Ubisoft’s French production studios are behind the creation of leading brands like Just Dance, Rabbids and Rayman. Its talent is some of the most experienced in the industry, and is capable of (almost!) anything when it comes to game design. One prominent example is Ubisoft Annecy, whose expertise helped shape key parts of The Division’s online world.
Ubisoft Annecy is a name that should be familiar to Assassin’s Creed fans, as the studio developed the series’ standout multiplayer and continued its work on the franchise through Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. It’s staffed by experts in animation technology – and, more importantly, in online and multiplayer experiences – and has also contributed to projects including Splinter Cell or The Crew. Always ready for new challenges, the studio’s teams worked on key tasks during The Division’s development, collaborating with lead studio Ubisoft Massive to bring a pandemic-stricken New York to life.
Ubisoft Annecy took point on developing level art and level design in several of the game’s missions. With its strong online expertise, the studio was also in charge of optimizing tools related to customer support and communication with players, including bug reports, to provide gamers with the best services at the game’s launch. Ubisoft Annecy was also tasked with bringing the game’s world to life by creating and animating the non-playable characters who wander New York’s streets. That includes the animals, which were created in motion-capture sessions with real dogs. Ubisoft Annecy also contributed to the variety of The Division’s missions, helping in the development of guidelines for The Division’s combat scenarios, including the Brooklyn mission, in which the studio was heavily involved.
Rebecka Coutaz, managing director at Ubisoft Annecy, says the collaboration with Ubisoft Massive enabled the studio to increase its expertise. “Working on a new brand, coming to grips with a new technology, a new engine, but also working for the first time with Ubisoft Massive’s talented team enriched our knowledge as well as theirs,” Coutaz says.
Moreover, the collaboration motivated Annecy’s developers to dive into the deep end quickly. Antoine Saussaye, producer at Ubisoft Annecy, describes the project as being defined by exciting challenges: the teams had to understand a new world and to be very efficient from the start, even when facing the unknown.
Level Design Director Chadi El Zibaoui says working with Ubisoft Massive was a “win-win collaboration, where studios supported each other by sharing new knowledge and technologies, and by providing the best resources to guarantee the game’s quality at launch.”
El Zibaoui and Saussaye describe a fluid, natural-feeling collaboration process that was helped by the geographical closeness between Annecy, France, and Ubisoft Massive’s home in Malmö, Sweden. “It takes an hour and 45 minutes to fly there, which facilitates the exchanges”, asserts El Zibaoui. “I traveled to Massive 12 times in a year! These summit meetings were very beneficial, especially to improve the level design of the game.” Saussaye adds that “the location of Annecy is a highly attractive point for our partner studios.”
What really helps Annecy bring games to life, however, is its ability to bring together talent from diverse backgrounds to create a powerful confluence of art, technology, and expertise. Annecy’s internal teams are very diverse, and are excited to work with contributors from other cultures and backgrounds. “In a week spent at Ubisoft Massive, I spoke French, English, Spanish, Romanian, and Swedish” says El Zibaoui.
“Now I know to thank my Swedish colleagues by writing ‘tack,’ which means ‘thank you,’ instead of writing ‘tak,’ which means ‘ceiling,'” adds Saussaye.
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