October 16, 2020

6 Min Read

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BIPOC of Ubisoft - Xavier Chamoiseau

My name is Xavier Chamoiseau. I was born in Martinique, French West Indies. When I was five years old, my dad, a programmer in a bank, used to take me with him when he had to oversee backups on weekends. It was done on magnetic tape at the time, so our trips often took a long time. To prevent me from bothering him too much, he sat me in front of a terminal and taught me the basics of Logo, that graphic-programming language with the turtle. The language tasked you with writing two-letter long instructions to tell the turtle where to go and what to draw.

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This was my first contact with programming. The moment my father showed me that I could use what I already created to build something more complex, I was hooked. It was like a mental Lego set, and the machine did as I said; I was the boss! When I was seven, with my first computer, a CPC 6128, I started dreaming about making money with through programming. I had read that some people went from making games in their garage to being rich and famous, and I thought, “Why not me?”

All this motivated me to study math and computer science, so I ended up in an engineering school near Paris. There, I majored in Man-Machine Interface. At the time, I was pretty open-minded about what I wanted to do, not necessarily in game development but also robotics, AI, or image rendering. I had even applied to an internship at LucasFilm (it didn’t work out).

In the post-9/11 job market, I ended up in a consulting firm working on defense contracts. After a while, I felt I had reached a dead end and pondered my choices, my values. That’s when I saw that a small studio in Paris, F4-toys, was hiring. There, I met lots of professionals and artists who I was a fan of, even former videogame journalists that I used to read when I was younger. Although the games we made weren’t wildly successful, I learned a lot about the industry, production processes, and above all, I created a valuable network for myself.

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After my son was born, life in Paris became a burden. Commuting times were getting longer, the studio was in trouble, and I was experiencing daily micro-aggressions. It wasn’t a place where I wanted to raise my kid. Coming from Martinique, and my wife coming from the south of France, we figured that if we were going to be away from our families anyway, it didn’t much matter how far, so we decided to try a new adventure and moved to Canada!

After a few applications in job fairs organized in Paris by the Quebec government, I realized that a former colleague, Charles Lefebvre, was now working at Ubisoft Montreal. See, after the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, lots of game devs started working as consultants, and I met him during this time. He stayed with us for a few months, then left for Australia.

I hadn’t heard about him for years until I found him on LinkedIn and asked him for advice about Canadian videogames studios. He asked me if I wanted to apply at Ubisoft Montreal, and the rest is history!

I can also mention Damien Kieken. He was a junior game designer at F4-toys when I met him; I implemented his UI designs. We kind of learned the ropes of the industry at the same time, and we had a good working relationship. He left the studio before me. When I arrived at Ubisoft Montreal, after having lost track of him for a while, I realized he was a game director on Assassin’s Creed Unity.

I’m a generalist programmer, working at the Technology Group (TG) on Phoenix, the UI creation tool and middleware. I love the idea that my lines of code have an impact on multiple productions, that I contribute to several titles. Because Ubisoft now focuses on internal sharing and reusing tools, the impact I have can be even greater. I also enjoy the ability to work on a long-term vision, and not be only focused the next production gate. Working at the TG is somehow close to being an internal consultant, with production teams as a client.

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I sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome and I know many other people do too, so if I could tell myself anything it would be, “Relax, you got this. If they hired you, it’s because you have the skills needed.” But if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that hard work and dedication always end up paying off. When I was in Martinique or in France, I was wondering where my English and Spanish skills would be useful, or if working in videogames was a hopeless dream. But things do work out in the end, if you’re not afraid of seizing opportunities. Now my language skills allow me to have a rich social life in a multicultural city, at work and outside it, and my programming skills are put to good use on great projects. The surprise came from how things seemed to put themselves into place magically, although it’s most likely the result of the previous struggles finally paying off.

For me, those struggles paid off in my very first videogame credit, and having a page with my name on Moby Games. It made things real for me, as it was an official recognition. I can also mention that Marcus’ hands in the E3 trailer of Watch Dogs 2 are mine; I happened to sit not far from the Helix team at the time, and they asked me if they could use photos of my hands as reference for a high-res texture.

After that, I’m proud of having contributed to the creation of Phoenix Studio, [the tech] that the team built completely from the ground up and is now widely used on productions, I’m proud to be part of this. BIPOC of Ubisoft will return next week. Be sure to check back at the Ubisoft News hub for the next story.

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