The second day's keynote at this week's Lyon GDC has provided attendees with a postmortem of the creative process behind Ubisoft's Rayman Raving Rabbids franchise, exploring how the series has evolved over time to represent 'party comedy entertainment' that embodied the qualities of Nintendo's Wii platform.
Ubisoft Montpelier's product manager Loic Gounon started proceedings, explaining how the idea for the game design, originally a PS2 action adventure Rayman sequel, was impacted by outside influences - namely the evolution of the Raving Rabbid character designs and the arrival of the Nintendo console.
"[An action adventure] was the game we were supposed to develop, but very quickly things moved on," said Gounon, explaining that CG X-movies that defined the craziness of the titular bunnies were key to the evolution of the game helping the studio establish "codes" for the rabbit characters' behaviour and animation.
As the game was in preproduction during early 2006, the team at Montpelier was originally aiming to make a title that focused on PS2, given that at that point they were without a Wii devkit. However as time went on it became clear that "the game naturally translated to the Wii", matching with the 'mania' of the rabbits Rayman was supposed to be battling against. "It's a system where everything is about moving. It fits the rabbits like a glove," he said, explaining how the studio quickly readapted their plans for a Rayman sequel into a title that eventually stood on its own.
Gounon said that the key success factors for the game were its mix of humor, showcasing the Wiimote, and social fun, although it seems that the first Raving Rabbid title's development was more hasty than the team would have liked given its 'hybrid brand' movement between PS2 and Wii; Gounon conceded that there was still "lots of room for innovation", but that roughly 1.5m sales and its status of being a Top 3 Wii title meant that the team could take a more focused approach for the sequel, which was specifically developed for Wii and DS.
This ultimately gave them more freedom, he argued. The team chose not to make or announce a PS2 version when it came to the follow-up because of the machine's large installed base, "it would be very difficult to cancel the PS2 version for business reasons".
For the second game, Ubisoft Paris' creative director Nicolas Normandon, who oversaw the initial game's production and is now producer on the follow-up, explained that with a pure focus on Nintendo platforms, the team was able to similarly focus its aims, and address what it meant to create 'rabbit humour'. The team chose to focus on parody and representing views that clashed with the real world to create humour - "all to set up a comic situation".
The focus on minigames helped encourage this further, said Normandon, with the entire development team for the second game enlisted with devising new ideas for games. "All the developers contributed minigame ideas," he explained, adding that this meant the structure of the production was slightly different to most titles: "There wasn't really a design phase, it ran all through production." Eventually, the team devised 300 potential games which were whittled down to those in the final game.
Each minigame had to stick to two of four criteria - absurdity, transgression, parodying something forbidden, or sabotage. The last point was envisioned so that "players could push each other in-game but also shove each other on their sofas", bringing the on-screen action into players' homes. Each game also had to be built with both single player and multiplayer elements involved.
Normandon demonstrated key ideas that embodied either 'transgression' elements, games which showed spitting or answering a mobile phone in a cinema. The latter encourages players to hold the Wiimote like a phone, an element that was key to the game's accesibility, because "anyone can understand that, which makes it fun".
Despite this process and structure for the minigames and the focus on Wii and DS for the second game, however, Gounon added that the real secret to the success of the Raving Rabbids brand was its lack of constricting structure: "There was no real method, no black or white - it was more as the opportunities came up."
Going forward, the development team plans to develop the Raving Rabbids brand further, but "We're trying to convince the management to allow us freedom with the Rabbids. We want to get the right balance and not just make 150 minigames."
This may even mean a future without the Rayman prefix, although that doesn't mean the team has forgotten their roots. When asked by an attendee if the will always need Rayman to sell the game Gounon said "Frankly, no. But this is because the Ramyn character has his own potential, but in his own game. We think that the two brands can develop in their own ways - so we haven't forgotten Rayman."