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South Park Devs Talk Delays, Design, and What's Next

From IGN - October 24, 2017
By Jonathon Dornbush

For a company with dozens of studios around the world and massive franchises like Assassins Creed and the Tom Clancy games, it would seem like theres little place for risk in such a big organization. But thats just what Ubisoft San Francisco, the studio behind Rocksmith and South Park: The Fractured But Whole, prides itself on delivering within Ubisofts lineup.

If we were making the next Far Cry or another Assassin's Creed, people would say, Why are you making it in San Francisco, Ubisoft SF head and South Park Executive Producer Nao Higo told IGN with a laugh. You already have great studios in the rest of the world, in a lot cheaper locations. We have to be different and take chances, take risks, and do something that maybe the larger organization would shy away from dedicating 1,000 people to work on.

Higo, speaking along with South Park Game Director Jason Schroeder to IGN, described the studios viewpoint as a start-up mentality, one in which risks can be taken with a team that began as 20 in 2009 and has now reached nearly 100. Those risks are inherent in Ubisoft SF's DNA, going all the way back to its debut efforts breaking into the music scene with Rocksmith.

When we first started to talk even internally about Rocksmith, and people were saying You guys are crazy, why are you doing this? Do not you know Rock Band and Guitar Hero are at the height of their popularity? We know that we had to be different and have that risk, and know what we are up against. But also we played it really smart, Higo said, speaking specifically to budgetary limitations and the decision to give the game a unique teaching focus.

Starting in 2009 as, according to Higo, simply an office meant to work on game prototypes, Higo and Studio Design Director Paul Cross staffed up the team for Rocksmith with design experts in various fields, not just music gaming.

"So when we made that transition into making South Park, all it meant was then supplementing that team with additional experts on making RPGs and RPG systems on top of the people that we already had," Higo said of Ubisoft SF's growth.

And in moving onto South Park, Ubisoft SF took what it learned from Rocksmith and Rocksmith 2014 and applied it to The Fractured But Whole. Namely, learning how to work within a specific project and Ubisoft SF's limitations and giving each game a clear focus.

South Park in the same way [as Rocksmith], we had to approach it differently from traditional ways, because we knew that if we were going to build all the content for South Park, it would have been impossible for us, Higo said.

That led to a collaboration with South Park Studios to create animations and assets for The Fractured But Whole without Ubisoft SF needing to triple or quadruple its staff.

None of us had worked at South Park for 10 to 19 years.So there's nobody in the world that's as fast as making South Park stuff as South Park, Schroeder said.

But in working so much with an outside team, and South Park co-creator Trey Parker writing the game, Ubisoft SF also had to find a way to make their disparate schedules and divergent ideas come together. The team found common ground in the games combat, which upgrades the originals turn-based gameplay to include a grid-based system, thanks to a night of board games.

I think Trey saw a way of building common ground and said Why dont you come over to my house to play board games, Schroeder explained. We played Star Wars: Imperial AssaultKen Strickland, our lead designer, me, and Trey and a couple of other people from his staff. And all of a sudden...we were able to have a unified design language and jargon based off of board games and our common understanding of our campaign.

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