Creating a game during the lockdown
2020 will undoubtedly remain engraved in everyone’s minds as a unique year.
However, the health crisis has pushed us to reinvent ourselves and continue to live despite all the constraints. For us here in the studio, we had to dig our brains out to continue to develop the games remotely and, above all, to release them on time.
Today, we invite you to learn more about the history of Just Dance 2021, a game developed during the lockdown. We meet Junior Producer Neil, Michael, Lead Gameplay Programmer, and Sophie, Shooting Studio Manager, to follow this digital epic.
What is your work about in regular times?
Neil: I am a Junior Producer on Just Dance. My job is to organize and distribute the work for the production teams of the game. I prioritize tasks and make sure the brand strategy is well respected.
Michael: I am the Lead Gameplay Programmer on Just Dance. My job is to synchronize with the other leads to define the projects to be developed. From this, I plan the Gameplay Programmer team’s work and try to set a long-term course on the goals to be achieved.
Sophie: I am Shooting Studio Manager at Ubisoft Paris. I take care of the planning and the smooth running of the shoots necessary to create our games, especially Just Dance. My assignments vary and range from production planning, castings of our artists and technicians to budgeting and organizing shooting days to hand over the rushes to post-production. With my team, our goal is to give all human and material resources to the projects.
How has the current crisis changed your job?
Neil: This crisis has been synonymous with new types of problems to overcome. For example, a solution had to be found for all those who could not work remotely (teams related to filming, counting points or costumes, etc.). Just Dance is a well-trodden system since it releases one game a year. This time, we overhauled everything we have done so far.
Michael: With remote working, it becomes a challenge to recognize the teams’ emotional state. I manage a team of thirteen people in total, and I had to learn to ask more frontal questions (explicitly ask employees how they feel, for example), make individual catchups more often). Everything was still doable in remote work because the team already knew each other. It would have been more difficult with newcomers because getting to know each other would have complicated.
Neil: We indeed had to offer more informal catchups with the teams, make calls, make sure that everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, and keeping the good vibes inherent in the production of Just Dance. (Don’t worry, they’re always there!)
Sophie: On the filming side, it is a background that deviates from remote work because we can only shoot our games in person. So, we got waivers. Nevertheless, we had to redefine our production schedules in a minimalist way and scrutinize all our actions to ensure that we respected the social distancing. We did the same work with external teams such as dancers, choreographers, make-up artists, hairdressers. With the help of Human Resources, my manager, the occupational health department, and general services, we researched what measures were in place. We created a custom protocol dedicated to our filming site. All dance rehearsals and costume fittings were done on-site to benefit from more expansive spaces and respect social distancing rules.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Sophie: The film studio does not host teams daily. So, we had to review all the logistics to offer the same comfort to people as if they were in the office: bring in additional machines, ensure the reception, agree with the cleaning services.
Also, two people were in contact with Covid-19 following one of their external missions, and it happened when shooting a map with big creative ambitions. So, we had to bounce back very quickly and find artists who could take over immediately.
Neil: In the studio, they say that two things invariably happen every year: taxes and a new Just Dance release! The whole team was under pressure to get the game out on time on all six platforms (Switch, Stadia, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Serie X, and PS5) despite the situation, meeting the expectations of the gaming community. So, we had to ensure that teams stayed motivated throughout the project, sometimes reviewing our ambitions.
Michael: Very important too to allow everyone to be autonomous by clearly defining the missions. To make this possible, I am a fan of visual support, especially in remote work, where everyone needs to get the same precise idea of the subject on which we are working. An entire team can talk about the same thing, but everyone can have a different representation in their head of this idea and therefore go in opposite directions. That is why we need to refocus ideas with visual support. So, I strongly encouraged their use, even more than usual.
Sophie: I was lucky enough to have a golden team because, during the first deconfinement, schools were always closed; I could not go to the studio every day as I had to look after my son. I came about three days a week and managed the rest of the time remotely. So, Loïc, Shooting Production Coordinator, held the fort and did a great job taking on all the challenges every day. He has demonstrated enormous rigor, flexibility, ingenuity, and daily presence! He is our “Pass-all” of the shooting studio!
What’s the lesson you learned from this extraordinary adventure?
Neil: I knew the Just Dance team was creative, flexible, and resilient, but this year it was exceptionally creative. The team has a real passion for the game and a genuine desire to do something good!
Michael: Exactly, it’s that ability to adapt that I’ll remember too! On a more personal note, it was also an instructive period which showed that it was possible to work remotely, which allows for a new balance between personal and professional life that I find interesting.
Sophie: I didn’t expect to know so much about social security measures, for example. I have found my new skills, if necessary! More seriously, our ability and agility to adapt, as a team and as a human being. In my opinion, we are fortunate to work. My thoughts go for the world of entertainment at a standstill. Despite an unusual context, we are delighted to continue our activities to continue to entertain our players this year, more than ever.