As what the company calls the 'CEO' of Ubisoft Montreal, Yannis Mallat -- formerly producer on several games in the Prince Of Persia series -- is responsible for managing one of the biggest single game development studios in the world.
Mallat, who has been working at Ubisoft since the year 2000, is responsible for managing a 2000-person studio that has the responsibility to create games for all audiences and across all platforms -- and is actually developing titles all the way from the most casual (My Weight Loss Coach) to the more 'core' (Prince Of Persia), all under one roof.
Gamasutra recently sat down with Mallat to discuss the ways in which a studio that produces games ranging from Dogz for Wii to Far Cry 2 for PS3, 360 and high-end PCs approaches production.
Ubisoft Montreal a very large studio that produces a wide range of games. At this point, the challenge is doing really good casual games at the same time as doing really good, solid core games like Assassin's Creed or Prince of Persia. Having a studio that can carry that breadth must be pretty challenging.
Yannis Mallat: It is challenging, but I used to say and I love to say... in a way, we're not a 2000-person big studio. We are an "X projects" studio. We have a project-based team structure, and we want to make sure that we respect that. We want to make sure that the studio is in fact at the service of the creators' vision.
And that helps us in the very early stages of any production, so the creators actually get that ownership on what they're actually doing before staffing and either becoming a big project or a smaller project in terms of staff.
Now regarding the casual games, I used to say as a joke that when you have 2,000 people, it's twice the necessary size for surveys, so that the results are meaningful -- which means of course that you're going to find people that are going to love to work in casual, and stuff like this.
Our structure is at the service of the product, thus it helps us to not preformat the way we are managing projects, so you can have projects like Assassin's Creed and smaller projects like the casual games.
We had a recent interview with Benoit Galarneau, who is working on Dogz for the Wii. We think of most developers as being interested in working on high-tech, hardcore games. Many developers come from a gaming background. But he found it really gratifying to work on a game like Dogz. I was wondering if you were finding it's easy to recruit people and keep them interested in these projects? How does that affect the process?
YM: Yeah, absolutely. It's a different challenge. It's a different way of approaching production and creation. For sure, casual people, especially casual games on the Wii and DS, attract people with different challenges such as, "Okay, it's not going to be the big tech demo thing."
The challenge lies more in the game design and how we nail the concept that is accessible. It's psychologically very exciting. It's a nice, brilliant challenge, because it's a nice, brilliant platform for those products. It attracts a lot of people.
Nintendo's success has been based around not just the fact that its games are accessible, but the company also does have a really intrinsic understanding of gameplay.
The games wouldn't be successful if Nintendo didn't have that real kernel of understanding gameplay.
YM: True. That's true, and they were the first one to nail down the recipe in a way. But this is what we're doing on all of our projects, not only on the casual side -- give room early in the production to prototyping.
Nailing down what's the behavior of the main interface and what's fun. How is it well-rounded? Where does the pleasure come from? Is it something that is meaningful in terms of the experience? Doing that early, and making sure you nail down the gameplay. It's a good way.
What kinds of tools do you use for prototyping games? I guess it would differ based on the intended platform, obviously, and maybe even the intended target audience. But what kind of prototyping do you do?
YM: Everything can be prototyped -- that, I want to mention. Sometimes we even prototype game structure with Flash, for example. When it comes time to prototype the gameplay, we have our own internal engines that are very flexible and easy to iterate on. That's in-house technology, so there is no tech barrier to prototyping.
Ubisoft's Far Cry 2
Well, I was talking to Dominic Guay about the new engine that's driving Far Cry 2.
Yes. I spoke to him at the NVIDIA Gamers Day. One thing we're talking about with the engine is that game has many different types of gameplay, and that sort of helps drive the feature set of the engine, to have a back-and-forth. That makes it a more flexible engine to work with in the future, too.
YM: Absolutely. If there's one thing we could say about our internal engines, it's that they are native next-gen technology. It's not an engine that we refactored from previous technology onto next-gen.
It took us a while, obviously, because we wanted things to be well-done, but now the results are exactly what you say. We can easily come up with different gameplay and easily address the open-world stuff. And actually now, some of our engines are used by other projects, which is a really good sign.
Do you have several internal engine projects?
And do you share them between the studios elsewhere in the world?
YM: Yes, absolutely. We promote sharing a lot. We want to make sure that before we share the engine, we've reached a certain maturity level, because there's nothing worse than sharing something that's not in an appropriate state. But yeah, we encourage sharing for sure. We have several technologies within Montreal, and there are different technologies in other studios.