Category: Player POV

October 2nd, 2006
Blog Entry

Player P.O.V. – Beyond Good and Evil

In the Beginning

This is the second of my “Player P.O.V” series of articles, that examines the way the best games involve and entertain the player. The previous article, Shining Force III, is here.
It’s a joint project between myself and my brother, Phil over at Sodaware. My articles will focus on player experience, and his deal with lessons game developers can learn from these great games.

You can read his article here.

Both our articles are featured in October’s Carnival of Gamers, which you can find at Man Bytes Blog. If you’re here from Man Bytes Blog, welcome! Bookmark us with Ctrl + D, subscribe to the RSS feed and enjoy your stay!

This time I’m looking at the Ubisoft classic Beyond Good and Evil.

Beyond Good and Evil
Developer: Ubisoft
European release: November 2003
Platform: PC, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube

Find at Find at

Ancient Chinese Secrets

The deepest way BG&E creates its connection with the player is by locking the story onto the main character, the journalist Jade. Although it’s a third-person adventure, we see through Jade’s eyes when using her camera to photograph animals, or during her IRIS reports. This creates a true sense of discovery, as neither player nor character is ahead of the other; you find out the truth at the same instant by sharing the same view.

Home Sweet Home

You never lose your connection with Jade. As far as I recall, she is present in every scene in the game. Aspects of the story come from other characters, of course, but they’re all delivered to Jade, not without her:

  • News bulletins are used by the Alpha Sections;
  • M-disks – essentially DVDs – reveal security footage and personal messages from absent friends;
  • Emails – newsletters, notes from friends and those assisting your quest.

All this helps Beyond Good and Evil to achieve the focus it needs. Although its story deals with an entire planet under threat, it has the emotional clarity due to its total devotion to this one character. It reminds me of what was wrong with The Day After Tomorrow, where the viewer was so often separated from its main character that the film’s core was misplaced. Here, Ubisoft maintain this tight grip on Jade, making her the game’s driving force.

Dancing with Domz

The game starts almost instantly, with the player taking control of Jade at the first opportunity. The short intro works brilliantly well, not just because it means you get to play more quickly – which is absolutely crucial – but by playing on certain conventions and player awarenesses.

As soon as the pompous horns blurt out their tune and the overbearing Alpha Sections begin their speech, the game has made you aware you’re watching a news bulletin, something we’re all familiar with, regardless of whether the subjects are Domz and Hyllis or something slightly more Earthly.

The media I listed earlier are used to present this strange world to the player in much the same way as our own. We watch news bulletins, films, read emails and so on about our own world, so why not Hyllis? Rather than create a bizarre and arbitrary way of communication, Ubisoft use the best mankind has collectively designed in its history. Pretty smart, and much cheaper too, I’m sure.

Thoughtful Reflections

The deeper point to presenting Hyllis like Earth is to emphasise the game’s major issue, that of received information. Through its journalist elements BG&E promotes independent thinking, and the importance of being active in meaning and knowledge. It might not be tackling global warming or trying to unearth a huge Government conspiracy, but any game with an actual, proper moral other than kill/steal/pimp has to be worth celebrating.

Organic Beauty

This is all well and good, but what makes Beyond Good and Evil fun to play? In amidst all the multimedia intertextuality and the talking rhinos, did Ubisoft put any good gameplay in there?

Yes, they did. And you get to it almost straight away. The first time the game hands control over to you is in a multi-enemy battle, with nothing more than a useful icon in the corner indicating which button is “fight”. Jade’s already an Aikido master who carries her staff with her all the time, which Ubisoft thankfully realised would make a training section pretty redundant. Far be it from me to come over all “Game Design Lessons”, but certain game developers could learn a lesson from this.

The battling is fun, and plays out like Darth Maul in a Zelda game. Spins, smashes and flips are all carried off with the analogue stick and that useful “fight” button. There’s one special move which you carry off by holding down attack, and that’s pretty much it; no need for finger-knotting attacks, just simple, intuitive controls.

Travelling around Hyllis in your hovercraft is also pretty awesome, as you’d expect from a sea-and-land vehicle with lock-on lasers, guns, boosts and jump jets. Most of these you buy with your precious pearls, which lets you get to new areas and animals.

Say Cheese, Fellas

Taking photos of the many animals on Hyllis provides you with both forms of the game’s currency, namely credits and pearls. Credits buy you little things (and sometimes pearls), and the pearls buy you upgrades at Mammago garage, they of the talking Jamaican rhinos.

The camera’s interface is again very simple, with just point, zoom and click. A certain icon appears on screen when you point it at specific things – a paw for an animal, for example – and a bar fills until it’s in focus. Unfortunately you can’t look back over your entire album unless you photograph every single animal on the planet, but you can look over shots on your current roll, and previous assignments. A more extensive gallery would have been nice, or some form of scoring system, but you can’t argue with a game where you uncover secret identities not with a gun but a very long zoom lens.


Beyond Good and Evil is a tremendous game, which is perhaps wider than it is deep. The mixture of different gameplay styles naturally means some excel – combat is often a highlight – and others do less well – stealth mode’s Flying Death Lasers.

On the whole, its pin-sharp focus on the main character and the player’s relationship with her creates a bond that is strong enough to paper over some of the game’s flaws.

If you’d like to read more about Beyond Good and Evil, check out Phil’s fantastic Game Design Lessons article over at Sodaware, or my previous article on the game, “The best game of this generation“.

June 19th, 2006
Blog Entry

Player POV – Shining Force III



This article is part of a joint-blogging project with my brother over at Every two weeks we will be looking at some of the best games ever made and taking two very different approaches to them – I will be dealing with a very player-oriented angle, whereas as a game developer Phil will be examining the game’s design and production to see what lessons game developers can learn from them.

The accompanying half of this article is over at

What is Shining Force III?

Shining Force III is a roleplaying game for the Sega Saturn console in 1997/1998 that uses a turns-based battle system, rather like chess. It was released in three separate scenarios, although the second and third scenarios were only available in Japan. It remains my favourite RPG of all time, despite very scarily being almost ten years old now.

Mixture of gameplay

I think one of the principal factors in Shining Force III’s (SFIII) appeal is its balance. Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series uses an almost identical battle system, but loses out because it fails to develop its characters and world as successfully as SFIII. The gameplay in SFIII varies from hardcore tactical battling to more open-hearted town exploration, and your journey through the SFIII world takes in cursed ghost towns, rich autumnal castle towns and everything in between.


It’s this creation of a sort of networked world around the player that really sets this out as an accomplished RPG.

Towns feel like they belong together in these countries, and although they’re all sufficiently different to mark them out they have a very familiar and recognisable style. Villagers, too, are all individual but not bizarre; it’s an RPG that focuses on a coherent world rather than trying to show how many different races and wacky ideas it can fit in. You really get the sense that this world hangs together.

Although SFIII does include traditional epic-fantasy RPG elements of great evil and resurrections and so on, it also has a very grounded and quite serious plot involving two warring nations, and the decisions that have to be faced by those lands’ leaders. I’m not going to pretend that it’s an in-depth political commentary, but it does help to frame the impending huge-scale disaster by including more realistic issues of famine and refugees.

Brain Training

What else is it about Shining Force III that captured me? Well, it’s a game that needs brain power. Not in the puzzle sort of sense, but the battles certainly require brain power and strategy of the highest order. The comparison with chess is probably a little strong here, but you do need to calculate several moves in advance against the larger enemies to figure out who should go where, when and what they should do. Some battles, not content with facing you against squads of highly tough warrior dwarves and hooded mages, include refugees to rescue or ancient temples to explore. These optional diversions really do help branch out and develop the battles by allowing a degree of differentiation – the player has control over as much or as little of the battle as they want. Don’t want to rescue the refugees being persecuted by the Empire? You’re heartless, but it’s your choice.


Following on from this, the decisions you make in Scenario I affect events in the other games through Camelot’s “Synchronicity” system. When you finish the first game, you create a save file which can then be used at the start of the second game. As all three games happen simultaneously, and use some of the same characters, locations and events, your actions have consequences for other characters. Getting to see the same events from different perspectives is also a refreshing idea, and although the second and third discs were in Japanese, I find it rather intriguing to think about the subtle differences there would be in how each side sees the same situation.


RPGs are supposed to have elements of fantasy, but there is only so far the player can suspend their disbelief when considering the world presented to them. Generally, elements such as fantastic creatures and magic are accepted because they relate to the player’s imagination, and often I think the player wants to believe in them. I want to believe in birdmen and magicians who can summon the phoenix and so on.

For an RPG to stretch the player’s imagination and yet remain mostly acceptable, it has to operate within some form of logical boundaries. Shining Force III does this brilliantly by creating towns and villagers that fit together by not always being outlandish, almost garish characters. The game’s small details all combine to create a background to one of the most involving games I have ever played.

For the other half of this article, be sure to head over to to read a really interesting look at the game and what lessons game developers can learn from it.

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