Update: Ubisoft published a video of the Beyond Good and Evil 2 tech demo the developers showed off behind closed doors. You can see the video below.
The team behind Beyond Good & Evil 2 is here, watching me look at the beginnings of their ongoing dream. They've shown me the concept art, they've explained where they want the game to go, they've outlined the vision for the project. And when they get there, it'll be a grand experience. Right now, behind closed doors, Beyond Good & Evil 2 is currently a tech demo.
Beyond Good & Evil 2 director and designer Michael Ancel is showing me the scale of what the team wants to accomplish. The city shown in the teaser trailer is live onscreen, with a capital ship floating high above it, next to a massive statue of Ganesh. Ancel hits a button, and a smaller ship exits from the front. That ship flies a certain distance away and Ancel hits another button, causing the pilot - the monkey hybrid from the trailer - to exit.
What strikes me is the immediate shift in visual scale as the demo moves from capital ship, to quick strike craft, to pilot. Ancel flies around both ships with the pilot and the capital ship is huge in comparision. He flies to the Ganesh statue, landing on the top of it, and then zooms out to show how the scale changes. It's pretty awe-inspiring to witness the change.
"The story of the project is a bit complex," begins Ancel. "In 2005, we wanted to make the game. We failed after two years, because the process we had was like our other games. We'd design the character, the story. You'd start to make your character move into the environment. And then you scale up: the character's in the city, the city is on a planet, and then you realize that the technology is just impossible to make your game in the same way."
So Ancel and his team decided to work in the opposite direction. They crafted the solar system, then worked out the planets, then how to populate those planets with cities full of people and hybrids.
"Now we are in a position where it's going to be easier, because we are going to add the components, the more human-sized components," says Ancel. "But this demo is not about that, it's about size."
Beyond Good & Evil 2 is about that change you saw in the trailer. Moving from a small, seedy room, to the wide futuristic streets, the city, and then to the stars. The technology I'm seeing is about realizing that vision. The journey from one person to a pirate ship sailing the stars. Your pirate ship.
In a departure from the first game, Beyond Good & Evil 2 does not have a set main character. The intent is to let the player craft their own character, whether that's a human or a hybrid. You literally start from the bottom, with nothing but the skin on your back and a space tuk tuk. And then you grow, into the captain of a vast crew.
"You create your character," says Ancel. "You can be a human, hybrid, or whatever. The world will react differently depending on who you are.
As you move across the planet, you'll meet other characters. Each of them has their own story. As you help them, they may join your crew. Ancel and his team want you to feel like you're experiencing all these other stories in addition to your own.
Everything you do feeds back into the ship. The ship is your fingerprint, your marker for what you've done in the game. The captain's quarters and the desk of your craft will decorate with your spoils and the members you've added to your crew.
"Imagine, I'm starting the game. No ship, but I could infiltrate a ship like that," says Ancel, gesturing to the capital ship. "Maybe discover human trafficking, free someone, who then may become a member of my crew."
"[The ship] is the house of the player. I'm moving with my home. I've got my garage, I've got my old vehicle. Maybe when you start the game, you start with various small vehicles," says Ancel.
Photography will return in the sequel. Ancel wants players to be able to take pictures and use those pictures to find out more about the world and further objectives. If you take a picture of a ship, you might be able to take that picture to an NPC, who will tell you that the ship belongs to local pirates or a corporation. Pictures are a part of how investigation will work in Beyond Good & Evil 2. Ancel notes that "a picture is a very powerful tool."
Ancel changes the time of day and I notice that the planet in the background skybox shifts around. Because the simulation starts at the galaxy level, things like that happen naturally within the demo, instead of just changing the color of the skybox and the illumination.
He takes off in the smaller strike fighter. 3,000 KM per hour, 5,000 KM per hour, zipping across the planet. 20,000 KM per hour. As the ship goes faster, you see slight environmental effects start to touch it. Eventually, flying too fast in the atmosphere causes the ship to be engulfed in an orange haze, like a ship in reentry. And it's here that he pulls up and takes the ship into orbit. From up here, on the dark side of the planet, I can see the traffic patterns connecting cities. The transition here is completely seamless.
There's a lot of world logic that is going into the cities, planets, and solar system, but Beyond Good & Evil 2 should be about the story. The team wants to make sure that every planet has a grand tale. Ancel points towards the planet.
"We're testing out the editing of the planet to make it interesting. The planet has a story, it's not just an generated planet of something like that," explains Ancel. "The dark side is bombarded by asteroids. This is happening in real-time in the game."
People, the exploited miners, live on this side, dying as they mine valuable minerals from the asteroids. In a dev menu, they activate the asteroid impacts, so the destruction commences. The team wants to split the work of planet creation, with some work being computer generated, but everything backed up by someone that cares about the story being told.
"They risk their lives. We want to add a mythology, so that they believe the gods are sending the asteroids. The whole planet is built on the duality. Poor people taking risks and rich people taking the benefits of that. There is a story behind it, connected to the planet. It's dynamic."
Right now though, Beyond Good & Evil is at the starting line. There are no platforms right now. There aren't many assets. Anything can happen. The tech demo is proof of concept, where the team wants the game to head in the future. Development isn't that straightforward of a process though. We have no idea where Beyond Good & Evil 2 may end up.
"The reason why we are presenting the game at E3 is we now have the technology. We are confident we can make the game. We need to put all the assets and that's a lot of work. This iteration is now mature. It's running on consoles," Ancel says at the end of our demo.
Hopefully, the team brings the dream across the finish line, but that won't be anytime soon.