In recent years, the video game industry has been growing exponentially, with no signs of it slowing down. In 2017 alone, the industry doubled the average box office sales, if this isn’t a sign of how open people have become to gaming, I don’t know what is.
I always found myself questioning; what does it actually take to envision, create and develop a blockbuster video game? This thought always seemed to linger, especially while I was engulfed in any new game release.
Naturally, when I was given the chance to check out and chat with Jean-Simon Chartier about his new documentary “Playing Hard” – a behind-the-scenes account of how the game For Honor went from an idea to this massive innovative combat Ubisoft game release, my question would finally be answered, how could I say no!
Jean-Simon Chartier shapes and tells the story focusing on former Ubisoft creative director Jason VandenBerghe, who has been developing a game in his head for quite some time now – the start of it all, the idea but there is more. Extensive team meetings, motion-capture sessions, trailer footage, convention launches, promotional tours and celebrity events, footage of VandenBerghe hiking out over vast green pastures much like one for the characters from For Honor.
After finishing the documentary, it’s now about 1:15 PM on a Thursday afternoon, and my time to chat with Jean-Simon Chartier, the director or the Hot Docs film “Playing Hard“.
Lisa: When first approached with the opportunity for “Playing Hard” where were you and what were your first thoughts?
Jean-Simon: I didn’t know I would end up shooting a documentary on a combat game. Ubisoft’s Montreal is two blocks away from our small office and I was witnessing this tribe of programmers and developers take over all of the neighborhood. My next thought was I wanted to go into this fortress and try to tell a story because not only did I see an evolution happening in the neighborhood but in the entertainment industry as well.
Lisa: Jason VandenBerghe is so consumed by the insular world of creating the game, have you ever had a project of the same caliber, entirely engulfed and consumed by it?
Jean-Simon: *Chuckles* I think this one, in particular, became kind of a quest. After six months of shooting, they told me thanks for being with us but it’s over now, I was no longer able to shoot the project. It then took another six months before I was told to come back and shoot.
This documentary for me is by far one of the more complex that I have done, it is still the most risky. I would say “Playing Hard” was my For Honor.
Lisa: “Playing Hard” had a long period and process of development for the documentary, what was the/your biggest challenge ?
Jean-Simon: I think it’s probably very cliche to say but if you don’t put the effort and work in it’s not going to happen. Everyday of shooting I had to coordinate, it was difficult. It was always a challenge to be there and have the time to take time with Stefan and Jason to do interviews and then go outside of the studio. Those guys are in their crunch period and they are always challenged by management to move forward.
Things were happening and I wasn’t there to shoot them most of the time, so then the next challenge was how will I be able to tell this story. There were so many moments I thought this wasn’t going to happen.
I just had to carry on and push through it.
Lisa: With all the work dedicated to the development of the documentary, have you finally had a chance to play For Honor?
Jean-Simon: You know what the last game I played on a console was Super Mario Brothers, around 20 years ago. I’m not a gamer but I’m definitely going to buy a console soon. I’m much more interested in gaming than I ever have been before. I really want to try more games and learn more about the narrative of gaming. I think I’m going to become a “light gamer”
Lisa: Lastly, Jason VandenBerghe in the documentary explains the title For Honor – “What are you willing to fight for what Honor means to him.” What does Honor mean for you?
Jean-Simon: Honor is about being true to yourself and others. Being able to move forward the values that are important to you. That is my candid and simple answers.
Playing Hard will have its world premiere today, May 2, on Hot Docs, and there will be screenings on May 3 and May 4 at the TIFF Lightbox and Scotiabank Theatre.
Pre-order the documentary here.