Editor's Note: The following interview was conducted via interpreter.
Today, I’m visiting the Ubisoft1 headquarters in Paris, France and we’re in a meeting room up on the top floor. I’ve done about 200 Iwata Asks interviews now and spoken with lots of different people, but this is the very first time I’ve come to do an interview with a company in Europe like this. I hope to ask not only about the Wii U game ZombiU, but also about Ubisoft itself. If I may, I’d like to start by asking each of you to introduce yourselves. Yves, could you begin?1 Ubisoft: a game developer and publisher based in France.
I’m Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft. Thank you very much for coming to visit today. It’s an honour for us to have you.
The honour is all mine.
I’ve been very impressed by all the things Nintendo has been able to accomplish. What I love about Nintendo is how much you care about the gameplay and about the real emotions and passion that your games create in people. When we started Ubisoft, our goal was to create new kinds of products that would be loved not only in France, but all around the world. The first step towards this was our first game, Zombi, which was released in 1986.
You created a zombie game back when Ubisoft was first established?
Yes… it was quite a long time ago now! First, we released the Amstrad CPC2 version in France and later ported it to Commodore 643 to sell it in other European countries such as Germany. At the same time as we did Zombi, we also took care of the distribution for the ports of Commando4 and Ghosts‘n Goblins5 by Elite Systems6.2 The Amstrad CPC: An 8 bit home computer released by Amstrad in 1984. 3 The Commodore 64: An 8 bit home computer released by Commodore International in 1982.4 Commando: An arcade vertically-scrolling shooting action game released by Capcom. The original arcade version is currently available to purchase as a Virtual Console title through the Wii Shop Channel.5 Ghosts‘n Goblins: An arcade side-scrolling platform action game released by Capcom. The original arcade version is currently available to purchase as a Virtual Console title through the Wii Shop Channel.6 Elite Systems: A UK-based game developer established in 1984. At the time, it was known for porting arcade games to home computers.
That’s very interesting – the first game Ubisoft made was Zombi and now you’ve made ZombiU as your main launch title for Wii U. It’s too good to be a coincidence! (Laughs)
I’m Xavier Poix and I’m the managing director of the French studios in Paris, Annecy and Montpellier7, where we made Zombi U. Our French studios share a common history with Nintendo dating back to the Wii launch titles, with Red Steel8 being developed in Paris and Rayman Raving Rabbids9 being developed in Montpellier. 7 Annecy and Montpellier: Annecy is a city in the east of France, Montpellier is a city in the south of France.8 Red Steel: An first-person action adventure game released together with the Wii console in 2006 that sees players use the Wii Remote like a sword.9 Rayman Raving Rabbids: An action party game released together with the Wii console in 2006, featuring Ubisoft’s mascot character, Rayman.
You had been doing research at Ubsisoft about how the Wii Remote could be used long before the Wii launch, hadn’t you?
That’s right. That experience was used in those two titles I just mentioned. Every time Nintendo approaches us with a new system, we try to find what really makes it special and then add our own unique creativity. So for us, Nintendo releasing a new platform means that we need to totally start again from scratch in terms of game design.
So it’s like Nintendo is presenting you with a challenge each time we release a new platform?
Exactly! (Laughs) We have to forget everything we have learned so far and think up new ways of playing. We learned lots of things with Wii and put them into practice.
I believe you’ve also been working on the popular Just Dance series10. I’d like to hear a bit more about that later…10 Just Dance: A dancing game series originally launched in 2009. The most recent version, Just Dance 4, was released in Europe in October 2012.
My name is Guillaume Brunier and I’m the producer for ZombiU at Montpellier Studio. I’ve been with Ubisoft for over 10 years. My gaming passion started with F-Zero11 on the SNES, so I just can’t believe I’m sitting here in this room today! 11 F-Zero: A near future racing game first released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990
An F-Zero fan? You must be quite a dedicated gamer! (Laughs) What games did you work on before ZombiU?
I recently worked on a game called From Dust12. That was also at Ubisoft Montpellier and it was a very passionate experience. Before that, I worked on Tom Clancy titles such as Splinter Cell: Double Agent13 and Ghost Recon14. A long time ago I also worked on a cel-shaded15 FPS called XIII16.12 From Dust: A real-time strategy game released on a variety of formats for download in 2011. 13 Splinter Cell: Double Agent: Part of the Splinter Cell franchise, a popular stealth action series endorsed by the author Tom Clancy. 14 Ghost Recon: A long-running near-future military action game series endorsed by the author Tom Clancy. 15 Cel-Shaded: An art style popular in videogames that utilises a similar look to cartoons and comics.16 XIII: A first-person action shooter based on the popular Belgian comic of the same name
What was it that made you decide to go from playing games to making games?
When I used to play games, I would often see places where things could have been done better. It wasn’t enough for me to just play – I wanted to be part of a team where I could actually implement my ideas of how things could be better. It’s a crazy industry, but in my opinion it’s the best industry to work for. (Laughs)
Indeed! (Laughs) So, Gabrielle?
I’m Gabrielle Shrager. I’m the story design director on ZombiU and also the lead writer. I’ve worked at Ubisoft since 2006 and on a number of games with Guillaume including From Dust. I also worked with the creative directors for ZombiU on Rabbids Go Home17. 17 Rabbids Go Home: A comedy action game featuring one of Ubisoft’s mascots, the Rabbids, originally released in 2009 for Wii.
So how did you end up making games?
I’ve always been a gamer. I have a great passion for action adventure games in particular. That’s really the reason for me entering this industry. I started as a sound designer for a company called Cryo18, then went on to learn game design and…18 Cryo: Refers to Cryo Interactive Entertainment, a French game developer and publisher established in 1992.
You started in the gaming industry from sound design?
Yes, I’m actually a musician (Laughs) so it was natural for me to start with sound design. And then I learned game design, working my way up the ladder until I could write games. I really wanted to write for interactive games, not movies or any other medium. That’s my passion.
Writing games is very different from any other medium, even just in terms of the story or the narration.
Yes, it’s completely different.
The art of storytelling in an interactive medium such as games hasn’t been very well established yet, so I imagine it must have been difficult with so little precedent. How did you go about it?
That’s the nicest thing about it in a sense: you have nothing but an open road in front of you. And when someone offers us new technology, it opens up completely new paradigms19 for creating and telling stories.19 Paradigm: A way of viewing or thinking about things.
And the second screen creates a world completely outside the television, allowing us to create a more cinemagraphic experience.
You are referring to the Wii U GamePad, right? I’d like to talk about that a bit more later.
Yes, the Wii U GamePad is completely indispensable to the game. The experience simply could not exist without it.
So, ZombiU was really designed from scratch for the Wii U GamePad as much as for the Wii U!