This review was originally published as part of my coverage of Hot Docs 2018
The development of a video game is followed from start to finish in Playing Hard. Jason Vandenberghe has worked in the video game industry for two decades. In 2013, Vandenberghe goes to Ubisoft’s studio in Montreal to pitch his dream game, a medieval actioner eventually named For Honor. The studio begins development of the game with Vandenberghe as creative director, Stéphane Cardin as producer, and Luc Duchaine as brand manager. Overall the next four years, For Honor goes from a pitch meeting to a highly anticipated release.
The video game industry has reached the point where it generates billions of dollars, far outranking the film industry. Ubisoft is the biggest video game studio in the world and filmmaker Jean-Simon Chartier is placed on the front lines to document the four years it takes to make For Honor. At the same time, we learn about veteran game designer Jason Vandenberghe, an imposing looking man, who is actually quite an introvert, with his poor team skills becoming an issue in the latter stages of the project.
Playing Hard is a fascinating look at the process of designing a major video game, which in this day and age is not too different from producing a film, with motion-captured visuals and scripted cinematics. However, the film can also be seen as a critique of the industry and how there is no room for auteurs in a studio such as Ubisoft, as seen from how Jason Vandenberghe’s direct involvement with For Honor is increasingly diminished as time goes on. This almost you makes for feel bad for this veteran designer, who spent over a decade trying to get his dream project made, only for it to be swallowed up by the corporate machine.