Interview: Beyond Good & Evil
2nd Sep 2003 | 17:20
Action-adventure game Beyond Good & Evil has received its fair share of praise over the last few months, which perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider that the title comes from the mind of Rayman creator Michel Ancel.
Sure, not everyone loves the limbless star, but the gameplay has always been there and for Ubi Soft the Rayman franchise has been a massive financial success.
Beyond Good & Evil is in development at Ubi Soft Montpellier, the title following the exploits of a young orphan girl called Jade, who resides on planet Hyllis. An action-reporter for rebel organization IRIS and armed with Dai-Jo Staff, Camera and Gyro-disc Launcher, Jade - alias "Shauni" - sets out to lift the lid on a conspiracy involving government and alien invasion.
At ECTS last week we were given the opportunity to chat with Beyond Good & Evil creator Michel Ancel, so naturally we pressed him for more information on the game.
Where did Beyond Good & Evil begin - what was the inspiration for the game?
Ancel: We wanted to do something different in the videogames industry, different to the kind of scenario where there are soldiers that you kill and the like. Here you're a reporter, and because of this it's a different point of view.
There are action sequences and stealth traits, and you have a camera, which is your main weapon, and in effect you're trying to capture the truth of what's going on in the world.
Because you're a reporter, I would say that your vision of the ongoing proceedings is more social or political. When you do your reports, you publish them on the virtual website that's in the game, and then the population reacts, and then the population is on your side, on the side of revolution.
Did this reporter idea come first, and then you built the story around that, or did the story come first and then you had the idea of making the main character a reporter?
Ancel: Well, I worked on the story and the main character at the same time. I wanted to do a different game where you have vehicles and a lot of freedom, but at the same time I wanted the story to be interactive.
For example, while you're going around the world you can take pictures. There's a big propaganda screen that the population can watch where you publish your articles.
So what kind of truths are we going to be revealing to the populace?
Ancel: Well, for example, when you're working for the Rebels, there's a point where you discover that the government is capturing the people, and you take a picture of what you've discovered and send it to the Rebel organisation.
You don't know exactly what's happening at this point in the story, but the aim is to publish the articles and expose exactly what is going on.
Yes, we're working for a rebel organisation... Is the story always revealed in the way mentioned above?
Ancel: The story is revealed while you play. You don't know exactly what's going to happen before you play. So, for example, you respond to a job and work for the Rebels that own a newspaper, and you work for them because they know you are a reporter. But right at the beginning you're not aware that this is going to happen.
When you publish your own pictures and articles on this propaganda screen so the populace can see what you've uncovered, does the government come back with its own propaganda to try and counteract the effects of your own discoveries?
Ancel Well, for example, when you publish your reports, the bad guys can intimidate you. For example they can destroy your home.
From what we've read previously about the game, the gameplay is very "freeform". Do we always have an objective to complete, or can we go around the world doing what we want?
Ancel: You can spend as much time as you want exploring and you can decide how you want to progress through the story. Sometimes you will receive an e-mail that will offer you a job, but you can refuse this if you want to. This is the sort of freedom we're looking at.
What's the size of Beyond Good & Evil's playing area, then?
Ancel: Well, there's the whole planet, and then you also get to go to the moon later on in the game.
When you start the game, and you get the hovercraft, you begin to move around the world and discover a space station. Then around three-quarters of the way through the game you can buy a spacecraft and use that to explore the playing environment.
Presumably the freeform nature of the game finds its way into the action side of things?
Ancel: When you meet enemies, you can fight them if you want to, but you can also use stealth to get past them. You can actually get through the game without fighting enemies if you want.
During the course of the game we accrue money - what's the cash used for?
Ancel: Well, for example, you can buy equipment for your hovercraft and improve its abilities.
How difficult has it been to implement this freeform gameplay, from a technical standpoint?
Ancel: With the engine, we're able to display... you can see as far as the eye can see. First of all we started on the biggest vehicle, the spaceship. We designed the spaceship first and got that working and then we knew that we'd be able to build in the smaller things once we had this working.
I wanted to make one story, and I wanted to ensure that that story was immersive, and then after that I wanted the freedom for the player to move around the playing world.
Beyond Good & Evil has action, stealth, vehicle racing, exploration, investigation, adventure - have you achieved what you set out to accomplish, in terms of delivering all this in a coherent formula, as a coherent whole?
Ancel: Yes, I think so. It's been one of the biggest things to do, but when you play the game you'll find that it's very easy to learn - it's very intuitive.