Written and directed by Jean-Simon Chartier
Screened at Fantasia 2018
Playing Hard gives us unprecedented access to one of the largest game studios in the world, Ubisoft. Known for games like Far Cry, Prince of Persia, and Just Dance, Ubisoft allows MC2 Communication Media to chronicle the company’s newest game, For Honor.
The documentary covers the entire production from initial conception to the launch date of February 14, 2017. In this four-year span, we observe that fluctuating turnover rates, multiple managers with different visions, backbiting, and long hours are as much symptoms of the game development industry as any other industry. We rediscover that leaders are still people, success often includes failure, and teams constantly change, regardless of if you are operating in the real world or the virtual world.
The film opens with Creative Director Jason Vandenberghe. The camera pans high over him as he walks through acres of grassland. His voiceover expounds on meanings of a warrior and what we all fight for. His speech makes you believe that you are seconds from a Braveheart battle, but the camera saves us as it catches up to his words, revealing that he is simply pitching to Ubisoft Montreal members in a tiny conference room. From the beginning, Vandenberghe is transparent. He willingly offers his thoughts and feelings to his family, staff, and the viewer. His vivid imagination creates games of originality, which invigorates the original 40+ staff and turns them into 500+. With this ability, success should be straightforward and certain. And yet, we find that neither of these is guaranteed once others embrace your vision.
Playing Hard also gives insight into the workdays and lives of Producer Stéphane Cardin and Brand Director Luc Duchaine. Viewers may waver between liking and disliking Cardin. His work ethic, energy, and knowledge captivate audiences and staff members; however, a few of his decisions during crunch time could discourage staff from following him further. These decisions showcased the truth of a person in leadership, which some people are apprehensive to accept.
Duchaine, on the other hand, exposes his truth whether you like it or not. He’s hilarious and straightforward with only one concern: get the job done – no matter what happens. In one scene he breathes through a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine while disclosing his sleep apnea to us. This takes place during his trip to Russia to do For Honor press.
Jean-Simon Chartier directed this movie beautifully. Occasionally, he captures Vandenberghe walking through lush green landscapes with impressions of adventure and imagination. Then in another scene, Vandenberghe uses his cane to trek up a snowy mountain, summoning spells of sorrow and pain. Viewers can even feel the tension in a packed Montreal conference room, where one of the most notable people to the success of For Honor is concealed in a corner, detached from the staff he inspired.
Gamers and non-gamers will appreciate Playing Hard. In 92 minutes, it positions you directly on the Ubisoft team, allowing you to celebrate with them and suffer through their defeats. It almost makes you a friend of the family. As a friend, you’re allowed to comment on the great parts of the family, but tread carefully when saying anything that may be construed as negative. Because even though this family disagrees at times, love and respect still exists among many members.
Covering a four-year span, Playing Hard positions you directly on the Ubisoft team, allowing both gamers and non-gamers alike to celebrate with them and suffer through their defeats.