As the third-largest game publisher, with an employee count of 2000+ and titles like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Splinter Cell“, Ubisoft is one of the behemoths of the video game industry. The latest installment in their Tom Clancy series, “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” happened to be developed by their Toronto office, whose Audio Lead, Richie Nieto was at this year’s Game Developers Conference. So was I, and this gave me an ample opportunity to have a chat with him about his work.
Hi Richie. 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 internationally touring rock bands. I had the chance to perform around 1200 shows in clubs and stadiums in different countries 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’m 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 made the transition and never looked back.
When I found out Ubisoft was opening a studio in Toronto, I immediately contacted the Audio Director here. Finally, I joined the team in 2011 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, and my day-to-day activities involve overseeing meetings, planning and working with the sound designers on the team.
How does it feel to work with a major company like Ubisoft? Does the benefits of the main branch in Paris trickle down to the Toronto branch?
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, we still have the nimble, entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up.
Ubisoft has 29 studios globally with nearly 8200 employees. We encourage cross-studio collaboration and sharing, which enables us to push quality to another level, and I can approach members of the audio team in Paris or Montreal with questions about a specific problem I may encounter.
(Above: Richie Nieto)
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’m 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 talks were the ones on “The Last Of Us” and “Killzone“.
What are some skills that you think would come in handy for aspiring audio professionals to have if they want to get into your line of work?
It’s important that such people 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 too, because advances in technology are helping both films and video games simultaneously.