After I finished Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, I was eager to move on to a management position, given that that’s what I had been doing prior to joining Ubisoft. I felt fine doing level design, but I had no experience besides Pandora, and I felt this was not the best way for me to help the company. I wanted to organize things.
The assignment I picked up had been turned down by other people for it was considered career suicide: I joined the team doing the PS2 version of Ghost Recon 2, who had six months to create an original version of the Xbox game, complete with different storylines and settings. That’s six months from the top management’s “go”, to approval by Sony. Yeah, it was as insane as it sounds. Ghost Recon 2 PS2 was what’s known as a “business title”: it’s a strong licence, and the Xbox version was good, so the PS2 version’s goal was just there to ride the buzz and reap sales.
So the next six months went by in a blur of very, very long weeks. But whereas Pandora had a lot of expatriates helping out production, Ghost Recon 2 was almost entirely Chinese. On a team of 50, only 5 of us were laowai (foreigners). This thus marked the point in my stay in Shanghai where I was the most fully immersed in Chinese life. My Mandarin skills peaked at that time, and through my desire to allow my Chinese colleagues to feel like they, and not foreigners, “owned” the project, I ended up attending a few meetings where the guys only spoke in Mandarin. And yeah, I understood.
After we shipped this monster – surprising everybody, even ourselves – I was finally given a stab at being Producer, by being put in charge of a small followup project: Ghost Recon 2 GameCube, a straight port from the PS2 version. I was given a team of a dozen Chinese junior employees, and the mandate to wrap up the port in a mere two months.
And looking back on my time at Ubisoft, that small project was one of my favorites. I was free to organize the production in the manner I saw fit, which led, I’m proud to say, to a small, highly motivated team with absolutely no interpersonal drama. I think back on the team of programmers I had, under the leadership of the quiet and super-hard-working Li Yong Gang, and sometimes I find myself longing for these simple days. I worked with some of the guys on that team again after that, and I always felt we had a special connection from all having learned new roles together in that short amount of time.
Sure, we were not making a great game. But despite that, we understood the work we had to do, and we held together as a team to achieve it. It pains me to think back on how well the guys worked, and how dedicated they were, and that the game we produced was not to be recognized as an achievement outside the studio. Both Ghost Recon 2 PS2 and GameCube went on to make a decent profit… But by then, I couldn’t abide to lead teams to create bad games through acts of extraordinary dedication and courage.
Luckily for me, Splinter Cell Double Agent was waiting. And I had no idea how much dedication and courage that one would ask of us.
Blog posts from that time:
(Post-Scriptum to the screwdriver story: I still own this screwdriver. I still think of it as the perfect example that no job is too crazy or too small when a Producer needs to help his team get things done.)