Now that it's The Future and it's suddenly trendy to dump on LOST, this seems like the perfect occasion to haul out a truly awful metaphor: I am Ben Linus, and I've just turned the big stone wheel and woken up three years later in Tunisia. Wearing a parka.
But it's kinda what it feels like. One moment, I'm just cruising along in the relative calm after Far Cry 2 hits the shelves, enjoying some actual work-life balance and getting ready to present at GDC 2009, not just one, but TWO sessions! (Hey, at least the barks talk was sort of practical. And short.) Somewhere, right around the time I board the plane from YUL to SFO feeling excited about the Next Thing I'm scheduled to work on with Clint and Alex and LP... ZOT! There's a purple flash and suddenly I'm sitting in a crowded meeting room mostly full of complete strangers and they're all staring at me like they're waiting for me to say something helpful and then my desk has moved and I'm back in crunch and somehow I'm working on the co-op mode of some other thing, and... Oh hang on. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have been given a new job. Oh, and my hair has turned grey. It's like that Jennifer Garner movie you might have watched in-flight that one time.
And. That's how you make a year disappear. A few months at a time, a unit of measurement unique to the game industry, and known by its technical term: Additional Polish.
The cool part is, a game came out of it. Specifically Splinter Cell: Conviction, and its Co-Op and Deniable Ops modes.
As a rabid fan of the original Splinter Cell and especially the third installment Chaos Theory, I initially had some trepidation about the job. On the one hand, Co-Op in the series had this great pedigree and it seemed like we were in a strong position to synthesize a unique take on that experience using the new mechanics being introduced in Conviction's Single-Player game. On the other hand, I loved playing the earlier games and I wasn't sure I wanted to see first-hand how the sausages were being made.
But the thing that ultimately persuaded me to take the gig - aside from Clint and Alex and LP telling me that I'd be an idiot not to - was that we had the team to do it.
We had a team made up of seniors and juniors and guys who'd come straight out of school and others who'd just been hired away from their old studios in other cities and were still adjusting to the Ubi Way Of Development. We had seasoned veterans from Assassin's Creed and Rainbow Six, and we had devs who had been on every Splinter Cell since the first one and had already given two and a half years to this project. We had a group of leads that could collaborate and delegate and argue and scream and yell if that's what it took. And throughout it all, we had the Conviction core team that backed us and would give us room to try (and fail, if that's what it took) and room to succeed once we found our footing.
(purple flash) Conviction came out on Xbox360 April 13 this year, and on PC a few weeks later.
There's a whole separate post simmering about all of the design lessons that have emerged since the release of this game. There's lots of deconstruction and frank criticism. There have been some ideas vindicated, some assumptions validated and some suspicions confirmed. Given time, there is a solid wish-list of improvements and fixes and additions that we would each love to make. And because I'm a glutton for punishment, it looks like I'll have my chance.
(purple flash) I'm dropping two sets of door keys into my landlord's mailbox and heaving a queen-sized mattress that should have been burned years ago onto a sidewalk in the Plateau. I'm saying good bye.
(purple flash) I'm getting shot in the face by a modded Nerf gun.
Ubi opened the doors to the Toronto studio back in December, at which point it consisted of a single room with a desk and a fax machine. It looked like the head office of a numbered company that sold generic pharmaceuticals to American retirees over the internet. Now it's become a cavernous space that bears more than a little resemblance to a certain converted textile factory in Montreal's Mile-End. Except the cables on the ceiling are just a bit more tidy and the floor doesn't slope. The brand new desks and chairs are slowly but surely getting occupants. A team is taking shape, one composed of both familiar and new faces.
Perhaps unusually, it's not actually a secret what we're doing. It was announced just a couple weeks ago through Gamasutra, in a story that's since been picked up by the gaming as well as the mainstream press: We're making the next Splinter Cell.
Leaving Montreal after nearly six years at the studio that gave me my first shot in the industry has been a predictably melancholy business. But I've never been more excited by an opportunity. I'm joining Max Beland and Alex Parizeau and a number of other leads from the Conviction team to begin work on the next chapter in this saga. We get to start out a fair bit wiser. We get to start out a fair bit earlier. We get to build.