Ubisoft's Jade Raymond on making blockbusters 'with more meaning'

Jade Raymond, managing director of Ubisoft Toronto, laments the Michael Bay-inspired action games that are dominating the market now. How can blockbusters "weave in a little bit more meaning?"

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Jade Raymond, managing director of Ubisoft Toronto, summed up her frustration that the biggest hits in the games industry are modeled after Michael Bay action movies. At a game developers' rant at GDC 2012, the Assassin's Creed producer lamented the abundance of the "narrow genre of action games, mostly dominated by first-person shooters." But, she wasn't entirely pessimistic. "I don't think that means we're stuck not addressing anything of meaning to people," she said, as she introduced some key changes blockbusters could make in their games.

I Am Alive

Speaking about topics she'd be interested in designing, Raymond talked about a desire to make a game about "how terribly stacked up against the very poor our systems are... We could imagine some kind of gameplay loop, once jobless, debt and the lack of healthcare spiral out of control," Raymond said. "We could have micro-gameplay based on fighting for basic needs, like food and shelter." "Why not attack the most taboo subject of all across all media? Religion... We let players die a lot. Couldn't it be interesting, for example, to model the beliefs in Hinduism and reincarnation and allow players to retry levels as different animals or as humans with varying skill levels?" But Raymond understands that these topics would be impossible for a company (like hers) to pursue. "I'm a realist, and now I'm a studio head at a big publicly traded company. And I have to admit, at $60 million per big AAA game, it's not very likely we'll be able to make one of these subjects the core of a brand new IP." She suggests a good alternative would be to "try to weave in a little bit more meaning into existing blockbusters."

Grand Theft Auto V

For example: "Maybe Grand Theft Auto could make some interesting statements about how messed up our penal system is by saying to advance your criminal career, you need to end up in jail and develop the connections and skills you need in order to advance." Or: "Maybe games like Call of Duty could make some kind of statement about sexism. For example, you could let players play as a woman and you'd have to make the choice to stay covered up and suffer reduced performance or suffer terrible comments from fellow soldiers."

Splinter Cell Conviction

"Maybe Splinter Cell (a game that Raymond is currently working on) could make a statement about the ethics around interrogation of suspects. We could put players in the position of a frog that's been placed in water that's slowly becomes hotter... they only realize how monstrous a thing they've done after the fact."

From The Chatty

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    March 9, 2012 2:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Ubisoft's Jade Raymond on making blockbusters 'with more meaning'.

    Jade Raymond, managing director of Ubisoft Toronto, laments the Michael Bay-inspired action games that are dominating the market now. How can blockbusters "weave in a little bit more meaning?"

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      March 9, 2012 2:03 PM

      there's a fine line where people tap out and won't finish the game since it's too convoluted.

      so, assassins creed 3. show us what you mean. :)

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      March 9, 2012 2:32 PM

      you mean like the heavy handed rainbow six reboot? no thanks Ubi-shaft

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      March 9, 2012 2:34 PM

      notice how she does not say "Lets take all the gameplay parts out of the games, because no one wants to play those"

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        March 9, 2012 2:42 PM

        You can make a game that tells a story without taking out any gameplay. Ubisoft just doesn't know how

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          March 9, 2012 2:45 PM

          Trying to bypass their DRM is one common gameplay found in their recent titles

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          March 9, 2012 2:47 PM

          I know, just stirring the pot =)

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        March 9, 2012 2:43 PM

        huh

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          March 9, 2012 2:46 PM

          I referencing that one game dev girl who wanted a"skip combat" button

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            March 9, 2012 2:48 PM

            Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't she want that as an option for the player rather than something forced on them? I don't see that as bad, and would've gladly used it a few times in Mass Effect.

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              March 9, 2012 2:49 PM

              Also, what does she have to do with this besides also being a woman.

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              March 9, 2012 2:57 PM

              Yes, she wanted it as an option, and I'm poking fun at the shitstorm of threads it created here.

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              March 9, 2012 3:45 PM

              Doesn't mass effect 3 have... exactly that?

              action, story and roleplay game style options?

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              March 9, 2012 5:14 PM

              It's bad. It broke ME3s flow. Now you get a game that is Story > Combat > Story > Combat > Story > Combat and the two never mix. Obvious design decision to be able to easily support the various modes of play by chopping it up.

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        March 9, 2012 2:47 PM

        has anyone said that? i don't know of anyone.

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          March 9, 2012 2:47 PM

          oh, I think you know

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            March 9, 2012 2:49 PM

            no, i don't, because what you are saying isn't even remotely close to what was said. so if you want to not be called a liar, which is what i'm doing right now, you should link her quotes and i'll take everything back and apologize.

            stop propagating bullshit. it doesn't make anyone look good.

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              March 9, 2012 2:56 PM

              whoa whoa whoa, I was clearly poking fun at it. no need to get all upset.

              Also, she did say she wanted a "skip combat button" just like there is a "skip dialogue button" Just sayin.

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                March 9, 2012 3:02 PM

                which is a very different want than "Lets take all the gameplay parts out of the games, because no one wants to play those"

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                March 9, 2012 5:08 PM

                Yeah, because she had a kid on the way and was musing about ways she could experience a story she was interested in without the 40+ hour commitment.

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                  March 9, 2012 6:12 PM

                  I DON'T KNOW WHY WE'RE YELLING

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                  March 9, 2012 6:28 PM

                  I'll one up her suggestion and say it would be nice if they just had a demo video playthrough mode that could be set as a screensaver. No need to play the game at all.

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        March 9, 2012 3:27 PM

        That was pretty hilarious.

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          March 9, 2012 4:14 PM

          GHFP has a veritable treasure trove of this shit

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            March 9, 2012 5:08 PM

            And it's seemingly endless and always at the ready. It's like he's got some special system setup that can handle any post occasion.

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      March 9, 2012 2:46 PM

      If she wants to make a game with meaning then she's working at the wrong company

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        March 9, 2012 3:34 PM

        Alright already, we get it. At some point in your gaming career, you were anally violated by the General Ubisoft Entity™, and harbour a seething grudge against these heinous individuals. Can we move on?

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          March 9, 2012 3:37 PM

          lol wut?

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            March 9, 2012 3:45 PM

            You seem to be expressing an awful lot of rage against Ubisoft's games.

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              March 9, 2012 3:46 PM

              You seem to be upset someone doesn't like the games they put out.

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              March 9, 2012 3:48 PM

              And I like some of their stuff like Trackmania and From Dust but I'd never say they were meaningful experiences

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            March 10, 2012 2:57 PM

            I think Anal er Agent Subterfuge was commenting the story not your comment lmao

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      March 9, 2012 3:21 PM

      The GTA prison idea is really good.

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      March 9, 2012 4:53 PM

      I really agree and wish developers would give their games more depth or moral controversy.

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        March 10, 2012 2:58 PM

        Well Deus Ex 3 sort of did that with their endings on Human evolution.

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      March 9, 2012 5:05 PM

      Splinter Cell Conviction is exactly the sort of game she is lamenting and the lead designer on that game was Maxime Beland who, last I heard, was promoted to overall creative director of the new Toronto studio Jade is in charge of. I don't think any games have come out of the Toronto studio yet so we have yet to see what sort of work its culture produces.

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      March 10, 2012 5:13 PM

      i like to play games to relax and unwind and not to be ethically challenged. i'm sure it's a noble and provoking thought but sometimes it's just too much. why do we need to be preach at in every medium. let's keep the entertainment value in games free of political and morality issues. at the end it's just a game, man.

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      March 10, 2012 8:10 PM

      It's not a question of the flavor of the content but the implementation of mechanics.

      As much as love a good story in a game, if the gameplay remains stale the whole project is a heap. I can deal with a mindless story as long as the game is fun to play. A good story can take a bad game only so far. Alpha Protocol had a decent story but the gameplay was balls. The Final Fantasy series has degraded into having very minimal gameplay because the story took too much precedence. Jade Raymond herself is guilty of this. The first Assassin's Creed had a very excellent story. It even had good gameplay mechanics. Many concessions were made to give an authentic look that the scenario designs took a back seat. We were left with excellent cities to explore with little variety of things to do.

      Story content is not the problem with games right now. We need to readjust the balance between story and mechanics. Right now story takes such a priority that they try too hard to be cinematic movies, which is an industry too polluted with mindless Michael Bayisms. Games today stimulate the mind in the same way as a movie would as a result. This is more of a visual stimulation. Games with proper gameplay should be stimulate the mind through gameplay and interaction. If games stop trying to be movies and start trying to be games, naturally you will get games with deeper meaning in terms of mechanics as well as story.