What started as a teenage dream, eventually became reality for Ubisoft Toronto’s Gameplay Programmer Gary Goemans. Throughout his 11 years with Ubisoft Toronto, Gary has worked on multiple AAA titles like Splinter Cell Blacklist, Far Cry 5, and Far Cry 6. Learn about how he went from a kid in small–town Niagara to programming major features on the new Far Cry 6 expansion Lost Between Worlds!
Hey Gary, what do you do as a Gameplay Programmer? And what’s your favourite thing about your role?
Gameplay programmers have many duties. The main thing we try to achieve is making gameplay as fun and enjoyable for the player as possible, while simultaneously providing a sense of realism and believability.
Some examples of this would be how quickly the character reacts to the player’s joystick inputs or blocking certain inputs such as permitting weapons to be used under a body of water.
This occasionally entails creating underlying systems to support major systems of a particular game feature.
Examples I have worked on include the detection and navigation of the player on surfaces like walls and ledges in Splinter Cell Blacklist, to handling some fishing features in Far Cry 5. Our focus towards the end of any project is on polishing the game to deliver the best possible experience for players. It feels like we are the glue that takes all the art, animation, design and audio puzzle pieces together to form a complete picture.
My favourite thing about the role is reading or watching the players’ experiences to the game I helped build. To be able to read that players felt the gameplay was fun and an enjoyable experience can warm my heart. I want to put smiles on the faces of players, much like playing games did for me growing up.
FAR CRY 6: LOST BETWEEN WORLDS
What did you work on for the Lost Between Worlds expansion? Can you shed some light on you and your team’s process behind the work and what the result was?
I worked on a couple of major features for this expansion. One of the first things I handled was coming up with a data-driven design that controlled the flow of the levels. For instance, when the player enters an orange portal it takes them to a particular level but going through a purple portal would take the player somewhere completely different. I helped create an underlying system that allowed designers to control that flow just by inputting different sets of data.
The second major effort I had was to support the concept of the handheld shard. Some levels had a shard that would blow up if it got too much energy, some would blow up if it ran out of energy, and some levels had it so that it was inert. I supported all design aspects of that. For example, the shard’s look had to adjust according to how much energy it had, it had to give off light, emit sound, trigger controller vibrations, and effects. This was a collaborative process involving multiple teams and many meetings to ensure we were all on the same page, which enabled us to construct the vision we were working towards without slipping behind schedule.
Any special memories from playing any of the Far Cry games? What do you think makes the franchise so unique?
Every single Far Cry game has been unique on its own. That’s what I love about it, the world I get thrown into is always vastly different. The gameplay has always been one of the strengths of the franchise, so we aim to add on top of what is already proven to be awesome.
Each new game allows us to explore different locations or eras — from being on a tropical island, to cold high mountain tops, to a prehistoric era, you never know what you’re going to get! With a little bit of humour and exploration put in there it always offers a very awesome and unique experience.
What about working on this FC6 expansion has you fired up/excited?
This is a totally different type of expansion and very different from anything I’ve been a part of so I’m particularly excited to see the reactions of the fans! It reminds me of the time when I saw Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for the first time. Lost Between Worlds will offer hours of entertainment in the Far Cry universe in terms of gameplay, but the world around the player will be unlike anything they have ever seen before.
What did you do before working at Ubisoft Toronto? How did you break into the video game industry?
I still remember it like it was yesterday. Growing up in Niagara, Ontario I found a “help wanted” ad in my local hometown newspaper for a video game company. I remember cutting it out and putting it in my computer desk’s drawer. Still, in my last years of high school at the time, I was too young to apply, nor did I have enough knowledge. Determined as I was to break into something computer science related, I went to university and put all my focus on programming, soaking it up like a sponge.
It was shortly after graduation that I found myself in the right place at the right time. Talking to an old acquaintance, I mentioned how I’d love to work for a video game company and mentioned the ad I had cut out of the newspaper so many years ago. He told me that he worked at a game studio which happened to be the very building we were standing right next to! The next day I walked into the building, put in my resume, and was hired two weeks later. The name of that company was Silicon Knights, and it was my first major job ever. I was there for 12 years and made so many connections that it led me to Ubisoft Toronto for my next role.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on?
My favourite project to work on was Far Cry 5. It was the first game at Ubisoft where I worked on some major features. This included the throwable melee weapons, like shovels and bats; working on the vision mode system which controls players movement, vision, and audio when they were in a mind-altered state; and polishing the fishing feature that made its debut on the series. It was great to see all the YouTube clips of players enjoying the system. There’s just something very satisfying about knowing that millions of people played a game feature that you helped make enjoyable!
What are some of the key tools you use regularly in your role and how does it impact your work?
Microsoft Visual Studio is the one tool I use daily. There are a lot of tips and tricks to discover that come with experience. Understanding how to use the program to its fullest capabilities can save time and heartache later on. It seems I learn a new technique to help me debug each year that goes by.
What are some tips you’d give to someone hoping to land a similar role to yours?
My biggest piece of advice for anyone that wants to be in a programming role like mine would be to number one, play and love games. Passion is what drives us. Secondly, I would suggest focusing on education. Programming is not an easy task to learn and master, however, with dedication, time and effort, it’s well worth it. Even if you don’t land a job in this industry, programming has a very bright future.
LIFE AT UBISOFT TORONTO
What surprised you most when you joined Ubisoft Toronto?
What pleased me the most was how friendly and inviting the people of Ubisoft Toronto are. I always felt welcomed. One of my worries was that it would be an ultra-competitive, hostile work environment. However, to my surprise, it was the complete opposite.
Nobody acts like they don’t have time to talk, and nobody acts like they are too important. Everybody comes together to help each other out, a bond of sorts, all with a common goal of making something awesome together as one.
How has Ubisoft’s hybrid and flexible work impacted your work experience?
The way we work has probably changed forever. Working remotely has increased our quality of life yet hasn’t sacrificed our product quality. It taught me how to better communicate virtually, something very important since we often work with studios all over the world. It’s something I especially appreciate because it has allowed me to focus more time on work since I have a 5 second trip instead of an hour-long commute. I love that being flexible means that I can plan ahead. If I want to be in the office to get away from my cats that are always begging for my attention by scratching the back of my office chair, I can do that too (I love my cats even if I have to buy a new chair).
People of Ubisoft Toronto is a series featuring studio members from a variety of projects and backgrounds as they share their experiences at our studio, perspective of the video game industry and, perhaps, even a sneak peek of what they’re working on!
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