Post Script

Alex Hutchin­son, cre­ative di­rec­tor

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Ubisoft Mon­treal’s Alex Hutchin­son is in a fine mood. There’s been no post-launch hol­i­day for him – he’s al­ready moved onto his next project – but he’s spend­ing his down­time watch­ing videos of play­ers vis­it­ing co-op havoc on Kyrat. Here, he dis­cusses the world-build­ing role of Far Cry 4’ s wildlife, sub­vert­ing con­ven­tions, and the per­pet­ual con­flict be­tween story and sys­tems in open-world games. What was the over­all phi­los­o­phy for the role of the wildlife in this game, com­ing from Far Cry 3? We tried to make them more be­liev­able, and more part of the ecosys­tem. They’re do­ing things when you’re not there: at­tack­ing each other, or NPCs. They’re much more en­gaged in the world than in pre­vi­ous games. The ele­phants are ve­hi­cles, some an­i­mals are threats, some are am­bi­ent, some are part of the econ­omy. We tried to fit them in ev­ery­where, in­stead of just hav­ing them in the craft­ing. We were able to up the den­sity as well, so they’re more no­tice­able. We went back through all of their be­hav­iours, try­ing to make each one a unique chal­lenge in the same way that we try to make each weapon or tool uniquely use­ful. How much work does some­thing like that take? It’s one of the crazy things about mod­ern game de­sign. In years past, we’d have a cou­ple of de­sign­ers work­ing on the game as a whole. Now you’ll have a cou­ple of de­sign­ers work­ing on one sub­sec­tion. They’re work­ing in a cross-dis­ci­plinary team with artists, an­i­ma­tors and AI en­gi­neers. It’s an en­tire project’s worth of tasks for those peo­ple. It’s two years of work, full time, for a dozen or more peo­ple. In a world of tigers, rhi­nos and bears, the ea­gles are the scari­est an­i­mal in the game. Why is that? It’s funny, they’re no more threat­en­ing or ag­gres­sive than any other an­i­mal. It’s an il­lus­tra­tion of a weird hu­man trait that you see in ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­rior de­sign: hu­mans suck at look­ing up. Be­cause peo­ple look down a lot, and for­ward a lot, you get sur­prised from the air much more than you do from the ground. The ea­gles also riff off As­sas­sin’s Creed’s look­outs. Did you go out of your way to be sub­ver­sive? That was the most fun we had with the game, I think, try­ing to say, “We know you know; you know we know.” There’s a lot of nod­ding, wink­ing and black hu­mour in there. But it’s tricky. I think it’s prob­a­bly be­cause Clint [Hock­ing] worked on Far Cry 2, and he coined the term, but there’s al­ways a lot of dis­cus­sion of ludonar­ra­tive dis­so­nance around Far Cry. We liked the idea of al­low­ing peo­ple to be aware of the MacGuffins if they wanted to

“It’s the first time in a long while I’ve worked with a Brit on the nar­ra­tive side. It made ev­ery­thing a bit bleaker”

pay at­ten­tion. The en­tire end­ing speech – and I’ve seen it a cou­ple of times on­line – peo­ple are say­ing, “No! Pa­gan Min tells you that you came here to bury your mom, but re­ally you came here to blow stuff up.” We can cre­ate any story con­ceit you want, about peo­ple you’ve never met, or we can just say, “Go on – hunt the bears, dodge ea­gles, throw grenades, and see what hap­pens.” Ajay tells one NPC, “I’m just here to scat­ter my mother’s ashes.” Five min­utes ear­lier, he was shoot­ing tigers with ex­plo­sive ar­rows. Yeah, and it’s funny who’s picked up on it and who hasn’t, who’s ap­pre­ci­ated it or found it con­fronting. It’s a combo of my sense of hu­mour and [ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer] Dan Hay’s, and our nar­ra­tive di­rec­tor Mark Thomp­son, who’s a Brit. It’s the first time in a long while I’ve worked with a Brit on the nar­ra­tive side. It made ev­ery­thing a bit bleaker. As soon as the game was an­nounced, some peo­ple dis­missed it as Far Cry 3.5. How much did that grate? It’s frus­trat­ing to see the ar­bi­trary way in which it’s ap­plied to games. Some games get this, but other games that rarely change don’t get tarred with that brush at all. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing. Ubisoft at the mo­ment is very much in the head­lights of that, so we know we’re go­ing to get it.

It’s a dis­cus­sion of what the brand is. What are fans com­ing back to it ex­pect­ing? What do we need to add to make sure it’s unique and dis­tinct, and what needs im­prov­ing? Yes, the core loop of tow­ers and outposts is still there, and it’s still a shooter with an­i­mals, but I think we did a bet­ter job of pretty much ev­ery­thing… There’s a funny ap­proach to fran­chises in games that I can’t quite get to the bot­tom of in my mind. I don’t turn on Game Of Thrones and get up­set that it’s still the same world, with the same char­ac­ters, sea­son after sea­son. Now we’re out, you see a lot of peo­ple say­ing, “Oh, yeah, it’s got a lot of the same things, but…” Per­haps that’s in part due to the way the tone has shifted across the se­ries, but both this and Far Cry 3 ex­plore sim­i­lar themes. Where would you like to see the se­ries go next? I think you’re right. Far Cry 2 was very se­ri­ous. Far Cry 3 was too, but was over the top. I think that Far Cry 4 em­braces black com­edy, and that is some­thing I’d want to keep, but I’d lean more into the sys­tems. We’re rub­bing up more and more against the un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship be­tween semi­lin­ear story and true emer­gent nar­ra­tive, and I think Far Cry 4 is the best ex­pres­sion of the lat­ter, but we still have prob­lems with the for­mer. I would go even fur­ther in that di­rec­tion – the story is your story.

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