Ubisoft recently unveiled the immensity of Far Cry 3's open world environment. I got a chance to try the game out for myself and most importantly, have a chat with the game's Producer Dan Hay. Here are a few of your questions- answered!
In what way did you approach designing the open world experience?
For us, there is the systemic answer and then there is the creative answer. I think what we wanted was an environment where you had to push the palm fronds away and you can almost feel the humidity. And that when you heard something in the distance, or even up close, you couldn't quite see it and you didn't know where it was coming from. And that you had to check around and that you had to almost hide. That read feeling of that first time you go camping and you hear the footfall or something snaps and you go "Oh my god, what was that?"
It was about providing opportunities for the player to use their imagination and become a participant in it. So we built environments where there was something around every corner and there was something cool in the distance, but in the time to travel from here to there were a tone of stories being told - and it was a question of how you played it.
I definitely get that feeling while crouching in the jungle.
Yea, and you hear a big cat moving around, you hear that noise and you go "Oh my god."
About how large is the world?
It's big. But we didn't send out specifically to think about its scope to Far Cry 2, we thought about depth. So we said, if you play in just a square kilometer of space, we need to give you tons of points of interest, tons of animals, a tower to climb, outposts, Trials of the Rakiya, all these different things you can do, hunting, and going after specific quests for killing certain pirates - all inside that space. There has to be a series of layers of things you can do, through there. So it was about depth.
But when you look at it, and pull back from the map, and you see the North Island, and you see an entire other island underneath it, plus you have co-op, plus you have PVP, plus you can build some of it with the in-game editor, it's huge.
How much then did fast travel contribute to that process?
Well we knew, based on the feedback from Far Cry 2, that we wanted to include fast travel as an opportunity. If you want to go through and you want to find your way across all the islands and you want to see every single thing and do everything by foot or by flying over it or by getting in a car and driving it all over the place, you can.
We also want to offer the opportunity and the enticements for players who want to get into the action, or maybe "Oh, you know what I want to do, right now, right this moment? I want to go hunt this type of animal. Where was it?" I look at my map, it's hell and gone over there, I want to fast travel, I want to get in the action, I want to do what I want to do.
Can you talk about Vaas and what goes into the character design of someone who is... crazy?
So this is a big question. When you think about what it takes to make somebody like Vaas, it's a concert. So, you have to have one part great writing, one part a great actor, one part a really great performance on on a very specific day, all the parts have to align. You have to have great chemistry between the actor and the player.
You need to take risks. You need to allow the actor to take some risks. You have to create an environment not unlike the island, where there are no rules. And then you have to figure out a way to harness that and it's not easy.
I think when you think about what it took to find Vaas, or maybe what it took to find some of the other characters, it's really interesting how we came to it. But the other thing too is that there is a difference between "crazy" and "insane". Our focus was on showing that Vaas is not a clown, he's not just some guy who is zany and shows up and you're like, "Oh, that guy's off." This guy is insane and what's different is - crazy is just crazy. Insanity has a plan. It may not be a good plan, it may not be the right plan, but there's an intentionality there, and there's an intensity there, and that's what Vaas has.
And so you couple a great performance, great acting, great writing, all that stuff together, with the idea that there is a plan, that there is malfeasance, that there is real anger behind it, real emotion. You put that in first-person so it's up close and personal, and then you put bread crumbs all the way through the game, to be able to bring you as a palate cleanser from open world to story to open world to story, and you have a very dynamic recipe for success
Do you feel like players will get a sense of understanding who Vaas is over the course of the game?
I think it depends on who you are. But yea, I think there is going to be some people who hate Vaas, there is going to be some people who like Vaas, there are going to be some people that empathize with Vaas. It's going to be complex and that is what I like about. We really tried to make a real character that some people would absolutely despise and others might like, and it really depends on how you interpret what he is.
What sort of transformation are we going to see with Jason over time?
Honestly it's physical, it's mental. I would say in a very credible way, it's a total transformation. We see somebody go from being effectively a boy to a man. We see somebody who is maybe a little bit entitled, has Western values on things. The fundamental thing I would say is that there is a difference between experience and knowledge. Jason may have been well educated. He may have knowledge about the world, be he sure hasn't experienced it. And Vaas is a crash course in reality.
I think that when Jason then realizes that life is bigger and it is more variable and it can be more dangerous but more rewarding, you watch him change. You hear him change, in the very beginning he's like "I don't know if I can do this", and by the end, if he survives, there is gravel in his voice. But you see it physically. You see that he's got a tattoo, and at the very beginning there is hardly anything there. And if you get to the end, if you get all these things that you are looking for, the right of passage, your story, the player's story in the game, is literally written on your skin.
I think the third part to that is the reflection. Which is, as Jasongoesacrossthe island and begins to, if he can, find his friends and save them, they begin to reflect back some of the changes, as almost this mirror. Whereas they maybe knew the player as this fresh-faced kid who is happy-go-lucky. As the player begins to change, they begin to notice that, and they comment on it, and I'm not sure they always appreciate it.
When you are thinking about the transformation and the way players are interacting with NPCs, what things were you thinking of including in gameplay that effects how they see this transformation?
In terms of gameplay, I think that when you meet Jason at the beginning, he's not an expert in killing at all. His first kill is sloppy, his first kill with a knife is particularly sloppy and his first kill with a gun is really the player's first kill with a gun as they're hunting. And I think you see that in how they play.
But moment to moment, without giving too much away about the story, I think there are a series of moments in the game where you'll see the towers even. The players first struggle to climb the towers and then they get good at it. And there's this staircase of things we are trying to do where we introduce you to a new experience, we introduce you to a new challenge, you start to understand it, you start to get good at it, you start to master that challenge. I think that all throughout the game we are doing that.
Whether or not it's melee combat, whether or not it's the weapons you're choosing, whether or not it's a specific weapon, whether or not it's how you harvest, how you spend your skills, how you use your environment and the jungle, and the animals that are in it, you'll see Jason change. And you will see there is a delicate balance that we are trying to offer.
What sort of ideas and concepts did you bring into the game in regards to stealth?
I don't know that we set out to say a certain percentage of the game needs to be stealth. It was much more fluid than that. What we offered was the ability to use the environment, from any direction. What we were surprised at was how people did it. And we definitely asked players in some key moments of the game to be stealthy, but again it comes back to enticements. "Go and Kill this guy with a knife." Ok, so if I run in, I make a lot of noise. We built a reactive world.
Stand in the middle of the world and shoot around. You're going to hear "My god, what was that?" as pirates come at you, or you're going to hear a big cat off in the distance, or you'll hear a bear, or all of a sudden you hear the slithering sounds of kimodo dragons. Or you may hear nothing. So, not unlike if you or I were on the island and we fired off a round, in some cases we are saying "We're here." I'm not confident that that's a good idea.
We wanted to make it credible, so you absolutely can be stealthy, you absolutely can listen, you absolutely can shoot if you want, but the world will react. And you are not in control of how it reacts. So that is probably the biggest thing for us - you are in a living world, you don't have total conrol over it, it is emergent, and if you have a loud weapon, the report of that weapon goes all the way across the world. Jason doesn't always look before you leap, and you might want to think about that with the gun too.
Can you talk about the changes you made to the fire system?
Far Cry 2 had a really great fire system, so for us it was about just making sure that we built on that. So from an evolutionary stand point, it's about fidelity. We wanted you almost to be able to smell it. You might have a Molotov cocktail in your hand and you want to start a fire, but be very careful.
We wanted to make grasslands and what not that would burn. We wanted to make some areas that weren't flammable. I think the real change for us though, to get to the meat of the question, is how do the animals react when there is a fire.
So personally, what I like to do when I am at an outpost, is look for animals and basically create a fire behind them and see if I can steer them. Or I set up explosions and I try to steer them. It's not easy to do. What I will use fire to herd AI and get them to go to a place.
There are a couple of places with outposts where you've got to be vary careful, because if you're on a 50 cal and you hit a barrel and it explodes and the fire starts to burn, you're in the middle of an outpost that's on fire. You've got animals at your back, you've got fire at your front, you've got nowhere to go. You have to be careful. So I think it was more of an integration with all the other systems that we have to try to make it feel real with animals, and that the living world was responsive to the fire itself. Which is really tricky to do. That was a big improvement for us.
Was there a time you thought about not including the fire?
Far Cry 2 did such a good time with it, that I don't remember a time where we talked about not having fire. People responded so well to it and it was such a great feature from Far Cry 2, that it was just natural for us.
Can you talk about changes to AI? It seems their detection system is different and there is the new ability to throw rocks.
I think the goal being that even if you didn't have a weapon, there is always an opportunity for you to be smart. We know that players are smart. We know they are going to try and break it. So we tried to hit every possible scenario that we could using the environments.
There are times in the game where you don't have a lot of implements to work with, and maybe you can use the sound of a waterfall, or maybe you can just hide behind something in the environment, or you can come up and do a stealth kill from underwater. We wanted to give you opportunity and to play with the toy. It's immersion. It's about being in a game. It's about dealing with the story and learning about your friends and having all that emotion. But if you just stop and say "You know what, I just want to play with the toy that I have." So you have to have AI that is reactive to that.
They have to be reactive to animal AI. They have to be reactive to you. They have to be aware. They have to be cognizant of the fact that you're playing with them. Just the issue of trying to kill somebody and hide a body: if you don't hide that body and they stumble across it, they are going to be on you very, very, quickly.
So it's about giving you that 360 degree approach, and allowing you to, let's say you are a sniper like me, and I go out and I get the weapon that I want, but I forget or neglect to put a silencer on it. Kakow! I shoot, then all of a sudden, all the AI is on point and they send out dogs. Now I'm in trouble. Or they send out guys that can throw Molotov cocktails and they start a fire behind me, and now I'm being pushed forward. They have got to be responsive.
So it comes down to how you play it.
What is the craziest thing you have seen happen out of an emergent situation?
The thing that brings the most cheers involve animals that do stuff we never, never, never imagined would happen. When you're bombing along and you're in a moment in a mission, or in a moment in the open world, and you hit a group of pirates, and you're switching weapons or maybe you're just down to your last clip and you're taking these guys out, and then all of a sudden a panther comes out of nowhere and takes out one of the pirates and is working for you and you're like "Yes! Panther!" And then all of a sudden you realize you're left and you go "No!" It's fantastic.
There have been moments where I have been taking out outposts where I look down through the scope and think "Ok, here is what I'm going to do. I know that if don't take out the alarm, they're going to call reinforcements. So I am going to put mines where I think all the reinforcements might come from. And then I'm going to put down some detonation packs that allow me to maybe have a blaster moment where if the guys come from here I can play. And then I'm going to figure out if I can let the bear out from shooting it from far away and have the bear run out. And then I am going to start a fire and bring some kimodo dragons in with me."
So I have it all planned, but it never works that way. Because invariably, I don't realize that a tiger has been slowly coming up at me from behind. And as I realize that, because he's on top of me, I run across, set off one of the mines, barely survives, the tiger sets off the other one, the reinforcements come, I shoot at the bear, the bear comes at me, and all hell breaks loose.
The game is alive. So you have to be careful.
And when you survive, it's that extra moment of exhilaration.
Yea, it's fantastic. When people go "Oh my god!", they're freaking out, and the team's like "Yes!" You can see the passion. You know that we are building a game that we want people to be passionate about. We want it to be real emotion. Whether it's through the story, which gets a lot of people looking at it and being interested in it, or the gameplay and the toy of just playing and having fun, it's a huge deal for us.
Anything you want to add?
I think that what is tremendously gratifying is saying, "Hey folks, you have two hours to play," and then four hours later, we can't get the controller out of their hands.
People have been waiting to see the open world. It's here, it's here in a big way. I think the more people we can get it in the hands of, the more people are going to love it.