- Oct 26, 2017
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.
"People expected my studio of 35 people to ship a game that is close to Assassin's Creed -- and it's just not possible"