We got to speak with Julien Hammer, a player Experience Director. What does that mean? It sounds so simple and logical once Hammer explains it but I never really thought that is was a person’s full time job. Here is our interview. If you want more coverage, check tomorrow for a hands-on write-up and some recorded gameplay.
So apparently gaming is not your background, you were a lawyer, is that right?
How did you know that? So yeah, I studied Law and went to business school and in fact I was expecting to work within my occupation. I love games and I love making games so I joined Ubisoft a long time ago, 14 years ago and I joined Ivory Tower almost two years ago and here I am. I have gone from player to player experience director and it is like a dream.
Before you joined Ubisoft what were you thinking about improving in games in terms of the user experience. Do you remember any particular games that you thought could have been better?
For me, it was more a case of me playing games for 40 years and enjoying all these different experiences and nurturing my knowledge of games and now it is easy for me to speak about games, to try to improve all the things we are doing. I draw on my knowledge of all the games I played in the past and worked on in the past. I get to work with user research, a data analyst and try to gather all the things done by players and make sure we are nurturing. It is more about learning from everything we can rather than “they should have done that” or “they shouldn’t have done that.
What did you join Ubisoft as or did you start off in player experience? What is player experience?
When I first joined I was part of the consumer market knowledge team. Then I joined the editorial team and I learned about working with the various teams to make content. In all industries, you have user experience so player experience is about our user. It is all about accessibility so when you take the gamepad in your hand it is about the feeling you will have, the things you are going to understand, the things you are going to see and the overall experience you are having when you have a controller in your hands. I am working with the creative team within the studio and try to make sure that when we are designing the vision behind the game all the way to the end of the production cycle that it is all about what the player is going to experience. So my role is to work with the narrative designer, the game designer, the game director, the art director, the UI team: All these jobs. I am working with all of them with one motivation, one motto in my head – the player.
So when you started on The Crew 2, how did you go about it? Does anything come from you or does it go straight to the research?
So for The Crew 2, we were on the story of the game for the reason why the player is doing this and what is going to be the first contact. Depending on where we are in production, I have to work with different people to make sure that from a player perspective the story and game are going to be understandable. So in this instance, it is all about entering and winning the competition. This means entering the different families within the game, getting famous and accessing more disciplines. My job is to make sure the story tells the players something and to make sure that first contact is clear. Then it is about getting them to understand the motivation and to get them to continue playing and where in that game they are.
Can you give an example of something that is in the game that works really well and you are proud of?
My favourite feature is the Fast Tab. The Fast Tab lets you switch between the families of vehicles (ground, air and water) so with one click you can switch from a plane to the road or whatever you want to do and still seamlessly and without any barrier to your freedom. It was a long process to create that feature and we were told by the community that they want to have quick access to their vehicles and we said we want to do a little bit more to improve on what they are asking for. They want to switch from a plane to a boat so we improved that. So I was working with the designers and they were saying that you would switch from a plane to a car but now you would crash because you are up in the air, just like in real life you would fall and crash and I said no, we are not going to do that. I understand what you are saying in terms of design but as a player you want fun. So no crash, no matter what height you change from. 2,000 meters? No crash! So I am pretty proud of that and now we have done a lot of playtests and even the designers are saying “oh but they should crash” and I say no, that isn’t fun. This was an achievement because we got people to think as players about something that players would want to do.
This game reminds me of an MMO. What other genres did you look at when making The Crew 2?
The Crew 2 is quite unique because the diversity we are providing to the player: there are things for explorers, there are things for competitive players, for those who want the best score or the best time on a track. We are providing the tools to players to make sure that they can create whatever they want and their own story within the game. Last week we saw players who just want ed to do a coast to coast ride from San Francisco to New York. Then at one point, because we have a day and night cycle, they arrived in Las Vegas at night and they switched to planes and were doing stunts above Las Vegas, capturing these moments. We have a replay mode and they were watching stunts they did above the Eiffel Tower in Vegas and you can share that. We are providing a tool. This isn’t a mission in the game, the story is written by players doing things we can’t imagine. I am providing the tool, you are telling and creating your own story and that is what we are trying to achieve here. We want players to be able to express themselves, to tell stories and giving them freedom.