We can hardly believe it, but Splinter Cell Blacklist is celebrating its 10th anniversary!
Sam Fisher’s mission to take down the Engineers officially put Ubisoft Toronto on the map with the launch of Blacklist on Aug 20, 2013.
The game, the first we shipped as a lead studio, was the catalyst in building our team. It set the foundation for how we collaborate and create memorable experiences on brands like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and how we’re once again building something special with Splinter Cell through the upcoming remake.
In celebration of Splinter Cell Blacklist’s milestone anniversary, let’s take a trip down memory lane with some folks who were with us then, and still with us today, as they share their experiences, pride, and memorable moments from the project.
Paul Dobson, Associate Narrative Director (Level Designer on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
I still have fond memories of working as a Level Designer on Blacklist, and looking for unique visual and gameplay sandboxes for Sam to play in. I particularly enjoyed experimenting with the storm’s lightning flashes and players’ maneuverability between the Abandoned Mill’s interior and exterior. It was also fun to puzzle out how Sam plants the tracker in the truck and how he escapes the chemical lab despite being poisoned.
Even today, I’m still proud of our team and the level we made: the pacing, the atmosphere, the cat and mouse gameplay. I wouldn’t imagine ten years later to be working on another Splinter Cell, but I couldn’t be more excited for our fans to get their hands on it.
Nils Meyer, Team Lead, Character (Team Lead, Character on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
Blacklist isn’t just close to my heart, it is my favorite project of my career.
Back when Ubisoft Toronto was in its infancy, we came together from all over to establish the first AAA studio in Toronto. Our team’s main goal? To help breathe life into Sam Fisher and the Fourth Echelon team.
Some characters were easy to create, some were a challenge and then there was Sam Fisher.
Developing his character and personality turned into a recurring challenge, demanding countless rounds of refinement, sculpting one jaw stronger than the last. Here’s a look at one of the old director approval renders from back then.
We brainstormed, iterated, and polished. We faced setbacks, adapted and finally hit the mark. All thanks to the collective effort with the cinematics, concept, and animation teams. The result? Our own spin on Sam and his team, complete with customizable suits and goggles. We pushed the boundary and modernized the whole team, Grim, Briggs, and Charlie. Not to mention, the many characters populating levels throughout the diverse game world.
In the process we formed bonds that by far outlasted the duration of the project and are strong to this day.
While Blacklist is special to me, the friendships and connections resulting from it are what truly matter and why I’m grateful to be back. Happy anniversary and let’s do it all again!
Navid Khavari, Narrative Director (Narrative Designer on Splinter Cell Blacklist:
As Splinter Cell Blacklist was my first AAA game, some of my favorite memories are the early days of the project. I remember we were clustered in the middle of this giant, cavernous floor of a former GE warehouse that was yet to be filled with hundreds of employees, our voices would even echo across the floor.
In the early days, so many of us had been brought together from across Canada and all over the world. It was this tight-knit community who were thrust into working on one of the biggest brands there is. Sure, you could feel the pressure, but at the same time it felt like we had this amazing opportunity to build a studio in Toronto and add to this iconic franchise at the same time.
Some of the most exciting conversations were just blue-skying on whiteboards how we could push the genre and Sam’s story in new directions. There was also a lot of nerf guns. Maybe too many nerf guns for a writer trying to wrap his head around pages… and pages… and pages of military procedure and terminology.
Jasmine Wong, Team Lead Artist (Texture Artist on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
Splinter Cell Blacklist was my very first project when I joined Ubisoft Toronto. As a Texture Artist, I was responsible for texture creation and modeling of the chemical lab (Abandoned Mill) level set in London at night. It was a fun project to work on and it was satisfying to overcome challenges from texture budget to lighting set-ups and doing so within time constraints. We were also a really tight-knit team working on gameplay lay out, modelling, texture and prop placement together.
I’ve learned a lot from that production and I’m bringing what I’ve learned to the Splinter Cell remake, this time as a Team Lead. My role may have changed, but my goal hasn’t — to create a FUN game and gorgeous environment that players will enjoy, and to ensure that my team members will have as fun a ride as I do.
David Riganelli, Technical Director, Cinematics (Technical Director, Cinematics on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
I was hired on as a dedicated Cinematic Technical Director for Blacklist, a role that didn’t exist at the time at Ubisoft and I was one of the first four devs at the Toronto studio.
Our mandate was to create the highest quality cinematics possible and to do that we had to develop a completely new cinematic process called “Showbiz.” It was very different than what any other teams were doing but our first prototype scene, which showcased the speed and cost benefits, cleared any doubts. We were also pitching to have the Toronto Mo-Cap studio constructed and our process helped get the construction greenlit. The technology is still use today in most major productions at Ubisoft for cinematic production.
Most of the core Cinematic team from Blacklist are back together at Junction Cinematics, Ubisoft Toronto’s central cinematic team, working on multiple projects including the Splinter Cell remake, where we are once again working on developing new groundbreaking tech 😉
Yu Chen, Cinematic Animator
(Animator on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
Ah, back in the Blacklist era, it was a one-project wonder at the studio. We were like a band of superheroes with a singular mission, and the team spirit? Oh, it was so united, we practically had our own secret handshake. And the launch party was an unforgettable experience!
Jason Cook, Associate Realization Director
(Video Editor on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
My first day on Splinter Cell Blacklist was also my first day working in games! I was a Video Editor and spent my first week at Performance Capture doing on-set editing at a cinematic shoot for the game.
Having front-row seats to the tech, the workflows, the people, seeing how smoothly the set ran, it was amazing! I had so much fun editing the game’s cinematics and learned so much!
As the game’s production went on, I even got to use my editing skills to help prototype alternative mission flows, something that I continue to do today.
Everyone working on the game knew how eager fans were for a new instalment of the Splinter Cell franchise – we were too! That energy and passion ended up being the fuel that kept us going through the entire production, and seeing players connect with it once we shipped was one of the proudest moments of my career.
Gordana Vrbanc Duquet, Production & Planning Director (Co-op Producer on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
I was a Co-op Producer on Blacklist. I had just returned to Canada from my three years tenure at Ubisoft Shanghai. Ubisoft Toronto was barely a year old then and it was so exciting to be part of building a new studio.
I have such good memories of the project and the team! There was so much positive energy and everyone knew everyone. We were about 150 then, a small team by Ubisoft standards. I was thrilled to be working closely with my small core team of directors as well as my former team in Shanghai, who were our key partners on co-op.
I fondly remember getting up at 4 a.m. for a year and getting to the office at 5:30 a.m. to catch more of our Shanghai folks still in their office (it was not as difficult as it sounds!) I loved the synergy and connectedness we had and how much joint effort went into making Blacklist. Good times! ❤️
John Lee, Team Lead, VFX (Special Effects Artist on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
It all started with the iconic, high-pitched “eeeeeeee” of Sam Fisher’s goggles. I’ve known and been a fan of this black-clad, all-capable agent, but my eyes were truly opened to the world of Splinter Cell in January 2012 — when I first joined Ubisoft Toronto.
I joined the team early in the project and was impressed with how production was a well-oiled machine! Every team was closely connected, and everyone had a clear picture of what was needed to be accomplished for each milestone. The flow of artistic passion and high level of collaboration between our teams was incredible!
One of the most memorable projects I worked on was for the tri-rotor drone players could control. It was a fun challenge for the team, from developing accurate thermal and night vision modes on the drone, to creating believable, wide-angle aerial visual effects and particle performances when players deployed the drone’s weapons. I’m still very proud of the results from our team’s efforts! And I consider myself very lucky to once again be working on this iconic franchise with the Splinter Cell remake!
Zack Cooper, Associate Director, Communications (Community Developer on Splinter Cell Blacklist):
Splinter Cell Blacklist will always have a huge place in my heart!
It was my first job in games, and it was the absolute perfect opportunity. Tapping into my media and storytelling background and working closely alongside marketing and production gave me insight into how Blacklist was made, which I channeled to our passionate community.
Everyone at the studio was so willing to share, so I’d spend a lot of my time just asking questions to build out story ideas. I remember talking to our animation director about the incredible takedowns they were working on… and it led to one of the most memorable days (and videos) of my career: interviewing our combat consultant about this new, incredibly fluid Sam Fisher.
I essentially got my ass kicked all day, but I was smiling the whole time! And while my current role keeps me much safer, I feel incredibly honoured to get to work so closely with the team working on the remake.