When you think of video games on the cutting edge of technology, you’d probably come up with titles such as Call of Duty or GTA.
You probably wouldn’t think of Ubisoft’s hit kids IP, Raving Rabbids.
Ubisoft’s mad-cap mini-game series may not push the graphical limits of the latest hardware, but it’s always amongst the first to try the latest tech, whether that’s cameras, touch screens or motion controllers.
And it was this thirst to experiment which resulted in the original Rayman Raving Rabbids on Nintendo Wii.
“In the past Rabbids were very connected to Nintendo’s platforms because we thought – and still think – we are connected to the same philosophy,” said Rabbids producer Xavier Manzanares.
“Nintendo was really open with the Wii to get a lot of people playing, such as kids, and that is what we wanted to do with Rabbids at the time.
“It is great to be connected to the first party’s philosophy, but it is also important for the brand to be connected to the technology itself. I want all of the teams to take the tech – whether it is a console or a device like mobile or a new 3D camera – and try to bring gameplay around it, so people understand the technology better.
“In the past it was really connected with Nintendo because it was bringing new experiences with new controller technology – and it’s still trying today. But now, with, 3D cameras, mobiles
and future devices, there are new things to explore.”
This idea of making use of the latest tech is what has fuelled the thinking behind this year’s Rabbids game. Or rather, sort-of game, because this November marks the launch of Rabbids Invasion – an interactive version of the Rabbids TV show.
“We started working on the prototypes last year,” says Manzanares. “When we saw the first episodes of the TV series, we thought it was perfect template for us to try something new.
“The first playtests we did with kids, the pre-Alpha version, was very positive. They thought it was really fun, flicking between TV show to very active gameplay.”
It sounds like a pretty simple project for the team at Ubisoft. The content has already been created in the form of the TV show and all the developers have to do is bundle in a few mini-games – an area it has no shortage of expertise in.
But it has been anything but simple, says Manzanares.
He says: “One of our first versions had almost seven minutes of full-on gameplay. That was because we wanted to put in everything we could at all times during the show. But in fact it turned out to be one of the worst versions we did because when we tested it, the kids were burned out after only two minutes.
“It is all about the rhythm, and we’re still polishing this part. This is a new genre, it’s not as if we can look at other games from other companies and see how they did it.
“So we almost went into an R&D period, which we didn’t think we needed to do at first because we saw this as just a party game mixed with a TV show.”
Rabbids Invasion: The Interactive TV Show will launch this November on PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The boxed release will feature all 26 episodes (or 78 segments) of the first season, and Ubisoft is already planning to create further downloadable episodes to coincide with season two.
There’s even a Rabbids movie set to come out in 2016. Although Manzanares isn’t convinced an interactive film will work.
“It’s not something we can apply directly because a movie can be two hours long. It’s a different experience,” he says. “But it is something we need to think about.”
Rabbids Invasion uses the camera functionality of PS4 and Kinect, and was first unveiled as an Xbox One projecta at E3 last year.
Since then there have been some changes – namely Microsoft’s decision to create a Kinect-free version of Xbox One.
“Everyone who bought an Xbox One until now has a Kinect,” says Manzanares. “But now that Microsoft has said it wants to remove it to put the price down – that clearly has an impact. And it is something we are looking into.
“But people will still buy the Kinect. And this game is a good way to promote Kinect.”
The Rabbids have a big few years ahead of it, with TV shows, films, games and other projects. Ubisoft has even expressed an interested in the toys-to-life genre.
Yet Rabbids Invasion may have an impact that goes beyond just Ubisoft. Interactive TV has been a concept that companies – such as Xbox – have discussed at length in recent years. The Rabbids have the chance to prove if it’s a concept that can really catch on.
“Interactive TV shows are a new thing that will become something global in the near future,” concludes Manzanares.
“We are learning every day. But we’ve seen Microsoft talk about what it is trying to do with Xbox One and Halo and everything they have in terms of licences and interactive TV concepts. So we know it is going to become something that will interest a lot of our players.”
LICENSING THE RABBIDS
From the moment the Rabbids came screaming onto Nintendo Wii, the series has been a big one for Ubisoft. It has sold almost 15m games worldwide. The TV series is shown in 25 countries, including a popular Saturday slot on Nickelodeon in the US, and boasts almost 300m views overall.
As a result, it’s become a licensing goldmine. There are Rabbids cards, comics, stickers books, food, Todd McFarlane toys and there’s even a themed attraction at the Futuroscope theme park in France.
“The licensing part is really connected to the production team and all the different studios and what we are trying to do within the games,” says Rabbids producer Xavier Manzanares.
“We want to make sure that there are no gaps between the licensing or marketing strategy and the games themselves. That means what we propose, whether it is a game or not, should be quality and should be something coming from the creative sides.
“We are not doing a lot of these licensed products just for the sake of it, it’s because people asked for it and it’s good to see them react in a really positive way.
“They want more Rabbids.”