Beyond Good and Evil 2 is real. But what does that even mean?
More than you might think, based on Ubisoft’s decision to reveal it with little more than a trailer and a sign-up program. There was no gameplay, no release window, not even a sense of what the moment-to-moment experience is meant to feel like.
Later that same day, a small handful of media folks were invited to see exactly what Michel Ancel and his team at Ubisoft Montpellier have been up to. Turns out, quite a bit. And they were more than happy to talk about it.
Here are answers to some of the pressing questions that have surfaced since the game was announced.
It’s a prequel that sets up the universe
Beyond Good and Evil introduced Jade, Pey’j, and the rest of the gang, but the follow-up sets the clock back to roughly one generation earlier. The actual story isn’t plotted out yet, but establishing a lore for this universe is a big part of the writing process.
Sometime in the 22nd century, China and India emerged as Earth’s great superpowers. It was those nations, then, that led humankind’s first extraplanetary colonization efforts — and their cultural influence is evident in the settlements that sprung up over the subsequent centuries.
Take the one planet we did see, which features the sprawling, multi-level Ganesha City — the main feature of which is a massive statue of the elephantine Hindu god for which the city was named.
The hybrid human/animal creatures that appeared in the first game (such as the dude-pig Pey’j) also have their origins in this colonization effort. Earth’s greatest scientific minds hatched a way to engineer these beings, for the purpose of withstanding the rigors of living and working in hostile alien environments.
In short: the hybrids are genetically-engineered slave labor.
In the case of Ganesha City, full-blown humans dwell in the upper regions while hybrids make a home in the lower levels — and they’re not welcome up top. There’s a logic at work here — the slaves are forced to live apart from "civilized" society — and that’s one of the larger goals in Beyond Good and Evil 2.
Every planet in the game is meant to be fully explorable, and the things you find there — the cities, smaller settlements, ruins, wilderness, weather patterns, and crater-pocked wastelands — are all dictated by the fictional history that created them.
This influences more than just the planets. Consider the slave-race of hybrids. These are thinking beings and they obviously don’t love the idea of being oppressed. Many of those that have clawed their way to freedom choose a life of piracy, since it’s corporate interests that spurred extraplanetary colonization and hybrid development in the first place.
Customization is a big part of this game
Beyond Good and Evil followed the adventures of a fully-defined individual — Jade — but the intent with this follow-up is to put players in control of their own story as much as possible. That starts with your character: she or he is a custom creation, right down to their race, ethnicity, and species.
Over time, your character levels up and unlocks new abilities. This, too, is built around letting players choose their play style. You’ll have access to some manner of skill tree that branches off in a variety of directions, giving you the ability to decide what kind of space adventurer you’d like to control.
Your ship — or, really, ships — is also an expression of your identity. Everyone starts out in the same place: no money, no job, minimal means of transportation. You’ll have a jetpack, but that’s pretty much it.
As you progress, you gain access to larger and larger ships. There are fighter-sized spaceships that are great for localized scouting, high-speed combat, and the like, and then there are freighter-sized ships that serve as more of a mobile home. You can even park your smaller ships there.
You can customize everything from the paint jobs to physical features on the interior and exterior. Want a freighter that’s better-suited to defense? You can do that. Alternatively, you can turn your home into more of a warship.
Of course, a ship — especially a large one — is nothing without its crew. Bringing new beings on board is another mark of progression in Beyond Good and Evil 2. Each one — human or hybrid — brings their own story/history and their own skills. Mass Effect and its crew loyalty missions and abilities feel like a good touchstone here; that’s how your crew functions in this prequel.
There’s one other piece to this choose-your-own-space-adventure puzzle: multiplayer. Beyond Good and Evil 2 will be an online-enabled game. The dev team hasn’t yet decided if cooperative play will apply to the story, but there will be reasons for friends to connect and play together.
It’s further along than you think
Development on Beyond Good and Evil 2 began three years ago.
Think about that for a moment. Many modern games take around that long to build, from start to finish. But in this case, Ubisoft Montpellier is really just getting started… and the engine is a big reason for that.
For those unfamiliar with game development: think of the engine as a software foundation; Unreal and Unity are well-known examples. It’s a collection of tools that you use to build whatever it is you’re working on. For Beyond Good and Evil 2, the team opted to start from scratch with a custom engine of their own design, largely because of the project’s scope.
The intent is for a seamless experience in the game’s play spaces. If you’re standing in the middle of Ganesha City, you should be able to jetpack over to your fighter, then dock the fighter in your freighter, then fly the freighter up out of the atmosphere and on to another planet or system — all without ever hitting a load screen.
Anyone who checked out Ubisoft’s behind closed doors demonstration before E3 got to see a technical test. But there’s already a rough, actual build of the game that includes one planet and an assortment of activities — including buying and customizing ships, exploration, and online connectivity.
While there isn’t a finalized number of planets, the finished game will give players more than just the one to explore — and from what I saw, every inch can be explored.
A word of caution
Hearing Ancel and the rest of his team talk about Beyond Good and Evil 2, it’s hard not to get caught up in their infectious enthusiasm. That said, the scope of what they want to do with this prequel is tremendous.
The game definitely won’t be here soon, but more importantly: some of the ideas discussed above might not make the final cut. And others that never got a mention might appear as well/instead.
This is why publishers try to avoid revealing games too early: ambitious ideas don’t always survive the cold, hard touch of reality. It’s dangerous to build hype for features that may or may not be real.
So why did it happen here?
That’s where Beyond Good and Evil 2’s "Space Monkey Program" comes in (you can sign up at bgegame.com). Participants will be invited to share in the development process, though what exactly that process will look like hasn’t been fully nailed down.
The intent, however, is to engage interested individuals with story details, feature plans, and — in some, as-yet-unclear cases — prototypes and early builds. Ancel and his team want to democratize the development process to a certain extent, allowing Beyond Good and Evil 2 to be shaped by what fans want.
A cynic’s view of such a program assumes that the Montpellier crew doesn’t know where to go with this game. In all likelihood that’s at least partially true — but after sitting with them for an hour, it’s clear that, at the very least, there’s a strong sense of what the playable foundation should be.
What’s more: Ancel and company are almost certainly holding back many of the ideas they have in mind and details that aren’t quite mapped out yet. Ubisoft’s limited pre-E3 meetings for Beyond Good and Evil 2 weren’t really a preview; instead, they served to make a point: this game is happening, and you’re going to see more of it — in some form — sooner than you think.