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Far Cry 3

Extended Interview With Producer Dan Hay
by Jeff Cork on Nov 08, 2012 at 08:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher Ubisoft
Developer Ubisoft Montreal
Rating Mature

There's a lot going on in Far Cry 3's vast open world. Piracy! Human trafficking! Shark attacks! Even after spending hours with the game, we were left with a few nagging questions. Fortunately, the game's producer, Dan Hay, was kind enough to answer them all.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen in open-world games is striking the balance between holding players’ hands through a story while also allowing them to dink around. Sometimes the storytelling suffers, through no fault of the writers. (“The bomb is going to blow up, and you can stop it by walking on this glowing spot! Hurry!” “No thanks, I’m going to drive a cab into pedestrians for a while and maybe deliver some pizzas.”) How did you handle this in Far Cry 3?

In FC3 we were very focused on making sure the open world and the story worked together, and what I mean by that is that we are self-aware of our own genre. Characters in the game will tell you to, “go out; use the open world, it’s OK”, but then some of the people you had to rescue would see that you changed because of it. “Where have you been? What have you been doing out there?” It confirms the idea that you are out there in the world, using it like your own super market, but that the game and characters are actually aware of it. You are out there playing with the toy, not feeling guilty that your friends are in trouble, but you’re actually harvesting the skills you need to go and save your friends. 

During our demo, you characterized Vaas and Hoyt as having a kind of Darth Vader/Emperor dynamic. Can you talk a little bit about their relationship?

With Vaas we set out asking ourselves “What does it take to make somebody like him? Was he born in the island? Was he normal? Where does the hate come from? What makes him interesting as a character?" We began to create an entire lore behind him, and that lore steeped its way into the game. 

In order to make a character like Vaas credible, we knew he had to be made of things that you and I have experienced. Simply put: Vaas is a bully. He is always too close and always making you feel like a victim. Now, the question we need to answer to shape our characters and make them click is: What makes a bully? We decided that our bully would come from learned behavior combined with a feel of emptiness inside. 

When we look at Hoyt, there‘s a great opportunity for us to showcase the person that helped make Vaas. In that light, yes, they very much have a relationship like the Emperor and Darth Vader. You can imagine a history where Vaas was lured by the promises Hoyt made, then a lot of these promises turned out to be dangerous, and turned out not to be true, ultimately tainting Vaas. That’s how the relationship was born.

I’m getting a supernatural vibe from the islands. Am I crazy? Should I stop listening to my vibes?

The reality is that we didn’t set out to make the island supernatural. The idea is that the vibes you get are the vibes that resonate and make sense for the player. We built a story where we enabled the player to be a participant in this place. We treated the island like it had a history of its own, that it had a history of thousands of years of civilization that was washed over again and again. If maintained, a place like this will obviously raise questions, and we specifically don’t answer all of them. We think it’s more interesting that way. 

There are a lot of emotions that come from treating the island like a character, so if your vibes are telling you that the island is alive but that it also has a little bit of insanity to it, that’s not a bad thing.

Along the same lines, is there a reason why all of these seemingly broken people are being drawn toward the islands?

Great question. We didn’t set out to make a supernatural entanglement between our characters and the island. Some of them are drawn there; some of them are born there; some of them are victims who have built defense mechanisms to survive it. The reality is, when you build a place where there are no rules, people who have been jaded by the rules of society, have been expelled from society or think they have everything figured out, well, they’re going to gravitate towards it; they are going to find their way, and that’s what we wanted.

Was there any hesitancy about the setting and how the overall story could be construed as a “white dude tames the savages and saves the day” thing?

I come back to self-awareness and the idea that Jason, a “dude” with a very westernized sense of right and wrong, comes to the island with some sense of entitlement. His friends think they have a lot of experience. They think they do, but they just have knowledge. Jason shows up and thinks that the world probably owes him something, and what we found interesting is the idea of breaking that, and actually saying, look, it’s going to be very difficult for you to survive here. So you’re going to have to learn the culture, steep yourself in the island, step out of your comfort zone and actually experience strong emotions. I think that when people are finish playing the game, they will have realized that Jason has learned a lesson or two, that the young guy who came to the island will never be the same.

You also spoke about how you guys worked to make Jason’s transformation from vacation dude to an island survivalist as credible as possible. Can you explain some of the techniques that you used when writing the story?

I think the Devil is in the details when you talk about Jason, and offering that transformation to the players. Let’s talk about the idea that Jason might phone his mom at the beginning of the game. You can imagine his voice; very much a dude calling home and saying “hey I got this cool stuff here and I’m not taking life to seriously” and Mom saying “Ok dear, be careful”. But when, and if he comes back, his Mom doesn’t actually recognize his voice, because he grew up too fast. So when I say that the Devil is in the details, it’s about little things: Jason’s breathing, the sounds the player makes while going through the island, the timber of his voice as he moves from chapter to chapter, the emotional experiences we give to the player, the music we play, the idea being that, if we step back once we finish the game and make a video with the whole story that shows you the big picture, you can see that the character has changed a great deal from start to finish. 

Taking a step backward, how many writers do you have on the Far Cry 3 team? Is work divided between the main narrative and story missions and the general island flavor/lore stuff? How do you keep it all together so the tone is consistent?

What we did was to put together a lot of people that are intelligent and a lot of people that contributed ideas, but the reality is that you need a single mind to bring everything together, and we were lucky enough to have Jeffrey Yohalem as our lead writer, the person who is responsible for the breadth and the scope of the story. What’s key to our game is that Jeff steeped himself in the lore of the island and the experiences of the characters. He did an excellent job on the dialogue, making sure that we give the opportunity to the characters and the actors to draw on great situations. Ubisoft has an impressive stable of people that can help you, but we really focused on having one person to create a consistent voice through the narrative and that was Jeffrey.  

The Far Cry series has bounced around a bit as far as settings and characters go. Do you think you’ve found a good home for the series now moving forward?

It’s an interesting question because, what I like about Far Cry is that it’s a moment in time. You take a regular character and you put them into a situation that is abnormal and you tell that slice of their life. It’s not much different to the “view-finder” toy that you had as a kid, where you press a button and it rotates revealing a brand new image. Where we really found a home was in finding that people responded well to insanity and to a vast open world that is dynamic and alive. 

I know I can’t talk about these specific events in our feature, but you guys did some great things with immersing the player in key moments. Other games have featured these kind of shocking moments, but it’s rare that players do anything but watch the action unfold. It’s kind of a nebulous question (or maybe it’s not even a question at all), but could you talk about that a little bit? You know, giving players agency while also making sure it’s not gimmicky, etc.

There was a very specific effort in making sure that the player is not just a voyeur in the game; that they can actually step in and be the common denominator inside very emotional moments. The idea we embraced is of making the player and the character one, so we built a number of moments through the game where the player needs to do, to act. In that acting, the player is the one moving the story forward, and it’s not necessarily with a gun or a weapon. It was important for us that the player has that interactive experience. 

If you had to do it over again, would you guys show the same E3 video of topless Citra and the hallucination sequence?

There’s a simple answer to that; HELL YES! We showed you the personality and tools that drive Vaas; the personality and nature of Citra and the seduction of the island. In order to be honest and back up our narrative we decided not to pull any punches. 

Finally, can you list any inspirations that you drew from when working on the game’s story? I think a lot of people are going to shout out “LOST!” but I’d imagine there are some deeper inspirations in there, too.

Everywhere, if we talk about games we definitely played some of the best open worlds out there, like Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption. If we talk about movies, we draw from Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, or Deliverance where people were put in extreme situations of survival and had a deep emotional context with ties trying to bring them together. We analyzed how they survived. We looked at those movies and their key emotional moments. But mostly, we drew on life. Many of the things you see in the game echo experiences that we drew from members of our team when we asked them about some of their moments in life when they went through difficult situations, or that year when they went out on a trip around the world and something out of the ordinary happened. 

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