Afterwords – Far Cry Primal
Ubisoft showed just how flexible the Far Cry series was with the unexpected release of Far Cry Primal. The latest entry in the series took the open-world action back to the stone age, trading guns and cars for spears and saber-toothed tigers. We spoke with game director Thomas Simon about the time shift, reviving a language, the finer points of petting animals, and more.
Far Cry Primal is such an obvious departure from the series. Can you tell us about the genesis of the idea?
The very first time I heard some developers talking about that idea, it was at the time of Far Cry 3. At the time, it was really more cafeteria talk between people talking about the setting in the stone age, because they thought it was cool, but it was really just an idea between some developers. During the development of Far Cry 4, a small team – and I was part of it – was given the opportunity to work on the concept and prototypes for that idea. The moment when we started to go for it was when the art director Mickael [Labat] decided to pitch us an idea he had for a while based on that, so really it was the original concept of the game, some idea of the setting, some iconic imagery, it really felt like a new choice for us. For Far Cry games, we like to take the player to exotic locations, to the frontier literally, where the laws of man are blurry at best, and for us the stone age is the very first frontier, the first time where tribes of men started to fight over land. It’s the moment where man is slowly rising on top of the food chain and is not on top of the food chain yet, and you also have a planet Earth that is still very pristine.
People online have layered Far Cry Primal’s map over the map from Far Cry 4 and noticed some similarities. Did you reuse portions of Far Cry 4’s map when creating Primal?
The team’s priority was to build the most authentic, plausible and immersive experience of the Stone Age era. The entire world of Oros was designed to deliver this promise, with new custom assets for flora, fauna, biomes and characters as well as a whole new language. We’ve invested and iterated much more in areas of the game to build a worthy depiction of a Stone Age world. In this, the fan feedback from those who have dived into Far Cry Primal and the world of Oros has been fantastic.
Your team went all-in with the dialog, working with linguists to reconstruct a language that hadn’t been used for thousands of years. Did you experiment with English, or was that always the plan?
The language was really the focus of a lot of discussion and debate for a while. Originally, the writers were a bit afraid with the idea of creating a whole new language, because it’s a tremendous task, so we did some tests with English, we did some tests with a simplified English version et cetera, but every time the result was somewhat unsatisfying. It really felt like we were missing something. Through multiple discussions, someone had the idea of trying to see what we could do with Proto-Indo European language, and then progressively we got in contact with the linguist specialists from the University of Kentucky, and we started to build up that idea and it started to grow. We did some prototypes to see how people would react, and it was so much better that it became an obvious choice. I think it’s rare that a game is played in the same language all over the world, and with this game it’s the case. Everyone is listening to the language in Proto-Indo European, with different subtitles, so it’s an interesting thing to witness.
Urki the Thinker is a fun character in the game. Is he a direct ancestor of Hurk?
He’s definitely an homage to Hurk, but after that I don’t know how his bloodline can stay for 10,000 years because he seems to be dying often. He’s definitely an homage to the Hurk character from the other games, for sure.
Keep reading for more about animals – and dinosaurs!
Animals have been a part of Far Cry from the beginning of the series, and in Far Cry 4 there were the Shangri La missions with a tiger escort. Do you see animal companions making their way into future entries?
You’re right, animals have been a strong focus in the franchise. For the beast mastery of Primal, we started using the expertise that we developed for the tiger in Shangri La. This time it was really systemic, so we had to redo the entire feature, but it was an interesting starting point for the concept. Animals are part of the franchise, and they’ll always be part of the franchise, because we’re trying to create realistic worlds and there’s always going to be animals. The beast mastery is something new; it’s gotten super positive feedback from the community, so we’ll see how we can continue in that way. But Far Cry is really a wide gameplay ecosystem, so there’s that aspect that can still be explored.
When you first incorporated animals, did you want players to be able to pet them?
For that, I have to give credit to Maxime Béland, the creative director for the Far Cry Primal team that was in Toronto that was in charge of delivering the beast mastery. He contacted us one day telling us he really, really wanted to pet animals. I was absolutely OK with the idea, but we felt like we should make sure the rest was working well. And they really, really made sure they would have enough time to keep the petting in the game – and I must say, I’m surprised how much people enjoy it. It’s very simple, it’s natural. The first time we played the game with the petting ability, it just felt natural. It doesn’t have any real gameplay purpose, and I think that’s why it’s cool. You can do it if you want. It just reaches something deep inside of each of us, I think. It’s something they pushed for, and I’m glad I did.
Absolutely! Whenever I’d unlock a new companion, the first thing I’d do was pet them.
Actually, have you’ve tried to pet the badger? One day I came into the office, and Max has is on the computer, very excited. He keeps pinging me to be sure I’m at my desk, because he wanted to make sure that I could test something. I get the latest version, and he says, ‘Go pet the badger!’ I realize I can pet the badger, and I’m super happy. He tells me to keep doing it, and at one point the badger bites me. He was just laughing his ass off. It was super cool. I like doing open-world games like that, because it’s so big that someone will always manage to surprise you with something – and that was a big surprise for me.
Are players going to see dinosaurs in the Primal universe at any point?
We like the idea of reality being stranger than fiction, and dinosaurs – like other types of animals that were extinct millions of years ago before Primal – is something that we discussed at some point, but we felt that it would break the immersive and cohesive experience we created. We did leave an Easter egg with some dinosaur bones at some point in the game though.