As the third-largest independent game publisher, Ubisoft boasts some major titles and achievements, such as an employee count of 2000+, billions of dollars in revenue and acclaimed titles like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell. The latest installment of the latter title, “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” happened to be developed by their Toronto office, and since I'm ever the audio enthusiasts, I thought it fitting to have a quick chat with their audio lead about his work there. Richie Nieto was at the recent Game Developers Conference, and this gave me an ample opportunity to have a chat, despite all the business going on.
Hi Richie. Thanks for taking some time out of your day at GDC to speak with me about your work at Ubisoft. For starters, can you tell me about a bit about your audio background, and how you came to work in the video game industry?
Prior to working as an audio professional, I was a guitar player for several international touring rock bands. I had the chance to perform around 1,200 shows in venues ranging from clubs to stadiums in six countries, including the U.S., and got to play on many albums. Then I started my audio career for primarily film but also television in Costa Rica in 1995, which is where I am originally from. Soon thereafter, I took the opportunity to move to Los Angeles to continue working in the film industry. I worked on films such as Equilibrium, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Kaw, among others. I decided to move to Toronto to slowly get into the gaming industry, since I had always been a huge fan of games. In 2007, I fully made the transition and never looked back. Games are sounding more and more like films, in terms of quality and sophistication and the gaming industry continues to expand, so it seemed like an excellent career move. When I found out Ubisoft was opening a studio in Toronto, I immediately contacted the Audio Director. Finally, in 2011 I joined the team and worked on Splinter Cell Blacklist which was released in August 2013.
Can you tell me a bit about what your work entails as an Audio Lead?
As an Audio Lead, I have my own team that I oversee. My role is similar to that of an Audio Director, except with a smaller team; I manage a team of three. My day-to-day involves overseeing meetings, planning and working with the sound designers on the team.
Given that Ubisoft is the 3rd biggest developer of independent games, it must have a lot of resources at its disposal. How does it feel for you to be able to work with in such an environment? Does your Toronto benefit from that, as a subsidiary?
What’s great about working at Ubisoft Toronto is that we have the backing of a large global company, but as our studio is still growing so we still have the nimble, entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up. There are a lot of opportunities because of this, given the availability of the many people around the world with so much talent. Ubisoft has 29 studios globally with nearly 8,200 employees. Ubisoft encourages cross-studio collaboration and sharing, which enables us to push quality to another level. I can approach members of the audio team in Paris, or Montreal, for example, with questions about a specific problem I may encounter. Ubisoft has a huge pool of knowledge that canbe tapped, but we also have the freedom to explore new ideas and be innovative at our own studio.
Since we’re currently at the Game Developers Conference, can you tell me about what some of your goals have been during this week here?
My main goal at GDC this year is to learn as much as I can, and to meet as many people that I can learn from as possible. So, I am walking the floor and networking, attending a lot of lectures and hearing game developers from other companies talk about their work. The lecture on Grand Theft Auto 5 was great. Other memorable ones were the ones on The Last Of Us and Killzone.
I would assume that GDC is filled with aspiring game developers and audio professionals. For the sake of such people. what are some skills that you think would come in handy for them to have if they want to get into your line of work?
For aspiring audio professionals that are also interested in gaming, it is important that they gather experience in field recording. Having a background in music is also very beneficial, as well as working on linear media. Experience in film is valuable, because advances in technology are helping both films and video games simultaneously.