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  • Learning to Become a Game Developer: An Interview with Jean-Francois Lévesque, Ubisoft Montreal

    - Jill Duffy
  •  Jean-Francois Lévesque is a game play programmer at Ubisoft Montreal, who worked extremely hard to be where he is today.

    When he first contacted me, it was a cold-call email with the subject line "Giving back." Lévesque wrote simply that he was grateful to be working as a game developer and wanted to know if he could be useful in some way to the community of people here at GameCareerGuide who are seeking advice about breaking in to the game development industry.

    We exchanged a few emails. I asked him about his experiences in climbing up the industry ladder. I knew Lévesque had been featured on sister site Gamasutra for the remarkable work he and
    artist Matthias Baillet did on Far Cry 2's fire system. What I didn't know was how he got to that stage.

    In this interview, Lévesque talks about his path from working in telecommunications in a remote Canadian village, to feeling prepared to apply for a big video game job in Montreal. He shares some of the details of his job interviews, both the good and the bad, as well as the programming projects he worked on to make himself qualified to apply for those jobs in the first place.

    Jill Duffy: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, what kinds of things interested you as a child and as an adult, your family.

    Jean-Francois Lévesque: I grew up in a small town in the province of Quebec, Canada. I was born at the end of the 1970s, and I was lucky enough to start playing video games when they were still big pixels on the screen. I lived the evolution from the Atari 2600 to the current consoles.

    The games that most impressed me at the time were all the Sierra classics, like Police Quest, Space Quest, King Quest, and some LucasArts titles, like Day of the Tentacle. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, but the games of today don't hold a special place in my memories like they used to.

    The old Sierra games were all text-based adventure games. You had to type the action you wanted to accomplish, for example, "Take the keys" or, "Open the door." Since I am French-Canadian and I didn't know a single word in English, I improved my second language skills a lot by playing them.

    JD: For quite a few GameCareerGuide readers, English is not their first language. At work, I presume you speak mostly French. Do you think speaking English, or at least speaking a little English, is important to becoming a game developer?

    JFL: Absolutely. I wouldn't say it's essential, because you may make indie video games in your basement, but if you want to open yourself to the world, it's most likely needed.

    One nice thing about being a video game developer is that your skills are exportable. The methods to develop a game differ around the world, but there are enough similarities to make you valuable anywhere.

    What that means is that, most likely, your co-workers will have different nationalities and different mother tongues. English then becomes the common language.

    As a side note, when I started in the industry, I was very concerned about my English proficiency. I found that I had a limited vocabulary and a very thick French accent. After some time, I realized that none of my co-workers cared. They understood me well enough, and that it was never seen as a problem.

    JD: What else do you remember about how video games influenced your childhood and personal development?

    JFL: Surprisingly, as a child, I don't recall playing video games that much. I would rather go outside and enjoy myself with my friends. Playing video games was an activity, but played among many other kids and was often a way to socialize with them, to get together and have fun.

    It's only a lot later, when I got older, that I developed an unhealthy addiction for EverQuest. I could sometimes play entire days. I learned my lesson, and today I stay away from MMOGs.

    Other than that, I guess I would qualify as a novice-geek. I played a fair amount of D&D. That sure gives me some points. I read fantasy books. I enjoy watching sci-fi movies -- but I'm no Trekkie or Star Wars evangelist. I'm also not so well versed in any of that stuff to defend my point of view in a geek rant.

    JD: What is your educational background? What degrees do you have?


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