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Technically speaking, making games brings a lot of nice challenges

Sacha Viltofsky

Director of Technology

Hi Sacha,

How did you start in the gaming industry?

From 2003 to 2006 I worked at UQAM (Université du Québec à Montreal) with Éric Raymond, a teacher in the visual arts department. It was very stimulating and interesting but a bit unstable because, money-wise, it was entirely dependent on research funds. At one point I started to send resumes to different video game companies. I was contacted by Gameloft the following day. I ended up working for them for 3 months, before the company’s stock plummeted and had to layoff one third of the staff in Montreal. So I left with a reference letter, knocked at Ubisoft’s door and got hired to work on Assassin’s Creed. At the same moment I received an offer to work in the telecom industry but the suit-and-tie life really wasn’t for me. On top of that, Ubi’s office was right next door to my house at the time. Years and projects later (Assassin’s Creed 1-2-3, 1666 Amsterdam, Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six Siege), I decided in 2015 to join Panache to work with old friends.

What is your role at Panache?

My role at Panache is to manage all technologies. The most important, of course, are the ones related to the game but I’m also responsible for the company’s software and hardware technologies. The technological architecture and production pipeline are also under my responsibilities. I also need to capture and mitigate all technological risks we face on the game and company levels.

In the day to day, I would say that do a lot of coaching and support for all our tech people here in the studio. I need them to be very good so I can retire early :) To conclude, I have to say that we have a very good team!

What do you consider to be easy in your job?

Coaching a programmer to solve a problem I already solved 100 times

And what’s the biggest challenge you face?

Let a programmer solve a problem I already solved 100 times!

What would be your recommendations for someone new to the industry?

It is a very creative industry for a programmer or a technical person. We tend to see our work as this great elegant endeavour. It is, when our code works well. But, sooner or later, things are not going to work according to plan. Surprises can come from anywhere, at any moment. It can be a game review, a design change, a playtest, a change in the delivery dates or a new technical constraints. Basically, any of these can affect our previous work because it’s like that in game production. We need to let our ego at the door, be humble and make sure the quality of the game is our only guide. Keep it simple is also good advice. And after all, it’s all about having fun with the team.

What are you playing at these days?

I’m playing Civilization 6 at the moment. My games-to-play list is getting longer these days: The Last Guardian, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc. And, I’m really looking forward to Red Dead Redemption 2.

With two young kids at home, like some of my colleagues, my gaming time has becoe very rare. The few “entertainment moments” I have left are spent with my darling watching TV series.

What is it about video games that you like?

Technically speaking, making games brings a lot of nice challenges. At the beginning, I was attracted purely by the AI side of things. But as time passed, different reasons popped up. The multi-disciplinary aspect of games, the duality between the creative and technical aspects of games and the pleasure of creating something that will be played and enjoyed by millions of people are now the main reasons I enjoy what I do.

Other than video games, what are your interests?

I would say that it is music, I’m interested in all styles. My concert calendar is full for the next 6 months. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid but I haven’t had a lot of time for it lately. My instruments are collecting dust and the kids are taking up a lot of my time :) My cultural activities are pretty diverse. I just saw Caligula at the theater and, few months ago, I saw a contemporary dance show in NYC. Food and gastronomy is also very interesting. I really consider it has a full-fledged art form.

What about sports?

At the moment it’s pretty simple. Going up and down Sherbrooke street hill to the Botanical Gardens with my double-stroller, and also some light hiking with the kids.

Your thoughts on games?

For me it is a real art form at the same level as music, visual arts and cinema. The difference however resides in a mix of 3 things: interactivity, duration and frequency.
Gaming is the youngest art form, it is in its infancy and everything is moving very fast. Like cinema, the game industry produces big mega blockbusters that allow you to do everything. That will always be there in some form. But personally, I’d like to see the future of games give us more profound and reflective experiences.



And to conclude:

What is your favourite meal ?

I have a lot of them depending on the style. However a well prepared calf sweetbread or veal cheeks will make me very happy.

Your favorite spots in Montreal ?

I live in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and I discover the Botanical Gardens while walking with my kids. In the neighborhood and the surrounding areas there are few nice spots: The Trèfle for the beer, the Valois for the food and the wine card, the Capitol grocery for the meat, the Odessa for the fish, the Milano for the fresh pastas and finally Anatol for the spices.

Your wallpaper ?

Black

Your favorite moment of the week at work ?

It is clearly the Thursdays. It’s that day of the week where we go out with the team and we get a good lunch. Ideally to the Express where I will enjoy a small glass of pinot noir. There are also moments during the week where I close down all distractions and I take the time to play the latest build of our game. I then realize that we are making quite a game with a team that size!

Your hockey team ?

Go Habs Go!

Who has had the most influence on you professionally ?

There are a lot of people who influenced me over the years. From teachers in college and university to very talented programmers / colleagues in Ubisoft. All these people have helped me grow in my work. But if I were to pick one person who influenced the way I work, it would be a certain Mark Besner. He’s a big man. We could even say, a very big man :)

The best advice we gave you ?

Learn to deal with incompetence or leave for a smaller studio.

Merci Sacha!