Exclusive: After leaving Ubisoft, Patrice Désilets is back in the game at THQ

July 21, 2011

MONTREAL–Game designer Patrice Désilets stunned the video game world with his high-profile departure from Ubisoft in 2010. Désilets’s contract prohibited him from working for the past year but now the creative director behind “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” and “Assassin’s Creed”  franchise is back in the game, having joined THQ’s new development studio in Montreal. In his first interview in the new digs in Montreal, Désilets opens up about the new job, the time off and what it’s like to be an underdog again in the gaming world.

Reuters: You’ve been at THQ for about a month, how do you find it?

Désilets: I’m not used to it (laughs). You can see in the industry that a lot of people change jobs often and then there’s me. I spent 13 years in the same company. I started July 2, 1997 and I quit May 28, 2010. In between, I did six games with roughly the same people, so I’m really excited. I like where we physically are in the city. I spent my professional years back in the Mile End and it’s nice to change the scenery. I walk to work and I like this district with these nice restaurants around.

The real thing for me is just to meet a bunch of new people. There’s 100 plus people to meet and I’m bad with names, but the energy is the same as when I started at Ubisoft. It’s a smaller place with less people but also, there’s the feeling that we’re the underdogs. So it’s all about the need to prove ourselves and do something great, instead of at a bigger company where you’re making sure you are still good and making sure that you’re growing.

Back then (at Ubisoft), nobody knew what they were doing. We didn’t have a lot of expertise back then. Now Ubisoft does. Here (at THQ), right away, I’m in meetings with people who know how to make a game, so that’s a lot easier than it was back then. But the energy of, “rah!  Let’s do something together and its going to be great,” is there and it’s less so at other companies.

Reuters: Do you feel pressure or extra responsibility because you are helping build a new studio in Montreal?

Désilets: Well I’m not alone in that. That’s the reason I picked THQ.  I’m with people whose main focus is to build a studio. I’m here to help them out and tell them how I see things– my culture. And I’m not talking about my French Canadian culture but about how I make a game. At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is not to build a studio but to build a game. This is what I’m good at. This is how I express myself. I am an artist for video games. And I didn’t do it for a year and it was tough for me not to express myself through video games. Now, being in a meeting with concept artists, it’s like “ahhh finally!” I can really talk and one idea leads to another.

Reuters: What did you do for the past year?

Désilets: Nothing. I am shaking just talking about it because I didn’t write a line down. I could have but I didn’t want to. I was really respecting my contract. I said, I won’t work at all, I won’t write any ideas. They are all in my head and now I’m starting to write them down. And I traveled.

Reuters: Where did you go?

Désilets: Costa Rica. I spent a month there in a villa. I also spent five weeks in a car with my family in Canada. We drove 10,000 km to Newfoundland to see the Vikings in the first European settlement in North America. I have two little girls. At the time, they were 2-years-old and 8-months-old and I packed  us in the Mini Cooper. And we did the entire Maritimes. We camped and all the rest. I did it all. It was perfect timing. I spent a week in Europe and a month in my cabin in the woods snowmobiling. Just reading and watching seven seasons of the TV show, “The Shield.” I was 36 and I said, OK, that’s it, I need a break. I never actually believed I would work in an office in my life. It was not the plan at all. Video games are still done in an office. I needed that break. I was going to the same place for 13 years and it was like, really, my best years are behind me?

Reuters: It sounds like you are recharged.

Désilets: Totally. After seven years of “Assassin’s Creed,” even though it was my baby, I felt like I was losing it. I was tired of being told what to do, how to do it and in any organization, if you stay there for a long time, people tend to see you in one way even if you change. (At Ubisoft), I was still the young twentysomething French-Canadian that they hired and not Patrice Désilets. Patrice Désilets is something else than that little boy so that’s a part of the reason why I left. But that break was important for me.

Reuters: So, now that you’re back at work, what are you working on ?

Désilets: I am happy to work on something new but I won’t say what it is. For sure I won’t do a racing game and I won’t do a cross skiing game. You know what I mean? I’ll probably do a Triple A action adventure game, whatever that means really. My brain is wired right now to think of new intellectual property. With “Assassin’s Creed,” I needed fresh air and I have other ideas than doing a game where someone kills for a living.

Photo:  Patrice Désilets, courtesy of THQ

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