its kind of like the d--k move corporations like to do to repay artists for their hard work, whether its DC and Alan Moore or Hollywood and Orson Welles.