Our chat with producer of Dan Hay reveals Ubisoft’s open-world story ambitions.
As odd as it may seem on paper, the real reason we’re looking forward to Far Cry 3′s release next month isn’t to do with the game’s open-world or opportunities for shark punching, instead it’s actually the game’s insightful coming of age plot. A word of warning though folks, there are spoilers ahead.
Far Cry isn’t a franchise which is known for good storytelling or interesting character development, but the forthcoming sequel hopes to remedy that. Players are cast into the role of Jason, a younger brother who has been protected by his older Marine sibling Grant his whole life neutering his growth and character development. Living the easy life so to speak, insulated by his friends and family who do care immensely for him, but at the same time they’ve protected him from the world’s worst ills.
Unlike most games, Jason isn’t a bad ass, strong-willed or even particularly that talented at the beginning of the game, but when and his twenty-something friends and family fall into the sadistic hands of Vaas and his pirate cronies, the younger brother is forced to grow up and do things he never thought he was capable of before. This premise is familiar but the detailed undertones inherent in Far Cry 3′s plot certainly aren’t.
We caught up with producer Dan Hay to find out exactly how Ubisoft Montreal are going to make this progression seem real and earned to the player…
“I think what we want to be is credible. We want to make it so that if you or I were having an adventure [like the one in Far Cry 3]. We’d probably go to the island, eat some things we weren’t supposed so, take some things we weren’t supposed to and have a series of experiences we never had before; and the idea is to make it credible. If you pick up a gun and you’ve never fired it before you aren’t going to be great at it right away, and that gun is going to be a rough tool in Far Cry. When you kill something it is a messy experience. Through audio and the realisation of things on screen, the idea is that those instances are serious moments. We try to show a credible experience that is rough,”
So realism certainly seems like the name of the game, at least when it comes to trying to emulate the emotional gravitas an individual might feel the first time they fire a weapon or kill somebody to survive, but what about the emotional link between the characters?
“Honestly we tried to make the plot function like a play. When you look at Grant, and you’re sat in a cell with him captured.. You’re in a cage, and you’re a bit of a victim obviously because Vaas is there and he’s showing you that you’re not as tough as you think you are. Everyone thinks they’re tough until the first time they get punched in the face, they feel the weight of that, their nose exploding and the taste of blood in their mouth, and they realise life is not always fair. Vass is there to show that, encapsulated in a moment. Imagine Jason’s household, imagine having a brother like Grant – a big tough guy, who’s strong and smart and can pretty much survive anything. Imagine having dinner next to him with your family, maybe that’s Dad’s favourite kid and you’re in his shadow.”
After playing the first ninety minutes of Far Cry 3 we can attest to the dialogue between the two brothers alluding heavily to the fact that the older brother is the leader and the younger sibling is the follower. That’s a family truth that many younger brothers out there will certainly identify with, but Jason doesn’t just lay down when the brown stuff hits the fan.
“We want those little bits of the story flowing underneath events to make them credible, and then you lose Grant. You literally feel the pulse in the feedback to the player ebbing as the blood leaves his body and for kicks Vaas says, “Run, let’s see how this works out.” So yeah I think we focused on making it real and drew on emotions that you or I recognise – a bit of jealousy, obviously loss, love, hate, frustration and fear. But then you’ve gone through something deeper, Jason has gone through the rabbit hole and out the other side of it and has found that that there are things that he’s good at. Yes it’s hard to pick up the bow, pull back the arrow and kill that tiger – before he could never imagine doing it, but then suddenly he can; he has to survive. When you kill an animal, like a pig, you take the meat, throw it into your bag and hear the sound as it slops into inside. You even hear it in the timber of Jason’s voice, “Oh god!” and by the end you’re able to do this and it becomes second nature – you become elegant at it.”
“The devil is in the detail as you see the transition in Jason as he grows up. Finally towards the end of the game he has a full tattoo on his arm and he has learned all these different things from the Rakia [tribe]. Those friends that you’re talking about, they really function as a mirror reflecting Jason’s transformation. The friends that you’re rescuing, were they really your friends or your social network? Is it friends, is it family what is it? And so when you go and rescue a couple of them, and you show up and you’re covered in tattoos and they say, “You aren’t little Jason any more.” They look at you and they aren’t sure whether they like it, and you still need to go out there and rescue them, but then there’s a whole open world to discover and a whole other life.”
That “whole other life” is Far Cry 3′s sandbox gameplay so collecting bounties on wanted mercenarys, crafting new weapons, climbing up radio towers to gain an accurate lay of the nearby land, taking part in time trials and generally just mucking about.
“Jason goes to the island, and he absolutely knows that these are his friends and he absolutely knows that family is more important than anything else. Then he sees those feelings start to be eroded by the enticement of the open-world, and it’s an amazing thing to watch both the player and the character experience the same emotion of, “I need to go find my friends, but what’s that shiny thing over there?” And then, “Oh look there’s a map, that takes me to this next thing,” and four hours later you’re thinking, my friends who? The idea is to offer enticement, the story is a palate cleanse for the open-world and vice-versa.”
Trying to put an engaging character-driven story into an open-world game is a challenging proposition, but from talking with Dan Hay and hearing the passion he refers to Jason’s progression as a character it’s hard not to get a sense that Ubisoft Montreal want their sequel to be more than just an enjoyable sandbox. They want players to empathise with the protagonist’s pain and suffering while offering the fancy free enjoyment of watching wildlife beat up on each while hang-gliding from one side of the island to the other.
Rockstar’s GTA series has proven in the past that spinning an elaborate thirty-hour story-arc while offering the freedom of brainless destructive fun can sometimes be two completely irreconcilable needs, and it’ll be very interesting to see if Ubisoft Montreal can succeed where the genre-masters have often failed.
Will reviewers talk about Jason’s nuanced character progression or will they focus on the appeal of the tropical island and what you can do there? We have no idea, but it’ll be very interesting to see nonetheless.
Far Cry 3 is released in Europe on November 30th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
Tags: Far Cry 3
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