What Happened to 'WiLD,' Michael Ancel's Open World Game From 2014?


#1

It’s been a little more than three years since Sony showed a trailer for WiLD, an ambitious open world survival game about—well, it wasn’t exactly clear, but it looked cool, and Beyond Good & Evil designer Michel Ancel was working it. For most people, you don’t need to hear much more than the name “Ancel” to get interested. The game didn’t have a date attached, and even today, it’s not clear when WiLD is coming out.

“At this rate it’s gonna be a PlayStation 5 exclusive ,” wrote a YouTube commenter on the game’s trailer a few weeks back, a sentiment I’ve seen echoed around the Internet.

As part of an ongoing series at Waypoint, I’m fielding requests from readers about games they were excited to play. Games that seemed, at one point, tangible and real, but for whatever reason, they fell off the map, unclear if they’re delayed or dead. So far, I’ve taken a look at the sci-fi horror game Routine and the sci-fi puzzler Reset. I said we'd move on from sci-fi, so now, we’re piecing together what happened to WiLD.

Long story short, there’s no reason to think WiLD is dead. Here’s what I’ve found.

The original WiLD trailer was pitched with an intriguing logline: a prehistoric open world where players control a shaman who can possess animals, gaining their skills in the process. Want to see what’s ahead? Possess a bird. Want to instill fear? Possess a wolf. Though light on specifics, announcement trailers are often from games early enough in development that those details might not exactly be worked out yet. WiLD looked rad, especially when it was revealed the game might have light fantasy elements, like enormous giants, who were hiding in plain sight—and skeletons.

But it’s easier to deliver a flashy trailer than a real game, which is why Ancel being involved gave people confidence in WiLD. But it was also kinda confusing; until WiLD was announced, it was assumed Ancel was still at Ubisoft. (His last game, Rayman Legends, had been released roughly a year prior to WilD’s reveal.) As it turned out, Ancel was not only founding this new developer, Wild Sheep Studio, and acting as the game’s creative director, but also staying at Ubisoft to revive Beyond Good & Evil again.

“Our concept is based on experiencing new situations each time you play,” said Ancel on stage in Germany, where the PlayStation 4 exclusive was shown for the first time.

The game basically disappeared after this , which itself wasn’t surprising. These days, games are either announced a few months before release, ala Fallout 4, or years before they’re shipping, which means companies are forced to be strategic in when they choose to talk about it. This often means going dark for a while, even if that leads players to wonder if the game is in trouble, or perhaps outright cancelled.

A little more than a year later, WiLD showed up at the Paris Games Week, an event Sony has increasingly treated like a mini-E3. More importantly, WiLD showed up with a gameplay trailer. After two years in development, WiLD seemed like it was becoming a real game. You saw people playing the game on a TV! There were even several minutes where Ancel guided players, controller in-hand, through possessing animals.

At one point, Ancel showed how players could have different animals work together to accomplish goals: riding a bear as a weapon, while animals attack from the sky.

And then, it disappeared.

Besides the briefest of snippets in early 2017, there hasn’t been a lick of new gameplay footage since October 2015, and multiple E3s (and Paris Games Weeks) have gone by without a meaningful updates. Simultaneously, Ancel managed to get Beyond Good & Evil 2 off the ground, raising legitimate concerns WiLD being left behind, as Ancel pivoted to the game he’s been promising fans since 2008.

I started by poking around Wild Sheep Studio’s website, which was unhelpful, except for a set of job postings. They're looking for FX artists, programmers, and more.

Twitter? Nothing. Seriously! The game has a Twitter account but not a single tweet.

Facebook, though, is where it got more interesting. In July 2016, the team posted a photo with Shuhei Yoshida, head of worldwide studios at PlayStation, while remarking people shouldn’t worry because they are “still working hard on Wild.”

They also started embedding photos from Ancel’s surprisingly active Instagram account, where the designer has been posting about Wild every so often since January 2017, and even answering little questions—like supporting PS4 Pro—to anxious fans.

By “every so often” I meant “once per year,” as it would be nearly 365 days before Ancel would post another WiLD photo, promising he was still working on it. This moment in the timeline is important because it’s after Beyond Good & Evil 2 was announced.

This still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. WiLD isn’t cancelled, but what state is the game in? Can we expect WiLD to ship sometime soon, maybe this year? Sony already has a solid slate of games for PS4 throughout 2018: God of War is coming this month, Detroit: Become Human arrives in May, and Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is later this year. (The zombie-infested Days Gone was recently pushed into 2019, and no one expects The Last of Us Part II or Death Stranding to arrive anytime soon.)

Sony did not respond to my request for comment, but after emailing a bunch of developers at Wild Sheep Studio, one of them did get back to me with, well, something.

“Thank you for your interest,” said gameplay programmer Leonard Allain-Launay. “Wild Sheep Studio is still early stage and we're not issuing press statements for now.”

Allain-Launay declined to elaborate further, but pointed me towards the game’s most recent press, where WiLD producer Mitsuo Hirakawa spoke with the French publication Jeux Video. I’ve translated Hirakawa’s answers using Google Translate, so please excuse some of the grammatical awkwardness.

“This team has a lot of energy, creativity,” he told Jeux Video. “It's something I've learned over the years, identifying teams that have creative ambitions. This team is in the right direction, and we want to help them create a good PlayStation exclusivity. So we are not going to jostle them if they do not want to compromise on a subject. We wait patiently.

As for whether WiLD might arrive in 2018, Hirakawa remained coy.

“Maybe it might be the right year,” he said. “Who knows?”

Indeed.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/zmgzze/what-happened-to-wild-michael-ancels-open-world-game-from-2014

#2

Is it common in the industry gets to spear-head its own indie studio while still working on a current senior position in an AAA company ?

I love Ancel but I wonder how irreplaceable is he ? The man literally picketed when Ubisoft was doing questionable decisions on the Rayman franchise. I didn’t think he would be able to throw so much shades against Ubisoft and still be employed. Good for him though, I still love his work.

As for Wild, I think they’re just direction-less for now. I don’t think it’s a stretch that Ancel juggling with several projects and having a senior position isn’t helping shape all of it. He also even said he wanted to work on Rayman 4. He’s clearly biting much more than he can chew.


#3

I admit until i saw the giant snake goddess i didn’t remember this game but based on the NMS effect is it not better to just not talk about a game until its on the PR cycle?

I feel like that game made a lot of RP companies think about their messaging and kinda glad they aren’t running a hype train.

My only other thought here is (akin to NMS) playstation might be very hands off bar some publishing and promotion for JUST the PS4/5 version so guessing they don’t help finance the game (might be well off base, i’m groggy today)