Total Insanity: Ubi Montreal’s Dan Hay on Far Cry 3

Monday, 13 June 2011 14:25 GMT By Nathan Grayson

Far Cry 3′s E3 demo got jaws dropping and gums flapping, but let’s be honest: it raised more questions than it answered. We sat down with producer Dan Hay to fill in a few blanks.

Far Cry 3

Announced last week during Ubisoft’s E3 2011 conference.

Out next year.

Set on a tropical island full of mad people.

“Meh.” No one has ever uttered that phrase in relation to Far Cry 2. “I fucking hate it,” on the other hand? Definitely. Innumerable times, I’m sure. For every one of those, however, there’s almost assuredly been an, “It’s my favorite game of all time,” to balance things out. Point is, Far Cry 2 doesn’t “do” neutrality. It’s hot or cold. Black or white. Love or hate. It’s a powerful quality, that – to inspire a range of opinions oftentimes more violent than the game’s hilariously trigger-happy citizens. That very quality, however, also makes crafting a sequel quite the puzzle. After all, one of Far Cry 2′s “flaws” may be an irritating, painful rough edge to some, but to others, it’s a sprinkle of genius. So what do you fix? What stays? What goes? At the very least, Ubisoft Montreal definitely isn’t treading water.

The developer’s not being shy about it, either. Far Cry 3′s E3 demonstration – themed around the repetitive nature of the “definition of insanity” and viewable here – took pages out of its predecessor’s book and then spat on them. A myriad of scripted scenes? A speaking main character? Visible points awarded for each kill? To many Far Cry 2 fans, it seemed like, well, insanity. Producer Dan Hay, however, assured us that there’s a method to the madness.

“I think we’re definitely building off Far Cry 2, and you know, we use the scripted moments to introduce you to certain characters. But it’s really about exploring the space and discovering the space. It’s Far Cry. It’s open-world. Absolutely, right? If you enjoy shooters, you pick up a gun, you’re going to be successful. And we use those little vignettes to basically intro you to the insanity of certain characters. Vaas is a really good example of that,” he told VG247 during a post-demo interview.

And while Hay wasn’t quite willing to confirm the return of another of Far Cry 2′s holy grails – its mercenary companion system – he certainly didn’t slam any doors.

“There are certain things that I can’t talk about yet,” he said. “But if you played Far Cry 2 and you enjoyed it, it’s a great building block for us.”

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Far Cry 2′s Africa wasn’t a gentle place. Its denizens acted more like hornets than people – immediately swarming on you without even the slightest provocation. For some, that blood-soaked red carpet drove home the game’s central themes and stirred up constant excitement. But for others, well, let’s just put it this way: how many times have you heard something compared to a hornet’s nest favorably? So say goodbye to never-ending legions of nameless eagle-eyed baddies who each bear personal life-long grudges against you and you alone; this time around, it’s all about player choice.

“There are certain things that I can’t talk about yet. But if you played Far Cry 2 and you enjoyed it, it’s a great building block for us.”

“That was the key thing for us – making sure that we focused on AI. When you choose to engage, that’s when they react. You can sneak up on these guys – you can get pretty close, actually – and if you’re smart about it, you can choose to skulk your way around. You can choose to get up above them and do a death-from-above kill. You can stab the guy in the neck and do a knife throw like you saw in the demo. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but we really, really made sure that you felt like you were in control. And if you decided to hang back, they weren’t just going to see you from any sight line. Our focus was making sure that you controlled the action,” Hay explained.

Granted, many of Far Cry 2′s best moments came when you weren’t in control – when you were surrounded, riddled with bullets, and oh god why is everything on fire? Make no mistake, however; Far Cry 3 hasn’t suddenly become Call of Duty. Combat’s still as free-form as ever – perhaps even moreso.

“If you look at your environment, we want the full sweep,” said Hay. “If you love shooters and you want to just pick up the game, it’s going to respond to a shooter. You can pull out your AK-47 and it’s satisfying. But we also want to make sure that you’re using your environment. So the environment’s a character. You’ve got water you can use. You’ve got waterfalls that you can hide behind and get kills on. You’ve got a vantage point. You can use the camera. You can do a death-from-above. It was pretty much about creating a ‘What would you do as the player, in that moment?’ [scenario]. What feels right? And that was our focus.”

Which is all well and good, but what about nature’s fiercest killer, the tree? Far Cry taught players that clotheslining baddies could be endlessly hilarious – and also useful, I guess – but will the green-friendly technique be making a return?

“What they probably can’t see is that – when you asked that question – I smiled, but I probably can’t talk about it.”

JASON? JAAASON!

Again taking a few steps back from Far Cry 2′s focus on unscripted narratives and a lead whose defining personality trait is malaria, Far Cry 3′s Jason Brody actually talks. He’s not just some faceless one-liner machine either. While the demo only had him toss out a couple quick quips, Hay didn’t mince any words: this is Jason’s story.

Far Cry 3′s E3 demo. Watch it if you haven’t. If
you have, watch it again.

“Jason gets to the island and he’s a little bit cocky. He’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got this covered.’ But when he moves through it, he meets guys like Vaas who are crazy, as well as other characters who have their own unique brand of crazy and justice. The experience is that full sweep. So Jason begins to change a bit,” he said.

Granted, based on the demo, it seems like Far Cry 3′s cast of impossibly insane baddies will take up just as much of the spotlight. And if Vaas is any indication, players won’t mind one bit. So then, why have Jason speak at all?

“You know, to be honest, I think our focus was just on what felt right for Jason. We want to make sure that this guy feels young, and he’s accessible. So if he fell down a well and somebody dumped his body down there, and he came up and he swore, and it felt right? Then it felt right,” Hay explained.

But let’s be honest here: Shooting? Stabbing? Swearing? The three S’s of FPS hardly seem like distinctive character traits. Fortunately, the demo might have given us another big hint: that camera. Hay wasn’t entirely ready to let the cat out of the bag, but he did lop off a couple whiskers.

“I can’t tell you too much about that, but here’s the deal: We wanted to make sure that this guy was real and accessible, right? Jason Brody’s a real character. He’s a real guy. If there’s a camera available, he’s going to pick it up and use it as a scope. If there’s an opportunity for him to take pictures, he’s going to take them – because the stuff that’s going down, I mean, somebody’s got to document it, right? So he’s really kind of learning as he goes. So the camera does play a role, and I think the players are going to enjoy it. But I’ve got to keep that one to myself for now.”

Welcome to the jungle

Far Cry 3, then, isn’t necessarily trying to be a second helping of Far Cry 2 – despite what some fans may want. Instead, the game is its own animal, guided more by the instincts of its creators than anything else. And so, if you ask for a blow-by-blow comparison, Hay will just shrug his shoulders. Fact is, it’s simply not a priority.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t say that I’ve done a comparative ‘How big are we?’ I think what we did is we made the island, and the island feels really good. And then, you know, we made a couple spaces after that too that are kind of cool – that I can’t tell you about. You’re going to feel good. You’re going to play the game, and you’re going to meet the characters. You’re going to use your environment. This place is going to feel like you can explore it and you can discover,” he explained.

“It was funny; we specifically did not go out trying to make it bigger or focusing on the scope or the scale. What we said is ‘What feels right?’ Or ‘What feels right around every corner?’ So for us, it was making sure that – if you’re out and you’re walking around – it felt like you were exploring and there was discovery around every corner.”

After all, who wants to make the same game over and over and over? Why, that’d just be insane.

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