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Beyond Good & Evil 2

Ancel on Beyond Good & Evil 2: Trailers, Travel & Talking Pigs

We caught up with Michel Ancel and other key developers at E3 and found out more about what they hope to achieve with BG&E2.

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Beyond Good & Evil 2 was officially announced in May 2008 by Michel Ancel, with a trailer running in-engine, showing off two characters from the original game, Jade and Peyj. A year later, another trailer was leaked showing Jade dashing down a crowded street, and while Ancel confirmed the trailer was the real deal, Ubisoft denied releasing the footage intentionally.

It's now been nine years since the game was confirmed to be in development, and we've pretty much heard nothing since. Ancel and Ubisoft explained time and time again that the game was still in development, but with no announcements being made, people assumed the game had gone the way of, at the time, The Last Guardian and Half-Life 3.

Then in 2016, Ancel said Ubisoft Montpellier had halted work on BG&E2 to develop Rayman Legends, but the work they did on Legends would assist them in developing BG&E2. Toward the end of the year, Ancel took to social media to post images from the game, showing off a younger looking Pey. Ubisoft confirmed the game's existence shortly afterward, then during Ubisoft's E3 2017 presentation, we saw the first trailer for the game in nearly 10 years.

The trailer kicks off by showing an anthropomorphic pig in a restaurant, sat opposite a monkey, partaking in some form of trade where the monkey exchanges a statue for a disc. Turns out the pig and monkey are named Zhou and Knox respectively, and when Zhou realises Knox has traded him a fake, Knox uses his grappling hook to escape through a window in the roof before using his jetpack to scamper across the rooftops and meet a human named Shani, who's waiting on a hoverbike. The rest of the trailer is spent showing the pair avoiding missiles before they hijack a ship and escape to what appears to be their home base; an enormous ship, inhabited by various species of hybrid creatures and humans.

Ubisoft released a trailer breakdown video where Ancel goes into detail about every aspect of the trailer. For example, in the Beyond Good & Evil universe, pigs are considered to be superior to monkeys, as Zhou alludes to slaves and masters, and laughs at Knox when he says he's in a rush because he has a "hot date". Ancel goes on to explain that there is a social system in place between the hybrid creatures and they've even developed culture and religion. The idol that Knox produces portrays a pig deity called 'Peyjin', which is apparently where the name for our pig friend from the first game, Peyj, comes from, similar to the name Mohammed in Islam or Peter in Christianity.

In an exclusive interview with our E3 team, Ancel explained that diversity and culture is one of the main points they want to explore with Beyond Good & Evil 2:

"Beyond Good & Evil has always been close to reality somehow, it was about an investigation, about propaganda, media control and all these things. When we released BG&E1 it was close to the September 11 period, it was very close to the real world, even if it is a fantasy world," Ancel said. "I think it's the same with BG&E2, we want to showcase the diversity of the people on earth, the culture, and all these things. We believe that sometimes games are a bit too focused on accidental cultures, here we collaborate with people around the world, and we want to showcase that diversity and say that it's a power, an opportunity. We don't imagine a world where everybody would look at the same things, eat the same things, speak the same language; we imagine a world that would still be a mix of all these diversities and interesting connections."

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One thing that is apparent in the world of Beyond Good & Evil is that religion is seemingly more prominent than it is in our world. When Shani and Knox make haste and zoom through the city, one of the very first landmarks shown is an enormous statue of what appears to be a religious idol, similar to Brahma, one of the gods worshiped in Hinduism. In the trailer breakdown, Ancel explains that the city shown in the trailer was originally more futuristic, but he wanted the theme to be much more spiritual. He refers to monks liking the peaceful nature of the rooftop gardens, and also explains that there are no advertisements whatsoever after a certain height in the city.

Knox uses a grappling hook to escape from the restaurant, and Ancel explains that's an example of the type of "dynamic move" players can do in-game. You can use a tool like the grapple to "extract yourself from a very dangerous situation and use the verticality of the city." The smashed glass from Knox's escape, that lodges in Zhou's forehead also symbolises the destructible environment in game. Not quite to the scale of Red Faction, but players can use glass and other materials to their advantage.

Despite the original releasing 14 years ago, Ancel explains in our interview how the series has evolved over that period into the game it's becoming today. One example is how they're introducing a similar online function to Dark Souls, where players can call for help if they're stuck and open their game up to friends. Not strictly co-op, but it gives the game a sense of community.

In response to being asked about Beyond Good & Evil 2 as a concept, Ancel explains how the team at Ubisoft Montpellier have retained the major aspects of the first game, but the gaming industry and what people want from a game has changed so much, so they've had to adapt also.

"I would say we take the pillars from Beyond Good & Evil 1, the strong characters, [...] and this feeling of freedom and evolution. But then we go to another level, because 15 years later, the technology has evolved, people are enjoying playing online, but some people remain happy just playing alone with a good story. The main focus is to concentrate on that experience, but we know there is that little door, that any player can open at any time," he said. "It's not an MMO, but you can say "okay friends, join, I'm stuck somewhere, help me." That's one big modification compared to BG&E1, you can open your game to friends which is very interesting. The other big thing is now it's real freedom, it's like planets, exploration, we've total freedom, you know, going from a real restaurant to the large scale of space with planets. That's this feeling of freedom and exploration, adventure and character, that's the main concept."

While at E3, we also had a quick chat with Gabrielle Shrager, the narrative director, during a tour of the artwork for the game, and she went into detail about the setting and history of the Beyond Good & Evil universe. She explains that the second instalment is a prequel and it takes place in the 24th century, approximately 300 years from our time. China and India became the two global superpowers around the 22nd century, and they're the ones that were at the forefront of developing technology, including gene splicing, which they use to create the hybrid animals.

"Today, they're using gene splicing technology to make hybrid human-pigs and other hybrids in labs, but for ethical reasons they don't let them live," she explained. "But in the future they've developed this technology more and more, and what happens is when we decide to colonise space for the first time we target this particular solar system that's got a vast store of resources and we create a new form of hybrid slave labour. So we basically grow them in lab vats, almost like 3D printers, and they're custom designed to do anything from being rich kid's pets, to heavy lifting, machinery, crewing merchant vessels, and slaving in the mines. So of course when you've got a huge centre of interstellar commerce and you've got slaves, you enter a new era of piracy; the slaves try to free themselves."

In a developer diary from Ubisoft Montpellier, Shrager explains that the solar system is simply called 'System 3', and private enterprises have targeted this particular system due to the number of habitable planets in what they're calling the 'Goldilocks Zone', along with the plethora of useful resources. The hybrid creatures man created were designed to withstand the harsh and hostile space environments, and Hubert Chevillard, the art director for the game, goes on to explain that even though these hybrid slaves created the magnificent temples and religious buildings visible in the trailer, they're not allowed to enter them themselves.

In the same diary video, Michel Ancel describes how the story brings characters "of all origins and styles" together, that they're "rock 'n roll, outlandish, and very colourful." The story focuses on piracy because "pirates accept anyone who wants to be part of their crew, irrespective of origin." Players actually assume the role of a pirate, at the "very low end of the social scale with no crew, no ship, nothing. We might give you a small space tuk-tuk but that's it," says Guillaume Brunier, senior producer. He explains that the whole idea of the game is that the player goes from being a nobody to a "space legend".

"The idea is that you create your character, because when you play online you're happy to be someone different than yourself," Ancel said in our interview. "You have that freedom of creating your character, and depending on who you meet in the game, you have different partnerships and different friends. So even if it's the same big story, you've got a lot different ways to complete and progress into that story."

One example of an interesting character is Knox, who Shrager explains is a hybrid slave but "managed to escape his fate". She didn't want to disclose too much more about the foul-mouthed monkey for fear of spoilers, but it's safe to say he's just one of the plenty of fascinating and unique characters players will interact with in the game. She goes on to say that making all the characters very diverse is important to them because they believe that "true wealth comes from others". They want players to be able to go towards others and learn about their cultures, and they will give you something in return. Some characters can even become members of your crew; one example we were given while at E3 is that it's possible to board a slave ship, and while inside you can free a hybrid. The freed slave is so thankful that you've freed him, he'll ask if he can join your crew. The characters you assemble for your crew reflect on your experiences as a player, and as a space pirate captain within the game.

While characters from the original game will feature in this prequel, none of them will be playable. "The very important thing is we don't say you will not see her [Jade] again," Ancel went on. "It's a story across generations and it's a prequel, we wanted to make the main characters of BG&E1 key characters in the new story for BG&E2, and they're ancestors, so you don't play them, but things could happen with them." Emile Morel, lead game designer, shed some more light on the situation by explaining that some of the characters you come across are 'legendary' characters - they're related to characters from the first game, and Dakini, the woman at the end of the trailer who bore a striking resemblance to Jade, the protagonist from the first game, is one of those so-called legendaries.

Along with diversity, exploration and travel is another main theme in the game. When we spoke to Morel, he told us that at the very core of Beyond Good & Evil 2 is the notion of traveling. The universe Beyond Good & Evil 2 is set in is truly enormous, and the player is encouraged to travel to all corners, to meet as many interesting characters as possible and see all the different planetary locations and environments the game has to offer. Brunier expands on this in the developer diary by saying "We don't want an empty solar system; we want a universe full of life. Our game is about meeting others and traveling to other places".

In the trailer breakdown, Ancel explains that the travel between planets and space is "seamless", No Man's Sky-esque if you will. The whole game is about being able to travel and explore the dark, claustrophobic alleyways of the city, inspecting all the minute details, before making your way into hyperspace and traveling to a different planet, all without breaking the immersion. In our interview, Ancel explains near the end that the game is all about giving the player the "freedom and tools to achieve and progress in the story in his own way." He clarifies that it's not generated, but "the world itself offers a lot of opportunities to finish the story." He also draws from both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as inspirations, which is a promising sign given that they were both immensely successful RPGs.

How the majority of the game actually plays is still very much in the dark. Ancel has confirmed via some comments on Instagram that the game is third-person, with a first-person camera mode similar to the original that will be vital for communicating positions. The game will also explore the origins of System 4, the setting for the first game, along with a lot of hidden areas in the game, places to discover for those searching for everything.

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At the end of the day, Beyond Good & Evil 2 was among the most promising, and most importantly, the most refreshing titles on display during any of the E3 presentations. It's been so long since the original that the series basically feels like a new IP at this point, and Ubisoft Montpellier has some big plans for the game. There's no confirmed release date, and it's not even confirmed what platforms the game will be coming to, but if you're interested in keeping up to date with the game and potentially pitching in during the closed alpha and beta tests, check out the official sign up page for more information.

What do you want to see from Beyond Good & Evil 2? Let us know in the comments.

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