THE NEW RE­LI­GION

EDGE - - THE NEW RELIGION -

The mes­sage on the sand­wich board was plain enough: “The end is near.” Nor­mally, Far Cry 5 cre­ative di­rec­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Dan Hay wouldn’t have paid much at­ten­tion to such a hy­per­bolic warn­ing. But on that day, two-anda-half years ago in the cen­tre of Toronto, some­thing hit home un­ex­pect­edly. “I had two thoughts that day,” he tells us. “The first was: ‘Oh, maybe he knows some­thing that we don’t?’ The sec­ond was, ‘That’s the first time I’ve looked at some­body like that and not thought they were crazy.’”

For Hay, the en­counter was yet an­other con­trib­u­tor to a grow­ing sense of malaise – a lin­ger­ing feel­ing that some­thing in the world had shifted around the time he joined the Far

Cry 5 project as cre­ative di­rec­tor. Ul­ti­mately, that dis­com­fort would help to shape the game. As a kid grow­ing up in the ’80s, Hay was acutely aware of the threat posed by the Cold War tus­sle be­tween the US and Soviet Union. Films such as Ter­mi­na­tor and WarGames, and all man­ner of sim­i­larly themed TV shows, ex­ac­er­bated in him the feel­ing that “this um­brella above us would break and doom would just drop on top of us”. It was a daunt­ing time, es­pe­cially for a child. But when the Ber­lin Wall fell there was a pal­pa­ble sense of re­lief across the globe as the prospect of nu­clear oblit­er­a­tion faded.

But as an adult, that feel­ing of im­pend­ing doom be­gan to creep back into Hay’s life again. “I re­ally felt it with some of the things that were hap­pen­ing in the US, like with the sub­prime-mort­gage col­lapse,” he tells us. “And also some of the things that were go­ing on across the world. You started to hear the lan­guage of sep­a­ra­tion; of peo­ple want­ing to sep­a­rate from what was sup­posed to be a global vil­lage. Even Brexit gave me this feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach like, ‘Wow, that is a big change for the world.’”

With all of this per­co­lat­ing in the back­ground, see­ing the man with the sand­wich board trig­gered a thought in Hay: why not make Far Cry 5’ s an­tag­o­nist like that preacher from Toronto? That idea, in turn, raised the prospect of set­ting that game in the US for the first time. “We ac­tu­ally had the con­cept of go­ing to Amer­ica as far back as when we fin­ished Far Cry 3,” Hay says. “At the time it was just this idea that was out in the ether; we weren’t specif­i­cally talk­ing about the

lo­ca­tion be­yond it be­ing in Amer­ica, and we weren’t specif­i­cally talk­ing about the cre­ative di­rec­tion – we were just kick­ing around the idea of go­ing to the States.

“But we weren’t com­pletely con­tent with some of the ideas we had – they just didn’t feel rel­e­vant. So that con­cept ended up get­ting pushed to the side, and we fo­cused on some­thing that was per­haps a lit­tle bit more clas­sic Far Cry. We shipped Far Cry 4, and we were very happy with that, and then we did

Pri­mal, and that was su­per cool. And then at the end of Far Cry 4, the team that was work­ing on it res­ur­rected the idea of go­ing to the States.

“What dawned on me was: what if we made a char­ac­ter who knew, or at least be­lieved very fer­vently, that we are all on the edge and we’re headed for a col­lapse? What if we took that per­son and we gave them the power to be in charge of a cult that’s ba­si­cally try­ing to pro­tect hu­man­ity from this com­ing col­lapse – at least, that’s their be­lief? And what would it mean if we put them in the United States?”

Joseph Seed is the re­sult of that think­ing. More sub­dued, less volatile, and less flam­boy­ant than Vaas Mon­tene­gro or Pa­gan Min, Seed – also known as The Fa­ther – is the founder of a fa­nat­i­cal dooms­day cult named The Project At Eden’s Gate. A self-styled prophet, Seed leads the cult along­side his de­voted sib­lings. But de­spite some ar­guably old-fash­ioned method­olo­gies and be­liefs, Seed is very much a prod­uct of our times.

“We felt re­ally good about what we did with Vaas and Pa­gan Min, but we also wanted to make sure that when we cre­ated The Fa­ther that he was born of now,” Hay says. “That the things that he be­lieved, and the things that he es­poused, were re­ally rel­e­vant and made sense to­day. That way every­body could re­late to him and ask the ques­tion, ‘Is he crazy?’”

Ubisoft Montreal had to find a lo­ca­tion that would suit the sib­lings’ need to op­er­ate off the radar. Mon­tana, with its his­tor­i­cally iso­la­tion­ist pop­u­lace and ex­pan­sive land­scape, was a per­fect fit. The team set about creat­ing Hope County – a wide-open, agri­cul­tural area in which Seed and his fam­ily have set up shop and be­gun to in­fil­trate lo­cals’ lives.

“We started to think about where specif­i­cally would be a fron­tier in the States, where would match the spirit of be­ing a lit­tle bit off-kil­ter, and strange, and won­der­ful, and wild,” ex­plains Hay. “Some­where we could have al­most a Twi­light-Zone-type ex­pe­ri­ence, which is how I feel about Far Cry in gen­eral. We flew to Mon­tana be­cause we’d been hear­ing that it has a his­tory of self-re­liance, and was a place where peo­ple went to be left alone, away from the pry­ing eyes of the gov­ern­ment. We spent two weeks there, and the sto­ries that we heard and the peo­ple that we met com­pletely val­i­dated the pos­si­bil­ity of Joseph Seed go­ing to Mon­tana and be­liev­ing that the end of the world is com­ing, and then begin­ning to make plans to pro­tect him­self and his fol­low­ers from it.”

The move to Mon­tana rep­re­sents a pro­found change for the se­ries, which has al­ways favoured ex­otic lo­ca­tions and sprawl­ing, un­bro­ken wilder­ness. But it’s not just the lo­cal flora and fauna that will feel dif­fer­ent: Hay and his team have had to re­think what con­sti­tutes a Far Cry game in this new con­text. “Tak­ing it to Amer­ica is a big move for Far

Cry, and tak­ing the game into an en­vi­ron­ment that’s semi-ur­ban, or at least feels like civil­i­sa­tion is around ev­ery cor­ner – that is ab­so­lutely a big shift,” Hay says. “So that af­fects the lan­guage of Far Cry, and the mo­ment-to-mo­ment ex­pe­ri­ence that you have. What’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing is to watch peo­ple play the game in an arena that they kind of al­ready know, with rules they know.”

This time around, for ex­am­ple, rather than hurl­ing a mil­i­tary 4x4 down rough-hewn tracks that cut through dense fo­liage, you might in­stead find your­self in a de­cid­edly more do­mes­tic ve­hi­cle on a tar­mac road and feel the urge to pay at­ten­tion to stop signs. Fences in Hope County tend to pen in cat­tle – smash­ing through them will set the an­i­mals loose, po­ten­tially caus­ing havoc (or at least a dis­trac­tion). And while hired al­lies make a re­turn, Far Cry 5 also in­tro­duces a ‘fangs-forhire’ sys­tem that means you can have a loyal pet dog along­side you.

Hay won’t be drawn on the mutt’s name yet, but it sounds like a use­ful blighter. Send it into a group of en­e­mies, and it’ll tag their po­si­tions for you. Keep it by your side, and it’ll of­fer short shrift to any­one who tries to at­tack you, charg­ing them in re­turn and even strip­ping them of their weapon be­fore re­turn­ing it to you like a tossed stick.

“We were re­ally try­ing to un­der­stand how we were go­ing to use an­i­mals, and lever­age the things we’d been do­ing in Pri­mal, and Far Cry 3 and 4,” Hay says. “As part of that, we spent a day with a hunter while we were in Mon­tana. It was to­wards the end of the day, and we were pretty tired, then all of sud­den he just said, ‘Freeze; don’t move.’ We sat there for what felt like an eter­nity watch­ing his dog, who was in this prone po­si­tion look­ing at a bush. About 12 min­utes passed and then the dog just barked, and this grouse took off. The guy just turned to us and said, ‘Al­ways trust your dog.’ At that mo­ment we knew we needed to have a dog in the game, and to make sure that it was some­thing that you could trust. You have to be able to have a relationship with it, it has to have mean­ing, and it has to have gameplay value. Be­cause that’s a tool that peo­ple here would em­ploy, we did too.”

The trip also in­spired the team to take ad­van­tage of the more densely pop­u­lated na­ture of Mon­tana com­pared to, say, a trop­i­cal is­land or Cen­tral African repub­lic. “We want to put you in a world in­hab­ited by real peo­ple,” Hay says. “When we were in Mon­tana, we met real, in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters. They were hon­est, they were forth­right, they were stoic – they had a re­ally good bull­shit de­tec­tor. I re­ally didn’t get the sense that I could lie to th­ese folks. So in this new in­stal­ment of Far Cry, for the first time you’re able to go out and meet peo­ple and en­list them into your re­sis­tance against the cult.”

As you move about the county, then, you’ll en­counter char­ac­ters who are in a spot of bother. Help them, and they’ll join your cause, pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance in a num­ber of ways. While most are just reg­u­lar Joes with no par­tic­u­lar skills, you’ll also en­counter hero char­ac­ters who, once en­listed, pro­vide ac­cess to unique as­sets and toys that can sup­port your ef­forts. Th­ese hero char­ac­ters also gain ex­pe­ri­ence along­side you, be­com­ing more pro­fi­cient and learn­ing new skills as they go. Take Grace Arm­strong, for ex­am­ple, a pro­fi­cient sniper who can pro­vide cov­er­ing fire from a dis­tance. Or Nick Rye, a ballsy pi­lot who can be called in to do bomb­ing runs and who gen­er­ously of­fers to share his plane.

“We re­ally wanted play­ers to be able to take to the skies, and al­though we had gyrocopters in the past, you couldn’t dog­fight, you couldn’t call some­body in to do bomb­ing

runs and you re­ally didn’t feel like you had a per­son who was your part­ner in crime,” Hay says. “Nick was very much born from some of the peo­ple that we met in Mon­tana, and when you meet him he’s go­ing to be in some very spe­cific trou­ble. If you can help him, and en­list him, he’s re­ally use­ful.

“Just imag­ine: you’re look­ing down on Hope County [from a high van­tage point] and the cult has now taken it over and civil­ians are be­ing taken. You’re like, ‘How the hell am I go­ing to man­age this?’ Then you see this con­voy of trucks driv­ing through the space, and you go, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got Nick in my back pocket.’ You call over the ra­dio, you point at the con­voy and he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m on it.’ He flies over the top and just dec­i­mates it with a bomb from above. Or, you could just go and get into the plane your­self and do a straf­ing run, or dog­fight with the cult when they send their own planes out af­ter you.”

Hope County might be pop­u­lated with charis­matic folk, but the stu­dio is mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion when it comes to the game’s pro­tag­o­nist. A lo­cal ju­nior deputy, who ac­ci­den­tally trig­gers a cult takeover of the area af­ter an en­counter with Seed, our hero is a lit­tle green but knows how to use a gun – a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to avoid the usual tra­jec­tory of playable char­ac­ters.

“I hate it when you play a game and you go from zero to hero in ten sec­onds, and there’s no con­ceiv­able re­al­ity about it,” Hay says. “By giv­ing you a job that al­lows you to have a gun and a mod­icum of train­ing, it makes sense that you’d at least know how to use a re­volver. But typ­i­cally in Far Cry, what we’ve done is build this very thin hero, and we’ve made the voice of the pro­tag­o­nist the voice of the player. This time we want you to be able to just be you. We want you to be able to cus­tomise your­self to look like you if you want. You have this shell of the deputy around you, but the per­son who’s got that job and who has that re­spon­si­bil­ity is you, if that’s who you re­ally want to play as.”

This re­newed com­mit­ment to player choice ex­tends to your path through the game, too. Rather than fol­low a tightly au­thored story in which ev­ery­one traces more or less the same line through an open en­vi­ron­ment, this time you’re free to head in any di­rec­tion you like from the out­set, and meet char­ac­ters in any or­der along the way.

“The game pays at­ten­tion to what you do and re­sponds to it,” Hay ex­plains. “De­pend­ing on where you are in the game, it throws forth mi­cro-sto­ries and ac­tion bub­bles that are rel­e­vant to the space that you’re in. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s say that one player heads north, and an­other heads south – both would have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and there would be dif­fer­ent sto­ries there. If you played for ten hours, and then we were at work the next day chat­ting about it at the water cooler, you’d tell me what Far Cry 5 was about and I’d be like, ‘I played a com­pletely dif­fer­ent game and I have no clue what char­ac­ters you’re talk­ing about!’”

That’s all very well, but while the stu­dio’s ded­i­ca­tion to ad­ding new me­chan­ics and greater free­dom is com­mend­able, if the game still hits all of the usual Far Cry beats – ir­re­spec­tive of whether it does so in a dif­fer­ent rhythm – it could quickly lose mo­men­tum. In­deed, one crit­i­cism lev­elled at the oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent Far Cry 4 was that it per­haps felt a lit­tle too sim­i­lar to its pre­de­ces­sor. Hay is aware of those crit­i­cisms, and the po­ten­tial pit­falls that they rep­re­sent.

“We’re devs, yes, but we also play a ton of games, so we’re aware of that,” he says. “I think the very first dis­cus­sion we had about where we’re go­ing to go shows you where our head is at: I re­mem­ber we kicked around some ideas and then we were like, ‘You know what? If we do that peo­ple are go­ing to be like, ‘Of course, it’s a Far Cry game and that’s part of the tem­plate.’ Right from the very begin­ning we de­cided that if some­thing feels fa­mil­iar, or if it feels like any­body could see some­thing com­ing, we’re do­ing it wrong. So when the idea first per­co­lated about Mon­tana, ev­ery­one was sud­denly like, ‘Wait a minute – no­body would ex­pect that!’ Think about what that means, think about this lo­ca­tion and what it of­fers: this feel­ing of self-re­liance and the peo­ple that we can put in it. It very quickly be­gan to grow into some­thing that is very pow­er­ful and dif­fer­ent. If you track that re­flex to do some­thing dif­fer­ent across the board, you can see the di­rec­tion we went in.”

So does that mean that play­ers won’t be clam­ber­ing up tow­ers to un­lock por­tions of the map, then? “That’s a fair ques­tion,” Hay laughs. “How do I an­swer that…? We

un­der­stand the na­ture of peo­ple ask­ing a ques­tion about the for­mula of climb­ing tow­ers and look­ing at the world and un­lock­ing the map. We wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent this time, that’s as much as I’ll say. But there’s tons more I want to tell you.”

Hay is un­guarded in his en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion for the se­ries (this is the fifth Far Cry game that he’s worked on, but only his first as cre­ative di­rec­tor), and we emerge from our chat cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about Far Cry 5’ s po­ten­tial to sub­vert ex­pec­ta­tions to the same de­gree that Far Cry 2 did with its jam­ming guns, malaria at­tacks and fire prop­a­ga­tion. If the game lives up to the team’s am­bi­tions, it could also rep­re­sent a much-needed shake-up of Ubisoft’s open-world tem­plate. It’s an op­por­tu­nity Hay and his team cer­tainly in­tend to seize.

“When you build games, there are al­ways those heart­break­ing mo­ments where you have to leave fea­tures on the cut­ting-room floor be­cause you have to ship,” Hay says. “But this is a game where we want to test our­selves. This is a game where we want to try and move some things around and break some moulds. I think that games are re­ally ma­tur­ing to the point where you can tell great sto­ries and, al­most in the same vein as they do on tele­vi­sion and in movies, put some­one into an en­vi­ron­ment where you’re chal­leng­ing them and telling them some­thing unique – you’re giv­ing them an ex­pe­ri­ence that they can’t get any­where else.

“Typ­i­cally, when you’re mak­ing a game, you’re earnestly work­ing on it and you’ve got your nose to the grind­stone. When you get up to take a smoke break, or go out­side and take in some fresh air, you walk out into a world that’s re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent to the game you’re mak­ing. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case on this game, and it’s a very strange feel­ing to go out­side and have peo­ple around you talk­ing about things that could take place in your game. But putting the player against some­body who re­ally does be­lieve that they’re do­ing right by hu­man­ity, at a mo­ment in time where that seems to be a theme in the world… that just feels right.” Just how much truth there is in the mes­sage on that sand­wich board re­mains open for de­bate, but given ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in the world to­day, per­haps it re­ally is time for us to con­sider the def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity once again.

FarCry5 cre­ative di­rec­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Dan Hay

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.