A Conversation with… Chris Lee

This week A Conversation with… went way back to our 3rd graduating class, and found Chris Lee from Ubisoft Montreal.

  • Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry

I’m currently working as a Game Designer on recently announced Rainbow Six Siege at Ubisoft Montreal.

  • How has this changed since you graduated?

Soon after I graduated from VFS, I was hired by Slant Six Games to work as a multiplayer scripter on a SOCOM Title.

Since then, I had a chance to work on wide range of game design topics that includes 3C, level design, encounter design, AI, HUD, and competitive multiplayer.

I stayed with the studio for 5 and half years shipping 4 titles across multiple platforms. I also got to work on some amazing games that were unfortunately cancelled.

Because the projects I’ve worked on were multiplayer shooters, I’ve learned a lot about the genre. And my experience with the genre allowed me to take the opportunity to move to Ubisoft Montreal to work on a Rainbow SIx project.

 

  • Can you describe a typical day in your office?

A typical day in the office changes depending on the stages of the project.

These days, the design team is focused on writing down all critical features on design documents, and get approval from stake holders, in order to be ready for the full production.

I also manage daily multiplayer sessions to check on the build and gather general feedback.

Last year, we were mainly prototyping core features. While earlier in the year, we were focusing on brainstorming non-core features. End of the year, I’m sure I’ll be spending most of the time tweaking gameplay in the tool.

Basically, a lot of writing, presenting and meetings at the moment.

 

  • What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?

The most fun thing I get to do is to bounce ideas and solve design issues with other designers and developers on the team.

The most stressful and challenging thing for me is to present a design to other members of the team. Not only do I have to be confident in my design, I have to be ready to receive feedback and criticism, as well as be open to changes. This is the most rewarding part of the job, since I get to learn from my peers and the project overall becomes much better.

 

  • What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?

Right now, I’m playing Diablo 3 again. The new patch has improved the game drastically, which goes to show how tweaks to some game systems can have a huge impact.

I’m also playing DOTA2, CS:GO, Ghost Recon Phantoms, Godus and Planetary Annihilation.

What impresses me about these games are that they have frequent updates. The developers continue to support the game, and fix or add community requested features. For games still in beta like Godus, the developers drastically change the design based on community feedback.

I also play Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Warframe, Hearthstone, Samurai Gunn, etc… I like to play variety of games, even just for few minutes, to see and learn different gameplay.

 

  • What are some trends you see in upcoming games?

I see less new game design trends (open world, 2d platformer, brutal difficulty, procedurally generated, etc…), but more game as a service.

More and more, there are online only games, or packaged games that have elements of continued developer support.

Not only free to play or DLCs, but games like CS:GO and Diablo 3 see continued support and updates to increase sales.

Early access games make it acceptable for unfinished games to gather players for feedback which essentially is a game as a service.

As games become more service oriented, retention becomes higher priority. I believe recent rise in eSports is a part of that. Competitive multiplayer games are naturally systematic to be not wholly consumed in a few hours. Developers continue to release balance patches along with new content. High skilled players rise to the top, and players wants to watch those high skilled players.

It’s actually quite exciting to imagine the possibilities of developers to be able to directly talk with communities, and address real issues, based on data, more frequently.

 

  • What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?

The most valuable skill I’ve learned is how to work in a team. As a designer, I often have a heated discussion with my colleagues regarding a feature or an idea. Presenting an idea in concise and logical manner, as well as being able to receive feedback and criticism, and being open to new ideas and challenges. These are all very valuable lessons I’ve learned from the Game Design program at VFS.

Another skill I value a lot is a very specific game design skill I’ve learned from Dave Warfield. He once gave my final project team advice on simplifying a system to make each decision matter.

At the time, we were working on a resource management mechanic where the player would allocate 100 resources to 4 categories. Each resource added to a category would give a small boost. Dave advised us on cutting down on the number of resources and make each addition give a drastic effect. It was the greatest game design advice ever, as we changed to have 5 resources and each addition to the category gave huge gameplay changes. It made the mechanic much more interesting, and the game much more appealing.

I call it Simplify to Amplify. Anytime I work on a game system, I tried to find a way to simplify it to make each player choice have bigger impact. Make those choices more meaningful. It is one game design skill I find most useful and frequently use in my work.

 

  • If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?

In my class (GD03), there were two older guys, Michael Reid and Jack Kelley. They treated the game design program as a game industry job. They worked hard and often submitted work of high quality. They were a huge inspiration for me as I tried to compete at the same level. It wasn’t just me, as almost everyone tried to one up each other.

Mike, Jack, and I teamed up with one other student, Anthony Perrella, to create the final project that I am very proud of. We graduated top of the class, all receiving honours.

My advice is this.

You are already in the game industry. Be professional. Produce professional work. Constantly push yourself AND others to be better.

 

Thanks for the update Chris, best of luck on your next project!


Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS