So Far Cry 3 is looking pretty damn tasty, then. You can read SPOnG's preview to find out exactly why. But in a nutshell - visceral, immersive first-person open-world play using storytelling and characters we can all relate with.
Of course, it wouldn't be this promising without some sound design thinking behind it all. This is where Ubisoft producer Dan Haye comes in - I had a chat about the messages within the game, how Rook Island was designed and the emotions that the developer wanted to make the player feel. Read on...
SPOnG: Far Cry 3 has a new protagonist in Jason Brody. How does he compare to the protagonist in previous Far Cry games?
Heís definitely different. Thereís no question. Right off the bat, we wanted to capture at this feeling of uncertainty and loneliness. Remember when you first went camping as a little kid? Youíre having a blast - the world is your oyster, everything is great.
Then it starts to get dark, you start to get a little scared, and then you hear a twig snap. Your imagination does more damage than whatís really out there.
We wanted to give that to the player. A feeling of being a little kid, being small, and then being able to grow up within the confines of this island.
So we were very specific about wanting to have an everyman character - not a soldier, just a normal person like you or I - who got in over their head and responded out of necessity, in a very unpracticed way. You quickly learn that when the chips are down and you have to survive, you can. And you end up almost becoming elegant at it. The island was a character unto itself, really - its design gave us an opportunity to do that.
SPOnG: Do you think this kind of approach makes Jason Brody more relatable to the audience?
Yes, absolutely. We try to think of it almost like a play. Where youíre sitting around a table with your family and everyone has their own, deep, unsaid emotions. Thereís the father, the two sons, maybe a sister, the mum and the interplay of whatís going on during the meal.
In the game you meet Grant, [Jasonís brother]. Now, Grantís obviously pretty tough. Heís very much somebody whoís there to help you at the beginning. But with that in mind, you start to wonder what dinnerís like at Jasonís house. What itís like to be in Grantís shadow and how much Jason appreciates that, when theyíre not in trouble.
Just the subtlety, the nuance of the emotions that you and I can relate to... the loss of Grant... you can actually hear small segments of memories throughout the game to add some colour to Jasonís character. We donít try and write the entire story. What we try and do is just leave gaps that the playerís imagination can write, and be a participant in. I think that drawing on those emotions, and drawing on stuff thatís credible and what we all know, allows the player to jump in that much easier.
SPOnG: The game seems to be full of immersive moments that really draw you into the world around you - one after the other without dropping a beat. How did you approach the design of the game so that you maintained that flow throughout?
In every single instance, you treat it like a piece of music. There are notes in music, there are runs - but there are also rests. To be able to appreciate the runs and the notes, you have to have the rests. So we looked at the game by balancing the emotion, the moments... we give you somebody like Grant and then we take him away.
And when we take Grant away - youíre holding the controller, and you can actually feel the feedback of his heartbeat slowly dissipating when your hands are on his wounds. Then you lose him. The player loses him. You actually feel that loss. And Vaas very quickly says, ďRun. Run because youíre nothing but a piece of meat to me. Run. And letís see how far you can make it.Ē
The player manages to just get away, is rescued, and then has the opportunity to - by luck or by chance - come back. Through that endeavour, they begin to learn the skills of the island to survive. Itís subtle, and we were very, very careful. We wanted to make sure we offered a variety of experiences.
To be honest it cannot just be constant insanity all the time. You have to have moments where youíre feeling the raw emotion of loss, or the raw emotion of love, or even just enjoyment. Allowing the player to balance between the run-and-gun of the missions and being able to just going out and forgetting for a time.
Itís a balance between the two, and the idea is to offer enticements. Choose where you want to go, how you want to go, when you want to go, and the story that you write will be on your own.
SPOnG: If designing the game is like writing a piece of music, does that mean making the game in such a way was a challenge for you guys? Did it come naturally for you to take this direction?
It hasnít been easy. Itís not just a piece of music - itís also played in concert. You have a number of different things - animation, audio, presentation, cinematics, characters, memorable moments, little points of interest for exploration... itís a concert. Itís a symphony of things that weíre trying to offer. And the trick is to allow the player to be the conductor, in a lot of cases.
In some ways, youíre transitioning from the world that youíre in now, to a world thatís like going down the rabbit hole with us. To spend some time on the island, to meet the characters. Itís really tricky. Iím not going to lie to you and tell you itís easy. At all.
But, I think that we have an opportunity where we have a really great fanbase, and a product that people are clamouring for - we have open-world, co-op and PvP... Thereís just a lot to offer, and so itís just about offering a variety of experiences for the player.
SPOnG: Were there any media-based influences that inspired you in either the setup or the general design of the game? Teen movies? Horror movies?
If weíre talking about themes that weíve read in books and things, I think Apocalypse Now
and The Deer Hunter
are good examples of influences. There was a scene in The Deer Hunter
that I remember very clearly that when I watched it for the first time, the feeling of ĎWhat does that mean? Whatís coming next?í.
In the scene, a bunch of guys are about to go off to Vietnam, and two days beforehand theyíre are at a wedding and theyíre all drinking and having a good time. Thereís a soldier whoís sitting there whoís just come back from the frontline. And heís having a shot. They go over and try to have a shot with him but heís very quiet, very contemplative. Heís not celebrating anything. They donít understand why heís like that, because they donít know whatís coming.
The juxtapositions of the fact that you have a soldier whoís very stoic, and the rowdy soldiers having a good time... the two moods for the same event... itís a very interesting story unto itself. What we tried to do is just look for raw emotion, like that. Moments that the player would recognise.
You think of other influences, and you might think of books like The Road
, where thereís tremendous loss and then great hope. Movies like The Beach
, where you see the beauty and the paradise, but then you also see that thereís danger behind it. So I think all that stuff, plus our own lives and the experiences that weíve had, played into the mosaic that is Far Cry 3
SPOnG: What about the lead antagonist, Vaas? Heís a very fascinating character, brilliantly acted. Whatís the story behind him?
I donít know how best to qualify and describe Vaas, because heís not simply a bully. Heís beyond that. I think everybodyís been in a moment where theyíve either been at a bar, or at school, and they thought they could handle a situation, or been in a place they shouldnít have. And they realise very quickly that theyíre not as tough as they think they are. And theyíre put in a moment of very specific weakness.
Itís a life lesson, and Vaas is the guy who teaches you that lesson. He was our instrument to provide the player with that moment - where they felt that weakness and thought they would have their lunch money taken. Everybody remembers that particular moment in their life, where they realise that theyíre not a hero and that there are circumstances where theyíre just going to have to sit there and take it.
Whatís interesting about those moments is that thereís two sides to that coin. When you look at it on face value, you feel very much like a victim. But when you look back on it, you also remember whoever it was that hurt you, or insulted you, and you start to think about what made them tick. And if youíre a little bit more contemplative about it, you realise that they were probably a victim themselves.
Then you start to look at Vaas differently, and you start to ask, ĎWho made Vaas?í There are hints in the game - how he acts, and what heís doing - that are revealed later, with the relationship of his sister, for example. You begin to learn how the island made him what he is...
SPOnG: Thereís a lot of talk about the games industry getting ever closer to Hollywood. Itís been the big takeaway from this whole console generation, really. How challenging is it to straddle the line between interactivity and providing a cinematic experience for the player?
Itís very challenging, absolutely. You do not want the story to be too heavy-handed and be an impediment to the playerís progress. The idea is that itís just another enticement - something that allows you to learn the characters. And to be honest, we think of our characters as personality bombs who go off on the island. So you might not be with Vaas at a particular moment, but you can see his influence.
And sometimes thatís enough. You donít need to have him there every minute of every day, yelling at you or treating you like a victim. Itís enough to see that there are pirates out there. Itís enough to see enemies going out and hunting tigers and loading them into cages, for example. You understand that thereís an intelligence at work. Thereís a network, of sorts.
But you donít have to be reminded of it every minute. Especially with an open world game. Itís really important that the story is just a thread - one that is woven through the tapestry that is the game. And that youíre very careful with how much time you spend on each [cinematic]. You need to offer the player the enticements of being able to go into the open world, and have the story as a palette cleanse. Or play the missions and have the open world as a palette cleanse. It depends on how you play.
SPOnG: There were moments during play where control was taken from me to make sure youíre able to see something and focus on something in the story. It must have also been tough to have these elements without going so far as to irritate the player.
Itís an extremely fine line. You want to make sure that youíre offering a momentary enticement, then giving control back to the player and allowing them to choose whether they take the bait or continue with their own adventure.
SPOnG: Thereís an undertone throughout the whole game of tribal culture and, to a degree, voodoo. Do you guys believe in any of that?
Iím-- Thatís a great question, actually. Itís the first time Iíve been asked that. I donít know... again, we didnít set out to answer all those questions. But I think it all comes back to those feelings and emotions that we wanted to have in the game. Going back to that camping analogy of you being alone and hearing that twig snap in the dark... Iím extremely superstitious, and I believe that peopleís imaginations are things that affect them incredibly deeply.
So if we give the player an opportunity to use their imagination, put out little breadcrumbs of information, we can recreate that same feeling. Say for example that Iím bombing along in a truck, and I look down and see a fire. I look closer, and that fire is surrounded with a pile of bodies, with a blood trail that goes off into a cave. What happened? Well, we donít tell you.
The idea is that we allow you to come up with your own story. To allow you to come up with what everything means. It wasnít heavy-handed - it was just this thing where we wanted to give the player something that had a little mystique to it.
SPOnG: Thanks a lot for your time!