Frederic Houde (Ubisoft) – Interview

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Think of your favourite ever platformers. Is Rayman on there? Of course it is! It’s a pleasure to introduce our Adrian’s chat with the game’s co-creator Frederic Houde!!

 

 

How did you get the opportunity to work for Ubisoft?

My best friend Frederic Markus worked on a game called Starush for Amiga, Atari ST & PC while I was finishing my military obligation. Then, I tried an approach to join the team.  We had a strategy to show something big to Ubisoft to be able to make another (console) version, me as the main programmer. We decided to show a huge boss on the Amiga platform, something the current programmer for this game was not capable of… Ubisoft had no more than 50 employees at this time. I remember showing my Game Boss Demo to Yves (best Big Boss on earth), he told me “ok, I don’t know the project you will work on but here’s some money, consider yourself working for Ubisoft 😉 it was the beginning of my career.

 

Tell us a bit more about the first game you worked on…

I ended up making ZODIAC (Starush inspired) on the Sega Mega Drive. It took me a year and a half, with Laurent Cluzel as graphic artist, making the engine, coding the tools, alone in my apartment… No internet at this time… The game was 100% finished, but Sega Mega Drive began to slow down at that time and unfortunately Ubisoft decided not to release the game. Only 2 roms exist at this time, Laurent’s and mine. Maybe someday I will give to the Mega Drive Emulator Scene a copy 😉 (yes please Fred!!!! – Ed)

 

 

Yourself and Michel Ancel created the now iconic Rayman. What inspired you to create this character?

Michel created the character! Artistically inspired by the rendering tools that pop up at this time (understand 3dsMax), the very smooth 60Hz animation was something that was very impressive at that time when other games used full size sprites that animate at 5 fps.

The feeling was incredible and we decided to build a world for this character. Since we were fans of technology, Rayman World was first supposed to take place in a computer (graphical chip, sound&music chip, electric (unreleased) chip… but we were also fans of nature that we wanted a forest/jungle that does not really make sense but who cares, we love it 🙂 . Our models at that time was Konami’s Mystical Ninja, Disney’s Mickey Magical Quest and Capcom’s Ghouls and Ghosts.

 

Rayman came out at the same time as many (rather forgettable) platformers. Why do you think Rayman is still so popular today and did you ever dream your character would spawn so many future hit titles?

Of course not! We spent most of our student lunch time in arcades and we learnt a lot! We were/are fan of Japanese console games so we knew how our videogames should look like. We are both very passionate and exigent people. Also we choose a good company that decided to build a development department with Rayman as their first title. I think this success is a mix of chance and hard work. Rayman gamess are very generous, fun and challenging… but not perfect!

 

 

Rayman was initially made as an Atari Jaguar exclusive. Why did you choose this console and how easy was it to program on?

Originally, Rayman was supposed to ship on SNES CD. Unfortunately this device was cancelled or at least reserved to Japan. We had to choose another support or die 😉

We had the opportunity to go with 3DO or Atari Jaguar. We decided to go with the Jaguar because it was the only one that apparently could run games at 60fps.

It was mandatory for us, as the game uses full screen scrolling. Of course as the PSX popped up, Ubisoft had to release the game for this console that surpassed all we previously knew.

Regarding the Jaguar, it was a 68000 processor that I knew quite well (Amiga, Mega Drive) and the hardware was quite cool to work with (no memory map, video processor could display data from anywhere in the memory). The only problem I had was « too many graphical sprites at the same position nearly stopped the main processor » « the debugging tool was first on Atari Falcon but it lacked many features compared to PC, SNES or Mega Drive’s dev kit ».

 

Many people still class the Jaguar version as the best original Rayman. In your opinion, which is the best Rayman and why?

I remember tweeting boss or character animation exclusively for the Jaguar as I notice problem. So in the polish department I think the Jaguar wins. On the other hand, PSX version has CD music quality plus the sliding features. Let’s say it’s a draw!

 

You have worked on a few future Rayman titles. Do you have a personal favorite game in the series?

My favorite is the first one as it was my first platformer and every little step was a big win. I can remember laughing hysterically with Michel when the first NPC was walking on the ground with a smooth animation. Team work is very motivating!

I do love Rayman 2 a lot since it uses 3D and we learnt a lot from it!

 

 

Can you please reveal the story behind the recently surfaced SNES version of Rayman?

It’s quite incredible. I had this development cartridge for so many years, under the dust, the e3 pictures, the cables of my little desk drawer unit that moved for local to local. On the cartridge the nearly erased word raydem… For all those years I was thinking it was the Raiden rom that I burned for fun. But it was not and when I understood it I decided to give it to our young geek Stephane Signorini from BGE2 to check it out. I had no expectation “the ROM is erased for sure !”. I received the first screenshot the next weekend, we created a video… it was one of the three demos we burned for an internal meeting. I found another one but the third one does not want to launch! (noooo!!! – Ed)

 

With StarFox 2 finally getting released and the huge resurgence in retro gaming, are you tempted to complete the SNES version of Rayman and sell it to the public?

For sure no 😉 Times fly so fast, I did not have enough time. BGE2 needs a lot of hard work, and my little family needs some time 😉

So definitely no for the SNES version 😉 (ahhhhhhhh – Ed)

 

You also worked on the excellent Beyond Good and Evil. What was it like working on this title and do you think this game received all the plaudits it probably deserved?

It was the game we all dream about, a mix between Zelda our all-time favorite game and Indiana Jones in a fantasy world. We had the chance to get the people we wanted on this project, and we organized how we wanted to build the game. The team was very talented.

I think we achieved a game with a strong storyline, something cool to play but perhaps not to replay. Ubisoft did not push that much marketing on it so it did not help.

Even if it appears to be a mixed success, I love this game and it was very cool to work on it.

 

 

You mentioned earlier you’re involved with the sequel, do you have any ideas on what we can expect to see?

We have huge ambitions, I hope not too much ! Expect BGE1 ADN in a modern open universe.

A game with a strong story, an RPG system that will allow you to start as an unknown pirate, get weapons, steal a small ship, hack frigate or mothership to discover new planets, people and turn legendary with your online friend.

 

Sounds amazing! What are your top three video games of all time and why?

Zelda “Link to the Past” (in Japanese because in French it was too easy) it was the apogee of the SNES videogames. I do love the modern Switch Breath of the Wild, but the SNES game is perfection to me.

Konami’s Gradius Series (from MSX to arcade) mostly because of the option system and the level design. But I must admit I deeply hesitate, with shooters Ikaruga & Radiant Silvergun (both of those are great! – Ed).

The Soul Series (DarkSoul3/Bloodborn and even Nioh) those games turn me into a videogame addict again. Great atmosphere, huge challenges, fantastic level design, epic bosses and characters, nice hidden tricks.

 

Frederic, it’s been great to have you here at Arcade Attack. One more question for you before go, and the most important question, if you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?

It’s quite hard to answer…

I think it would be Donkey Kong JR (Game&Watch). I think it’s one of the first portable videogames I ever played. I loved it soooooo much… everywhere… He planted the videogame’s seed in my mind and it’s still growing. Furthermore, he lives in the jungle/nature that I do love a lot… he probably met Tarzan!

Also It’s from Nintendo, the best gameplay creator in the universe, I’m sure he will give me some tips on how to create a memorable videogame! (we think you’ve already done that Fred… – Ed)

 

Adrian

2 Comments on “Frederic Houde (Ubisoft) – Interview”

  1. Awesome to see a interview in regards to the co-creator of one of my Top 3 Jaguar titles 😀 Excellent work guys!

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