Beyond the Code: A conversation with Yann Masson from Ubisoft’s Gaming Frontiers

While looking for a person to interview about the world of videogames, we had a Eureka moment when the name ‘Yann Masson’ came up. We instantly thought of a million different questions we could ask him. Yann Masson is a 54-year-old husband and father who also happens to work at one of the biggest videogame companies worldwide: Ubisoft. He first studied Economy in Paris and Nanterre, but then switched to Nantes University to study computer science, a passion he’s had since he was young. He then worked in robotic and Virtual in Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique. Finally, he decided to join Ubisoft because “it seemed more fun”. He’s been there for over 25 years. 

He smiles and describes his life in three words: spirituality, engagement, and exhaustion. His passion for videogames comes from their very early days. His father was a computer scientist in a French telecommunication research laboratory in the ‘70s. Sometimes, he would bring Yann to the lab with him. Little Yann would occupy himself by playing a textual adventure game called ‘Colossal Cave Adventure’ (released in 1976). Since he did not speak English, he asked how to say things around his father’s office: what’s the English for “aller au nord” or “lancer une hache”?  He remembers playfully that ‘The productivity of the department was not high when I was there’. Later on, he asked his parents to buy him a console (Intellevision) and much later a home computer (Commodore 64), which ended up getting a virus.  

He started working at Ubisoft first, where he was a gameplay programmer for various games such as Rayman 2 and 3 and Prince of Persia Sands of Time. Then, he designed games, such as Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 1 and 3. Followed by a brief position as a creative director on Red Steel 2. He is now in the editorial department and the first Assassin’s Creed he worked on was Assassin’s Creed Revelation.  

We asked him about his work and what it was like to live in the videogame world. 

L&M: How does your job feel on a daily basis?

Y.M: Sometimes it is hectic, sometimes it is calm. It is not a very rewarding job after all. In the sense that, like in soccer, if a game is a success it is thanks to the team, and if it is a failure, it is because of me 😊.

How is you job related to Assassin’s Creed?  

I am helping teams to deliver the best they can from the point of view of content. Sometimes I have to challenge them. Sometimes I have to support them.  

Did you take part in any of the designing of Assassin’s Creed? What was the position you had in the design process and what is the project you are proudest to have been part of?  

I support and challenge teams to get the best content at the end, like a classic edition publisher would do with an author. For instance, I was against adding RPG elements in Assassin’s Creed Origins. From my point of view, if you succeed a perfect approach, you should not fail an assassination because your level is not high enough. But the team was really impossible to convince and after a last painful call, I decided to change my mind and support them in that direction. Ironically, few months later, I had to recall the team that chose this direction and they had to take responsibility for it: providing good looting and progression mechanics, having the right sign and feedbacks for damage, level-up, etc.   

Which one of the multiple Assassin’s Creed games do you prefer?  

My favorite one is Assassin’s Creed Black Flag because I love the setting (I was a big fan of Sid Meier’s Pirate!) and I really enjoyed the progression loop of the ship. 

Do you or does anyone in your family play Assassin’s Creed 

I play every Assassin’s Creed multiple times before and after the launch because it is part of my job. Nobody in my family plays Assassin’s Creed. My kids are too young and my wife plays very few videogames except for Nintendo ones.  

Do you have any other game recommendations for us, games that we should play? 

It is a very difficult question because there are so many incredible games that it is a shame not mentioning them all. I chose three popular, excellent indie games: Hades, a rogue-lite with very good gameplay and an innovative way to deliver a story. Then Stardew Valley, a cute farm simulator that I like for its science of rhythm. And lastly Subnautica, a solo survival game in aquatic setting. 

Any recommendation for students who might want to work in gaming? 

It depends so much of the position that I don’t know what to answer. I think (and it’s true for any job) that enthusiasm and engagement are the key.

We thank Yann Masson for accepting to take part in this interview.

Lou Lagarre and María Moureau Taymans d’Epernon /S4/ EEB1 Uccle

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