About a year ago, two long-time Ubisoft employees left the company to strike out on their own. Louis-Pierre Pharand and Julien Cuny worked on games like Far Cry 2 and the Assassin’s Creed series. Cuny was at one point the head of content for the entire Assassin’s Creed IP, and Pharand was the creative director of UbiWorkshop – a separate company within the housing of Ubisoft Montreal’s extensive offices. UbiWorkshop is where the transmedia content is created for Ubisoft franchises; so think statues, T-shirts, comics, novels etc.
Cuny and Pharand have formed a new development team called Pixyul. This new company is setting its sights on a very ambitious first project: an isometric survival RPG called ReRoll. What makes this so ambitious? Well, using actual civilian-class flying drones equipped with high-res cameras, Pixyul is literally mapping planet Earth to create the game world.
It sounds insane, especially considering the drones map one square kilometre at a time, and once that data is captured it takes Pixyul a few hours to turn it into slice of game world. If you’re wondering, there are 149 million km² of land on Earth – so that’s excluding all the water that makes up 79% of our planet. With that in mind, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that you won’t be playing a survival RPG that’s set in the streets of your home suburb in Boksburg. Sorry, guy.
Still, the team at Pixyul maintain that even a tiny bit of the actual planet is more interesting to play on than something that’s completely fictional. “If you get an island of five square kilometers,” Pharand explains, “that’s still a lot of fun in that space. We’re going to have a lot [of] real-world regions into it, but the gameplay will be fine-tuned and polished for those regions.”
In addition to drone-captured material, Pixyul will be utilising pre-existing data including terrain models and things akin to Google Earth. The need for it to be “the real world” (so to speak) is great for both Cuny and Pharand, especially once you take into consideration what the game is all about.
ReRoll takes place in the days after the gradual collapse of society, and the whole thing plays out in a persistent online world. It’s pretty much a post-apocalypse RPG, just without the dead terrain and nuclear fallout. There will, however, be mutants that you’ll need to defend yourself against.
In ReRoll, players will be able to focus on various ways of surviving the hostile world. You could choose to focus on farming and ensuring a constant supply of food; you could become an explorer who sets out to scavenge supplies from the world; you could focus on becoming a soldier to fight the mutant threat. There will be skills to learn, items to craft and kilometre after kilometre of mapped terrain to explore.
While ReRoll sounds similar to other experiences, it’s the mapped terrain that Pixyul is banking on being the hook to draw in players. “It pushes people to explore a little bit more or be emotionally attached to the places where they live. That emotional attachment to protect where you live, I think, is greater than … a game developer’s interpretation of L.A. or New York,” Cuny says.
The game’s three pillars are: crafting, fighting and exploration. The focus is on maintaining the fantasy of survival and as such Pixyul is trying to avoid a DayZ type experience where other players become the greatest threat. “If someone’s a special ops and you’re a gardener, that’s not going to be any fun for you,” Cuny admits. As such, it sounds like you won’t be able to target other players at all, but they are considering PVP type areas.
ReRoll is a lofty goal. The idea is massive, and as such the game will be released in stages starting with a small chunk arriving on PC sometime in mid-2015. Pixyul has also turned to crowd-funding via their own website in a similar method to how Star Citizen was funded. If you head on over to the ReRoll website, you’ll find a number of character bundles up for sale. Each character comes with a set of equipment and skills in order to play that particular role. You could pick up a Gardener for $30, or a scout for $50. Bundles range from $20 all the way up to $275.
What’s important to note is that you’re not bound by a character class. If you, for example, pick up the Scavenger bundle, you could still train your scavenger to become a paramedic providing you have the time to learn the basic skills of first aid, and you have access to the right equipment. According to the game’s website, ReRoll “does not have any traditional class system, you build your own character the way you want. Nothing prevents you to learn bakery and explosive (and then maybe get creative in using both?)”
It sounds interesting. Heck, even without the goal of scanning the planet, the sound of an isometric, online survival RPG is pretty great. A few years back, I actually spent the day with both Pharand and Cuny when they were still running the UbiWorkshop. They’re both really great guys with plenty of passion for games and creating stories. We chatted Assassin’s Creed lore and transmedia plans for quite a while, and the lasting impression I got from both of them was that they’re just ordinary blokes with a tendency to slip into nutty-professor mode when they’re talking about things that interest them. That tendency is going to be needed for a game this big; if they pull it off, then I think we’ll have something rather unique and very special on our hands.