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Car crash: Far Cry 3 and the dedication to oddity

Thursday, 10th January 2013 12:36 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Artistic success may require multiple products and bravery from both publisher and creative, says Patrick Garratt, with Far Cry 3 proving how valuable risk-taking can be.

Commitment to unconscious, blind creativity is essential to any medium. Certain game publishers should take note.

JG Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition is an odd book, more idea-evolution than story. Its concepts – industrialised celebrity, the mechanisation of humanity and a resultant “new sexuality” in symphorophilia – would form the basis of Crash, Ballard’s next release and a stand-out novel.

A bizarre ramble through Ballard’s shock at the death of his wife in the late 60s, The Atrocity Exhibition is a seminal piece of surrealism that would probably get no further than an agent’s slush pile today. It is, in truth, a beautiful thing, but it caused a great deal of controversy and confusion at the time. Crash, Ballard’s most successful work in the early part of his career, could never have existed without it.

Ballard later described his decision to write Crash based on the themes gestated in the previous book as a mad one. One editor famously noted on a draft copy, “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish!” No one else involved listened to reason, thankfully, and Ballard was able to complete the process of pouring a liquid jelly of disparate ideas into the mould of a traditional novel. The result was a unique, disturbing triumph.

Artistic releases may fail in relative commercial terms, but, as strange as they sometimes are, it’s critical to remember they may not be a final destination. Nowhere is this truer than in the games industry, where horribly expensive franchises can require many years and several games to come of age. It can take braveness and patience, both from creator and publisher, to continue to invest in a concept which is nebulous but exploding with ideas.

Far Cry 3 is a good example of how retaining commitment to a confused vision can reap huge rewards. Far Cry 2 was a mess, and remains one of my favourite games. While it failed to gel its principal elements of world, play and plot, its abundance of “place” provided an unforgettably adult experience of loneliness and desperation in the African jungle. Despite its sublimity as a general toy, many despised it for infinite spawning and a lack of characterisation. Ubisoft, by all rights, should have shelved it as a failure.

Thankfully, the third game took the genius components of Far Cry 2 and forced them into arguably the most mirror-polished, laser-designed open-world title ever made. Ubisoft’s Canadian super-dev framework can create market-leading products in terms of scale and finish, as referenced by Assassin’s Creed, and when Far Cry 2′s mutated DNA was injected into it the end result was triple-A’s edgiest, most creatively successful game of 2012. The decision to continue with Far Cry was courageous, and should be applauded.

Publishers need managerial staff with an oddity commitment. If Ubisoft didn’t have them, Far Cry 3 wouldn’t exist.

Far Cry isn’t the only instance of a publisher having confidence in an ostensibly bizarre vision with eventual pay-off. THQ bet the farm on Saints Row, Volition’s nonsense blend of customisation, sexualisation and riding around with a tiger in the passenger seat, and the incredible third game hit the big time with 5.5 million units shipped. Saints Row 2 sold half that. Unfortunately, the franchise didn’t mature fast enough to save the company, but c’est la vie.

This isn’t to say that games companies should plough endless resources into series that hold little merit in the vain hope someone may eventually find some, and nor does is mean publishers should build portfolios entirely comprised of innovative speculation. If a franchise is burnt it’s burnt (Guitar Hero). If an IP is heavily titled but in need of invention to ensure it can continue to be iterated, that has to be recognised (Call of Duty). What shouldn’t happen is that a creative team makes a great, strange, broken game, only to have ongoing work shelved because it doesn’t sell 6 million units. Publishers need managerial staff with an oddity commitment. If Ubisoft didn’t have them, Far Cry 3 wouldn’t exist.

The risks involved in developing triple-A games are gigantic, but it’s vital to the furthering of the medium that publishers and developers remember they’re sometimes creating artistic visions, not just “products”. A novelist investing considerable time on difficult concepts takes no less of a gamble, but we should all be thankful of writers like Ballard being prepared to roll the dice. Ubisoft and THQ are examples of games creatives who upped the ante on challenging themes and ultimately succeeded. Commitment to unconscious, blind creativity is essential to any medium. Certain publishers should take note.

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6 Comments

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  1. The Auracle

    Nailed it, nailed it, nailed. On-point author is on-point.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. KAP

    I have to agree with you on this, farcry 2 was one of my most hated games of this gen where as farcry 3 is honestly one of if not my best yet but with that said ,we as the outsiders looking in are quick to slate those that make sequal after sequal right?
    Doesn’t that just kinda make us Hypocrites?!

    In a way?

    One hand we complain and a franchise should die then otherhand praise black ops 2 or farcry 3?
    Nice article though, really has got me thinking.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Aimless

    Whilst I agree with the general sentiment of the article, picking Far Cry 3 as a poster boy strikes me as odd. Its ‘risky’ elements are remnants of the second game, on top of which they’ve layered an excess of Skinner box systems that are lacking in consideration and substance.

    If anything FC3 is the confused vision and FC2 is the pure, albeit still flawed, distillation of concept.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. SlayerGT

    Great read. And couldn’t agree more. Also, Farcry is indeed great. My friend and I were playing co op just last night. It seems every day I play it, I notice some new detail about the game that is awesome and crazy. Last night it was the “emptying clip”. Firing my 1911 I realized that two things happen that are both realistic, and awesomely helpful..to immerse and play. The first is obviously the sound. When my 1911′s clip would begin to empty, the sound of a lighter, loser spring in the clip begins to become apparent. The second is either in my mind or some of the most creative use of rumble tech I’ve ever seen. I swear, when my 1911′s clip gets close to empty, the rumble in my dualshock from the shots begin to feel less…”impactful”? It doesn’t hit as hard. It feels more hollow and light. This really happens when firing a gun. As a tightly packed clip full of bullets becomes empty the weight in the handle becames lighter and also a different feeling of vibration can be felt (in simple older 1911′s which are the only pistols I’ve ever really shot. I don’t claim to be a gun expert). These are two things that i wasn’t even aware of when i began playing Farcry. Two things that work on so many levels, as an immersive detail, a game mechanism helping to let one know ammo is running low. I normally don’t like fps’s. But i like Farcry. I’ve been trying to figure out why and the more I look, the more I am beginning to notice details ALL over the place. Things that’ll make me say to my friend, “dude..that is awesome!” :) It just feels, looks, sounds, and plays great. I applaud the attention to detail is this game. They took the time and I believe it paid off.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Demiath

    Far Cry 3 is a fun game, but it’s also the exact opposite of risk-taking. Ubisoft took some basic design ideas from the wonderful if crowd-displeasing FC2 and made a very good but also extremely conventional open world action game out of it. The rock-solid foundation which Far Cry 3 stands on is a testament to the value of multi-national corporations, focus groups, conference calls, Metacritic analysis and all manner of potentially despicable, decidedly grown-up and entirely mundane things…

    #5 2 years ago
  6. DSB

    To my mind the open world elements of Far Cry 3 were really unnecessary, and the amount of pointless filler they had to cram into it for justification, made it less of a game than it should’ve been.

    I felt roughly the same way about Far Cry 2, except it didn’t have any of the impressive elements of Far Cry 3.

    The things that blew me away in FC3 were happening on the much smaller stage, like those amazing corridor segments, or the tight characterization.

    I guess it’s not that I mind a game being open world in and of itself, but when they stuff it full of completely mundane tasks, it contrasts with the sides of the game that have actually received a bit of thought and attention.

    I mean, the game makes a big deal out of stating that repetition is the definition of insanity, and yet the island is smothered in repetitive fucking tasks.

    In that sense I’m starting to admire Mafia II for keeping that to an absolute minimum. Yes, it was a big empty city with nothing to do, but at least it wasn’t tainted by a bunch of filler. Unless you bought the DLC. Heyooo!!!

    #6 2 years ago