Richard Flanagan (Creative Director & Game Director at Ubisoft)
Richard a multi-disciplinary design director based in Montreal with nearly two decades of experience in game design, art direction, user experience & interface, motion, sound design and more – aka a proud non-expert! As a Creative Director & Game Director at Ubisoft he leads the development of new IPs to drive innovation in areas of design, production & philosophy. But cut him and he bleeds Indie! As co-founders of Phosfiend Systems, his wife & he released FRACT OSC with an awesome little team, and he worked on a bunch of cool indie titles like The Beginner’s Guide & Panoramical.
What is the first video game that you remember playing?
“Tough to recall exact timelines as I may have played them after their initial release, but Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction set by EA could have been it.
I spent a lot of time setting up absurd Rube Goldberg machines that had nothing to do with pinball and everything to do with achieving perpetual motion or breaking the physics simulation trying.
I can’t say whether it was influential, but I have been drawn to creating similar types of games where players are given tools instead of rules to foster creativity and experimentation.”
What are your favorite games of all time?
“I would have to say that System Shock 2 (and SS1) are a high point for me. SS2 seemed like the refinement of an idea that had been shaped by similar games that preceded it. Mechanically it felt very flexible, the world was convincing, and for me at the time, the narrative fit just right. I have gone back and played it years later, and unlike a lot of other formative games for me, it stands the test of time (mostly).
Early Mysts, the Space Quest series & Quake would also be formative in shaping what I could imagine a game could be. From deeply crafted worlds, narrative & the beginnings of modding & level design, they all contributed in big ways.”
Which hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy besides gaming?
“With a busy life & work schedule, it’s really tough to find time, but when I can, my hobbies usually involve making stuff without screens.
Modular Synthesis & making weird ‘music’ is an important one for me. It’s kind of hard & easy to explain as it can be almost anything related to sound. Basically, I have this big collection of individual modules that perform different functions & they can all be combined in almost endless ways to create sounds, sequences, melodies and more. Imagine every time you go to make music you have to build the instrument first, and that might give you an idea. Here’s a nice explanation.
Woodworking & leatherworking give me no end of pleasure as well. As game developers, we spend our days building these complex virtual things, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of holding and using something you made. Working with wood and leather really scratch that itch.”
Do you and your children play video games together?
“Not much to be honest. We tend to limit screen time with our daughters (ages 4 & 7). My wife and I aren’t militant about it, but we see them get more of free play than engaging with screens. ‘Boredom’ is a gift, and we feel that cultivating the skills to find-your-own-fun are valuable (not only from a parenting perspective but a developmental one too).
That’s not to say we don’t play any games with them at all. I did play through a fair amount of Breath of the Wild with my girls. My eldest took to the controls much quicker than expected (as it was basically her first experience with a controller, and they’re honestly kind of a mess), but combat is too complex and she hands the controller to me in those stressful moments.
Both girls played Metamorphabet for iPad, and if you have young kids I cannot recommend that one enough, it’s brilliant.
Colleagues & friends are exposing their kids to games & computers earlier and sometimes I wonder if our girls are missing out. However, when I see what they are doing without screens (with their imaginations, Lego, our ludicrous collection of STEM toys) I’m confident they’ll catch up when the times comes”
How do you make time for gaming with a busy family life and career?
“Ha! I don’t! If I’m lucky I play maybe two games a year on my own time. I really enjoy playing games, but in the hierarchy of needs these days videogames are not making the cut. In the unlikely event I do find time for myself, my creative hobbies are always going to come first as they are very important for my mental health. My creative hobbies also keep me sharper as a designer and (for me at least) are a better source of systems inspiration than games themselves.
I do play games for research at work, but that usually amounts to the first hour of gameplay to expose the main systems/loops. In that context, playing for pleasure or fun is rarely the takeaway, which is kind of a bummer. That cliché of the game designer that never really plays videogames? That’s me.”
What is your proudest moment as a parent?
“That’s tough! I think I would break that down into two categories though. Big achievements & very little ones. Recently, both of my girls have been learning to snowboard (another hobby we’re trying to convert our whole family to) and that moment where both of them decided they wanted to go down the little bunny hill without assistance definitely fills both my wife and I with pride & awe.
Simultaneously, at the smaller end of the spectrum, whenever we see the girls engage in small selfless acts of kindness, compassion or understanding we get a similar vibe. We’re far from perfect parents, but little moments like that make us feel like we’re doing ok in the grand scheme.”