Henry van Dyck developed his first video game in grade 10.
“I applied for funding from the Government of Ontario to make a company for the summer,” said Dyck, a fifth-year mechatronics engineering student. “They gave me a grant and I founded my own game studio.”
He developed Cold War, a game which allows the player’s penguin avatar to defend their home from others. The game is available on the App Store and Google Play Store.
“[I] did that for the whole summer, just developing, doing the art, doing the coding, trying to get published internationally,” said Dyck.
“That was my first foray into the gaming industry.”
But Dyck put his dream to work as a game developer on the back burner after this.
“It [was] kind of a dream in the back of my head to go back into the gaming industry ... to work on a creative endeavour.”
That would all change once Dyck got an opportunity any aspiring game developer could only dream of — working for Ubisoft.
A creative endeavour
In fall 2021, Dyck joined Ubisoft Quebec as a co-op tools programmer and worked on a project for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise.
The Assassin’s Creed series follows a fictional struggle between the Order of Assassins and the Knights Templar. Recent games include Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Assassin’s Creed Origins.
“It was a huge, creative endeavour that involved engineering and artists and writers [and] so many different people with different expertise that I got to learn from,” said Dyck.
While at Ubisoft, Dyck had the opportunity to meet and work with people involved in various aspects of developing a AAA-level franchise. In the video game industry, AAA is used to classify games created and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher.
He said he gained the confidence to reach out to people in the industry, regardless of whether or not he thought they would respond to him.
Working for a company as large as Ubisoft came with challenges.
Dyck said he didn’t have strong technical skills before he started at Ubisoft — he had only taken a handful of computer science courses and was otherwise self-taught.
“I met the minimum standard,” he said.
But Dyck made up for his lack of technical experience with his enthusiasm.
Dyck said during the Ubisoft job interview, he asked if his lack of technical knowledge was an issue. He was told that it wasn’t.
“I need two things from people. I need people who are enthusiastic and I need people who work hard. Technical skill, not as important,” Dyck recalled his interviewer saying.
He felt the interview for the job reflected that as well. “They were very interested in my past co-op experience and that I was a different voice,” said Dyck. ”I think they were able to read the passion.”
Isolated but excited
During his time at UBC, he’s travelled to six cities across the world.
Throughout his co-op terms, Dyck lived within and outside Canada, with his most recent co-op term taking him to Tokyo.
Moving for each co-op job came with its challenges. For Dyck, amid the excitement of going to a new city, there was the challenge of making new connections.
“Other people hear that you’re there for four months [and] they don’t really want to be your friends that much sometimes, because they’re like, ‘This isn’t something that’s worth committing to,’” said Dyck.
The solution for Dyck was to be enthusiastic about the whole experience and to step out of his comfort zone.
“In Japan, I enrolled in judo classes [to make friends] which I thought was really cool,” said Dyck. “But it was so humiliating because I was getting destroyed by middle school students throwing me over their back.”
“That was a way for me to [then make] friends and I became a lot closer to this guy from my work who was also [taking classes] there.”
After moving to Quebec City, Dyck took his months there as a chance to immerse himself in French Canadian culture. He said the new environment was “isolating at times ... but exciting and challenging.”
Dyck threw himself out there to make friends, which resulted in him learning some new things.
“I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons by my friends there [and] I did a quest in French,” he said.
Despite the challenges of making friends and adjusting to life in new cities, Dyck said his co-op experiences were valuable in helping him understand his career options.
“I think a part of the goal of co-op is … learning what you want to do [and] learning what you don’t like doing,” said Dyck.