[Gamesindustry.biz] Patrice Désilets: Ancestors fell foul of critics' expectations

dex3108

Member
Oct 26, 2017
8,592
Panache Digital co-founder Patrice Désilets had admitted his disappointment with the critical reception that greeted his studio's debut game, Ancestors: A Humankind Odyssey. Speaking at Reboot Develop Red, the former creative director of Assassin's Creed questioned the sincerity of some reviewers, and their assumptions about what kind of game Panache's 35-strong team would produce.

Ancestors launched on the Epic Games Store at the end of August. After more than 70 reviews, Désilets said, it had a Metacritic average of 65 -- a figure that he referred to as "the elephant in the room" at the start of a talk that would chronicle the game's creation and development.

"I'm used to having bigger numbers than that, so it's the elephant in the room," he said, referring to the first three Assassin's Creed games, all of which had Metacritic averages between 80 and 90. "But people expected my studio of 35 people to ship a game that is really close to Assassin's Creed, and it's just not possible. We made some harsh decisions in order to ship the game, and we wanted it to be different."
"We know for a fact that some reviewers actually didn't play the game," he continued. "It is part of our industry -- they have to review games, and they have 15 of them to review in one week, and sometimes they don't have time. And since Ancestors is so different, some of them went 'urgh, I don't have time for this.'

"And we know for a fact that some just invented some elements in the game -- like there is no fire and you cannot ride any horses, even though one reviewer said 'oh, it wasn't that great when you ride a horse.' Yes. My people are pissed, by the way.

"So please don't take notes today as we talk, mainly because I don't know how to make a video game."
"President, CEO, responsible for 35 families," Désilets said. "The game designer in me wants to make a decision about the quality and whatnot, and then the other guy says, 'no, no, I'm responsible for those people, and I need to make a decision that makes sure the studio doesn't shut down, and that it's good for at least two other years afterwards'... Without them, I'm not here."

Panache Digital was scaling up for much of the four years that Ancestors was in development, but the team was never more than a few dozen at its peak. According to Désilets, he had one full-time level designer, two animators, one UI specialist, four people in the art team, and eight programmers -- an embarrassment of resources for many games, but not for a game of the scale and ambition of Ancestors.
Ancestors wasn't intended to be quite so uncompromising, though. Désilets wanted to include advice to introduce players to the game's systems, but mundane reality interfered again. Panache simply had to ship the game, and some features had to be cut to make it happen.

"We shipped the game and we left 72 pop-up tutorial messages on the floor," he said. "We couldn't do it. They are coming now for the console version -- they will be in, it will be easier -- but we didn't have time. You need to eventually say, at the end of the day, that you have to ship. And that's more important than anything else."
Despite the mixed reception it received, though, Désilets said that it had broken even from a commercial standpoint. When asked about sales by a member of the Reboot Develop audience, he responded: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, the money is made. Plus, I know it's more a console game than a PC game.
 

Karak

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,347
Wait that fire and horses thing confuses me. He is saying they aren't in the game but a reviewer...stated they were?
 

Karak

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,347
Reading reviews horses do exist fire does not. Thats just odd to see that kind of mixup or whatever.
 

Crossing Eden

Member
Oct 26, 2017
21,622
Whenever you see Kojima referred to in such a way that it seems like he was a humble dev who had to start from scratch again just remember that this person and game exists and is much more representative of what that situation looks like compared to the guy who could casually visit AAA studios who all presented him a game engine to use for his next multi million dollar project. :/
 

neshcom

Member
Oct 29, 2017
321
Maybe your game just stinks, dude. I can’t imagine this game had enough press, pre- or post-release for anyone to have an expectation of what it should be or who he is. I mean, shipping a survival game without a tutorial in 2019 doesn’t work, especially if you’re caught up in EGS where a bunch of people already won’t give it the time of day and go out and make you a wiki like every other Rust-like. But yeah, blame the coverage.

Wait that fire and horses thing confuses me. He is saying they aren't in the game but a reviewer...stated they were?
Yeah, a smaller(?) review blog said that stuff was in and bad when it wasn’t a gameplay mechanic, just something you have happen to you early on. Weird thing.
 

Iceternal

Member
Oct 28, 2017
936
Whenever you see Kojima referred to in such a way that it seems like he was a humble dev who had to start from scratch again just remember that this person and game exists and is much more representative of what that situation looks like compared to the guy who could casually visit AAA studios who all presented him a game engine to use for his next multi million dollar project. :/
Are you implying Kojima has no merit ?
 

Crossing Eden

Member
Oct 26, 2017
21,622
Are you implying Kojima has no merit ?
I'm saying that the way he was talked about including at times talked about himself as this humble dev that didn't have access to a ton of resources was a really weird thing.


A bit more on topic, it's a shame that the game didn't quite pan out as he expected, as the premise is good and ofc as unique as his other IPs. And good that it broke even.

Shame that he seemingly never will get the chance to work on a huge AAA project again. I really want that Amsterdam game.
 

AJ_Wings

Member
Oct 31, 2017
890
I had no idea this game even came out. And it’s a Patrice Desilets game on top of that...

Will check it out on consoles.
 

Alienous

Member
Oct 25, 2017
6,163
The fire and horses quote is making me think someone decided to watch War for the Planet of the Apes instead, and I'm finding the thought really funny.
 

Teeth

Member
Nov 4, 2017
1,473
Most of the impressions I heard/saw actually praised the game for being so audacious and different and interesting...they just found it eventually not-entertaining to actually play.

He had a real uphill battle with this design. I get that he was trying to simulate what mental processes happen when "learning" happens, but it's a real struggle when the audience knows exactly what can be done, but the avatar has an abstraction layer that needs to obfuscate what the process to learn that knowledge is in the first place.

Like...he took a really cool stab at it, but it's an incredibly difficult design hurdle to overcome when the player knows that you can use a rock to sharpen a stick, but the in-game character doesn't know that....so how do you translate that the in game character can't do something until they can...without making it filling an XP bar or or some other arbitrary metric.

Play mechanics are by necessity restricted rule sets, so trying to 'sell' that the rule set is wide open but real life knowledge can't translate to game knowledge is rough.
 

Karak

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,347
Wait wait.

That shows riding horses...or something like a horse or killing it while looking like you are riding it.

Fire is for sure not in.

Also all that aside. What I played of the game I thought it was rough, boring, and wasn't put together at all well.
 

SturokBGD

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,835
Ontario
Whenever you see Kojima referred to in such a way that it seems like he was a humble dev who had to start from scratch again just remember that this person and game exists and is much more representative of what that situation looks like compared to the guy who could casually visit AAA studios who all presented him a game engine to use for his next multi million dollar project. :/
To be fair, his name is easier to pronounce.
 
Oct 27, 2017
3,338
Florida
Seems like it was USgamer.net

Their's seems like the only review to mention discovering horses in the wild. But to have the actual game's developer come out and assert there no horses in the game... yeah, that's a very bad look.
I don't think he's saying there are no horses. He's saying that riding them is not possible yet reviewer complained about horse riding mechanics?
 

tarman76

Member
Oct 27, 2017
919
It's strange they had such an solid deadline for PC when the console version is way down the line. Why did PC have such a hard deadline? The obvious fix is to delay for release on all platforms simultaneously.
 

Jegriva

Member
Sep 23, 2019
1,631
This game was very confusing. I was interested in the setting, but review never managed to make me unerstood the gameplay.
 

Spoo

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,980
I don't think a lack of tutorials is what drove the stake through the heart of this game, and I say that as one of possibly 15 or 16 people who bought it on launch day. In point of fact, a lot of the discussion that went on here and in other venues was that the lack of direct communication between player and designer is what brought about some of the most interesting aspects of the game; discovery wasn't just "Oh, if I combine X, Y and Z, I get P", it was, "I didn't even realize you could do X." That led to a lot of palm to forehead moments, yes, but it livened up conversations around the game, and may have been it's one redeeming quality: this is a social experience outside the game, even if it's somewhat isolating while you play. Having tutorials would rob players of those moments, but beyond that, having a bunch of tutorials doesn't fix the rotten core of the title. That would have to be the fact that the game was never fun, even when you knew how to play it.

I hate talking about fun in games, so I'm not going to harp on this much, but if you contrast the boring, monotonous or laborious tasks this game lays out in front of you with something like Death Stranding, there's a huge disparity in how fun the moment-to-moment actually is, with everything in Death Stranding reading on paper like it would be the videogame equivalent of pulling nails, it instead ends up being the most fun I've had this year in its minutae. Ancestor's on the other hand literally sells itself almost completely on how it reads on paper: it's ambitious, and endearing, and sounds like every moment will be an adventure. Then, when you get the game, and you're sitting there bashing rocks together, you realize: I'd rather be walking on a mountain somewhere chased by weird umbilical monsters. Or, rather, just playing something else.

Which is a shame. Because I really respect the unique, ambitious games, and success or failure I'll support them and want to see more of them, but Ancestors really misses the mark. And 70 tutorials might help players discover what it is faster, but I don't think they'll like what they find, and the mystery of what it could be will most certainly be robbed.
 

Landford

Member
Oct 25, 2017
3,204
Whenever you see Kojima referred to in such a way that it seems like he was a humble dev who had to start from scratch again just remember that this person and game exists and is much more representative of what that situation looks like compared to the guy who could casually visit AAA studios who all presented him a game engine to use for his next multi million dollar project. :/
And people in this forum legit believe that Kojima "struggled" and its a "wonder" that such an indie developer like Kojipro made Death Stranding. Dude got a ready and tested engine, 70 developers and the full backing of Sony. This is more in line of what "being indie" means.
 

SoulClap

Member
Oct 27, 2017
283
I hope the tweaks they make to the console version will make their way to the PC version as well.
 

SunBroDave

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,940
Like most, I never played Ancestors so I don't want to sound too definitive, but by all accounts the game just didn't come together into a satisfying experience. It's fine if you have a small team - games that have been made by smaller teams have become some of the beloved of the past decade - but you've gotta scope accordingly. In other words, if the game you're trying to make couldn't be made by a team of 35, then you should have tried to make a different game
 

PucePikmin

Member
Apr 26, 2018
354
More in-depth interview with the Patrice from the same event. He gets into the reviews again, and a bunch of other stuff. He's a very...unfiltered guy, so I don't know that anybody should fixate on any one soundbite. He drops a lot of them. Oh, and I very much hope he makes his Canadian fur trading game...

 

jett

Community Resettler
Member
Oct 25, 2017
20,390
I was following this game's development but the end result being some kind of survival game made me lose all interest.

Happy for Patrice and his team that it broke even at least. I hope whatever they make next appeals to me more.
 

CloseTalker

Member
Oct 25, 2017
9,911
Guys, you just need to read the quote lol

"And we know for a fact that some just invented some elements in the game -- like there is no fire and you cannot ride any horses, even though one reviewer said 'oh, it wasn't that great when you ride a horse.' Yes. My people are pissed, by the way.
He's not saying there aren't horses, he's saying you can't ride horses, which a review apparently said you could.
 

Messofanego

Member
Oct 25, 2017
7,950
UK
US Gamer's review by Caty McCarthy mentioned horses in the game but not that you can ride them. That's the only review I can find that mentions the animal. Are there horses in the game?

The first time the environment changed after an evolution, it genuinely alarmed me. I even discovered horses—horses!—deep in the wild as they were chased by the same ol' hyenas I'd encountered a million years prior. My only wish is that the things I'd find in the world, from predators to fruit, changed more with the sheer scenery.​
 

Ojli

Member
Oct 28, 2017
554
There are no horses per se. There are a horse-like animal (half zebra half horse-ish) and you cannot ride them, only kill them. More on the game, I enjoyed the game while it was unknown, not knowing the limits of the world. When that became apparent, a lot of the magic vanished. Predators were terrifying for a while, before you learn how to counter them. I havnt player Death Stranding yet, but from what I gather, BTs and Mules are imposing at first and when you learn to easily kill them, they become more of a nusiance, similar to my experience with Ancestors.

The horse in question
 

snowhite

Member
Aug 7, 2018
319
Patrice Desilets said:
"I'm used to having bigger numbers than that, so it's the elephant in the room,"
Dude sounds arrogant and in denial. He made a bad game. And now he wants to hide behind the shield of being indie and having only "35" people.

Ninja Theory made Hellblade with 20 people. Larian made Divinity: Original Sin with 30 folks. Hello Games made No Man's Sky with 15 devs.

Indie development is hard. And yet people have produced ambitious, compelling experiences within those team and budget constraints.

If your game didn't get the kind of critical and commercial response you expected, perhaps you should introspect rather than blame it on critics and external factors.
 

Mr. Tibbs

Member
Oct 27, 2017
1,372
I really want that Amsterdam game.
It sounds like it's still a possibility. The footage he showed of the THQ iteration a few years back looked great.

"I'm back at it. I'm about to post something, it will be nice. Plus, I fought for it. I fought for it - no you won't have my game - and I got it back. I sold it to myself, which is weird - I had it personally but I had to sell it to Panache.

"But yeah," he added. "I'm really serious about making that game."

I pressed once more: "So is that what's coming next?"

"Yeah," he replied, "but you won't have the exclusivity!" He laughed. "Let me have the exclusivity, come on!" Sorry, Patrice!
 

Herne

Member
Dec 10, 2017
1,732
Didn't even know it had released. Though if it only came out on EGS, that'd be a good explanation for that. Is it out on Steam yet?

Maybe he and his team should focus on what games they can ship without starting with an insanely ambitious design brief.
 
OP
OP
dex3108

dex3108

Member
Oct 26, 2017
8,592
Didn't even know it had released. Though if it only came out on EGS, that'd be a good explanation for that. Is it out on Steam yet?

Maybe he and his team should focus on what games they can ship without starting with an insanely ambitious design brief.
It is 1 year exclusive for Epic Store.

And when I read that part where he says that they broke even with PC release and that he knows that game is more for consoles it sounds more like that they managed to get money back from Epic deal but game didn't sell well on PC.
 

LiquidSolid

Member
Oct 26, 2017
3,019
Whenever you see Kojima referred to in such a way that it seems like he was a humble dev who had to start from scratch again just remember that this person and game exists and is much more representative of what that situation looks like compared to the guy who could casually visit AAA studios who all presented him a game engine to use for his next multi million dollar project. :/
And people in this forum legit believe that Kojima "struggled" and its a "wonder" that such an indie developer like Kojipro made Death Stranding. Dude got a ready and tested engine, 70 developers and the full backing of Sony. This is more in line of what "being indie" means.
SMH. Why do you clowns always have to shit on someone while trying to prop someone else up? Given how often we see mixed (or worse) results when a prominent developer strikes out on their own, even with a "ready and tested engine" (you know, like Ancestors engine: UE4) and the full backing of a major publisher, what Kojima's done is still impressive. Hiring up for a new studio while developing a brand new project using an engine they had no experience with (and which presumably had no Japanese documentation when they began) can go wrong very, very easily. I don't know why we can't just praise what both Kojima and Patrice have done.

Anyway, great to hear they broke even with Ancestors. It'll be really interesting to see how 1666 shapes up, I'm sure having one project out the door will be a massive help for them.