What do you actually do in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, the ambitious ape evolution game by Assassin's Creed creator Patrice Desilets?

New footage of Ancestors was aired at Reboot Develop last week but it was only a glimpse. The question of how we play a third-person action game spanning millions of years remained a mystery.

What we knew following Desilets' Reboot conference talk was Ancestors takes place in Africa between 10 million and 200,000 years ago. We heard how interacting with the jungle will be a major part of the game - a new prehistoric playground - and how we'll be doing a lot of running away.

But I found out more speaking to Desilets afterwards.

We now know Ancestors will have combat. "Yes, it's a part," he told me. "[But] the core part is the survival aspect of the game.

"Most of the survival games these days are first-person and most of them are about menus. We're not first-person and there's not a lot of menus.

"You have to eat, sleep, drink," he said, "this is how [humans] work! But imagine every car you see [as a human today] is a danger and can kill you..." Replace cars with the creatures of prehistoric Earth and you see what he's getting at.

But who are you in Ancestors? No one being can survive for millions of years. Therefore you will play, Desilets revealed, "not a person but a lineage".

His "fantasy" is to bring to life the iconic image of a hunched ape evolving into an upright human. "Can we play that picture, from that small ape already on two legs, to us?" he asked me.

"You talked about a 'tech tree': we call it the 'RPG elements'. You will evolve. [But] this tech tree took millions of years in evolution time. We evolve through generation to generation and it takes time. There is a timeline."

Time unfolding both day-to-day and generation-to-generation. You will even be able to control it, and your evolution, to a degree.

"I want the player to be in charge of the pace and how he's going to experience human evolution. You may experience the savanna without the ability of standing on two legs," Desilets told me. "You'll experience that and say 'shit!' because it's not a good way of experiencing the savanna."

There's a bit of freedom, then, but you won't be able to talk before you can walk.

How your physical capabilities change generation-to-generation is being decided, a balance of being "a bit scientific" while also fun. Some things have been exaggerated and dramatic licence taken - this is pre-history after all. "We find skeletons in the dirt and we imagine the rest."

Desilets announced at Reboot that Ancestors would no longer be an episodic game. But how can Panache Digital Games, an independent Canadian studio of 25 people, suddenly afford to ramp up to making a good-looking open world game in one lump?

"I've got a publisher," Desilets revealed to me. "I cannot say who it is but I have someone behind me who will eventually publish the game.

"Will it take longer? Yes probably... More than three years? No. Will it be this year? No. Will it be next year? Maybe, maybe not. The shipping date is not what drives us but we have one because otherwise you do stuff just to do stuff.

"I want people to play what I made with my team. I want people to have fun in the jungle. The bottom line is when I ship I am happy."

Who the publisher could be, I don't know, although it's unlikely to be Ubisoft, a company Desilets left seven years ago. "I turned 36 and after 13 years... my girlfriend told me I was not happy any more," he said.

Desilets was also in a legal battle with Ubisoft over IP rights to 1666 Amsterdam, the Dutch history action adventure game he now controls once again. He revealed 1666 Amsterdam footage at Reboot Develop in 2016.

"Eventually we'll make that game," he told me this year at Reboot, but Ancestors understandably comes first.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Jump to comments (8)

About the author

Robert Purchese

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.

More articles by Robert Purchese