The team at Ubisoft Da Nang is primarily focused on developing Nano games – a collection of fun and accessible instant-party games including Brawlhalla: Grand Slam, Rayman’s Incrediballs Dodge, Assassin’s Creed FreeRunners, and more. To help streamline the game-creation process for developers while also creating better, more engaging games for players, the team has built an internal tool called the Nano Game Core (NGC), which allows developers to benefit from faster development time by standardizing the game features and flow, while still maintaining each title’s unique character and gameplay. To learn more about the Nano Game Core, those who built it, and what their roles mean within the team, we spoke with UX/UI designer Hai Le Quang and scrum master Man Nguyen Huy.
Could you tell us a little about the Nano team at Ubisoft Da Nang and what you are working on now?
Man Nguyen Huy: Right now, we are working on small web and mobile games using the HTML5 framework. The goal is to create very fast-paced instant party games on a fast-paced schedule, which has so far led to nine releases in about a year and a half since the studio opened. We have a dedicated website where people can play all of them. We are a team of around 50 people with more plans to grow and expand in the future. We have just launched our third season of Nano games, with titles like Rayman’s Incrediballs Dodge, Brawlhalla Grand Slam, and Might & Magic: Armies. We are currently in the selection process for Season 4. Season after season, the NGC grows and adds features, which in turn makes for more complete games, produced at a faster pace.
How would you summarize your roles in the Ubisoft Nano team?
Hai Le Quang: As a UX/UI (user experience/user interface) designer on the Nano team, I work to make the cross-feature designs become a reality. On the user experience side, I try to design a solution that best fits the context of each game. I try to match the visual style of the cross-features with that of the user interface, then I work with the developers to make the UI run.
In a way, I’m the man in the middle, working with designers, developers, and artists to understand the features so that I can align the UI with the style of both the individual game and the larger Nano game universe.
MNH: To sum up my role in two words: clearing obstacles. A scrum master’s role is to deal with complexities in the workflow chain, maintaining a high level of quality in our work and adapting to the changes in the team and in game development. I make sure that all the processes and mechanics that are in place are adapted to get the best out of our teams of developers.
We meet daily with teams, we have weekly review sessions and retrospectives, all to make sure things are on track and the teams can work at their best. So, for example, if a developer comes to me and says “Hey, I don’t have a license for this software,” then I’m the one making sure they get that license. I’m here to create the best possible environment for our teams to perform well. The advice I got from Aurelien Palasse, our studio manager here at Ubisoft Da Nang, is that my job is to make sure people communicate with each other and connect with each other.
How did you start working at Ubisoft?
HLQ: When Ubisoft came to Vietnam, I heard about the opportunities they had opened up. I was still new to UI/UX and was not very familiar with the games industry until I started working at Gameloft, where I was when I heard about the roles at Ubisoft. I applied on the recommendation of a friend, and I was invited for an interview and started working here soon after.
MNH: My story is actually quite similar to Hai’s, in that the same friend recommended for me to apply at Ubisoft while I was working at Gameloft. I had heard of Ubisoft, and knew it was a really big company in the games industry, and I personally dreamt that maybe one day I could work there if the opportunity came. I was surprised when I heard Ubisoft had chosen Da Nang as the city to open a new studio, instead of Saigon or Hanoi. So, I took the chance, and everything since then has been a blast. It’s very professional, and I work with so many talented people. Every day these people challenge me to be better at my work and to improve myself.
What do you think is unique about Nano games in particular?
MNH: First, I think it’s the instant-party aspect, which means that people can access it anytime through multiple devices with no downloads or install times. Our games are also designed to be easy to share and play together with friends on different platforms, with a Facebook login, a Ubisoft Connect login, and more. As instant-party games, the multiplayer aspect is very important to our production. Anyone with a phone, PC, or other compatible device can play them. We also believe in the quality of our games; we spend a lot of time on graphics and assets, and I think that we have some of the best-looking web games available.
HLQ: For me personally, Nano games offer an opportunity for players who may not have played a Ubisoft game before to get acquainted with these exciting and long-running franchises. Until five years ago, I never had a console to play an Assassin’s Creed game, but I was able to experience some of the mobile games. Thanks to this, I was able to explore the universe and story of Assassin’s Creed on a platform that was readily available, and I think Nano games provide a similar opportunity.
I also think another important aspect is the multiplayer features of the games. There are not a lot of casual games in this market that have multiplayer, and while there may be multiplayer in a lot of AAA games, these can be so much more complicated to learn, and require a lot more of players’ time than casual ones. Players can easily pick up and play a Nano game with people from all around the world, or with groups of their friends, and they are quick and easy to learn and very fun to play with others.
What is the Nano Game Core, and what does it do for your team?
MNH: The NGC is essentially a project template that allows us to simplify work for our teams, and contains a lot of tools to help us build games. Imagine building a house: It needs pillars to stand, and the NGC essentially represents the pillars for our games. In the past, the game team had to work on all the social features, the login features, things like that. It’s repeated work that we’ve been able to cut out.
So, the NGC exists to support the game teams, and make building games faster and more focused. One example of this is the UI skinning tools for the game team, which allow for very easy reskinning of all the different UI features. We have also implemented live-ops tools, which allow us to monitor all the features in real time.
HLQ: We built the NGC as a foundation for the game team, but this foundation needs to have a certain level of flexibility, because we don’t want to make games that look and feel exactly the same. The NGC needs to have the ability to tweak features and fit the different games that use it. The game team can even mix and match aspects of features if they need to in order to maintain the game’s originality, while still benefiting from the NGC in the background.
The part of the tool that’s specific to my job as a UI/UX designer, we are temporarily calling the reskin system. If the game team wanted to adapt a feature in the game, they needed to go through a manual process and alter each element individually. When done one-by-one like this, you can imagine the workload is very large and repetitive. The reskin tool allows them to use a system that does the work once for each game, and it then applies to every single UI screen while still giving the flexibility to tweak individual instances. So it’s much easier to manage and create a unique but consistent UI across the game’s various screens.
Are there any other positive effects that the NGC has had on the games, outside of saving time?
HLQ: I think that it can effectively make the development process more fun for the game teams, since they don’t need to focus on the smaller features, and can just focus on the game itself. It’s less stressful, and they get to spend time doing what they enjoy and what they are good at, instead of worrying about the small details.
MNH: I also think centralizing the work has a positive effect on the teams, since the games share a lot in their internal structure but are very different in terms of gameplay. Besides the UI, this allows us to track what’s working and what isn’t across our games. When we find an individual area of improvement, it might prove to be something that we can implement across all of our games.
Could you give us examples of some of the successes, and what you’ve learned while making Nano games?
MNH: One of keys to our success was being able to balance our games live and in real time, having all the parameters ready so that we could control things right away in case of issues. Previously, it was harder to be reactive, since every change required us to release a totally new build. One example that we had lately was an issue that was live on one of our features. Instead of having to do an emergency redeploy of the whole game and deal with passing a new build through quality control, we just had to go on our live-ops tool, deactivate that particular feature, and it was done. That’s an example of when the hard work that goes into making everything flexible really pays off.
HLQ: Another learning experience was making the games more playable for casual players. To do this, we had to simplify some of our ideas. We can’t assume that people will understand every aspect of the game, because the player could be someone who isn’t familiar with the language of games. If we want to make things work well for everyone, we need to consider all kinds of players.
What has been your favorite Nano game to work on so far?
HLQ: My favorite game is Rabbids Volcano Panic, where you assume the role of Rabbids characters, and you are put on platforms which fall if you stand on them for too long. The goal is to survive for as long as possible before falling into the lava. The game is really fun, and every time the player falls, the Rabbids let out this fun yell. You also have to avoid all the other Rabbids characters around you, so as the name suggests, you definitely feel the panic with everyone on screen fighting for a free space. The Rabbids are cute, and the gameplay is very fun, so I truly love this game.
MNH: This is a tough choice for me because following the production every game is so unique. But if I had to choose, I would say Rayman’s Incrediballs Dodge, one of our latest games. The player is placed in a field where there are a lot of traps they have to dodge, and you can also pick up a boxing glove and push people off the map, which is very fun. To be honest, this was one of the smoothest production projects that I have worked on, and the game turned out to be great. When we played the first demo, everyone was so impressed. I’ve sent it to a lot of my friends as well, and they’ve had the same reaction.
You can apply to open positions at Ubisoft Da Nang by visiting the Ubisoft careers portal, and stay tuned to the Ubisoft News hub for more stories and the latest news from Ubisoft teams around the world.