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Far Cry 2: It came from Africa

On their triumphant return from a recon trip to Kenya, Will Porter talks lions, elephant charges and piles of excrement with the creators of Far Cry 2

In March 1898 two maneless Tsavo man-eating lions preyed on workers during the construction of the Ugandan railway. The pair, part of a testosterone-charged sub-species of lion local to the area, killed an estimated 135 people - their efforts later immortalised in the film The Ghost and the Darkness.

In late July of this year five men from Ubisoft Montreal were spending a night under canvas in the same area. "We couldn't see anything - we just heard an elephant scream in panic about 20 feet away from camp," explains a grim-faced Alexandre Amancio, the game's artistic director.

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"Then we realised why he was screaming. We heard one of these Tsavo lions roar - and it was between the elephant and us. It was about 10 feet away - and the vibration of that lion roar, you just felt that in your bowels... then we heard the 'chk chk' of our two guards cocking their AK47s and we just started running to the land cruiser."

When Ubisoft claim that they will go to any ends to ensure Far Cry 2 looks, feels and sounds like the real Africa, they seem to honestly mean it. Three weeks travelling around Kenya, sleeping with a centimetre of fabric between them and various predators, and getting to know the musky scent of their workmates at a level they never before expected.

But why were they packed off to Africa in the first place? What makes the Serengeti fit Far Cry?

"In early conception we talked about that a lot - what does 'exotic' mean?" says Clint Hocking, creative director. "What does it mean for players?

"What we realised was that it meant somewhere beautiful, somewhere breathtakingly beautiful that required good graphics and art direction, but also somewhere people could never get to go in real life. Somewhere you know exists, but you never expected to visit as it's so remote or so hard to get to.

So we chose Africa because going back to a jungle island just wasn't going to be exotic any more after people had played the original Far Cry, Just Cause, Boiling Point, they watch Lost every week... it's not exotic any more. You've been there hundreds of times."

Far Cry 2 then is creating 50km2 of a fictional country in the heart of Africa - a failed state where the civilian population has fled or is in the process of fleeing, and warmongering leaders battle it out for control. It's certainly a game near the knuckle of current world politics.

"We didn't want to Set Far Cry 2 in a real country for a couple of reasons, one being that we didn't want the player to go to a real country then not have it be a country by the time the game ships, or something crazy like that!" continues Hocking. "A more important reason is that Africa is a huge continent and it has a massive amount of ecological and geological diversity. What was important to us was to capture the whole range of these - we want to have Serengeti-style grassland, savannah plains, central African Congo-style jungle, north African sandy desert; all the different ecosystems you see over the continent."

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So it was then that camera operators, sound technicians and artists were despatched to Kenya and parts of Tanzania - stable countries judged to have the most diverse locations on offer. To the Serengeti plain, the Masai Mara to its north with its typical savannah grassland and hundreds upon thousands upon millions of animals.

The team touched down on Kenyan soil during the migration of the wildebeest - with three or four million of them on the move - only a fraction of which, unfortunately, will be making their presence known in the final game. Sleeping in tents, staying for two to three days in various different parks before moving on - it was hard work, as well as an adventure.

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