Nine years ago, I was stuck. I was stuck in Vancouver, stuck in school, stuck in a life of habits – mostly bad – and stuck in the tragic comfort of doing the same things, and making the same mistakes, over and over again. There were plenty of good things going on too. I was writing a lot – working on my thesis and writing scripts for independent films. I was making those films even, and working on the film projects of friends. There were a lot of creative things going on then, but the thing that would have the biggest impact on my life was the one that I considered to be only a hobby at the time. I was fiddling around more or less constantly (to the detriment of a lot of my other work in many cases) with the Unreal Level Editor. I was editing existing Unreal Tournament levels and working on levels for Unreal Mods. When I received an email from a friend of mine linking to a job posting from Ubisoft in Montreal calling for people with experience using the Unreal Editor, I sent in a resume on a lark. Six weeks later I was living in Montreal.
Within the same year – with the upcoming release of PS2 and the original XBox, I would hazard to guess that 10,000 other people got their first job in the game industry. A good percentage of them probably didn’t last a year. Another big chunk probably never shipped their first title. Of those that did, very likely whatever the game was, it wasn’t a blockbuster. And of those few remaining out of ten thousand who were lucky enough to ship a blockbuster for their first game in the industry, I suspect exactly zero of them can claim to have had the kind of luck I had starting as a level designer, then working as a game designer and scriptwriter on the original Splinter Cell. I was a rookie on an upstart team that won the World Series in their first season in the Major Leagues. Official XBox Magazine gave Splinter Cell a 96 – topping the 95 they had given to Halo. And it didn’t stop there. In my almost nine years here, I have shipped three games with over twelve million units sold through, and an average meta-critic of over 90%. I’ve been very lucky to say the least.
Yet, over the years, a number of friends have accused me of a certain false modesty in attributing so much of my success to luck. They’ve encouraged me to take credit for the hard work and the dedication. And over the years I have come to understand that, in fact, my hard work has been a non-insignificant factor in my success and resultant happiness. But more important than the hard work, probably even more important that the random chance that put me on such an amazing team, in such an amazing company, at such an amazing time, was one ingredient that I had not realized had been essential in flavouring the recipe of my life. I think today, looking back at the last decade, that the mystery ingredient in all of this was courage.
I am a person of habit. I have many good habits, but the reality is that new habits develop and reinforce themselves everyday, and it is rare that one just picks up good habits. We pick up bad habits, mostly, and the good habits we have and the few we are lucky enough to adopt often atrophy into bad ones. That is what was happening to me in Vancouver a decade ago, and while it is hard to look at your life and say ‘this is unsustainable’, it is even harder to look at your life and say ‘the reason my life is unsustainable is because I am unsustainable.’ It takes courage to do that, and it takes even more courage to take steps to rectify it. Luck and hard work only determine whether or not you regret taking those steps later. I can say with certainty that I have absolutely no regrets about the step that brought me to Ubisoft. I am thankful that Ubisoft fostered a development atmosphere that I, and so many others who came before and since, have felt so lucky to be a part of. I am proud – beyond measure – of the hard work that I and my colleagues have done here. And I am absolutely certain that those things will continue to grow and flourish; creating new opportunities for new developers willing to work hard and swing for the fences. I am certain that courageous people will continue to come here and grow, and excel, and achieve things that they may later foolishly attribute merely to luck.
But I am a person of habit. For me, habits begin to form when I am comfortable and content, and over time those habits settle. Their weight begins to rest heavily on the foundations of contentedness on which they were built. All the courage and hard work required to overcome my bad habits and forge myself a place where I can be happy, leads me back, inevitably to a place where I am once again comfortable and content. It’s a tragic spiral that I have been through a couple of times in my adult life now. It’s the fractal of my emotional landscape; habits recursing through habits, great pustules of discontent revealing themselves to be whiskered with golden curls of incredible joy which themselves, on closer inspection, reveal an acne of sorrow speckling their surfaces, ad infinitum. In the 451 weeks that I have been here, I have adopted many new habits. It has taken tremendous effort to prevent those habits from atrophying into bad ones. Pride burns into hubris. Willingness wilts into desperation. Confidence slows to stubbornness. Passion boils into anger. Each of these faults and others – without care and constant self-examination – risk becoming habits.
I am too comfortable. I am too content. And I know where that can lead for me.
Fortunately, for the first time in my life, I know the way forward. The way forward lies in my having the courage that I did not know I had a decade ago to bid farewell to those tragically comforting habits. I need to walk on hot coals and sleep on a bed of nails. I need to chew on broken glass. I need to drink paint. This post has gotten long enough and I am still afraid to come to the point, but what I really need more than anything is to write these words;
I gave notice of my resignation to Ubisoft on Monday, April 26th, 2010.
That’s me, acknowledging that I am unsustainable and taking the steps I unfortunately feel I need to take in order to rectify it. The odds of me having the same luck I had the last time I took such a step may be 10,000 to one against, but this time I hope my ability and willingness to do the hard work are beyond question. In that context, I guess we’ll find out just how true or false my modesty is. And I’ll be happy to admit it if I was wrong (but not too happy, and not too soon, I hope).