How do you make a modern Rayman game? Ubisoft developers Anais Dusautois and Christophe Villez answered the question during their lecture today at the Game Developers Conference.
First, to explain who Rayman is, the developers introduced a short video from Rayman's creator, Michel Ancel:
"The creation of Rayman was very simple," said Ancel, standing in the bright Montpellier daylight. "It was something I did when I was around 20. It was the character I wanted to make. He's a very simple and direct character. He's not talking, it's really about action. All the animation and design is done so you understand the character just by looking at it. It's not about storytelling; it's about a direct connection between you and the character."
For Rayman Origins, the recent current-generation revival of the character, the developers returned the franchise to 2D platforming. The perspective simplified the game's design and made playing with friends easier. According to Villez, they tried to mix the "magic" of the first Rayman with the complex technology that had been created since the first game's release. The result was UbiArt, an animation engine designed to help a small team produce gameplay graphics rapidly and easily.
The tool is particularly suited for 2D, allowing designers to place concept art into the game. The process begins with preproduction, where artists draw sketches and rough concept art. Artwork is then imported into the engine, where it can be manipulated.
At the beginning, the tteam didn't know what the character-design — the soul of a Rayman game — would look like. On a slide, he showed an image of what looked like a band of evil pirates and chefs. Over time, the fantastic, dream-like art style revealed itself.
"The more your design is realistic," he said, "the more you need drawings to make the animation, the more its difficult to stick to reality." He pointed to the 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon Ren & Stimpy as an inspiration for the specific cartoon style of Rayman Origins.
For an extended look at the UbiArt engine, watch this early demonstration: