Gameology | Game Development Analytical Media | Conversation with Patrice Desilets (Creator of Assassin’s Creed)
You can listen to the audio version of this conversation on our YouTube channel.
In this episode we speak with the guy who made you jump from rooftop to rooftop. Run on walls to avoid traps and rewind time for your love. He is one the kindest game developers I’ve ever seen. He is the genius, the smart and the passionate creative director of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and right now he works at his own studio called Panache Digital Games and their next game I think is going to change the way we play video games. It’s the biggest adventure of all time, it’s brave, it’s going to talk about humanity from the very beginning. It’s called Ancestors: Humankind Odyssey and the man we have as our guest is no one but the amazing Patrice Desilets.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: How are you Patrice?
Patrice Desilets: Good, good, good! And you?
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Thank you so much. It’s amazing talking to you man. Thank you so much for doing this.
Patrice Desilets: My pleasure!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: So, let’s start it. You know Patrice, you’re a very inspiring person. Not only you make great and different games, but your personality and the decisions you make in life are really inspiring too. You know, I was talking with Ken Levine -creator of BioShock- and I was telling him how BioShock reminded me of the books I was reading as a child, you know Orwell and stuff and I can say the same to you. My dad had this book called “Hassan Sabbah The Lord of Alamut” and it was a very long huge book I always wanted to read and finally, I read it and it was absolutely amazing and I fell in love with the idea of Hashashin and their secret society. So after that I bought every book about them and then Assassin’s Creed came out. Boy I was excited about it because it kept everything interesting about Assassins, and after that I wanted to know more about the people behind that game and I always wanted to know more about you. So it’s great to finally speak to you and hear it all from yourself. please tell us about your background, childhood, and how did you end up being the inspiring Patrice Desilets that you are now?
Patrice Desilets: OK, you want me to make a summary of 42 years of my life?
Hamidreza Nikoofar: (Laugh) Yeah, I want you to go fully ancestor on this.
Patrice Desilets: (Laugh) Exactly! Well, thank you first for the kind words. All I do with my life is just go through my day and try to be as honest as possible and I think that’s the main thing for me to eventually touch people with what I do and with the team I have. Assassin, just to go back at it, I wanted it to touch on the myth of Assassins and even the word is funny how we use that word but it comes from almost a thousand years ago and the word now remind us about something specific but I wanted to tell the story of people and at the end of the day telling my team that they should be always working well and hard because down the line there were people who were living and they had real life, families and everyday struggles, right? The Assassins from back then. I wanted to tell their story and what we were making was bigger than just a game and it’s something that also I use a lot that … yes we’re making video games but down the line it’s a lot more than that. We touch people from everywhere in the world, even like in Iran. So it’s quite special for me being who I am. I always feel that I’m just a little boy from Quebec and I can touch people from all over the world with what I’m doing. It’s quite special and I’m really blessed to have the luxury and chance to do a job that I love and at the end of the line there’s somebody in their living room and office enjoying what I came up with.
So, about my background I started…This year is my 20th year in the video game business.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: WOW! Congratulations!
Patrice Desilets: Thank you! I started in 97 at Ubisoft Montreal and I was in a year of school and I started in movies, studying at university of Montreal and I wanted to make movies and I was doing a lot of improve theater. I was writing some scripts with friends, shooting films in the weekend. Before we have a camera in our pockets we needed a big camera so we rented some cameras or one of the guys had one and on the weekend we would do little movies and then Ubisoft arrived at 97. So I send my resume and they hired me because I think I’m a good salesman (Laugh), I can sell myself so I invented some knowledge in game design so after an hour of discussion I had a job and that was years ago.
When I started I had no clue how to make a video game and I’m quite not sure I do know how to make a video game now. I know how to make my games but I don’t think I’m a generalist in game design. I love to do third-person, It’s really my thing. Sometimes people ask me if I want to do first-person or another type of games and I’m like, I’m not sure. I like the movement, I like the movement of the character. I like to see it. It feels like it’s easier at least for me to transfer myself into that character than first-person, so I like movement. I like to interact to a 3D world when I make a game, that’s what really inspires me in game design and that’s exactly we’re doing right now, still and with Ancestors … I got something with history, past and it became my signature, I’m the guy who makes action-adventure game in history settings.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: What exactly fascinates you about history?
Patrice Desilets: I feel like right now as a human being on this planet, we’re mutants and the way we live is connected to who we are which is basically animals in an ecology system that we totally fucked up. So we’re so fast we feel like what we’re living is very, very important, so we’re disconnected a lot with the history and when we go, turn around and look back, it’s almost a fantasy world for us. So there’s a lot of stories to be written and to be told with our history. For me the past is much as fantasy as Final Fantasy.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: So are you interested in the future as well?
Patrice Desilets: A little bit if you look and analyze well, the Assassin’s Creed with the Animus with all the present which is the future somehow. So I enjoy science fiction as I’d say any boy was when you’re a child, but right now it’s my signature so when I started the new studio, I needed to find a subject that would fit with the history I guess, So Ancestors came because we were really at the beginning of life on this planet with no technology so it’s interesting to make a game world around it. A place without technology, without cities and without civilization and it takes a lot more to design and build and then organic features. Now I know the organic is as much tough than architectures.
History, it’s something that…I remember when I was like four or five, already been obsessed with history of that time period. It’s about the fantasy of the past basically, the way we lived back then is totally different than the way we live now and also I guess coming from where I come from, we like history here in Quebec in general like everyone but because we have ancestors coming from France, it’s something we like to follow. I remember my Mom working in a French fort in Montreal when I was a kid, so I would go there and see an old building. So in North-America, Quebec, history is still around us and we’re like one of the first settlers so history is a part of our everyday life which might not be the case in Las Vegas (Laugh) or at least in Vegas it’s false history and here is real.
So let’s come back at third-person. For me it’s a good connection with my studies, because camera is important, you frame the character just like in movies. I remember in Sands of Time there was a lot of work going on about the camera and getting good shots when you’re playing the game, so that’s one of the reasons that I like third-person more than first or RTS…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: But you like those games…
Patrice Desilets: Oh yeah, yeah! I’m a gamer. I’m a dad but I’m a gamer dad! So it’s my hobby! (Laugh)
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Yeah, it’s the cool dad. (Laugh)
Patrice Desilets: And I play games, I play all sort of games. I have two daughters and sometimes we have to fight for the TV screen. (Laugh)
Hamidreza Nikoofar: (Laugh) Have they played your games?
Patrice Desilets: Not yet or not a lot. Eventually I guess. They will have to. You know, they are nine and seven and I made a game for adults, so Assassin’s Creed is for adults not for kids, so I guess they are not ready but eventually they will. And Sands of Time, I don’t remember if I … I think I showed them, but I don’t think they liked that, but they should like that, they should. (Laugh) but think about it, you can say I played my dad’s game right?
Hamidreza Nikoofar: (Laugh) yeah!
Patrice Desilets: There’s not a lot of children who can say that. So I guess eventually they have to stop playing Minecraft or… Right now they play Pokemon on their 3DS and they’re not only play Pokemon, they’re always talking about Pokemon and it drives me nuts.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: (Laugh) In one of your interviews you mentioned this famous phrase from Assassin’s Creed series: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” that, it is not actually just a saying but you believe in it yourself and you try to have that in mind in your life. I really want to know more about that cause again your personality is very interesting to me. First of all you’re always energetic and positive and you see life itself with so much interest. I can say that because it’s always obvious in your games and not just a life, but you’re interested in the whole history of mankind. So please tell us about your point of view about life.
Patrice Desilets: Yeah! Nothing is true, everything is permitted is my motto in general and you know it comes from Ismaillians and I didn’t invent it but when I understood it in my own personal point of view, I said yes it’s pretty much how I would like my life to be lived which is like there is no real way of living, there are as many way of living as there are individuals, so my book is my own personal way of seeing life, so I can do what the hell I want exactly, this is how I see it. As long as I’m not mean, as long as I don’t do harm to others, you live by a golden rule and you’re good. And then I feel like life is too short to be pissed, but yes I try to be positive but sometimes I’m not and sometimes I get angry but it doesn’t last long but I’m quite normal by the way, I need a lot of coffee in the morning… you’re lucky right now because here it’s morning here …
Hamidreza Nikoofar: And you had your coffee.
Patrice Desilets: Exactly! Cause on Wednesday night I play hockey so in the morning, Thursday morning is tougher for me cause I’ve been playing at night and before I go to bed it takes me a while to actually fall sleep. So Thursday morning in general is my worst morning of them all.
But I’m lucky I make video games and I travel the world and I speak with interesting people like you from all over the place and I feel so lucky. I come from the little people of French speaking Canadian and there is only 6.5 million of us and I feel so lucky to be talking to the entire world in a pretty neat medium that’s called video game making, so yes I have to smile.
Somehow I’m one of the 7 billion people on this planet and I’m one of the lucky few and then it’s video game, it’s all about pleasure at the end of the day. My role is to make sure that people get out of their shitty lives somehow and they enter a fantasy world and they become a hero and they become better than themselves. It’s not only video games that you can be that kind of hero, right? Assassin’s Creed is a bit that, there is a nothing is true, everything is permitted in your everyday life. You can be more, you can change the world around you. So that’s what I do and that’s why I’m positive somehow cause I do video games man, it’s cool!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: That’s very cool and thanks for being inspirational man!
Patrice Desilets: But I don’t try to be inspirational by the way, I’m just me, but I guess being me is somehow inspirational for others, but be yourself…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: You create amazing experiences and who doesn’t want to be in that place to make something amazing which people enjoy actually and you’re absolutely perfect in them.
Patrice Desilets: Yeah but that can be done even if you work in a hospital. Whatever you do in life, try to be the best at it so when people just spend five minutes with you if they enjoy it you’ve won. So I make stuff that people spent hours with it so I try to make it as good as possible. Even when I talk with people I say yeah I’m there with you, let’s have a half an hour good discussion and people would say “Oh yeah, that dude is cool!” so that’s my goal in life. But I’m telling you there are mornings that I’m a jerk, you have to know that.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Who isn’t?
Patrice Desilets: Yeah exactly! (Laugh)
Hamidreza Nikoofar: We have a very long and rich history in Iran and we have tried to make games with historical elements of Iran and Persia but honestly as a result there is no successful game yet. What do you think are the qualifications of a good historical game?
Patrice Desilets: Do your own work, really! Well, history is a subject so it’s your subject. Know your subject and then you have to know how to make games and that’s the most important thing I think. Know how to do games and then whatever the subject … There is no really good way of making good historical games, there is a good way to make games, and making game here is a craft, so whatever the subject, then it’ll fit…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: But in your games history is more exciting and we want to know more about it and it’s not just the narrative that…
Patrice Desilets: For some people. Some people like the prison/day and that’s GTA guys. Some people like the future and this is the Star Wars guys and there is the history part and that’s us I guess. But you see, in Assassin’s Creed it was important to put a little bit of prison day and a little Sci-Fi, and we did our homework and they discovered history. Fans are writing me about “Oh I didn’t know what to do in life and I discovered this story through Assassin’s Creed and I’m getting my major in history and blah, blah, blah…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: WOW!
Patrice Desilets: Yeah! …and I guess it’s more Americans that discovered “Oh history is way bigger than our country and our own history and it opened their mind and I feel, also as an artist opening up minds is also my job, I’m not saying my mind is so opened but little bit more than others I guess. So it’s a bit my job to push people and say “Hey! There’s something else out there than our everyday life” … Life is tough for all of us, whatever our culture.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Great! Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed were both inspired by middle-eastern stories. What inspire you the most about this area of the globe and this particular culture.
Patrice Desilets: I was thinking about that before talking with you and it’s true that I’ve made like two big games about a region of the world that I’ve never been to…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Seriously!?
Patrice Desilets: Not actually. I’ve been once in Israel because I was invited to do eventually some business that didn’t work out and that was after Assassin’s Creed 1. So it’s weird, like first Prince of Persia… Ubisoft bought the Prince of Persia license from Broderbund when they went bankrupt and I ended up on this project. I’ve studied in literature also so I read back in college “One Thousands and One Nights” books and some also Arabic poetry like poems and so, and this richness of time of the Sultans I felts like Oh! It’s a pretty neat subject at the end of the day and also Prince of Persia was a good established license so I went to see a presentation of the team because I was doing something else, they were like a month and a half in and I went to see the presentation of that team and I said I want to join them and I can give my good ideas in design for this game and I gave the rewind idea two months afterwards.
The rewind changed everything with Sands of Time with Prince of Persia but the notion of the Thousands and One Nights were there is always someone telling a story to someone else and this is like princess telling a story because he doesn’t want to die and there is always a new story and that was pretty neat and that’s basically Sands of Time.
I would say the Persian influence is more from the book than culture per say. It’s the structure and a way someone tells a story to somebody else and then it’s a rich history again. For the crusades and for Assassin’s Creed … We were supposed to do another Prince of Persia game and in 2004 when we started this Prince of Persia I felt the Sands of Time’s prince basically is not an action character. He waits till his dad dies so he can take his place, that’s basically what a prince do. Except waving to a crowd a prince doesn’t do much and so I had a hard time coming up with a new story to tell this prince to move. I remember reading in college about assassins…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: I think you were inspired the book called “A History of Secret Societies” right?
Patrice Desilets: Exactly!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: I’m reading it right now!
Patrice Desilets: Exactly and the first story was about the assassins.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Yeah! The first chapter.
Patrice Desliets: Exactly! Old Man of the Mountain.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Yeah exactly!
Patrice Desilets: So, if you’re an assassin, if you are a member of this organization, it would be Prince of Persia and it started like that. And that’s the reason why we have Assassin’s Creed. Assassin is me not being a good employee instead of doing what I was told and doing something else. So nothing is true, everything is permitted again!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: (Laugh) Exactly! When you started Panache and when you left Ubisoft…I was working at a studio here and I was constantly thinking about getting out of there and start my own indie studio, but you know that’s a very hard and scary decision, cause you know when you’re working for someone else, you’re getting paid every month and your responsibility is not that high but when you’re indie it’s completely different and I remember I was constantly looking up to you and I was like “this guy is amazing, he’s leaving Ubisoft to start his own thing” and that decision made me do the same, I started a studio with my friends and boy I’m so happy I did that. So thanks for being inspirational for all of us here…
Patrice Desilets: Good for you!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Thanks! And that makes me want to ask you about your experience. What is different being an indie company now instead of working in a big studio for other people?… and what do you suggest to people who wants to do the same?
Patrice Desilets: You said it. It’s about not working for other people. Me, my biggest struggle with being in an organization is that I was the guy at the end or in the middle also… I was the guy doing interviews like what we’re doing right now and I had to come up with political lying and I would receive comments and decisions made by other people and not me because it’s all about compromising when you’re in a big organization somehow and as my role, the creative director it’s tough to live by the decisions of others when being in front of the camera or Skype and I said I’m not a really good liar so I can’t do it anymore and then I also realized that when you do a really big franchise, you also make money for other people and they don’t really care about you (Laugh). So I said, enough! if I do another Assassin’s Creed at least it would be for me and my guys and also for Quebec and for my people in Montreal.
But to finish about the studio, I had the chance also to have a good portfolio so it took a while before I decided to leave and my girlfriend told me I was not happy anymore at Ubisoft. She made me realize that, so I said OK. Now it’s been seven years since I left Ubisoft. I left it in 2010 and now we’re 24 here at Panache and we’ll be around 30 by the end of the year and we’ll stay that way as long as we can and that I think… the 30 people in a studio is a good size where it’s not four guys in a garage but it’s not 200 people … in Assassin’s Creed 2 we were like 800 people on it. Here we know everyone, we know each other pretty well. Everybody has got his role in order to make a great game and we’re having a blast right now.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: WOW! It’s great!
Patrice Desilets: It’s a best decision I’ve made in my life … that and saying yes to a girl that I’m living with.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: The idea came from that girl. That was the only best decision I guess. (Laugh)
Patrice Desilets: (Laugh) Yeah, yeah, yeah! Maybe. You know what everything I do, she is there and we’re a team.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Great! Ancestors: Humankind Odyssey is something really different and revolutionary. I can’t wait for that game man! How is the process creating such a massive game with a small team? And overall how do you see the future for Panache?
Patrice Desilets: Yes I know it’s a big subject matter. The beauty of Humankind Odyssey is that it is an evolution process also. So we build the narrative of the game and the narrative of the studio, so it is basically tied together so first we only have one character and then an environment which was the jungle and now we have more than one and it’s more than a jungle and the evolution of the character follows what we can build with the team and it’s pretty neat right now. We have around five, six hours, worth of gameplay and its systems talking to each other more and more and it’s less and less narrative than first we anticipated but it’s great because all the narrative is being there by the players but not by us. Here you create your own story of your own Humankind Odyssey somehow and it’s all based on science and gives you a toy to play with and you live the odyssey the way you want to live it.
We’re 24 and still it’s a good team and we’re all seniors, must of them I would say not all of them and they shipped AAA games before. We’re using Unreal 4 as out tool and engine and right now I guess it’s five or six hours, worth of good gameplay and we’re pretty confident that we will create another 10 by the end of the year and we hope to do more cause again, it’s systems that are talking to each other so it depends how you play it and there’s no ending to it at all and you would discover Africa 5 million years ago.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: So you’re covering different places too, along with history you go to different countries too, right?
Patrice Desilets: Not right now (Laugh), it’s focused on Africa million years ago. That’s what we call Volume.1 right now. It’s based on the very beginning and we’ll see how many volumes we make at the end of the cycle but we start with one which is 15 hours, worth of your time.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Can it go into the future? Maybe 20 years later!?
Patrice Desilets: No, no, no! That would be another game. Eventually I make a real science fiction game I feel and that would be a stand-alone. Eventually I will make 1666: Amsterdam also…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: WOW! That’s a great game too.
Patrice Desilets: Yeah! That’s my game about the devil in us that we are all good guys but sometimes we’re not and how come sometimes we’re not? And it’s an international subject matter also and in our culture the devil symbol is there so I want to attack that and eventually we’re going to make it here at Panache.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Great! Last question. what was the last inspiring game you’ve played and why was it inspirational?
Patrice Desilets: So many! Right now I’m playing Horizon on my PS4. Other than that I play Civilization 6 every day. That’s my coke. I play a lot of sports games but my special right now is Horizon, even though it’s very classical, I don’t know I dig it a lot. Last week, I played Everything on PS4 and Everything is really like the weird…have you ever heard of it?
Hamidreza Nikoofar: No!
Patrice Desilets: Check it out. Check Everything. It’s a game about … I’m not quite sure if it’s a game, It’s kind of an interactive experience and you take control of Everything you can go from smallest thing which is an atom to the biggest thing and it’s called Everything and that was really inspirational but there is no real game-play in it except taking control over stuff but it’s pretty neat.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Great! Patrice, thank you very much for being awesome, for creating exciting experiences, for making history so much interesting and thanks for daring to do things people are not expecting but they love them so much. I wish you and the amazing people at Panache the best.
Patrice Desilets: Thank you very much. Been a pleasure and I hope you enjoy our next game…
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Absolutely!
Patrice Desilets: We’re working on it very hard.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: I can’t wait for that man!
Patrice Desilets: (Laugh) I know! It’s coming, it’s coming!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: So, is there any release date, probably!?
Patrice Desilets: No and I’m not telling you anyway if there was one. (Laugh), nice try! But you’ll see something very soon.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Probably E3 right?
Patrice Desilets: Maybe before.
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Oh my god!
Patrice Desilets: Stay tuned, stay tuned!
Hamidreza Nikoofar: Sure!
Patrice Desilets: Have a good day man … Have a good night!