I have a lot of love for the Far Cry series. Crytek's genre-widening original Far Cry, the long-overdue Ubisoft-own Far Cry 2 that was flawed but I still massively enjoyed, the vastly better Far Cry 3 which was my favourite game of 2012, and who could forget Blood Dragon? All the entries on PC I've loved (f*** Instincts), so to say I'm excited about the fourth numbered entry coming in November is an understatement, like saying Vaas is a little crazy or Jack Carver isn't really dressed for stealth. Therefore I was very happy to sit down with Far Cry 4's Senior Level Designer to talk about badgers, verticality, fire, and suspicious best friends. Let's get going.
Strategy Informer: Okay, first could you introduce yourself and your role on the game!
Vincent Ouellette: My name's Vincent Ouellette and I'm the Senior Level Designer on Far Cry 4.
Beware the Honey Badger!
Strategy Informer: What made you guys decide on the Himalayas for the setting?
Vincent Ouellette: The setting was the first thing we looked at for the game because we treat the world as the main character, it's the one you'll be with for the whole game. There are a few factors that went in to choosing the Himalayas. We wanted more verticality, that's why we ended up with tools like the grappling hook and gyrocopter and all these abilities that help you traverse more vertical landscapes. The animals as well, which everyone loved in Far Cry 3 and we wanted to expand on that. We wanted big animals like elephants as well as more dangerous ones, and that whole area is sprawling with interesting animals. The Honey Badger for example is a pretty badass one.
The diversity of the landscape is interesting too because of the altitude. You'll go from lush green areas at ground level and as you start going up the colours fade away, you get more pine trees and rocks, all the way up to the snowy peaks. You really get that feeling when you roam around the world, you don't even have to look at your map, you can probably recognise where you are just from looking.
Strategy Informer: Before I ask anything else... Honey Badger?
Vincent Ouellette: Just go to YouTube and type in "Honey Badger Don't Care"! It's the most fearless animal in the world. It'll fight tigers, snakes, anything. It's not even big, it's quite small - which makes it hard to shoot at! It's fast, it strafes, it runs backwards, all which is in the game. Each animal has their own behaviour, like wolves attack you in packs but once you kill a few of them they'll get scared and back off. Some animals might be scared by gunfire. Honey Badger though? Not scared by anything!
Strategy Informer: Does it go for the meat?
Vincent Ouellette: Absolutely! That's a new feature of course. Now when you skin an animal you get meat along with a pelt. People loved the animal cages in the outposts, but they were very static and we wanted to make them a tool for the player that is available anytime.
Strategy Informer: I'm not sure why releasing a tiger on a bunch of guards is so satisfying, but it is.
Vincent Ouellette: I don't know!
Strategy Informer: Now with the verticality, does it make it more difficult to traverse the environments?
Vincent Ouellette: As a level designer of course I build the levels, I build the paths... we have a rule in-house that says if you build a cliff you have to make a way to get up or down it every hundred metres or so. We want to make sure that the player is never cornered somewhere or can't get somewhere, and that's why we've made new tools to get around and keep the game fun. It's always good to have a high location to recon enemies, and we have the wingsuit again so you can just jump off a cliff and get to them!
Strategy Informer: You are aiming to make the world a believable place?
Vincent Ouellette: Oh yes. So much effort has gone into building the world, looking at references in nature so that everything makes sense, looking at different areas of culture like one village will fish for a living, people will place villages in areas that make sense, the roads are where people tend to put roads, there are all these layers we put in. As you start down south there are houses made of wood, and as you go up trees are more of a sparse resource so houses become made of rocks. All these sort of details came about after we started doing research, all to make the world more believable.
We also have the Encounter System that populates the world and if you go through an area multiple times you'll always have something different happening. As a designer it's hard to let go because you're not in control, but with Far Cry 3 we ended up with so many people sharing their stories online about all these crazy things happening to them. That's what's great about Far Cry, chaos happens whether you create it or not.
Shangri-La looks weird
Strategy Informer: Sounds like Far Cry 4 will be a very YouTube-friendly game.
Vincent Ouellette: Yeah, and of course we've got co-op now so you can share it with a friend. Once you start playing co-op the game's not telling you a story anymore, you make your own. That's something we've really embraced and pushed.
Strategy Informer: I'm very happy that the drop-in co-op is in, it's something I feel not enough games do.
Vincent Ouellette: Well, like I said sometimes with story-driven games you stop caring about the main story, and that's the reason we've kept it separated in the past. The missions and the story content is still something you experience on your own, and this time around there are a lot of choices to be bad in the missions. Like who you ally with, and depending on what you do there can be different outcomes or even the way you push the country forwards. It was important that we keep the nice narrative-driven experience for the player to go through on their own, but if you want to have fun and cause havoc with a friend you can too.
Strategy Informer: How many players will be allowed in the campaign?
Vincent Ouellette: Just two. We did run some tests and we felt like too many players became too crowded at some points. You couldn't do stealth if not everyone is in sync to do it. People even separated off into groups, and we wanted to keep it tight and just feel like you're fighting with your best buddy by your side.
Strategy Informer: Now I did love Far Cry 3 but there were a couple of criticisms I and other players had that I'd like to check with you to see how you're addressing them. Firstly Outposts, loved doing them but once liberated that whole area would become safe and not at all dangerous, so the more you did the less fun the game would be to traverse. Will that be fixed?
Vincent Ouellette: We spent a lot of time after Far Cry 3 reading forums and reviews and seeing what people thought about the game, and now we've put a lot of effort into correcting everything. With the Outposts we now have "Retaliations" and harder Fortresses, which are beefed-up, heavily defended Outposts. They're like the boss of the district, but if you pick off all the outposts around it you'll weaken the fortress. But any Outpost around can be Retaliated. Sometimes you'll be exploring the world and you'll get a call "hey, we're being attacked at this Outpost", and if you head there you'll get a reversal where you have to defend an Outpost rather than attack it. And of course we have the option to reset Outposts that we patched in to Far Cry 3, or you can just head to a captured Outpost and choose to replay it perhaps with a difficulty modifier. We've even got a Leaderboard for those.
Strategy Informer: Sounds good. The other major criticism I had was that while there was a lot of stuff to do in the world there weren't that many actual side missions. Will there be more this time?
Vincent Ouellette: We have added a few more this time around, however with Far Cry 3 the story was a very linear thing and all the missions were sequential. Now we have parallel storyline threads going on at the same time that you can advance as you want. For one there's the Golden Path rebellion, but there's also your personal thread where your character is trying to find his family legacy and roots. The player character Ajay Ghale was born in Kyrat but left when he was still a baby with his mother because of the civil war, and is back 25 years later because his mother's last dying wish was that he bring her ashes back to Kyrat. So he comes back and his name has a lot of meaning to people but he never met his father and doesn't know what his name means. His parents founded the rebellion basically, so finding out about them is a story thread. We also have other characters we haven't announced and you'll be able to pursue missions with them too, they'll have their own little stories.
Strategy Informer: We've seen the Shangri-La ones of course.
Vincent Ouellette: Yeah! You know we mentioned creating a believable world that makes sense? For this we also created a whole new religion, because people are very spiritual in this part of the world. Shangri-La lets you explore and play through all these myths and beliefs. It allows the player to learn a bit more about Kyrat, basically.
Don't shoot the elephant!
Strategy Informer: The game's out on PS3/360 as well as current-gen systems, do you feel that limits what you can do a little bit?
Vincent Ouellette: Absolutely not, no. Apart from the very first Far Cry the games have always shipped on multiple platforms. Each one has shipped with console versions and a super-enhanced PC version. We've already got the tools to push as much as we can on each platform.
Strategy Informer: How are you approaching the PC version?
Vincent Ouellette: It's scalable of course for a start. If you have a super-crazy rig that can run in 4K you'll be able to run the game in super-high definition, that sort of thing. That's what's nice about PC. And since the first game we've become known for shipping high quality PC builds that are quite demanding on PC, I think we've done that this time around too.
Strategy Informer: Speaking generally, what do you feel the Far Cry games bring to the first-person shooter genre, that they do differently and better than any other FPS?
Vincent Ouellette: The adventure, I think. Not many games are able to nail the good feeling of a shooter but in an open world that you can explore and feel that adventure vibe. Shooters are very military-focused these days, so it's quite refreshing to feel that adventure vibe. On the other hand we've also got the whole systemic aspect of the game, which randomly creates a lot of stuff from these systems that can interact with each other. Then there's the strong story, with these highly realised characters. I don't think a lot of games on the market do all these very well. Far Cry offers a lot!
Strategy Informer: Apart from the co-op, will there be any other type of multiplayer?
Vincent Ouellette: Yes, there will be. Nothing's been announced in detail yet, but I can say that it's asymmetrical so it's very interesting. I mean like Spies Vs Mercs (from Splinter Cell), two teams with different abilities who you need to play differently. It's actually handled by the guys at Red Storm, they know their multiplayer. I'm really excited about it. We'll be announcing more soon.
Strategy Informer: Okay, cool. One of the most impressive things about the recent games were the fire systems in place, are they being tweaked in Far Cry 4 or are they just perfect?
Vincent Ouellette: I think it did already work pretty well! There are some details that we've added to it to do with propagation. In Far Cry 3 if an animal or NPC was on fire they wouldn't propagate fire, now if you chuck a molotov at an animal (!) and it runs around it'll spread fire all over the place I think. We're fine-tuning the systems a bit, really.
Strategy Informer: Would it spread over buildings?
Vincent Ouellette: Oh yes, of course!
Strategy Informer: Are there destructible environments in the game?
Vincent Ouellette: We've pushed a bit more for destructions as well, yes. Mostly when you ride the elephant you want to be able to smash through everything!
Strategy Informer: How about the buildings?
Vincent Ouellette: There are some shelters and shacks that can be destroyed but the main buildings are pretty solid, I don't think you can smash them, no. But the big wooden entry gates? You can smash your way in, rampage, stampede, throw cars and guys out of the way.
Strategy Informer: I see the disturbing healing animations are back!
Vincent Ouellette: Yes, people love them! We've added more of them and made sure they're more contextual. Previously you'd get shot by some guys, heal, and your character would remove a piece of wood or something and it wouldn't make sense. Now if you get shot by an arrow for example you'll pull the arrow out of your arms!
Strategy Informer: People are sick, basically. Speaking of which, how is Pagan Min, the main villain, involved in the story?
Vincent Ouellette: It's hard to say much without spoiling things, but he's also had some link to your parents so that's why he's so welcoming at the start. You get that dual relationship with him where you're fighting against him but he sort of likes you anyway? He's such an interesting character. Very flamboyant, he likes his own image. His background is that he's Chinese, his father was a drug lord in Hong Kong, and when his father died he got a piece of the pie but it wasn't enough. He didn't want to be one drug lord he wanted to be the drug lord. He toured around and saw that Kyrat, a country torn by civil war, was ripe for taking. He headed there, allied himself with the royal family, then he assassinated them and took control. He loves it, he gets to get his face printed on the money! He really loves himself - he's a peacock, he likes to show off.
Strategy Informer: Vaas of course was incredibly popular in the last game, was it hard to create a new villain and stay out of his shadow?
Vincent Ouellette: Yeah, of course Pagan had big shoes to fill, but we went for a very different character which was a conscious decision. You can't really compare them at the end. Vaas is a really aggressive, in-your-face type of guy, very explosive, and Pagan's more psychological, more manipulative. The analogy we like to do is that Vaas is the school bully who will beat you up and steal your lunch, and Pagan Min is your best friend who'll whisper in your ear to go steal a car and do bad things but he'll come home for dinner and be charming with your Mom, he plays a good guy you know?
Strategy Informer: Okay, last question. Will there be a Blood Dragon-style spin-off for this one too?
Your best friend
Vincent Ouellette: I'd love to! We won't close any doors but nothing can be announced yet, but I'd definitely love to see one happen.
Strategy Informer: Excellent, thanks for talking with us!
Thanks again to Vincent for taking the time to talk to me. Nevermind Pagan Min and Vaas, Far Cry 4 has some big shoes to fill after the double-whammy of Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon, but after chatting about it I'm hopeful it'll be even better. And what other game has deadly badgers as an enemy and a rideable rampageable elephant? Far Cry 4 is currently down for release on November 18th for PC, PS4, PS3, 360 and XB1, and you can be damn sure I'll be playing it then.