In 2006, Ubisoft released Rayman and the Raving Rabbids
, known for its wacky humor and offbeat characters, as a Nintendo Wii launch title. At the 2007 Lyon Game Developers Conference, Ubisoft creative director Nicolas Normandon and international product manager Loïc Gounon discussed how humor and variety can elevate gaming to a cultural phenomenon.
The two began by demonstrating early character sketches of rabbits from Ubisoft designer Michel Ancel. Early on, the project was extremely ambitious -- it was originally planned as a PlayStation 2 game. But while in the prototype phase, the team got a chance to check out a Wii and decided to change plans.
Said Gounon. “Pretty quickly things changed, and evolved.” Starting off, the team worked with a specialist to create trailers that would communicate the spirit they had in mind to the internal team -- Gounon described that spirit as "wacky" and "very trendy."
“Here, you’ve got the first Wii development kit” Gounon joked, as he showed a slide of an early mainframe computer. “In the beginning of 2006, we didn’t even have Wii kits.”
“In terms of the design, we didn’t go into as much detail,” Gounon said. "But it wasn’t as complex as having to make an MMOG. We wanted it to be a game for absolutely everybody.”
After the success of the first title's madcap humor, the team began work on a sequel. Normandon stepped up to explain the central idea: rabbit humor. "Bunny humor, that's what it was all about," he said. "We used the human universe as a starting point; you've got the right method, the wrong method, and the rabbit method... We don’t want to add all these flowery extras.”
Normandon said they tried a Titanic parody, and a George Romero parody. "We decided it could be in a shopping center, and have a travel agency [so you could] travel to the United States."
“We wanted to the game to be fun,” he stated. And good-looking, too: "This might be rather silly, but a game on the Wii has to be attractive,” he added. "We wanted the interfaces to be as clear as possible... flashy, easy to see, simple as possible.”
For Rabbids 2
's mini-games, they were aiming for bite-sized 'aperitif games.' “Games that last for 20 minutes,” explained Normandon. "People often turn the game on, play for 20 minutes, turn off the console. In the game, the player only goes to the United States for 20 minutes. We thought this was very important.”
“It had to be a party game," added Normandon. "In the first game, everyone sat back and everyone played in turn. We asked ourselves, will people be able to play in a group? So we made it very customizable, let the players play their own game.”
Further, Normandon pointed out each tenet the team wanted to be sure to include in every minigame. Each had to have both single and multiplayer modes, they had to be replayable, the controls had to be different, the game had to be original, and it had to have a scoring system. And, of course, it had to have the "bunny humor".
“We had three hundred proposals for minigames,” said Normandon. “As long as it was absurd, we loved it. Another important thing was parodies and clichés,” he added, saying the 300 ideas were sorted based on how many criteria they fit.
“In conclusion, this is a hybrid brand, if you like, between Rayman
and the Rabbids. It’s good fun, it’s friendly,” said Normandon.
Crazy, Or Just French?
So how did they build a game delivering a mix of social fun and absurd humor? “Well, for us, there wasn’t any real method,” said Normandon. The new spin provided by the Wii hardware "completely revolutionized gameplay in its own way.”
Normandon said he doesn't know “whether it’s the French touch, or if we just had a team of crazy people,” but it was the only team that he’s ever had stay late every night, to “keep playing to beat their own score. That didn’t happen with King Kong
, so we tried to get a structure around that. The team let themselves go, a bit of an unidentified flying object.”
In the audience question and answer session, Gounon and Normandon were asked if they need the Rayman character any longner. "Can I give you a frank answer? No," replied Gounon. "Not for this game, I don’t think you do.”
Still, "I think everyone wants to see Rayman back," he added. "We're now in a phase thinking about all our brands. We haven't forgotten Rayman, but we're currently looking at all that.”
Another audience member asked if the team planned on giving users the tools to design their own content. "Something that we might think about is giving the tools to make mini games. Why not have competition on the net to create new games?”
He continued, “The more games we have that work well like Assassin’s Creed
that do commercially well, the more chance that Ubi can do other games that are even more risky. That’s the only answer I can give you today.”