The lights are on
“Long ago the primordial forest, deep and mysterious, witnessed the birth of a man, er, a vegetable – no no no – ah, a thingamajig. Conjured from the magnificent moon beams of the second summer solstice, woven together by us, the nymphs, destined to preserve the equilibrium of the sacred universe, the one we call Rayman.”At age 17, Ubisoft luminary Michel Ancel conceptualized a character simple in design, but complex in ability. Ancel admittedly lacked the artistic chops to animate a fully figured being, thus the limbless hero was born. The game creator brought in a team of five to his home in southern France to complete the original 2D Rayman. As the team grew, they moved to an apartment to work on Rayman 2. Once the space was no longer big enough to house the staff, Ancel began a search for the perfect studio. This led to the discovery of a modest 400-year-old home located in a quiet neighborhood in the heart of Montpellier. Affectionately known by the team simply as “La Villa,” the humble abode became the birthplace of Jade and Pey’j from Beyond Good & Evil, King Kong’s video game adaptation, and the Rabbids. Eight years after Rayman’s last traditional console release, Hoodlum Havoc, La Villa is also where one of Ancel’s earliest creations will be reborn.Return to 2D RootsFollowing his 1995 debut on PlayStation, Rayman’s trademark limb-free form and sense of humor catapulted him to stardom. He became one the most recognizable characters not just in Ubisoft’s portfolio, but in the entire gaming industry. Rayman evolved from a 2D platformer into a 3D experience in The Great Escape, which has spawned a number of ports – including one that recently launched alongside the Nintendo 3DS. With excellent platforming and the introduction of memorable characters, Rayman 2 has managed to stand the test of time. Amid work on Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc and after working on the series for four years, the Ubisoft development team in Montpellier was ready for a fresh experience.
This sparked the creation of the cult hit Beyond Good & Evil, followed by the video game adaptation of King Kong. After production of these titles, the group was prepared to put the spotlight back on Rayman. Plans were to create a 3D platformer on the Wii, but after experimenting with the technology, series creator Michel Ancel decided the motion controller was better suited for party games. “Making a platformer on the Wii was not the best choice,” Ancel recalls. “We wanted to play with the controls, but in a free way, so the party game was cool.”
Rayman’s Wii adventures pitted him against the dim-witted, good-humored Rabbids. However, after a couple of installments, his name was eventually dropped from the series. So was Ancel’s, as he left the Rabbids projects to start working on the Beyond Good & Evil sequel.
“I’ve been working on Beyond Good & Evil 2 for a while,” he admits. “We had a little break on this project, which is quite big, and we decided to make something simpler. That’s the period where we realized how much 2D was possible and very cool to do with today’s consoles. It seems to be the right time for Rayman to come back.”
Origins designer Sebastien Morin agrees: “Now it’s possible to have a 2D game that can be big and immersive because the technology is much better. We have lots of different devices now. Industry execs discovered the simplicity of 2D, as it has this advantage to be more accessible and could be really deep at the same time.”
Anyone who has played the original Rayman can attest to its difficulty. Ancel notes few people actually finished the game, so with the return to 2D in Rayman Origins, the team hopes to make the experience more accessible, but still challenging for players of all skill levels. A large part of the game is controllable with just two buttons thanks to a number of combinations, though some advanced powers require triggers and the d-pad.