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Xavier Poix runs Ubisoft France, overseeing the French game publisher’s three main studios in France. He is in charge of the Just Dance, Raving Rabbids, Rayman and Ghost Recon franchises. He said that his company always supports new game platforms and so Ubisoft will launch eight games for the Wii U. We caught up with him on Sunday in an interview. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
Xavier Poix: So just to introduce myself, I’m Xavier Poix, I’m the managing director of the French studios. We have three main studios in France. The biggest one is in Paris, where we do the Just Dance games, we do the Rabbids games, and we just finished Ghost Recon recently. We have another studio in Montpelier dedicated to action-adventure games. In the past, that’s Beyond Good and Evil, King Kong, Rayman, the Rabbids as well. They’re developing Rayman Legends, which will be shown at E3 this year. And another title called Zombie U, dedicated for Wii U, I’ll speak again about that. And the last studio is in Annecy, where we are developing the multiplayer for Assassin’s Creed, four years now. Each studio has its own specialty, but this year, what brings us to E3 is the Wii U. We have developed for two years now, working on a few titles. Game one is Zombie U that we’ll announce tomorrow I think, at our conference. That’ll be shown at the booth obviously. It’s dedicated for the Wii U, dedicated for the new game pad of course. And on the mature level, dedicated for adult gamers. We then have Rayman Legends, which is a Wii U exclusive title on the Rayman brand. Just Dance won’t be specific to the Wii U, but we have specific features for the Wii U, later on we’ll explain exactly what we will have. And the Rabbids, which is an exclusive game also, Rabbids is a party game, this is a party game for the Wii U. We also have other titles, coming from other studios. We have eight titles for the Wii U.
GamesBeat: Are you probably the biggest third-party publisher for the Wii U?
Poix: Yes, we will be. As we were at the launch of Wii, Ubisoft has always been at the launch of a new console, this is a role that we’re capable of playing. On the Wii we were first with Red Steel, the swordfighting game, and the Rabbids as well. We were able to capture a huge market share at launch that we kept over the years…
GamesBeat: You never had so many titles on one brand-new console before, though, right? Is that eight on one, is that a record…?
Poix: I think so? On the Vita we have some as well, but… Not all the eight titles will be coming at launch, though. What is interesting this time is that the console itself brings a new way of playing, thanks to the controls. All the games are really thought through with this controller in mind.
GamesBeat: A lot of people really wondered if it was going to inspire new kinds of games…
Poix: Yeah. Actually at first it’s quite surprising, when you pick up the controller. But then you start to think… It’s really interesting for the main activity of the player when you hold the controller. So Zombie U is really dedicated to that. It’s what the second screen can bring to the experience of a zombie survival game. We like to say that it’s two screens, twice the feel. So we’re getting a lot of what this new screen can bring to the tension, bring to the game. We have many features, it will be hard to describe them without showing it, but basically… It controls the inventory, the tools for snipers for instance, it can be more accurate on the firing. You can use it as a scanner, you can use it for some exotic gameplay when you need to enter some codes to move some stuff on your screen while your character is on the screen surrounded by zombies… So many features are for the main character. We’ll be showing it at the booth. It brings some new experiences, such as… It’s an asymmetrical experience. One of the players uses the usual controllers, the other one has the game pad. Of course, if you were playing adversarial on the same objective, then it won’t be fair, because one player has the tactical screen and stuff. So we decided to go for adversarial where… It’s very funny. One person with the classic controller plays FPS against the zombies. The other one is the zombie master, selecting types of zombies and, by pressing on the screen, making them appear on the maps. It’s very interesting. You’re the computer, so to speak, and the other player is playing against you. It’s a really new way of playing, it’s very interesting. The Rabbids game is totally dedicated to that as well, we have 20 mini-games dedicated to this activity of asymmetrical gameplay. It’s very funny, because once you have played one side, you can play as the other side. It’s two kinds of gameplay in one. That’s really what the Wii U can bring to players.
GamesBeat: Do you think… With the Wii it was so easy for casual gamers and such to learn to play tennis or whatever. Do you think with two screens, it’s going to be as easy for people, or is it going to be too complicated for some of the demographic that was attracted to the Wii?
Poix: It’s an interesting question. At first, that’s what you would think. There’s no more motion control, the very intuitive stuff. But you still have… You keep the Wiimote and you keep all the things that players know and are used to doing. The controller itself has some gyroscopic stuff, so you still have some acting, what we call acting, to do… It doesn’t replace it. It’s not something that will provide games to be as they were on the Wii… But the thing is, it brings a new role for some people. For instance, Just Dance, which is a very casual, broad-audience kind of game, we didn’t want to change the way we were playing Just Dance. It works like that, it’s very intuitive, people love it. So we stuck to playing with the Wiimote. But we’re adding a fifth player to the party, which is like the party master, the master of ceremonies. You know how there’s always one guy in the room who doesn’t want to dance, so he’s sitting on the couch… Now this one has the peripheral in his hand, he can select the next song, he can write on the screen, and that appears on the main screen, like a dedicated… He can give some points to players, like if he sees that someone isn’t doing too well, he can give them advice and stuff. It’s a new role that we created thanks to the controller. He can also use the camera to film and send some video afterwards. We also have one mode that’s really interesting, what we call the party master. The person on the game pad can select, while you’re dancing on the main screen, he can select new moves that are based on all the Just Dance games in the past. He can change the choreography in real time. Every 10 seconds you can choose new moves and send them to the other players. It’s really nice. I don’t know if I answered all your questions, but the intuitive nature of the motion controllers, because it’s still the Wii U, based on the motion controller, the Wii controller as well. But it adds a new layer to that, a new gameplay layer, which I think will be very interesting to hardcore gamers, because it really brings a new way of playing. But also, on the casual side, it brings some more depth to the game. It’s a good move.
GamesBeat: How many players can you get on the Wii U at once? Is it four or is it two…?
Poix: On the controller it’s just the one. One person. But you can still play with the four Wiimotes if you have four. So it adds up to five players.
GamesBeat: Did that seem like it was a disadvantage at first, because only one’s got the tablet?
Poix: I don’t think so. Because what the asymmetrical gameplay can bring… People are playing, we know from… Even if we built some games for four players, mainly you play with one or you play with two. So at least with one controller, you don’t still have just one player… It’s really a revolution in terms of gameplay. It’s not one against the other or one with the other, it’s, I’m doing something very different from my partner, but still we’re in the same world and the same game. That’s something really interesting. It’s not a disadvantage. And the best of all the games that are on the iPhone or other mobile games, tactical stuff, are brought… It’s stuff you couldn’t do before in the console market, obviously. Now you have this new layer that’s been added, it’s really cool.
GamesBeat: So why did you choose a zombie game as the main game for coming out…?
Poix: When we were experimenting with the new controller, we found that… The fact that you need to look at two screens, look at something on the controller… We found that you need to check what was on the main TV at the same time. So thinking about that, we went into the horror kinds of games, and zombies were something that we loved doing. The creative process led us to doing a game with zombies. And it’s really popular, so it worked out. The story will be based in London, because as you all know… It would be where an epidemic starts, in London after the Olympic Games. [laughs]
GamesBeat: Is it a realistic zombie, or a…?
Poix: Realistic, totally realistic. And the horsepower of the console is really there to push the limits.
GamesBeat: So it’s more hardcore, it’s not casual?
Poix: No, it’s totally hardcore. Yeah, sorry, totally hardcore. Oh, we have a really nice mechanic I can mention… You start with the camera in front of you on the controller. We’ve implemented a system of tracking, so it watches your face, and then it applies to your face a mask, a zombie mask. You’re able to still move, and the mask exactly follows your moves. It’s really interesting, seeing yourself as a zombie. It’s a gimmick, but it’s really nice.
GamesBeat: Is that like the Kinect Your Shape technology?
Poix: Actually, it’s very different, on a structural level, from the kind of stuff we can do with the Kinect. Because that sits very far from you, it’s a different approach. There, you know that you have the controller in your hands, so it’s easier for us to put this kind of…
GamesBeat: So it’s like a scanner, you can use the camera as a scanner to put objects into the game?
Poix: Well, the scanner is more like… I’m going along and I’m seeing that it’s very foggy around me. So I hold this up to the TV, and the zombies will appear. It’s that kind of scanner that you can use. It’s really funny, because it’s a new way of playing… Usually, once you get your hands on the pad, you don’t look at the pad anymore. Gamers just look at the TV. It’s very interesting, the way that sometimes you need this game pad to be part of the experience. You need to use it, you need to shake it. If you’re attacked by a zombie, you have this split-second stuff… We also have these tools that you can pick up… Like a shovel, for digging? We stay true to the motion gaming experience, which is nice, but we focus more on the reflex side. We’ve tested the zombie game with a lot of gamers, and we look at their natural moves, and we apply that in the game. It’s not so much that we want you to shake it because it could be… But we see players doing that, so then we decided that it’s a good feature.
GamesBeat: Do any of your games use the tablet for a shooter game on the screen? They showed it on their videos last year, where you would shoot with the Wiimote and then the tablet sits on top…
Poix: We have some prototypes that work with that. You use the gamepad as a screen, yes. Whether Nintendo’s tried it, I don’t know, but we do have that as a prototype.
GamesBeat: Do you have any shooter games that are lined up for the Wii U?
Poix: Zombie U is a shooter, basically a shooter.
GamesBeat: But it’s not using the Wiimote to shoot?
Poix: No, no, no… When you play alone, you only play with the new game pad, using all the features I was mentioning. It’s when you play multiplayer, where if you’re playing in the same room, one player is using it as the zombie master, putting the zombies on the map, and the others are playing with the usual standard pad. And what do you think about the Wii U? Are you excited about it?
GamesBeat: I think a lot of people want that second tablet controller to work at the same time. That would be great, right?
Poix: I don’t know, honestly I don’t know. What the asymmetrical gameplay brings, it’s really interesting. But I don’t think it’s totally necessary.
GamesBeat: Like, how do you play Madden?
Poix: With two players? Well, aysmmetrical is nice, one player is here and the other uses the Wiimote. But you’re right, if you want to do the same thing as your opponents, yes, one is missing. But then you can go online… I think at first it’s a question of price, the price point. But you need to render two screens at the same time, so it lowers the quality of one screen. If we were to add another one, it means that the processor needs to be working on three screens. It would lower, again, the quality.
GamesBeat: They need to spend more money on the processor… [laughs] Still, it sounds like it didn’t hold you back any.
Poix: Oh, no.
GamesBeat: Is the zombie title going to be a launch title, most likely?
Poix: Yes. We have huge support from Nintendo on this title, huge support. You’ll see something tomorrow at our conference, and then something else at the Nintendo one.
GamesBeat: Are you using this Miiverse in some way, the online part?
Poix: Yeah, we’re building stuff for all that, yeah. Actually, I don’t know if you’ve seen the video, but all the examples are about somebody who plays a zombie game, so… We’re supporting it a lot. So if I’m playing Zombie U and I can’t get rid of one specific zombie, I can direct with the controller, I go into the community and say, I’m totally blocked on this one, and all the other people from the community giving you answers. They really want to make sure that every gamer is connected to either friends or other gamers that are playing the same games. It’s a good strategy.