How Far Cry 4 gives you the (open) world (Wired UK)

Far
Cry 4
sees Ubisoft‘s
open-world shooter abandon the paradise of tropical islands for the
altogether less welcoming terrain of the Himalayan mountains. With
a new, non-white lead and a deeply integrated co-op that doesn’t
require your friends to own the game, it’s also pushing the series
forward creatively and technologically.

The game’s Creative Director Alex Hutchinson speaks with
Wired.co.uk on sneaking in retro game styles, giving the narrative
experience over to the player, and how games no longer need to be
validated by movies.

Wired.co.uk: One of the recent surprises shown
forĀ Far Cry 4 was the Shangri-La sections, battling
through a fantasy world. Where did the idea for that come
from?

Alex Hutchinson: We actually unveiled two new
big things, which are both intended to give people an idea of the
scale and scope of the game. The first one is a regular mission set
in the Himalayas, which is a very different environment for a
Far Cry game because there’s no flora or fauna, it’s hard
to see, and we could show off the stealth mechanics there. The
second thing was Shangri-La. We spent a lot of time early on in
development creating the culture of our fake country, Kyrat,
including their religion and the mythology they tell each other.
Then we realised that we had all this content that no-one was ever
going to see. Well, what better way to get it out there than to
allow players to experience it?

So, throughout the game you can find these tapestries, called
tankas. If you meditate on them then you can live the story
portrayed in them. You go back and live the life of a guy called
Kalinag, ringing the bells of enlightenment.

Is that kind of Far Cry 4’s equivalent to the

Blood Dragon
companion to the third game?

It is in a way. I was joking with people about how there used to
be all these different sub-genres of shooter that were popular in
the ’90s, like Hexen.
They were a bit outlandish and you’d never get a big budget to
develop a triple-A version of a game like that these days. The only
way to scratch that itch as a developer or player is to hide them
in bigger projects, a game within a game.

Kyrat itself is Tibetan-influenced. What else tied into
it as a location?

We wanted somewhere that had a lot of animals, that was
colourful and had kind of a holiday feel to it, somewhere that
people would go on adventure holidays. We wanted something more
vertical and we wanted to build tools to help you traverse that
vertical landscape. We already have the wing-suit, the helicopter
and the grapple. It was more about how we create a fresh playground
for people, somewhere they’ve never been before, but still within
the key pillars of Far Cry.

Your main character, Ajay — after
E3, Ubisoft received criticism over diversity in Assassin’s
Creed
. Is it odd that more hasn’t been made of the fact that
you’re putting out a game with a non-white
protagonist?

Yeah, I know. The last game I worked on was Assassin’s Creed
3
and we had a Native American hero. At the same time we had a
Vita version with a Creole woman. Ubisoft is pretty good at
diversity, in general. We don’t always get it right and there’s
always room for improvement, and I think negative headlines just
get more clicks.

Would you be hypothetically open to a female protagonist
for Far Cry 5?

Oh, for sure. If you look at the DNA of Far Cry, what
it’s about is allowing people to do what they want and be who they
want. The story is getting out of the way. So you follow that
through to its logical conclusion and it is “be who you want and
make up your own story”. The cutscenes and the big set pieces are
starting to evaporate. I think that’s the direction the games are
heading.

Between Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and
Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft’s done a lot of open-world games. Do
you think there’s a risk of player fatigue?

I don’t think so, as long as the core of what you’re doing is
different and the fantasy is different. In Assassin’s
Creed
, it’s a historical fantasy and it’s a third person
close-combat focussed game. Here we have a first person shooter.
Even though they’re both open-world, I think that’s just a box that
they’re in. The games are very different. Occasionally there are
similar loops like exploring to unlock more content, but they’re
very superficial. Why you’re doing it is completely different. It’s
more a sub-genre than the same sort of game.

You’ve also been showing the new DLC missions featuring
Hurk returning from
Far Cry 3. Were you surprised that he took off in
popularity?

Yeah, I mean, he’s kind of a dude-bro. It is a bit funny but
when you think of Far Cry, its whole do-what-you-want
thing is his modus operandi, so it fits. He’s kind of a wacky guy.
We were talking about a co-op character to physicalise that,
someone to bring into your game to blow up stuff for no reason
with. That’s what he is. It just fit too perfectly. It is
surprising and then maybe not so much at the same time.

Do you have plans for more DLC?

The conspiracy theorists always like to think that we make all
the DLC and then just put it aside to charge more later, but we
really don’t! Right now, we have some rough conversations about
who’s going to do it, when they’re going to start and things like
that. We’re only just getting into it. We have a few ideas right
now but nothing set in stone.

One of Sony’s big announcements recently has been its game sharing feature. You announced a
similar feature
for Far Cry 4 a few months earlier. Is
that a test drive for Sony?

Actually, we had the idea a long time ago and we found a great
relationship with Sony, where they wanted to do it and it fit their
philosophy on what they wanted to do. They are different in the
sense that ours ours allows you to have someone play as your co-op
partner whereas theirs is all about ‘hotseat’ multiplayer. It’s
slightly different. I’m excited that everyone seems to be agreeing
it’s the way forward.

Both seem similar to what Microsoft was originally
proposing with Xbox One before the community soundly rejected it.
Why do you think your and Sony’s approach has been better
received?

I think it’s more about selling the use than selling the
technology, you know? Technology can be misinterpreted or
misunderstood, whereas if you say “hey, here’s what you can do with
it” then they’ll like it more. I think Microsoft struggled to find
a clean way to express it, and so people just shut it down.
Microsoft’s big struggle this generation has been communication, I
really think so.

Far Cry isn’t on the annual release cycle of
Assassin’s Creed but it’s still one of Ubisoft’s biggest
franchise. What has the iterative process been like on
it?

It’s interesting. It’s cool because we’re not doing it annually
so most of the team can roll from Far Cry 3 to Far Cry
4
. You get the benefit of having a team that knows what worked
and what didn’t work, that knows what they wanted to do but
couldn’t, so you get a bit of momentum with that. I think it’s the
same as any franchise — book, movie or comic — where you’re
always assessing what worked, what didn’t work, what should you
keep or cut. Then as a creative, what can we do to put our stamp on
it? What’s our version of that idea?

Doing Far Cry 4 for the new console generation
— how’s that been different?

Well there’s the social features that you’ve seen with our
co-op. But given we’re doing it for both next- and current-gen,
it’s mostly a graphical engine development this time. You’ll see
all the really crazy stuff that taps into the new consoles coming
out in the next round.

There was the Far Cry
movie
a few years ago — the less said the better — but do you
think the franchise could translate to screen in a well-done
movie?

Oh, for sure, it could but we don’t really feel the need to be
validated by other media properties; we’re big enough on our own. A
lot of big games open with sales of six or seven million copies and
if you get six or seven million viewers then that’s the top one
percent of Hollywood movies. We’re a big business with a huge
audience on our own. I hope people are excited just to be making
games. It’s harder to make a movie about a game like Far
Cry
because it’s all about player agency. Assassin’s
Creed
is much easier because it has this rich history and it’s
more grounded and third-person, so you’re already getting leverage
from that. Far Cry is tougher, because without a strong
character and a third-person perspective it’s a lot harder. With
Assassin’s Creed you could strip out the game and focus on
the historical narrative, the story. That would be so much harder
with Far Cry.

Do you think having less focus on narrative changes how
players approach Far Cry?

Definitely, and it’s something we’ll be doing a lot more of in
future Far Cry games. We want to get out of the player’s
way more, do less story and give more opportunity. We spent a lot
of money on the story parts but then we see time and again that
people were having most of their fun in Far Cry with the
open world aspects. They like the story and get a kick out of it,
but what they’re really loving is engaging with all the other
features that we’ve built.

What would you say is the biggest feature change between
3 and 4, then?

The biggest one for me is finding a way to engage better,
denser, and more varied player narrative, so it’s co-op. You can
talk about adding these furious, furious elephants and
gyrocopters, all these new tools, but if you imagine having your
best friend there and using all the tools — say you’re on the
elephant and I’m on the gyrocopter, or you covering me while I
sneak into the back of a fortress — the kind of stories
exponentially increase. That’s by far the most important thing.
Even the little things, like now the second character is almost a
mobile camera — we’re imagining all the YouTube videos, the clips
they can put together to show off their experience, which will be
so much better with a co-op partner’s video.

On Far Cry 3, the cover and promo focus was
largely on Vaas and this time it’s largely on Pagan Min. Why do you
think the villains become so much more intriguing than the heroes
in the series?

I think it’s a couple things. First of all, the game’s in first
person so really you’re just some mobile hands. We also don’t want
to emphasise the character too much because we want the player to
feel like it’s happening to them. There’s also the risk that every
time you have the main character speak, they say something counter
to what the player is thinking. As soon as you do that, you create
distance between the player and character. You lose empathy and
stop identifying with the character. So you make the main character
as quiet as possible and de-emphasise them — but then who do you
put on the box? The antagonist, always the antagonist. They stand
out.

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26 August 2014 | 4:00 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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