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RayMan M - Project Managers Interview...

by Rainier on Nov. 5, 2001 @ 2:57 p.m. PST

Since we have been reporting about RayMan M quite a few times lately we at the WP staff decided to put on our cloak cape, infiltrate in the Ubi Soft Development studio and sneak up on RayMan M Project Managers Riccardo Lenzi & Arnaud Carrette... Still in cloak they had no idea who we were ... and bared all ... (thats why we did not include any photo's .. it was a horrifying sight).. Njoy!

Very briefly, could you tell us who's on the team?

Two teams are working in close collaboration on the development of Rayman M, separated according to their own expertise:

1.Italian Team:

  • Graphics: Davide Rupiani
  • Animation: Mauro Perini
  • Graphics and Animation Supervisor: Jean-Marc Geffroy
  • Game Design: Davide Soliani and Benoit Macon
  • Engine Development: Tiziano Sardone
  • AI Development: Alain Bedel
  • Menu Development: Francesco Cavallari
  • Sound Design: Davide Pensato
  • Data Management: Enrico Moretti

2.French Team:

  • Graphics :
    * David Garcia - Graphic Director
    * Corinne Billon - Lead Artist
    * Avlamy Ramassamy - Technical adviser
    * Animation : Olivier Derynck
    * Game Design : Philippe Blanchet
    * Engine Development : François Mahieu & Dominiquer Duvivier
    * AI Development : Jean- Vincent Segard
    * Sound Design : Gregoire Spillman
    * Artistic adviser : Manu Bachet

How long have you been developing the game so far? How many people are working on it?

We began designing RAYMAN M in early 2000 with a reduced team of 6 people in Montreuil and a team of 8 in Milan. In June 2000, the teams were enlarged so that we could make a start on the model of the project.

In September 2000, the whole team got together to start producing the game. In all, there were 25 people in Montreuil and about the same number in Milan.

This somewhat unusual work organization had a more than positive effect on the quality of the game. Basically what happened was that when the hot-blooded Italians and the proud French developers confronted each other, a real spirit of competition flamed up between the two teams - each trying to outdo the other!

How do you take advantage of the synergies which appear when 2 different teams work out a project together?

We chose to centralize the engine development in Montreuil: 3 Italian developers went there for several months, joining the engine team.

At the same time, Milan took care of all the menu development and realization.

We shared the work on animation, dividing the character animation kits between Milan and Montreuil. We also shared textures, sound FXs and music…We're always testing each other's work, as soon as it's ready, to get constant feedback and synergy going between the two teams.

Where did the original concept for Rayman M come from?

When we were finishing the debugging of Rayman 2 Dreamcast, Serge Hascoët - our chief editor - noticed that during the Rayman 2 tests (and even when testing the first Rayman), the testers played around by setting themselves a lot of different challenges. Things like finishing a game level as quickly as possible, shooting the maximum number of pirates in the minimum amount of time, and so on. So there we had the initial idea for Rayman M. It was crystal clear. There was no need for a go-kart to have fun in multi-player mode!! Rayman's animations, and the range of possibilities in terms of movement, action and control, naturally led us to consider a game concept that exploited all these opportunities to the full - from shooting to racing!

So what were Rayman M's main development objectives?

From the word 'Go', we wanted to throw all our efforts into the gameplay. The engineers, the graphic designers, the game designers and animators, all the members of the team worked to that end - to serve the gameplay.

The real challenge lay in developing the gameplay, the rules of the game, the balancing of the game in multiplayer mode, the frame rate, the length of life for single player mode and the quality of level designs.

We had one slogan: 'Get back to pure gameplay thrills!'

We wanted the players to get good old 'finger cramps' again in race mode, with its frantic pace, sequence-linking, game levels with several paths and interactive universes. Plus a nice tachycardiac heartbeat in arena mode, with epic combats, all kinds of projectiles and real tension in the confrontations.

So that's why we tried to develop as many innovations as possible to meet our own demands at the gameplay level. At the same time, we had to live up to the high technical and artistic standards of the Rayman series.

How is this game going to exceed the expectations of Rayman fans and grab the attention of a new public?

Rayman fans will find it's got everything that made Rayman famous: a fast gameplay, a variety of possible actions, lush, really cool graphics and finely-detailed animations, plus barrels of laughs!!

But, most of all, they're going to find a radically new approach in multiplayer mode. All the actions, controls and game levels have been fashioned with a view to creating a spirit of competition.
For example in the race mode, on each circuit there are several possible tracks, each with its own level of difficulty. All the controls are analog so the player can pick up a few precious hundredths of a second by jumping to the right height or grabbing the rope. The anti paf, the accelerated start, the boost, the roll and the sliding boost have been added, and they make a great difference to the players, helping them win that extra second which separates victory from defeat … and, most of all, letting them use the pad to maximum effect. Lastly, the more cunning players can lay traps, make platforms move or block paths to make life tricky for their opponents.

I'm convinced this game won't only please Rayman fans. It's a game that'll delight any player who's looking for new multiplayer games that are well-paced and instant fun.

What's innovative in Rayman M?

First of all, the richness of the experience. Rayman M has two distinct and complementary game modes. There's the shooting mode, which is all about sheer fun and direct confrontation. Then there's the racing mode, where skill and the competitive spirit are strongly enhanced. Each of these game modes has been developed with 2 different teams to explore all the possibilities and exploit these two original ideas to the utmost
=> Serve the "back to pure gameplay thrills" objective

The other innovation, without a doubt, comes out of the diversity of actions in the game, and the wealth of possibilities they open up. Our starting-point was to re-work all the characters to make them into real competition characters. When we were studying Rayman's behavior, we realized that his action potential is huge. He can jump, run, use boosts, grapnels, shoot, slide, etc.

So we tried to optimize all Rayman's animation parameters to make things go faster and to create a sense of competition through the animations, amongst other things.
The animations are first conceived and designed on paper, then we work with a home-made tool: an A3D, which allows us to create a lot of animations that are compatible with the game constraints (the number of frames, speed, axis, deformation, etc.) in a really flexible way.
The animations all use skin deformation, which makes for great new movements, far more vivid and realistic than traditional bone animations. For example, Globox is able to stretch and inflate.

We re-worked all the characters' basic movements:

  • Work on characters' pace and appearance in the course of a the race
  • Definition of trajectories
  • Off-the-ground movements
  • Control quality when sliding and coherence of movement
  • Speed of motion between jumps, grapnel lums, rock-climbing, etc.
  • The ability to target and strafe
  • Camera movements in shoot mode for rapid movements and the apprehension of the environment
  • Projectiles: each projectile has a precise purpose in a precise situation

We wanted to make the most of all of our character's resources in the level design. That's why character animations allow them to adapt completely to variations between the different universes and take full advantage of those differences (rock-climbing, flying, shooting flying lums to take the quickest route or block one's opponent, etc.).

While working on the characters' general behavior, we also endeavored to define the best level design for an addictive and tricky action game.
Game designers worked for several months on the level design in one objective: create the level design that will push the gamer to master the gameplay: game controls, characters animations potential, tracks environment, weapon system, characters collision…..

The development created also the rules of the game and the game structure with the same end in view - emphasize a strong, lasting and exiting sensation of competition: how to make the gamer playing the longer as possible. We had to define the fixed constraints on level design:

  • Suitable circuit lengths
  • Minimum/maximum number of laps
  • Arenas size for stressing battles
  • Rythm of obstacles spread in the game
  • Game learning curve: evolving difficulty through the various world
  • Different competition modes (lum springs / time attack / target, etc.)
  • What do you have to do to win?
  • Controls mastery
  • Interaction with the décor, etc.

In fact, the animations concern not only the game characters but also all 'actor' objects and elements on the map, such as brambles, cannons, kegs, removable walls, switches, etc. These elements make the levels more difficult at certain points and players' do tend to get blocked, thus increasing the spirit of competition. They also require the player to have perfect command over his character and the controls so as to avoid obstacles and go faster, or be quicker than his opponent in shoot mode.

  • Powers & weapons management
  • Circontancial tags
  • Discover and use bonuses & power ups
  • Rewarding system
  • Pure game tactics
  • Learning menu….

The actions and environment in Rayman are sumptuous and varied in possibility - and it all goes along at a furious pace in a game packed with features and richly-detailed game levels.

An important feature of this game seems to be its life-span. The player really has the chance to make progress, depending on the time he spends playing the game, as in any sport simulation. Experience pays off ?

The spirit of competition also has to be sustained by a game structure that's designed with that single objective in mind. That's why we've always tried to create a genuine learning curve in Rayman M, so the player always wants to take things further, pushing his mastery of the game to the limits.

So we had to set up a developing scale of difficulty across the worlds you travel through (from Crypt to Factory). The player isn't up to tackling Factory mode until he's had sufficient training in the previous modes. In shoot mode, the various powers are also distributed in a progressive manner.

There was a sufficiently large number of game levels and words for us to develop a reward system. The rewards fuel the game's system of progress. The player sees his development in race or shoot mode, but also his global development in the game as a whole. Messages come up as the game goes along, telling the player where he is and what he still has to accomplish to move forward and make progress. This need to control the environments and game structure also helps make the competition even stiffer in multiplayer mode.

How advanced is the AI in the game?

The development of the game's artificial intelligence was a long project and a challenge of the highest level. At the outset, the first thing we did was to consult several AI programming specialists at Ubi Soft, to knock around ideas about the various possibilities provided by our engine and the roads we could go down. We've used one of the most difficult artificial intelligence systems, but it's brought real advantages.

Very early on, we decided to give our autonomous characters the ability to take decisions and interact with the player. Our 'bots' (to hark back to good old Quake!) can get all worked up or calm right down, depending on the size of the gap between them and the player. In a stressful situation, the bot will take the most risky paths of action, without necessarily feeling confident of success, and this will give him a stronger likelihood of gaining ground. Conversely, a bot who's in first position might play safe by taking the paths that are easiest to access, but which are also the slowest. Naturally, an expert bot doesn't suddenly become a novice. He simply reacts, and he's almost as faithful to reality as a human player.

Getting this system going was a tough programming job, and it involved a lot of work on the settings and production. For each game level, a multitude of possible networks had to be created to deal with all eventualities: falling off a path, the appearance of a platform, the opening of a wall, etc. The characters also had to be given reflexes so that - like the player - they can jump over rolling kegs, or avoid an obstacle that suddenly crops up.

Lastly, the bots can actually trap the player by using switches deployed on the maps.

Fluidity is one of the main factors to master in such a game. How did you fulfill your objective on this score?

As far as fluidity is concerned, this is a job for all the team. One of the main worries for everyone working on the project has always been the frame rate. The fluidity reflects the quality of the graphics, the programming of artificial intelligence and the design.

I think that, over many months of development, we managed to get one of the most powerful graphics engines around. Today, we're using the graphics engine from Dinosaur PS2, but it's 150-200% more powerful. When production started, with identical information, the game used between 4 and 5 frames in 4 viewports (a nice slide show that you could control with a pad). Now, in 80% of all cases, the game runs at 60 images per second in 1 or 2 viewports. Our aim is that, on release, 100% of the game levels will be below the frame in 1 or 2 viewports and the game will run at 30 images per second in 4 viewports.

Enormous progress has been made, and this enables us to refine the modeling work and use costly techniques like multitexturing, spos (mobile elements in the décor) and special effects, without having to count that cost.

The game design also motivates a keen spirit of competition and a taste for constantly taking up challenges and busting through the score thresholds - this, thanks to the reward and gratification system, and the rules of the game.

What are the special technical advances you've made in graphics?

Naturally, we've done some radical work on the performance of our display engine under PS2. All our animations were done using the skin deformation technique. Our décors have lightmaps, and our graphic designers could indulge their appetites for mixing layers of textures, using transparencies and multitexturing almost without limit. The special effects are also a real plus, emphasizing the action or bringing life and realism to the décors.

For us, the final visual result prevails over technical questions. It's about bringing décors to life, creating inventive universes, finding the right light, refining the textures, and so on.

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