Ubisoft Toronto was announced just under a year ago, and since then -- other than announcing that Assassin's Creed producer Jade Raymond is to lead it -- the studio has been quiet on its progress.
Today Ubisoft has announced that one of its flagship franchises, Splinter Cell, is to have its next installment produced entirely within the Toronto studio, with a second, unannounced title to be produced in co-production with Ubisoft Montreal.
Gamasutra visited the still-growing studio and its in-development workspace to discuss the studio's plans for its future, with input from the studio's core team including managing director Jade Raymond, senior producer Alex Parizeau, and head of the company's new Toronto-based extension of its Technology Group, Rima Brek.
Location, Location, Location
The location for Ubisoft's new Toronto studio was subject to a lot of speculation, and with Ubisoft's Montreal studio situated on the trendy street of Saint Laurent, many imagined the studio could perhaps be placed on one of Toronto's "hip" neighborhoods such as west Queen West or in a location that features easily converted factory-space, such as the Distillery district.
It makes the studio's location, in the Bloor/Lansdowne region, almost surprising. Not quite far west enough to be in the cool Roncevalles or Junction neighborhoods, nor quite east enough to be in the Annex (the location that forms the major backdrop to significant sections of the Scott Pilgrim series of books and upcoming film) Bloor and Lansdowne is a quiet, largely residential area that offers easy access to the rest of the city.
Top row, left to right: Lesley Phord-Toy, Alexandre Parizeau, Maxime Béland. Bottom row: Rima Brek, Jade Raymond
In particular, it also offers a large ex-factory location that strongly compares to that of Ubisoft Montreal's, with red bricks, large windows, skylights, and swathes of open floor space. Yet unlike Ubisoft Montreal, the company's windows look out onto a neighborhood of ordinary homes; those homes, too, seem to have a surprisingly good view of the studio.
"All of the core team has relocated with me from Montreal," said Raymond during an informal round-table chat in one of the new studio's conference rooms. "We're all kind of getting used to it, but it's pretty cool to be in this big building just across the street from regular houses."
The location currently features one main production floor that can seat roughly 180 people, with circular areas set out as "brainstorm spaces" to feature whiteboard walls and monitors to give teams the ability to play, view and discuss daily builds without needing to set aside time in a conference room.
Though the space is similar to Ubisoft Montreal's offices in style, when we visited there was still swathes of "raw" space still being worked on by builders. Raymond discussed plans to double the current production floor space by removing some walls, while also making sure the space kept some individual features -- from walls featuring art not only from Ubisoft's internal artists but local artists, and that they were "pricing out building a real kitchen," to provide crunching teams with the ability to eat more than just microwave meals.
Strikingly, Raymond has a no-nonsense, take-charge approach, with a clear and focused plan for the studio that would doubtlessly surprise many of the detractors of her often high-profile position as a producer at the Montreal studio.
Acknowledging the investment from the government of Ontario -- $263 million CAD across ten years -- and the company's own commitment to invest over half a billion dollars over the same period of time, she admitted it was a "luxurious amount of investment", but that the company was committed to using it in the most efficient fashion.
"It's a really nice position to be in," she explained. "Instead of starting a studio and working on small projects, Nintendo DS or portables, we're starting out of the gate with triple-A only."
"The reason that I think that's the right strategy is that it allows us to attract the best talent right off the bat. When you have the ambition to grow a studio from zero to 800 in 10 years, you have to get good people in the door from the start; people with a lot of experience. In my mind, that's what's going to allow you to make sure that the junior people that you bring in are trained properly, and if you want the right start I think that's the only way to be successful."