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By Pierre-Arnaud Bouyer

Rayman Legends embodies a vision, a position : it states that the gaming industry has sometimes focused too much on technology and 3D. That in forgetting 2D creative tools and the resourcefulness that went hand in hand with the time when video games were created from scratch, it denied itself the existence of jewels stimulated by the creativity of 2D artists and musicians, who often take a back seat nowadays.

So here we are, having a talk with Michel Ancel, lead game designer at Ubisoft, and Christophe Heral, composer, on the genesis of Rayman Legends, its future and their thoughts about the industry during a sunny parisian afternoon.

Michel Ancel

Creating a character with no arms and no legs, was it an artistic gesture or a question of simplicity?

MA: The real reason is that I am bad at drawing, especially back then, I was twenty years old when I created this character. I wanted something very simple, to go very fast, directly to the point, something that was quickly scalable. And since creating a video game back then was very DIY (the graphs, animation, design, etc. along with a programmer), I wanted to streamline what I had to do and make it as simple as possible so that I could focus on other tasks. There was also the context, I was the team’s rock which forced me to make do and know my way around everything.

The artistic direction of Rayman Origins and Legends demonstrates a return to 2D, with special care given to it. Did you try out different graphic styles? The main character has a new sense of density compared to previous versions.

MA: No, actually we assumed that style very quickly. While developing Rayman Origins, we were already working on our engine, the Ubi Art Framework, which happens to be really geared toward making 2D, although now we added some 3D capabilities. We made game prototypes, Origins-ish games, digital comic games, and then we worked on a prototype that came on top and assumed we wanted a very “painting” look, with brushes. We did not want to do Flash, something too smooth, we wanted something with character. We did a really two-dimensional AD and it was ultimately very assumed.

Rumor has it that the previous game – Rayman Origins – was developed with a team of 5 people, unlike similar games which usually involve teams of hundreds of people. Can you tell us what really happened ? Are we going back smaller teams?

MA: Yes and no, actually with very few people we have developed a lot of things. The first Rayman Origins‘ trailer that was released is the work of very few people, but then we had to make a much more consistent game in a relatively small period of time. We invited a lot of people, we ended up with maybe 60 people, but there are also versions for other platforms than the one intended originally, etc. We could also have pulled that game with the same initial team, but it would have taken way longer. The engine was designed to go as fast as possible so that everything we did actually went right into the final product.

Today, the Rayman franchise sold over 15 million copies. You have also been made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2006. How does this recognition, from the public, professionals and even public authorities, have an impact on what you do? 

MA: No, I don’t think it really had any impact at all, except during the day it happened because I had to go, it changed my schedule for the day but soon I got sucked back in by the game’s creation. Things that have an impact are usually global, like when someone gets financial help for doing research whether with us at Ubi, or more importantly at independent studios that do need this help. Their problem is that they have very little time to do R&D, and yet it is what makes you save a lot of time with tools in the long run. We happen to be willing to share ours, but as of now it is not possible yet. So of course the medal is good, but a financial help for independent studios would be even better.

The message has been transmitted (laughs). What impact Rayman had on platform games in general?

MA: From my point of view, none. I think stats can reassure someone who wants to tackle multiplayer on that particular game type, for the camera management. The game’s rules are altered, due to the multiplayer, so if we managed to make people wonder about how to do things differently, especially with physics, so much the better. Above all we tried to do it all without looking at other games. We always have game designers who come saying “look this game is great, let’s do the same”, but this is something I refuse to do myself. After that, I imagine that every game is a source of inspiration for others, but I still cannot measure it.

To continue on this idea of avoiding carbon copy and putting forward original creationd, are we finally on the verge of an official recognition of video game as an art form?

MA: Yes, the work of the CNC is interesting on that matter, and it has to continue. The ideal would be to get the same system as the movie industry, where blockbusters fund creation. One could say that this is another tax, but …

CH: It’s not really a tax, for movies, we see it more as a redistribution of wealth. A tax is due by all or part of the population, while in the cinema industry, the sale of movie tickets and advertisements on television generate fund for the rest for the rest of the industry. As for video games, we can perhaps eventually achieve in the long run a system of redistribution that benefits everyone.

Rayman Legends was born from a hybridization: the blend of a platform game and a musical game. Do you think that mixing genres might become a trend in video games?

MA: Hmm… It is not exactly a hybrid because the game was not built on this idea. We have special levels which are audio-visual experiments, where the music actually dictates the gameplay, but the most important question is not so much about hybridization but rather on how to better integrate music in the broadest sense of the term, in a more interactive way. We implemented a system of dynamic arrangements that changes depending on your actions in the game. We think more in these terms. The game is a plateformer with very traditional things, and roquefort-esque qualities, for this type of game, and more innovative things like musical maps.

I see. So it’s all about interactions. What kind of music did you listeni to while you wer  developing of Rayman Legends?

CH: Honestly, I very rarely listen to music outside of work for this is what I do all day long. Designers and level designers have a headset all day and listen to music while working, but me I can hardly do it …

MA: Plus you work more than 20 hours a day .

CH: No, not that much, more like 18 hours a day actually… Michel sometimes can give me some references, such as the soundtracks of De Funès movies, while I would not be doing that. The main idea is to remember what it made me feel without listening to it again. For me it’s about feeding off these memories, like what Ennio Morricone did for certain passages of the game. In the water world, there is the mention of James Bond and even without the film’s music, there is a quirky feel that reminds it to you. These are nods to my teachers, the people that made me go forward. I studied, I loved them and I thank them.

Rayman Legends – Ubisoft. Available on PC , Wii U , Xbox 360, PS3 , PS Vita.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

By Pierre-Arnaud Bouyer

Rayman Legends embodies a vision, a position : it states that the gaming industry has sometimes focused too much on technology and 3D. That in forgetting 2D creative tools and the resourcefulness that went hand in hand with the time when video games were created from scratch, it denied itself the existence of jewels stimulated by the creativity of 2D artists and musicians, who often take a back seat nowadays.

So here we are, having a talk with Michel Ancel, lead game designer at Ubisoft, and Christophe Heral, composer, on the genesis of Rayman Legends, its future and their thoughts about the industry during a sunny parisian afternoon.

Michel Ancel

Creating a character with no arms and no legs, was it an artistic gesture or a question of simplicity?

MA: The real reason is that I am bad at drawing, especially back then, I was twenty years old when I created this character. I wanted something very simple, to go very fast, directly to the point, something that was quickly scalable. And since creating a video game back then was very DIY (the graphs, animation, design, etc. along with a programmer), I wanted to streamline what I had to do and make it as simple as possible so that I could focus on other tasks. There was also the context, I was the team’s rock which forced me to make do and know my way around everything.

The artistic direction of Rayman Origins and Legends demonstrates a return to 2D, with special care given to it. Did you try out different graphic styles? The main character has a new sense of density compared to previous versions.

MA: No, actually we assumed that style very quickly. While developing Rayman Origins, we were already working on our engine, the Ubi Art Framework, which happens to be really geared toward making 2D, although now we added some 3D capabilities. We made game prototypes, Origins-ish games, digital comic games, and then we worked on a prototype that came on top and assumed we wanted a very “painting” look, with brushes. We did not want to do Flash, something too smooth, we wanted something with character. We did a really two-dimensional AD and it was ultimately very assumed.

Rumor has it that the previous game – Rayman Origins – was developed with a team of 5 people, unlike similar games which usually involve teams of hundreds of people. Can you tell us what really happened ? Are we going back smaller teams?

MA: Yes and no, actually with very few people we have developed a lot of things. The first Rayman Origins‘ trailer that was released is the work of very few people, but then we had to make a much more consistent game in a relatively small period of time. We invited a lot of people, we ended up with maybe 60 people, but there are also versions for other platforms than the one intended originally, etc. We could also have pulled that game with the same initial team, but it would have taken way longer. The engine was designed to go as fast as possible so that everything we did actually went right into the final product.

Today, the Rayman franchise sold over 15 million copies. You have also been made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2006. How does this recognition, from the public, professionals and even public authorities, have an impact on what you do? 

MA: No, I don’t think it really had any impact at all, except during the day it happened because I had to go, it changed my schedule for the day but soon I got sucked back in by the game’s creation. Things that have an impact are usually global, like when someone gets financial help for doing research whether with us at Ubi, or more importantly at independent studios that do need this help. Their problem is that they have very little time to do R&D, and yet it is what makes you save a lot of time with tools in the long run. We happen to be willing to share ours, but as of now it is not possible yet. So of course the medal is good, but a financial help for independent studios would be even better.

The message has been transmitted (laughs). What impact Rayman had on platform games in general?

MA: From my point of view, none. I think stats can reassure someone who wants to tackle multiplayer on that particular game type, for the camera management. The game’s rules are altered, due to the multiplayer, so if we managed to make people wonder about how to do things differently, especially with physics, so much the better. Above all we tried to do it all without looking at other games. We always have game designers who come saying “look this game is great, let’s do the same”, but this is something I refuse to do myself. After that, I imagine that every game is a source of inspiration for others, but I still cannot measure it.

To continue on this idea of avoiding carbon copy and putting forward original creationd, are we finally on the verge of an official recognition of video game as an art form?

MA: Yes, the work of the CNC is interesting on that matter, and it has to continue. The ideal would be to get the same system as the movie industry, where blockbusters fund creation. One could say that this is another tax, but …

CH: It’s not really a tax, for movies, we see it more as a redistribution of wealth. A tax is due by all or part of the population, while in the cinema industry, the sale of movie tickets and advertisements on television generate fund for the rest for the rest of the industry. As for video games, we can perhaps eventually achieve in the long run a system of redistribution that benefits everyone.

Rayman Legends was born from a hybridization: the blend of a platform game and a musical game. Do you think that mixing genres might become a trend in video games?

MA: Hmm… It is not exactly a hybrid because the game was not built on this idea. We have special levels which are audio-visual experiments, where the music actually dictates the gameplay, but the most important question is not so much about hybridization but rather on how to better integrate music in the broadest sense of the term, in a more interactive way. We implemented a system of dynamic arrangements that changes depending on your actions in the game. We think more in these terms. The game is a plateformer with very traditional things, and roquefort-esque qualities, for this type of game, and more innovative things like musical maps.

I see. So it’s all about interactions. What kind of music did you listeni to while you wer  developing of Rayman Legends?

CH: Honestly, I very rarely listen to music outside of work for this is what I do all day long. Designers and level designers have a headset all day and listen to music while working, but me I can hardly do it …

MA: Plus you work more than 20 hours a day .

CH: No, not that much, more like 18 hours a day actually… Michel sometimes can give me some references, such as the soundtracks of De Funès movies, while I would not be doing that. The main idea is to remember what it made me feel without listening to it again. For me it’s about feeding off these memories, like what Ennio Morricone did for certain passages of the game. In the water world, there is the mention of James Bond and even without the film’s music, there is a quirky feel that reminds it to you. These are nods to my teachers, the people that made me go forward. I studied, I loved them and I thank them.

Rayman Legends – Ubisoft. Available on PC , Wii U , Xbox 360, PS3 , PS Vita.

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