I'm not quite sure what Beyond Good & Evil 2 is. In the behind-closed-doors presentation I was given, series creator Michel Ancel showcased the sum total of three years of work: an engine that serves as the foundation of an ambitious open-world galaxy filled with unique characters and personal stories.
This engine allows players to move from enclosed, densely detailed environments such as a seedy bar, into streets packed with characters--both human and NPC--then up into the sky, and out into space. And it makes it possible for this to happen seamlessly, without jarring transitions or a break in gameplay.
"This was the first dream that motivated us to delay the game," Ancel explains. "It was impossible to do this with the previous tech, and maybe we were not able to do it. But now we feel we can do it."
While the impressive trailer shown during Ubisoft's press conference is not at all indicative of the state of Beyond Good & Evil 2 right now, it does speak to Ancel's vision--one where you can double-cross a sloppy-looking pig mobster, hijack a ship, and disappear into the depths of space, landing on another planet to meet brand-new characters and explore entirely new cultures.
"This feeling of freedom, travel, and vehicles are part of what we did with [the first] Beyond Good & Evil. They give a different approach and vision of the same world. [In Beyond Good & Evil] you start with Jade's house, very small, and then you realise the world is much bigger.
"I think everyone that loves science fiction loves that feeling of freedom and exploration, the unknown, and the things beyond. They can be frustrated if science fiction is limited to tiny places. Part of the idea of the game is that you have strong characters, you have tiny places like the restaurant, but … you realise that you're in a bigger city, a bigger place. We wanted to give this feeling of scale [city to planet]. Everything is seamless and everything is in the same world."
Despite the ambitious scale of the world, Ancel and his team emphasise that the sequel will still be about meeting and investing in characters. At multiple points in the presentation, Ancel repeated the phrase "the treasure is in meeting others," which no doubt is a more alluring phrase in his native French, but the sentiment still carries in English.
"We really believe that [strong] characters are key for our game," another developer said. "They represent a lot of emotions but also the history, the culture, and the origins. Just by looking at one character you can imagine other things.
"Our universe is very diverse: you can have hybrids, you've got normal people, you've got weird people, big mechs. We want to make that science-fiction stuff relatable. You'll want to meet these guys because they're weird and they look cool."
Beyond Good & Evil 2 will be about allowing players to live out that fantasy of getting lost in a science-fiction world, where each new person is weirder than the last, so much so that you simply cannot resist talking to them, learning about their past, and recruiting them to your cause--whatever it may be.
The room in which our presentation took place was adorned with concept art for the game and, I must admit, my eyes were drawn to the striking design of some the characters. There was a large muscular anthropomorphic tiger, a shaggy-haired man wearing body armour and wielding a rifle, a dour-looking lady holding a fat baby pig. With just a single glance, I wanted to know more about them, to learn their backstories, and figure out what makes them tick.
However, none of that is actually in Beyond Good & Evil 2 right now. According to Ancel, development is still very much at day zero, so all they have is a vast but barren world and a floating spaceship so large that it houses another ship in it, which you can fly if you're so inclined.
There's also that mischievous foul-mouthed cockney monkey that mounts a caper in the trailer. He popped out of the ship equipped with a jetpack and proceeded to fly around in the sky, hovering next to the ship to drive home the difference in scale between them, then heading down to street level to potter about.
As Ancel said, development on the game itself has barely started. With the tech in place, the team is just starting to think about writing characters and narratives. Which begs the question: why show a game that, in many ways, doesn't exist? The answer to this muddied my understanding of what Beyond Good & Evil 2 was and ultimately left me questioning whether it's the follow-up that passionate Beyond Good & Evil 2 fans have been clamouring for.
"We could have presented this game with a completely playable demonstration, but we had this idea to show it now because we want to let people see how we are going to build the game. The steps before this are not very interesting, [they're] very technical, but now we can explain how we are building the world. We want to build prototypes and let people download and play them so they can test them.
"And you can play online, so for example we expect to make prototypes of different modules in the game, let people play, give feedback, and they can even build their own ship since we have this very flexible customisation system. You can even create your faction or gang with colours and these things and share them. We want people to participate, and our dream would be to come back in one year with all this absolutely playable and polished in a demonstration. We'd love to have people have that feeling that they're helping and participating in making this possible."
The Space Monkey Program, as it's officially known, is Ubisoft's "way of inviting passionate members of the community to be the first to play, to share ideas and inspirations, and to crash test all of the creative and gameplay elements that make up [Beyond Good & Evil 2's] game world: as early and as often as possible."
The early-access esque approach to development, the online aspects of the game, and the fact that players create a character instead of having one crafted by the developers has left me more concerned about Beyond Good & Evil 2 than excited. I will admit, much of this is also due to my expectations, but of all the things I expected it to be, an online multiplayer game designed and tested by the public at large was not one of them. It's early days for the game, and hopefully in time we'll have some more clarity on what Beyond Good & Evil 2 is and how Ancel and Ubisoft are approaching development.