Ubisoft Montreal and Autodesk watch closely for the best and brightest with Ubisoft Game Lab 2012 videogame design competition and Summer School.
After a long winter’s study, college and university students look forward to the warmer months of summer and, if they’re fortunate, to a great summer job experience. Ideally, of course, that job will provide not only some money in their pockets, but valuable experience for their preferred career. For a broad range of richly talented art, science, and technology students in the Canadian province of Quebec, summer 2012 has provided a unique opportunity to work at the job of their dreams.
Now in its second year, the Game Lab offered teams of students from Quebec colleges and universities the chance to conceive and design their own videogames. Working with Autodesk and 8 participating universities, Montreal-based videogame leader Ubisoft Montreal – producers of blockbuster game titles including the Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and Tom Clancy-related franchises –Game Lab provided the theme “corruption” and precise directives to prospective student participants, along with the opportunity that the winning entry could be created with the help of the talent at Ubisoft.
Beyond the prestige of winning the chance to see their game design reach full production, Ubisoft offered selected students of all the participating teams the chance to participate in Ubisoft’s Summer School, where they created the winning prototype from the Game Lab competition. More than that, Ubisoft’s Summer School could also be considered as an extended job interview for the selected participants, since there is the possibility of a much-coveted full-time position at Ubisoft’s Montreal studio at the end of summer. What more could a graduating student hope for?
The Game Lab competition was entered by teams from, among others, the computer science department at McGill University, animation students from the Montreal campus of the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and Montreal’s prestigious Centre NAD. Throughout the design and creation of the competition entries, Ubisoft was on the lookout for talented students in every facet of game production, from aesthetic design and storytelling to user interface design and programming.
Using a combination of Autodesk® 3ds Max® software and Autodesk® Scaleform® gameware, together with Unreal® Engine 3 game engine, a total of 45 participants comprising seven teams submitted a wide variety of game prototypes for consideration. In the end, the winning entry was “Pixel Trouble,” conceived by a team from Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue led by Kaermack Polewska, who had created a more rudimentary 2D version of the game earlier in his studies.
“The idea for ‘Pixel Trouble’ came from a nostalgic feeling for older games, like Mario Kart 64,” says Polewska, now Creative Director on the Summer School project. “I brainstormed with my university team, and we came up with the idea of an old game cartridge, long-neglected, with a world still going on inside of it and of corruption destroying this world.”
The ingenious game-within-a-game employs two artistic styles, with an idyllic and colorful videogame world paired with a corrupted vision of strange neon colors and rampant pixilation. The hero of ‘Pixel Trouble’ is the King of the Cartridge, who fights the corrupting influences. Once defeated, the corruptions explode into individual pixels, which are duly collected by the King and used to create bridges to higher levels of play.
“While ‘Pixel Trouble’ was the eventual winner, all the entries had great strengths,” says Wesley Adams, Industry Marketing Specialist in Games Technology at Autodesk. “Some entries were stronger at storytelling and artistic presentation, while others were stronger on the programming and user interface design side. Between them, the teams gave Ubisoft the chance to assemble an amazing, cross-school team.”
Following an awards event hosted by Autodesk at the company’s Media & Entertainment headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, Ubisoft selected a 23 member team to bring ‘Pixel Trouble’ from prototype vision to a real videogame. But they had to move fast.
“We had just two weeks to determine how the team would work best,” says Michael Meltchenko, Centre NAD graduate and Art Director on the game. “Once we figured out everybody’s strengths, we assigned each person a specific task. We also created mood boards about how the game should look and feel, so the entire team could see what we wanted to achieve. It was a really smooth collaboration on how to make our vision and the world of the game as coherent as possible.”
Working on a production schedule of just five weeks gave all the selected participants the chance to show their unique and individual talents. Says Meltchenko:
“The game really lets players move wherever they want, which makes for huge and complex levels. Maintaining the feeling of unlimited space, while still letting the player feel in control, requires a lot of environments and characters. That’s what we are dealing with right now.”
“We were using Autodesk 3ds Max software, which we are all intimately familiar with,” says Agustin Trechi of Centre NAD and Lead Artist on the team. “For a game like ‘Pixel Trouble,’ it was really important to have a nice, clean topology, so the Conform brushes and Freeform utilities in 3ds Max were key to making this game successful. I wouldn’t want to create this game with any other software. I’m a character modeler, so Autodesk Mudbox software was also important to my role. The ability to paint layers in 3D, together with importing Alphas and brushes, and then projecting them on to the model was crucial.”
On the programming side, McGill University’s Aurélie Lechevalier, serving as Programming Lead on the new game, had only good things to say about Autodesk Scaleform:
“Scaleform, together with the integrated Action script, was amazing in enabling us to fully integrate all the art assets into the game in a fast and easy fashion. It served us really well within a tight timeline.”
For Ubisoft, who hired no less than 11 of the 13 selected participants from last year’s competition, the prospects from this year’s competition are very bright indeed:
“This is an incredibly talented and flexible team,” says Francois_Renouf, Pixel Trouble producer from Ubisoft Montreal. “Although they were meeting each other for the first time, it only took a couple of hours for the entire team to get together and get motivated. We selected fantastic leads, and they have all impressed me with their abilities to manage and to create games. ‘Pixel Trouble’ may not be finished yet, but the competition has already been a huge success.”