As Far Cry 3 approaches, we ask Ubi Montreal: What is Far Cry?

Far Cry 3 Reload

What is Far Cry?

I’ve asked that question many times. Far Cry the first is a first-person shooter set in a lush tropical environment. The game’s South Pacific archipelago offers wide expanses of space for players to stretch out in, but it’s not technically a true open world game. That’s what Far Cry 2 is, with the action staged against the backdrop of sociopolitical unrest in an unnamed African nation. The sequel excels at immersing players in the varied environments, with everything in the game — from shooting to driving to performing in-the-field first aid — locked in that first-person perspective. There’s an overarching narrative, but the real story in Far Cry 2 is the one that you write for yourself.

Now we’re looking ahead to Far Cry 3, which hits PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms on December 4, 2012. Ubisoft Montreal is bringing back the open world and the tropical environment, with the game’s everyman protagonist Jason Brody dropped into the middle of what amounts to a hornet’s nest. He’s unprepared in every way for the adventure that will be forced on him, and he’ll learn to survive in the game’s unforgiving environment at the same pace the player does. All throughout, he’ll be going after the forces that brought him to this place.

Looking at the three games as a group, you can see common thematic bonds and motifs that they all share, but none of the narrative ties that one would traditionally expect from a blockbuster trilogy. In reality, the bonds between the games seem to fall closer to filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Three Colors Trilogy. Only with guns and explosions and tigers. Of course. This is a video game we’re talking about, after all.

Far Cry 3What, then, is Far Cry, really? It’s the first question I asked Ubi Montreal’s Mark Thompson, level design director on Far Cry 3, during a recent interview. “It’s a philosophy about making an FPS that is different from everything else that is happening right now,” he replied after a moment’s thought. “I still remember playing [the first Far Cry] back in 2003 and just being absolutely blown away by it. At the time, other FPSes were in corridors, they were brown, they were dark. And all of a sudden, I was in this amazing tropical paradise. It was huge, there was so much room to maneuver. Just swimming in the ocean, watching the coral and the fish, it was incredible and it was like nothing else at the time.”

“Then when you think about Far Cry 2, it was gritty, it was immersive. It was uncompromising in its vision about… the geopolitical themes it had in its story, the way that the mechanics were dedicated to [having] gameplay dynamics rule, the idea that it should be systemic and open, and you should only make the choices that you want. All of which was very different from FPSes at the time.”

“Part of the brand DNA is to give people the freedom to explore and the opportunity to play an FPS that is a little bit different, something that is non-military, something that is non-linear, something that gives agency to the player. What we did in Far Cry 3 is we took the strongest parts of the first two games — two very different, but very good experiences — and combined them into what we think is the ultimate Far Cry experience. You get a tropical paradise, you get a setting that is a little bit different from what’s out there right now in the FPS genre, you get this huge open world to explore… with sidequests and activities that you can do between missions, and inside the missions you get this moment-to-moment gameplay which is really about your play style, how you want to approach different scenarios.”

That’s it then: Far Cry is a design philosophy. It’s one that has matured over time too. You can definitely chart an evolution as you move from game to game, even though each of the first two continues to stand on its own merits, just as Far Cry 3 likely will. The biggest change that Thompson sees in the move from FC2 to FC3 is the focus on narrative. Story formed an important part of the first two games, but it’s paramount in this third effort. And evolving technology has a lot to do with the reason why that is the case.

“When I said we brought together the strongest parts of [the first and second games], then what we brought on top of that was new was the layer of narrative, the way that we tie the narrative to gameplay, and the way that we present narrative in first-person,” Thompson continued. “One of the biggest advances technologically that we’ve made is with the motion capture technology. We have this incredible full-body, full-facial performance capture that allows us to capture real characters.”

Far Cry 3 hands onIt’s an impressive setup that they’re working with at Ubi Montreal. The closest analog is green screen, but the capture process for the game is a bit more involved than that. The actors wear the usual ping pong ball-covered unisuit and deliver their performance in an empty space, but the captured data feeds immediately through a powerful computer and out onto a large screen, where the action is rendered in-game in very rough form. You can see yourself perform as a digital character right at the moment of creation. Having that point of reference is invaluable, according to Thompson. “We get the actors, we don’t get video game characters with janky animations. We get the real performance. That’s really allowed us to be more creative about the kind of narrative we do.”

The other half of the equation is the collection of 1s and 0s making up each AI-controlled brain. Having a convincing performance is all well and good, but if the play that leads into and out of each performance doesn’t deliver, it’s all for nothing. “We don’t script the AI to do one specific thing every time. It’s basically just, they’re in areas and they have these routines that they go through, but it isn’t hand-scripted by level designers,” Thompson explained. “The gameplay systems work together and create these dynamics that we could never plan for. All we can do is give the player a bunch of tools that, when they’re in the situation, allows them to gain the advantage and to express themselves in a fun and creative way.”

All of this then comes together around that central, defining philosophy for Far Cry. As Thomson told me, “There’s this cliche that goes… you’ve spent your whole life training for this one moment. When Jason gets captured and taken to this island, he hasn’t spent any of his life training for this moment. He’s spent his life training to work in an office, and meet a girl, and get married, and have kids, and get an SUV. He has not spent any time training to try and survive on this island.”

“So the idea of bringing what is a blank slate to this experience was important to us. Especially because the player comes to the experience as a blank slate. There’s this kind of synchronicity between Jason’s experience and the player’s experience. They are the same person. There isn’t this idea of the play and the player character. It’s the same thing. In first-person, you are Jason. And everything you do is everything Jason does. It’s all about those different choices that you make.”

Product Review

Get crafty as you scavenge your way through Far Cry New Dawn's wasteland

Far Cry New Dawn is more of an extension of Far Cry 5 than a full blown sequel. Its focus on crafting and building up the world makes it a great open world shooter and an overall rewarding experience.
Gaming

Everything we know about Devil May Cry 5, including characters and combat

Devil May Cry 5 is just around the corner, and is the first game in the original series since Devil May Cry 4 in 2008. Here is everything we know about the game, including its playable characters.
Gaming

Learn to scavenge like a pro with our Far Cry New Dawn crafting guide

Far Cry New Dawn revolves around the hunt -- the hunt for materials to craft new weapons, vehicles, and other useful items. It's easy to miss out on great opportunities to find new materials if you don't go off the beaten path.
Gaming

A beginner’s guide to Far Cry New Dawn’s postapocalyptic Hope County

Far Cry New Dawn is yet another entry in Ubisoft's popular open world shooter franchise. But while it may feel quite similar in motion, the progression system is changed in a lot of ways. Our beginner's guide is here to help.
Product Review

Anthem shows a glimmer of brilliance that's quickly dampened by its grind

Anthem is an online shooter from BioWare that’s already proven to have a stunning open-world with action-packed combat that distinguishes itself with its story, characters, and lore. But will it continue to invest in those things as we…
Computing

Here's what you need to play games and watch movies in 4K on your PC

4K display tech is now cheaper than ever, but there's more to running stuff at such a high display resolution than just handing over the dough for a 4K-equipped display. Here's what you need to run 4K.
Gaming

Activision not doing itself any favors with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 loot boxes

New loot boxes added to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 have caused a somewhat uneven playing field for those who choose to spend extra money. Certain limited-time items can now only be found in loot boxes.
Computing

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

What are the best processors for gaming you can buy? You don't need to spend a fortune to get an amazing gaming CPU and now that AMD is competitive again, there are more choices than ever.
Computing

Logitech’s G MX518 gaming mouse pairs classic looks with all-new tech

Logitech is relaunching one of its most popular classic gaming mice, the MX518. Now called the G MX518, it sports upgraded internals that give it a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and new and improved memory.
Gaming

One game console is better than the rest, and we're not afraid to say it

We've seen a relatively large influx of new consoles in the last year, including the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X, so we've updated our recommendations for the best dedicated game hardware.
Gaming

Apex Legends adds its first new gun, the Havoc energy rifle

Respawn added the first piece of new content to Apex Legends, the Havoc energy rifle. It's available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC players. The fully automatic rifle can be modded to shoot single-shot energy beams.
Gaming

Samsung Galaxy S10 optimizations make it great for Fortnite

Samsung's new line of Galaxy S10 devices have been optimized for gaming. All three offer improved support for the Unity engine and the S10 Plus also offers vapor chamber cooling, similar to the Xbox One X.
Gaming

Having problems with your Xbox One console? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.
Gaming

Did Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown fall victim to the Madden Curse?

Join us as we take a tour through the long-running history of the Madden Curse -- and Tom Brady's recent accolades. We all know John Madden is a longtime NFL talent, but is he also an agent of dark forces?