You seem to be someone who enjoys the risks associated with everything you're doing?
I do. I've always felt like if you're not trying to do something different or push things in a new way then it's not worth doing. I get myself in to trouble - often I take on more than I can handle because I don't know how hard it's going to be - but I think if you set the bar way up high and you only get half way, everyone else is really happy and maybe you're the only one who's stressed because you know you set it a bit higher. But I think that's how you make great things happen - by striving for things slightly beyond reach.
Your talk at GDC touched on making games more mature. What does that mean in the current climate? How do you make a 'mature' game without blowing people up and building dodgy QTE sex scenes?
I really do feel it's time for our medium to grow up. I think we don't need to make the equivalent to a Michael Bay flick in order to sell five million copies. I think things can be exciting, have meaning and hit important topics, and I'm not the only one that thinks that. There are major franchises trying to have more meaning and be something more interesting. We obviously tried a bit - and I hope it was obvious - to make a story with more meaning and mature themes in Assassin's Creed.
It's definitely something that we're pushing for at Ubisoft Toronto. I think every other entertainment medium or art form does manage to have commercial success and have the viewers or audience think or be inspired. Games, I think, have even more potential than that given that on top of the narrative side we do have all of the gameplay mechanics and we create rule sets from scratch which can have any kind of meaning embedded in them. It's not easy to do that, because it requires breaking our recipe and trying to find new recipes, but I think it's an important thing for us to strive for.
We're sure you can't say much, but we imagine Splinter Cell's not going to be your average action flick then?
It will have all of the action flick elements for sure, but we're trying to also explore something a little bit more interesting, which is actually one of the themes that's at the root of the franchise historically, but that never has been surfaced so much. I can't really say much about Splinter Cell! I don't want to say something that I'm not allowed to say.
With all of the next-gen rumours and companies like Epic and Crytek showing off their future tech, it seems an exciting time to be in the games industry...
For sure. There are rumours about the new consoles coming out and obviously we know it's on the horizon. That's always a really exciting time for games because games have evolved in large part through technology advances. But on top of just having more power now there are all kinds of different areas of evolution in games that allow us to reinvent what the interactivity means. There's the connectivity obviously, there's location-based stuff, all the sensors that are on varying devices, the peripheralisation... so there's more power and everything else kind of combined.
There's the new interfaces - motion stuff is continuing to evolve - so I think being in a position right now where you can think about what a new IP is and how that new IP can leverage all of that stuff is really exciting, because we do have the opportunity to continue to redefine what our medium is. I think that's what's so exciting about games, that we haven't found our recipe yet and we continue to reinvent that recipe. Within the last 30 years what a game is has changed so much and that is ready to continue to take a leap. I think the leap has a lot to do with bringing back a lot of the things that we're seeing happening disparately. I think it's really exciting.
From a UK perspective the most interesting topic with the Canadian games industry is the tax breaks, and it seems every time we're in Vancouver or Montreal we bump into Brits who've moved to Canadian studios...
We've got a good proportion of Brits at our studio.
Send them back.
We're hoping to keep them actually! They're very good.
What lessons do you think the British government could learn from how Canada has embraced its games industry?
The thing is, I think there are a lot of misperceptions about tax breaks where people think we've got a tonne of money somewhere sitting in the bank. The truth is, for example with Ubisoft we've made a huge commitment to this new studio - it's a huge risk starting up a new studio. We're putting in half a billion dollars. It's nice to know we have government support to allow that risk because - and maybe this is the thing different countries can potentially consider - companies like Ubisoft do have studios everywhere and they can take that risk anywhere. So they want to know that where they're taking that risk there's going to be backing and help.
Sure the tax breaks, conditional grants or whatever they are... it's not only the money that helps, it's also the understanding that you're setting up shop in a place that cares about games, sees the future of games, and you're going to have their support across the board on different things. Money is a good indication of the rest of the support that will follow!