Tag Archives: Ubisoft Toronto


Thought Bubble:
We are artists
(so let’s start talking like it!)

By Navid Khavari
April 9, 2013

This is a guest editorial from Navid Khavari (@Navface), Ubisoft Toronto’s senior narrative designer for Splinter Cell: Blacklist. His career in story development began at Toronto-based studios Lenz Entertainment and Story City, and he’s also worked at Bedlam Games, writing/designing the interactive motion comic for Lost Girl (Showcase/ABC), and several video game properties, including Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale. Views represented in this editorial are those of the author alone, not Ubisoft Toronto or Dork Shelf.

BioShock Infinite

Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite

I might be wrong. This is how I’m feeling right now, and that could change. To think I was always right would be to ignore everything I’ve experienced up to now.

But there is something that worries me about the video game industry, something that needs to find alignment, something preventing us to reach higher than we have. And that is the lack of use in our common vocabulary of the words “art” and “artistry” and “auteur.”

I’ve worked on games that were received horribly, and games that I hope will be embraced. I’ve experienced countless conferences, get-togethers, roundtables, raging debates over coffee — and each seems so exhaustively focused on whether games are art, and how to defend that idea, or even what constitutes a “game.”

It’s the wrong debate to be having.

Are video games art? Yes. Should we move on? Yes.

What defines a game? Is it the controller? Is it the interaction? Is it the mechanics? Is it all of these things? Do we really care to know?

Sounds like an endless spiral to me.


thatgamecompany’s Journey

Maybe that’s an interesting point of debate for some, but focusing on this alone is harming the industry and how we perceive ourselves as artists. Balance is survival and we lack balance.

When the Cahiers du Cinéma came onto the scene in 1951, it helped define the idea of auteurism in film (Andrew Sarris would develop this into auteur theory). French critics had noticed a particular group of films seemed to share a similar vision, with the common thread being the director. It completely changed how Hollywood and the world looked at Hitchcock, Lang, Godard, and Renoir, and would allow later critics to look at the works of Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, and Jonze, and have the vocabulary to describe the feeling they had when experiencing someone’s vision on celluloid.

We must do the same. Now. We need to start hailing our auteurs as such. Beyond that, we need to start recognizing that those who strive for that vision, who work towards that goal, are artists themselves. Whether coders, concept, modelers, writers, audio designers, quality control, level designers, or animators, we are all artists working towards a vision — the game.

Take Journey — a game that created the most meaningful multiplayer experience I’ve ever had. Bar none. It is the potential for artistry in games defined. Where were the critiques of its impact on the world? Why weren’t we speaking to those outside of our art form?

The strong lack of willingness to talk to other mediums is surprising, and our loss alone. We desperately need to start using their vocabularies, ones that have quite literally been developed over centuries (canvas, photography, film, music). Or we must simply strive better to develop our own.

As a narrative designer I often get inspiration from going to the theatre, attending a gallery opening, seeing a new band perform, just as much as I do from downloading the latest XBLA title. We, as devs, need more opportunities to embrace other artists, and see what makes them tick.

But before that can happen, there needs to be a revolution in how we talk about video games. I’m just one game developer. But I know from my own experience that game devs are desperate to be talked to as the artists they are.

Papo & Yo - Monster and a Melon

Minority Media’s Papo & Yo

Vander Caballero makes a game about his experiences dealing with his father’s alcoholism. He is an auteur in the purest sense.

Hideo Kojima. Auteur.

Ken Levine. Auteur.

Maxime Béland. Auteur.

Patrice Désilets. Auteur.

Jonathan Morin. Auteur.

Tim Schafer. Auteur.

Look at the wiki pages of the games these amazing artists have worked on. Sometimes their names aren’t even listed in the sidebar.

And does all of this mean I think Call of Duty isn’t art? Absolutely not. Who are we to define what art is? What a pointless exercise!

Who am I to judge how someone enjoys the latest Call of Duty or Gran Turismo or Journey or Monkey Island? These games represent an entire team’s worth of art! And it’s beautiful!

Abram Zimmerman, when he was alive, once said to his son, “Isn’t an artist a fellow who paints?”

His son became known to the rest of us as Bob Dylan.

This is our new wave. Let’s embrace it!

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Gamercamp Day Two Wrap Up

By Dork Shelf
November 4, 2012

Another year, another Gamercamp! With the fourth iteration of the Toronto-based video game culture festival now in the can, the Shelf’s Eric Weiss, Jon Ore, and Timothy Krynicki round up last night’s social events and a selection of today’s speakers. Continue reading

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Gamercamp: Toronto’s Big 2013

November 1, 2012

Next year is shaping up to be massive for Toronto video games. Gamercamp turns the spotlight on the distinctive art styles of 2013’s big three: Guacamelee, Ubisoft Toronto’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Capy’s Super TIME Force. Continue reading

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Gamercamp: Toronto’s video game magic

October 29, 2012

How Toronto stepped up and became a place to make games. Continue reading

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News Shelf: 9/14/12

September 14, 2012

Welcome to the News Shelf. Thursday’s announcement of the Wii U price, retail packages and launch date dominated the headlines, so that’s where we’re starting. But they aren’t the only company who made an announcement about bringing their games to your television. It isn’t even the only major tech hardware announcement to happen this week (three guesses as to what the other one was). Let’s take a look at the rundown. Continue reading

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Interview: Gamercamp’s
Jaime Woo on LVL 4

August 30, 2012

Gamercamp, the little games-festival-that-could, returns for its fourth annual outing in the city. The brainchild of co-founders Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo, Gamercamp is a celebration of everything related to games and the people who make (and play) them. With keynote speakers representing games ranging from AAA to indie, Gamercamp Lvl 4 aims to be the most ambitious iteration to date. Continue reading

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Gamercamp Expands Lineup

August 28, 2012

Toronto-based games festival lands Splinter Cell, Super T.I.M.E. Force and No Quarter.
Continue reading

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Ubisoft TO to produce Splinter Cell game

May 26, 2010

When game developer Ubisoft first announced that they would be opening a studio in Toronto, the first question on most people’s minds was what game would they be developing? Well, it seems that we finally have an answer to that … Continue reading

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Interview with Nathan Vella of Capy Games, Part 2

By Dork Shelf
December 6, 2009

In the second part of our interview with Nathan Vella (be sure to read part 1), president of Toronto’s Capybara Games, we talk about game publishers and Ubisoft’s new Toronto studio, as well as independent game development in Ontario. Please … Continue reading

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Ubisoft Toronto Studio Location Announced

December 4, 2009

After months of rumour and speculation, Ubisoft today announced the location for its new Toronto game development studio. Ubisoft Toronto will be located at 224 Wallace Avenue in the city’s West end, just north of Bloor and Lansdowne.  The location … Continue reading

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Interview with Ubisoft Toronto’s Employee #1

By Dork Shelf
December 4, 2009

We recently had the chance to sit down with Derek Lebrero, Ubisoft Toronto’s Employee #1.  As the public face of Ubisoft in Toronto we wanted to find out more about him: who he was, how he became the first employee … Continue reading

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