I'm Daryl Barampanze, co-founder of Madlife Divertissement a small indie game studio that I'm running on the side of my main job. I work at Ubisoft Montréal as an online software programmer for the Assassin's Creed Brand. I have been in the industry for a couple of years now, from indies to AAA companies. Less than a year ago, I decided to start with some friends an indie game studio, outside of Ubisoft, to produce our own game. It has been and it is a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences as running a business is very different from the day-to-day job. As of today, our little studio has reached 10 people working on the game.
I'm here with Mackly Férère-Antoine as u/sh-dz who is working as well at Ubisoft. He is an animation programmer on For Honor and also co-founder of Madlife. We will answer some of your questions as well!
Ask us all kind of questions:
- What are the trend in the industry?
- How to start a game studio?
- How do we manage both work at the same time?
- What brand of coffee I'm drinking right now?
Let's start this! Ask me anything!
EDIT: It's been an amazing 7 hours with you guys. Thank you very much to everyone that participated, upvoted, asked questions and commented. Stay safe! - Daryl B.
Does Ubisoft have a clause that states they own anything you develop while working there? I'm assuming they would at least own anything you develop on company time, or using company property. How much of a concern is that for you, and are you doing anything to protect yourself from that situation?
We asked for permission to work on our own project outside of the working hours. As a result, they do not own anything. We cannot use Ubisoft property or work on it while at work. If we were to work on it on company time, it would be theirs.
We respect the rules. As long as we do what is in our contract, we are safe.
Hello,I'm a 30 year old with a background in art, got a masters in visuals arts (Sculpture/fine arts) from La Cambre in Belgium and I'm wanting to go into narrative design for the video game industry. Do you think, given my fine arts background that I could go straight to applying for video games jobs in the narrative field? Should I do a one year formation? I have trouble imagining where the talents working on the scripts and scenarios at ubisoft come from in terms of studies.
Yes you can apply directly. The game industry employs a large amount of non gamers and people with many different backgrounds. For example, some of my collegues previously worked as architects, physics engineers or with no diploma at all!
Building yourself a portofolio could really help you land interviews and give you the upper hand. Good luck :)
How did you get into programming and what was your path towards where you stand today?
Also what programming language/skills do you have and also would you recommend?
Thanks for starting this AMA :'D
I was just curious about computers when I was a kid. They could do one billion "things" in a single box. A calculator? Yes. A typewriter? Yes. Drawing? Yes!
From that point, I decided to enroll in a software engineering degree. I was interested in making video games. At the time, I participated in the Ubisoft Game lab competition with a protoype of Zorya and we've won several awards. Later in my career, I applied at Ubisoft and got the job.
I recommend learning C++, it will give you a solid understanding of programming in general and it's also the standard in the video game industry. After learning C++ it depends of what you want to do but you will have a solid base.
Can you tell us about the games you are planning to build from your new studio?
Also, I always hear how gaming industry can be cruel to new studios and developers, is it true?
Sure! We are building a game called Zorya. It's a two player cooperative puzzle game. You can check it out here.
The gaming industy can be cruel because it's a lot of work to create a game and new studio runs on a tight budget and even a tigther timeframe. However for us, we try to avoid pressuring our employees and to give a good amount of time and liberty. It's not always easy, but we are trying hard!
Do you have any say in a large company as how the game design should be? Do you think large sums of money is needed for a game (that large companies can provide)? Which is the most resource consuming aspect of developing a game. Coding/graphics-visuals/marketing?
You do have a say, as you can go see the game designer or team lead game designer and discuss with him about what we could do to enhance X or Y. However, there is often a lot of people involved for each decision so it takes time to change things. That's my experience with Assassin's Creed.
Yes, you need a huge amount of money to start a game because it requires so much different skills and fields and that's costly. I would say programmers are the most costly and time expensive, followed by artists because it takes a lot of them to make a good game.
How were the working hours at Ubisoft? (especially during crunchtime)
Ubisoft is a well managed beast. People there know what they are doing and it's not their first rodeo. Employee are well treated. I've been there for a while and the working hours during crunch is quite manageable. I never had, so far, to stay more than 50h a week or come in the weekends.
Most of the time, we are working 40h a week.
I'm a software developer with a long career developing business applications, quite heavily based around messaging systems (push notifications, pub/sub model etc.), but I'm developing 100% with .Net.
What technology do you primarily use for developing the online communication parts of your games?
Edit: Zorya looks cool. Memories of level 19 of Manic Miner :p
For Zorya, we are using Unreal Engine 4. For the networking aspect of our game, it's based around UDP and reliable UDP.
Video games are soft real time applications that's why it seems so barebone. One of my favorite website that explain really well the challenges and solutions is gafferongames. Check out their articles.
We also use HTTP to manage invites for friends and for some other functions.
What is an online software programmer?
An online software programmer has the job to create and support services. For example on reddit you can create and manage your account. These functionnality are made by an online programmer. In the game industry, I'm responsible to create and maintain such services like the achievement systems on steam or a photomode. I also work on integrating console functionnality related to online like inviting a friend into your session on xbox live or psn. It's a broad title that encapsulate everything related to online functionnalities in your games.
Which programming languages would you recommend to someone who would like to be a game developer. Not just for Ubisoft, but overall?
How often did you encounter situations when you were asked to make something for the game that you thought it’s not a good idea?
How does it feel playing a game you’ve worked on?
And lastly want to thank you for this AMA, hope you’re having a great weekend and best of luck with new business and project!
Have a good weekend too!
Got any job openings?
What is your opinion on games as a service vs. games with planned DLC/Day 1 DLC vs Fully packaged games on release?
Game as a service is great for a business. The #1 problem you have while operating is generating a constant flux of income. It fixes that issue. However, depending of how you plan your game, it can be a disaster. You have to think about it from day one.
In my previous jobs, I saw some companies stripping DLC from the main game, but it never has been good. DLC has to be thought as well from day one and carefully planned. As such, I don't think it a good idea to do otherwise than fully packaged games plus DLC.
I'm a student with one semester left until I finish my degree in game design. What's the best way for a designer who only has a touch of programming skills (not for a lack of trying) to get into the industry?
Create a solid portofolio. To do that, make game design documents, create levels in level editors (Far Cry, Source 2 or any game engine really), create or re-create mechanics from games, etc. It will help you a lot to sharpen your skills and stand out to recruiters.
Any idea why anyone thought uplay was a good idea, and not a barrier of entry many wouldn't cross to buy Ubisoft games?
Also are you worried that Divertissement being in your name might cause some branding issues with it being kind of an esoteric word?
For Uplay - It depends how you see it. It's an investment for long term. If you provide a good enough service, people will directly go towards your store. That's why there is so many e-commerce.
Love the second question by the way! Divertissement (a french word) or Entertainment in english is a little reminder of where we live: Quebec!
Hey Daryl and Mackly,
With technology advancing at the exponential rate that it currently is, how do you envision gaming and development changing in the next 5, 10, or even 20 years?
What kind of hardware will become the norm (VR, further improvements on a controller based system, etc)?
And what, if any, are the largest threats faced by indie or small game developers?
Thank you for your time!
I believe cloud gaming is the future. I have been working on Stadia for Assassin's Creed Odyssey and even if it's not perfect at the moment, it will take off at some point. However, it won't be a fast transition.
VR will be big as well in the future, even if I'm not a fan of the technology for many reasons, it will work in the end. VR needs to be played in a safe space, cutting you from all social connection outside of it.
For small indies, the biggest problem is the competition. How can you show your game in the million of other game on steam ? They need to be innovative and that's hard, but so far they do it with brio.
Anything you can tell us about the upcoming AC Valhalla????
Thanks for doing this.
Sure. It's awesome!
However, it's confidential and I'm bound to my NDAs. Don't worry, there will be more about AC Valhalla soon ^^
What got you into game development? Was it something you always wanted to do or was it just something came up.
Also did you have any experience making games beofre working at Ubisoft?
Thanks for doing the Ama.
It came up as I was in high school. I would come and go continuously. Once I got to university, I had the opportunity to do some game jams, play around software like Unreal Engine and Unity and after a while I was decided.
I did have experience doing games before getting at Ubisoft, working for two other studios.
Edit : a word.
What is your favourite Assassin's creed game and why?
AC2 is still one of my favorite after so many years because it improved the gameplay so much and Florence was awesomely done. Black Flag as well because the pirates & sea shanties.
But I have to say that AC Origins and Odyssey are reallly good as well. Fresh new take in the franchise.
What games did you love and play as a kid that influenced your decision to become a game developer?
I loved The Sims when I was a kid. I spent way too much time on that game. I also played a good lot of pokemon and Zelda. These three influenced me with The Sims being #1 on that list.
That is the best last name I've seen in a while. What's the history behind it and is there a nickname?
Thank you very much! My native country is Burundi.
Do you know more information about the new console generation than what's been given out to the public? Are you planning to release your new game for the next generation?
Is it you who keeps cutting holes in the fence so you can cross the rail tracks?
You know too much ;)
What development in gaming tech/making do you think will really advance gaming?
What do you think about the current state of DRM?
DRM can have its place but it needs to be carefully used. For indie games, using a DRM system such as Steam can help to mitigate loses from piracy that could represent a substantial amount of their income.
However I feel that DRM should never impact negatively legitimate customers. Unfortunately there have been cases where DRM has impacted a paying customer with worse framerate, too aggressive always online requirements, etc. We feel a customer should always have the best possible experience playing our games
It's great to be able to chat with pros who have such a passion, I hope it all works out for you!
1- Why a puzzle co-op? Not having the single-player market and having to deal with the mechanics of two players seems like a gamble for a smaller studio, which leads me to the next question..
2- Have you been inspired by the successes of Human Fall Flat and Death Squared for the direction taken? (Co-op puzzles)
3- Do you know about Miegakure? Any cool concept like that in store for your game?
4- Need any QA/testers with a tech background? (was devops and qa in another field, happy to help for free)
4- Just had to ask: Best poutine in Montréal? (My bias is for Ma poule mouillée btw) - and Best restaurant in Mtl? :)
Bon courage et bonne chance à vous!
I have a childhood friend who worked with Ubisoft Montreal doing the Toms Clancy's Breakpoint. He was doing animations, like that giant turret in the E3 demo etc.
What was the biggest challenge establishing your own company? And how do you support yourself in the meantime you develop a game? Is it just personal funds or you already have found publisher?
Not sure if it's too late, cheers.
The biggest challenge is the legal, business and marketing side of running a studio. It is our first time trying to run a business ourselves and it came with a lot of learnings. We have a day job at Ubisoft and we use some of that money to support the studio. We are also running a kickstarter at the moment.
What's it like working there and what advice would you give to people wanting to join the industry (aka me)?
Working at Ubisoft is really great. They treat their employee well. The main advice I could give is to build yourself a good portofolio and pratice your skills. The better the portofolio the easiest it will be to get in the industry. Good luck!
How real is the risk of burnout to you? Your day job involves working on games, and when you clock out you continue working on them -- even though it's a passion project, I understand -- so how are you planning to balance that?
I'm not alone in the team and we manage to dispatch tasks among us to prevent burnout. That's the power of a great team. :)
What's your plan to make your game successful?
We believe that there are enough violence oriented games and that the industry deserves more options. That is why we're developing a less violent gameplay experience that you can enjoy in split screen or online. We are targetting a niche audience of people that want to play puzzle coop games.
We think that our mechanics is quite original. You can check our kickstarter where we explain more the game. :)
So, since you seem to be an experienced creator and you’re now testing the waters with indie games, why is it that a majority of indie games we see are isometric or platformer puzzle games? I have nothing against indie devs and I try to support them as much as I can because I feel like big developers are taking a step in the wrong direction when it comes to profit over quality, but it’s difficult to support indie games when I feel like I’m always playing the same game. Maybe I’m just only seeing a small portion of them or maybe it’s just beyond the means of most indie studios to make an open world or first person game? But I’d like to know from the creator side before I critique too harshly as a consumer
Open world games requires a LOT of knowledge and manpower to be done correctly. It can be done by indies but you would need deep pocket and a solid team. That's why they tend towards something easier and less expensive. Platformers, side scroller, etc.
For our game Zorya, we decided to add value by bringing a beautiful 3D world, two player cooperation, plus an original mechanic around time and shadows. We believe those unique elements will interest people to play.
What is the most difficult part of making a game? Do you use coding or a preset algorithm or what?
I would say it's the coordination between different systems. It's hard to make them work together without breaking everything.
It's a lot of coordination between members and teams in general.
Would you recommend getting into the game industry by working at a company? Or starting out as an indie developer?
I would also like to know how big of a role marketing can be if you're an upcoming indie dev. In my head it seems like making a name for yourself on itch.io or gamejolt, and eventually trying to get your game through steam greenlight could be a good way of achieving that. But I can see how that is not a particularly efficient strategy.
I also want to wish you, and your team, good luck on your game. It looks really cool!
While at school, explore your passion and look around. Try to get internships if possible in the industry.
I would recommend to work at a company. Depending of your preferences you can chose a large range of studio from indie to AAA to get experience. Then after that you can decide.
You mice already gotten people asking but How can you start a game studio or how can you become a developer?
Start with a vision and a solid idea. Then validate your idea. Do market research to find if what you are doing will interest people. Check your competition. What are their price ? What are their target audience ?
Once that's done, you have to think about how you are going to fund your project. You'll have to start the legal process to create the company. Get a laywer to do it for you. Afterwards, you need now to associate yourself with people outside of your field of expertise. You will probably not be able to do everything by yourself.
For your second question, choose a field in video game. Then, I recommend to get a diploma or build a solid portofolio or both! After that Apply, apply, apply.
With Covid19 and many countries on lock down, does this effect you? If so does it put strain on a newer game studio?
Hopefully, we are in a industry that can work remotely without much problem. It does affect us in some ways, but not productivity wise.
- what are the current features that bring the most money for RPG game? list of 5 please.
- How can you balance the ingame currencies and real-life (p2w) currencies ? I mean is there any template that you can apply and find the equilibrium base on the input values?
- What are the most suitable design patterns that being used in the game because of its flexibilities? the one that can let developers adding new features into the old game core without worry about the bugs may appear in old content?
The 5 biggest features that brings money at the moment are : open world rpg games, equipment leveling, transmog, customization, progression.
To balance ingame vs p2w, you have to offer only customization and make it optionnal for the player to invest in it. However, if you want to introduce something else that could impact progression, you have to get out the spreadsheet. There is no given template, but you would calculate how long to achieve X and plot it against your paying model. It has to make sense. After that, you have to test it again and again.
For the "best" design patterns, it depends of use cases. ECS is a popular pattern as you can quickly add systems and components without impact for previously made systems. However, it all depends of what you do. But whatever you chose to do, you have to add QA. Creating a video game is a complex beast and stuff can break without notice.
Throughout the industry, the standard is C++. It allows to manage the low level part the hardware you are running on.
How to start a career in game development world. I am a student in final year of B. Tech and actively code on Cpp and python. Any advice and maybe you can shed some light on work culture in gaming industry (heard that they rug you off as the time of release approaches) if so how to deal with it ?
Depends where you land but some companies run contracts and when production ends, the contracts ends. If you want to start a career in game development, I would say that building a strong portofolio is an excellent investment. Recruiter will look at it and it will give you an edge over the competition.
Do you plan on including actual gameplay in your video game trailers for your small studio? Something I find irritating is watching a video game trailer to only be presented a high quality CG video and no gameplay to see what the game will look and play like.
Yes! Everyshot you see in our trailers are from gameplay footage. We expect to ship the game in this state or even better. We also plan to add gameplay walkthrough of some levels.
Do you think couch co op is not something a lot of users ask for? I'd love to have a co op option on a lot of games in some of the bigger franchises.
Couch co op is often requested but less played because it's hard to get two people at the same place to play.
We do offer both options for Zorya though as we think that it has some benefits. You can play in splitscreen or online.
What are the main skills or job roles you need in a small start-up studio? E.g. how many programmers versus artists versus creative leads etc do you have?
One programmer for sure and one artist I would say. After that you have to wear a lot of hats to do everything for the game. Some do it alone but it takes them years!
Is there going to be a single player option in Zorya for people like me who have no friends?
We though about it but we do not have a big enough budget to do both single player and multiplayer. If the game is sucessful enough, we might bring it.
steam or Epic or both?
So far we are going on Steam, but we never know. However, the door is not closed for other platforms.
What would be your dream game if you had 100 million dollars and UE5 and PS 5 ?
That's not enough, it's missing raytracing! /s
Personaly, I would like to make a life simulation game.
Hi, Thanks for doing this AMA. How have you found the difference between your Ubisoft role and then developing an Indie? Have you had to teach yourselves new aspects of Game Development or are you all sticking to what you know?
It's different. At Ubisoft, I apply my technical knowledge and abilities to get the best product to players.
It takes a different set of skills for my company like leadership, management, etc. I'm learning a lot outside of my domain of expertise.
How many women and people of color do you employee? Do they feel safe and have all the same growth opportunities as everyone else?
For Madlife - Two people of color and one woman are at the head of the company. More than 60% of the team are women.
Are you hiring? /s
What made you think I want to double up my job? Was it the idea of an inde game or just for the love of the profession and the challenges that come with games design and development? Or did you all want more creative freedom from day to day AAA development?
When we first did the prototype of the game that you can find here. After some debate and a lot of questions, we decided we wanted to finish it. The idea is original and we felt it was worthy of being made into a full game.
It's more the challenges of doing something unusal, completly out of your field. Yes you have more freedom but it's more risky. Everyday we are learning something new and that's exciting.
After Zorya, what kind of game can we expect from you? Will you be diverse or focus on a particular genre of game.
Zorya looks great too!
Toujours cool de voir des studios indés se créer. Bravo et bonne chance.
We would like to work on a diverse set of original games. More towards a niche audience of players. We would also want to keep making cooperative games.
Is it possible for a person with a writing degree to be hired by a game company to write stories/quests? Or do they skimp on professional writers and make the programmers write the dialogue?
The industry hires writers! They are way better qualified than developers to write stunning stories and engaging dialogue. Much love to writers!
What would you recommend to someone younger who is looking to become a game dev as a career? What steps should I take to reach my goal?
First step I would recommend to learn programming. Any programming is a good choice but you could go with C#. Because programming is what brings everything together. Then, when you know programming, you can branch out to learn whatever interest you more: modeling, sound, animations, etc.
You could also just keep going with programming if that's what suits you best.