[Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil creator Michel Ancel talks about how the 2011 2D Rayman Origins got its start, what’s up with the BG&E sequel, and why he just can’t get enthusiastic about the Mario series.]
Best known as the creator of Rayman and also as the mind behind the acclaimed Beyond Good & Evil, Michel Ancel recently revitalized the series that put him on the map with the release of Rayman Origins, a new 2D entry in the series for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, that harkens back to its beginnings while debuting new technology: the UbiArt Framework.
“We always need to think about the hundreds of thousands, maybe the millions of people who might play our game. We have to always be welcoming to the non-players,” says Ancel, who feels that some developers coming into the industry these days create “autistic” games to please only themselves.
In this interview, Ancel also speaks about the game’s genesis, what’s going on with Beyond Good & Evil, why he made the leap to Rayman Origins instead of completing that game, what he thinks about Nintendo’s Mario and Zelda games, and why he’s “very different” from famed creator Shigeru Miyamoto.
What was your exact involvement with Rayman Origins?
Michel Ancel: I’m the one who started the project. I officially worked as a creative director. I first put together a small team of two or three people to make some trials on a new generation 2D engine.
It was a continuation of what we were doing with Beyond Good & Evil 2 — a visual pattern generating-based engine. Artists make some patterns, like samples, and we use them to quickly model levels, as to have a forest, for example. Everything started from this tool, which we called the UbiArt Framework. Then we said to ourselves, “To prove that this engine works, let’s make an entire game with it!”
In March 2006, alongside Shigeru Miyamoto and Frédérick Raynal, you were one of the first three video game developers to be knighted under the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. But since then, no Michel Ancel game has made it to stores. How come?
MA: I was busy with my horse, my armor, my castle — it took me a lot of time, you know! [laughs] No, no, I didn’t have any castle, neither armor nor horse. I just participated in the genesis of the Rabbids, working from a canceled 3D Rayman 4 project. Tell me about luck! I started with Rayman, and it finished with these stupid Rabbids! [smiles]
Actually, it all went this way because of the coming of the Wii. I realized it would be useless to make the adventure game I would have made on PlayStation 2, so we’ve moved on with a more appropriate party game, which fitted best to the console. Then I moved on [Beyond Good & Evil] 2, and then recently to Rayman Origins.
When did you switch from Beyond Good & Evil 2 to Rayman?
MA: While working on BGE 2, we realized that, technologically speaking, we were making something quite crazy, with cities, planets, and everything we couldn’t put into the first BGE.
But it turned out that we were heading to the same syndrome — that is to say that, even if current consoles can apparently feature some very good-looking things, with lights, shadows and so on, architecturally speaking, we felt bounded. So I said, “Let’s make a full 2D game instead of half of a 3D game.”
You’ve been called “the French Miyamoto.” How do you feel about it? Does it bother you?
MA: No, it could have been a lot worse. [smiles] Of course it’s an honor. I think I’m very different from Miyamoto. And not only because I don’t speak Japanese! In my opinion, he focuses a lot on gameplay, whereas I really like to work with technical tools, too.
I really loved the idea of introducing artistic features in games — that is to say the storytelling, the artwork, music — and to get everything together in the best possible alchemy. We have two different approaches, two different tracks.
And he’s such a star! When I’m compared to him, I find it very exaggerated. I still have a lot to learn! Actually, Miyamoto has always been one of my models, because when I started as a game designer, there were no video games schools, no well-defined jobs, and anyhow, everyone had to find someone to get inspired from. Miyamoto is the top guy.
Would you like to work with him?
MA: It never happened, but of course I wish I could. We’ve already met. He even told me he wasn’t fond of BGE! [laughs, embarrassed] He really liked the cooperation work with [sidekick character] Pey’j, but wasn’t satisfied with cameras. He suggested we had a look at what Nintendo did with Super Mario Sunshine.