If there's any company that is utterly in love with the gigantic, AAA development model for games, it's Ubisoft. Amidst skepticism that this model is sustainable, Ubisoft's CEO has plainly stated that he believes gigantic development teams creating games with huge budgets is the industry’s future way. The Assassin's Creed series alone has ballooned into requiring hundreds of developers spread across multiple locations.
What, then, is Ubisoft doing publishing a small, downloadable 2D game with turn-based battles and a storybook graphical style? It's down to designer Patrick Plourde, who, after directing Far Cry 3, decided that he wanted to take a step back from blockbuster game creation. He is now leading the development of Child of Light, a title being made by a team of under forty people. It has been inspired by the lush paintings that once illustrated fairy-tale books and by early Final Fantasy titles from Squaresoft.
We don't know a lot about Child of Light yet, as the game will receive a larger and more detailed reveal in the near future. We know it's a 2D game built with the UbiArt Framework, the same engine used for Rayman Origins. This allows the designers to bring their fairy-tale art style to life directly. Imagine an early Final Fantasy game in which the characters actually look like the gorgeous concept art found in the manuals, and you'll get the look that Plourde is going for.
The game will be side-scrolling but will feature turn-based battles in the style of traditional JRPGs. It will tell a young woman's coming-of-age story, a traditional theme that has often been restricted to young men in the realm of video games.
In fact, an interesting facet of Plourde's plan is that his original aim was to create a game that was “soft, small, and feminine.” He wanted to avoid the extreme violence and (so-called) testosterone-driven gameplay that dominates the mainstream gaming scene. Plourde's description of his aim not only reflects the fact that those words aren't really an insult in French culture like they are in US English, it serves as a reminder for all of us to check our prejudices. I may be a long-time critic of the insipid titles that usually get labeled as “girl's games,” but if feminine development means creating games meant for everyone instead of an imagined audience of Mountain Dew-swilling man-children, then put me in a frilly pink dress and call me Princess Peach.
Plourde appears to be enjoying the ability to develop a game without the usual buzzwords required to sell large games to retailers or push small titles onto digital marketplaces. He cheekily noted that it will not be released on mobile platforms or be free-to-play. Although it's occasionally been difficult to keep the project going in a company that has a AAA development culture, it's also been helpful to be able to rely on the kinds of resources that Ubisoft can provide.
Child of Light is the kind of project we're used to seeing from small, independent publishers, but it's being put out with the backing of one of the largest game companies in the world. Does that mean that even in this brave, new generation of gaming, Ubisoft and its kin are making room for small games developed with whimsy and loving care alongside the big commercial releases? I, for one, certainly hope so.