Designer Spotlight: Patrice Désilets

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Ben

Ok. So lets talk about the unluckiest guy to ever be put in charge of a million dollar video game franchise.
(And just for the record, I’m not gonna be using the accent on the e everytime in his name cause thats a pain in the fvcking arse to type)
So Patrice Desilets is a name a lot of people might not know even if they follow video games because a lot of his biggest products usually have someone else in the spotlight.

But we’ll get to that later.
First a look back at the beginnings of his career, a young Patrice Desilets gets hired by Ubisoft Montreal, he didn’t actually come from a video game design background though, instead he’d studied film. So when he was actually alowed to create games he wanted to, he would be able to bring a fairly unique feel to them.

But you don’t start at ubisoft making games you want to, esspecially not in 1999, you start in the licenced game trash fire.

On that note lets look at his first game.
Hype: The Time Quest
This is honestly a game i never would have heard of if I’d never taken an intrest in Desilets carreer. It’s a licenced game for those shitty Playmobil wanna be lego toys. Directed by one of the UBisoft founders Alain Tascan. You play as a knight traveling through different eras of time trying to get home, blah blah blah. It’s just a mediocre licenced game.

It’s really not worth any time except as a curiosity for it being the begining of Desilets career, he worked as one of the designers on it. It does play into one of two main themes that he would keep coming back to again and again though. Time Travel (The other being movement but we’ll get to that)
I’m not sure if Desilets had a fascination with time travel before this game, or this sparked something in him. But Time Travel and Time Manipulation is going to be a running theme in basically everything he makes from this game forward.

The next game he worked on is
Donald Duck: Going Quackers
It’s actually kinda hard to find out what his involvement in this game was, esspecially since the game was relelased on 8 different consoles and I think there were like 4 entirely different games depending on what console you bought it on. As far as I can tell he worked on the PS2 version of it wich is basically a competent enough Crash Bandicoot clone.

I could bullshit something about the game being focused on the other theme he constantly revists in locomotion, but I think this was just work for hire, licenced game trash.

Ok so he’d been at Ubisoft for a while now, and Ubisoft had gained the rights from Jordan Mechner for his seminal Prince of Persia series to get rebooted. And Desliets was picked to lead the production. So began work on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
And man if you haven’t fvcking played this game it’s phenomenal.

This is also where the kind of hidden legacy of Desilets starts, in all the promotional material for this game I only ever saw it focus on Jordan Mechner who was coming back to work as a designer (Under Patrice Desilets) and sure that’s more exciting news then “New game from the guy who helped work on that shitty Playmobil game you’ve never heard of” but it meants I went ages thinking this was Mechners game not Desilets.
This is where all the aspects of who he is as a game designer really start to coalesce into something concrete. You’ve got the background in film and story telling (Look at that fvcking trailer!) the Time manipulation of the dagger playing a key role in how the game plays. The historical setting, and the hard focus on locomotion and platforming to get through the traps and levels.
It tells a really compelling story in a unique way for video games of the Prince narating the entire game as a story he’s telling Farah that leaves you maybe questioning how much fo the story is true. He treats the prince, visually like a movie hero. Similar to how John McClane starts die hard in a clean white singlet and bright eyed and bushy tailed, but ends the movie with his singlet brown and covered in grime and shit and he’s covered in blood and cuts. The prince’s costume continually gets ripped and progressively more destroyed as the game progresses to show you the severity of the situation he’s in.

The game isn’t without flaws, the combat is shit (A running theme in his games, I don’t think he cares much for combat at all) and kind of breaks the flow of the game from the stuff you want to do (Platforming with your time powers and finding out more of the story) This was fixed in later games, but they did it while also adding in a godsmack soundtrack and uh…. it got weird you guys. Those later prince of persia games are fvcking weird.

But Desliets didn’t have time to work on them cause he had bigger ambitions.

All right now some people might know I have kind… of an obsession with this franchise. In fact it’s the reason I started looking so hard into Patrice Desilets careeer in the first place.
This game actually started as a next gen multi player Prince of Persia spin off called Prince of Persia: Assassins

This is an early pre-rendered look at what they were hoping the game would be, a lot of the features that would end up defining the AC series are allready present, the white hood, the counter combat systems, the living cities etc. It also includes some shit that wouldn’t come in till much much later with 2 player co-op that had to wait till AC Unity 7 years later to come into the game.
Of course by the time we got to see it it had morphed into this

And shit man… this trailer sold me on buying a ‘next gen’ console at the time. Cause… fvcking look at this shit.
AC 1 (wich is actually the second game canonnically after AC: Altairs chronichles on the DS, do not play it it’s garbage) kept up his running themes. The locomotion was a big part of the selling point. They lauded that any indent that was 2 inches or bigger could be interacted with in a fully procedrual climbing system (for those that aren’t up on video game development lingo, procedrual means that the computer automatically works out what is climbable and how the charecter will climb it rather then the traditional method that had been used before where designers had to manually mark out every surface you could interact with) the time travel shit was attempted to be kept hidden though. There was supposed to be some mystery to what all the distortion and glitches in the trailers were cause they were trying to built up a mystique about it. Kirstien Bell kinda fvcked that though when she straight up said in a pre release interview “Oh yeah it’s kinda like the matrix and it’s all a computer simulation” (and then her charecter gets killed off in the later game in weird not really logical reasons Conicnidence?) But if you haven’t played the game or seen the movie or anything by now (How?) basically the entire concept revolves around a bartender that gets kidnapped by a secret orgnisation to be forced to relive the genetic memories of his ancestors in ancient times. It’s basically the perfect set up for Patrice Desliets to get off on his two faviourte running themes. Time and Movement.

AC 1 had issues though, in my oppinion I think their over stated but that’s neither here nor there. The game has a super repetitive design structure forcing you to re-do the same 4 shitty misison types over and over again, the core game play was great but the actual game design and mission structure only really highlighted that for the assassination missions wich basically served as boss fights. But when everything game together the game was fantastic.

So while the game might not have been a masterpiece, what it was was successful. REALLY successful. Like…. to it’s own detriment.

During interviews for the release of this game, Jade Raymond (who was the producer and like Jordan Mechner before the main face used in advertising this game continuing Patrice Desilets hiding in the background while making generation defining franchises) they had said that this game was always planned as a trilogy.
And since the game was so successful, Desilets came back to make

Assassins Creed 2
Where AC 1 started a lot of shit. AC 2 is where Desilets and crew really changed the game of what a franchise could actually be. Before this game came out the idea that we weren’t going back into the shoes of Altair was unthinkable. He might get a cool new design or something, but everyone expected to go back to 1190 odd and play as Altair in a new adventure with some more Desmond stuff. Then I remember the first reveal of it was a game informer cover with a big picture of Ezio.
And suddenly… what? We’re changing lead charecters and skipping like 400 years into the future? Games can… do that?

AC 2 is for a lot of peoples money the best in the franchise (They’re wrong its Syndicate) we got a new, far more interesting lead charecter with Ezio, renisance era Itally is an amazing location, and most of all the game design dropped the repetitive bullshit missions of AC 1 and gave us more focused story focused missions that would come to define the franchise. (for better or worse) It also dropped the major plot bomb that oh yeah this games about super aliens from before time or some shit…. the game got weird. It also got ambtious. Too ambitious.

During the game you travel from city to city going through the story of Ezio’s revenge against the Borgias, ending in Rome in a fight against Ceasre borgia. Except they started filling rome out way too much, it kept getting bigger and bigger untill it got to the point where it was approaching the size of the rest of the game combined.

So AC 2 got cut in half. The final city would be expanded into a full game called AC Brotherhood to release the following year. This is also where Ubisoft decided that ‘hey this game is super successful and we can probbably pump one out every year till the end of time… lets do that”
But if you remember from the AC 1 interview this game was planned as a trilogy. Telling the story of Desmond in the future. The first game would be him learning about the Templar Assassin war, the second game is him becoming an Assassin due to the memories he’s gaining from reliving his past lives, and the third game would be an entirely modern day set game of Desmond going up against hte Templars.

But that would end the franchise and Ubisoft could see nothing but cash, so they couldn’t have that, but Desilets had some actual integrity. AC 2 would be the last full game he was in charge of at Ubisoft. He stayed on to help with the transition and kind of oversee the direction of Brotherhood and then left. He’s said in interviews he hasn’t even played any of the follow up AC games cause it’s too painfull to see what’s become of what was his baby that he’d created for 7 years.

So he left, and decided fvck it. I’m gonna form my own studio, with blacjack! And hookers!
So he set about looking to find someone to help him form his own studio that would give him independence to create the games he wanted without getting fvcked like he had with Assassins Creed.
THQ at the time was wanting to set up a studio in Montreal so it seemed like a perfect fit. Patrice started up and headed the studio THQ Montreal. And if you know anything about video games you can tell this is where the unlucky bit starts.

At THQ he starts working on 1666: Amsterdam, another game about a guy running around in history, with… maybe black magic? There’s not a lot of great information on this game. Because THQ went bankrupt 3 years later and we never saw the game.
During THQ’s bankrupsy though they started selling off their companies, including THQ Montreal. Wich was bought by…. Ubisoft.

This is speculation on my part, but this aqusition seems entirely based on fvck you Patrice Desliets cause he’s never really been silent about ubisoft being shit. Ubisoft basically bought the company, then fired Desilets, and cancelled everything they worked on. Desilets then spent the next 3 years in legal battles with Ubisoft trying to get the rights to the game he’d spent 3 years making that they weren’t using back. He finally won them back in 2016 and we got to see the first hints of what this game actually was. Though I doubt it will ever be completed. But maybe rebooted?

After the whole THQ/Ubisoft fiasco though, Desilets has basically decided that AAA game development is inherently broken, and he’s decided that he doesn’t want to be a part of that, with the rise of hte indie scene he’s instead formed a much smaller Indie studio that he has full ownership of that doesn’t have to rely on what the executive at ubisoft say or weather THQ have any money or whatever. So in 2015 he anounced the formation of Panache Studios and a new episodic game that would feature each episode focusing on the most important parts of human history. With the first episode letting you play as ‘the first monkey that stood up’ so again it looks like he’s back to playing with diffeent time periods and locomotion.

The game’s been quiet for a while, but given the dudes pedigree I’m expecting pretty great things from it.