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Far Cry 3: 'Like Hannibal Lecter or Joker, we have characters who think about the world differently'

Ubisoft Montreal dev discusses bold ambitions

First person shooters tend not to be a channel for great narrative - nor have they needed to be - but the Far Cry 3 team at Ubisoft Montreal is hoping it can stand out from the crowd with a complex and compelling story.

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The challenge in creating the game's vast and intricate island is well documented, but the ambition stretches further. Ubisoft wants Far Cry 3 to explore themes that games traditionally ignore.

CVG speaks to producer Dan Hay to get a better perspective on the team's aspirations.


CVG: How can a game portray and explore the sense of insanity within the first person perspective?
HAY: It's complicated. It's hard to make sure we understand a difference between craziness and insanity. Craziness is more a moment, or an action. Insanity speaks to a plan, a motivation, an intent.

We give the player reasons to make desperate decisions in the game. Strange choices. But Jason [the game's protagonist] effectively grows up as a person throughout the story, he takes on a whole life's worth of lessons in a short space of time.

Do you want to portray insanity in an action-movie sense of the word, or is there a deeper meaning?
We wanted it to be seen as complicated. We want to portray the depth of personalities. If someone gave an assessment of you or me there would probably be something straightforward, but the reality is that we're a bit more complex than that.

You think about characters like Hannibal Lecter, or the Joker, and you realise that these are infinitely complex characters who think about the world differently.

For us, in Far Cry 3 we have characters who all think about the world differently. The idea is to present the sense of when you start to grow up, and when you meet new people and you're enamored by them, but eventually you will realise that your first judgements on them may not be the correct picture.

What we are trying to portray is complexities of motivations.

Films and literature tend to do more than just portray motivations and emotions - they try to explain them too. Is that something that you are attempting with Far Cry 3?

I would say yes and no. It's a great question - I think there is a place for games to leave clues. But what we wanted to do with Far Cry 3 is to allow the player to piece things together with their own imagination.

I personally feel that's more effective than explaining situations.

There's a scene in Reservoir Dogs where the hostage is having his ear cut off. And the camera looks away from it - it can't bear to show what's on the screen. But also it allows us to imagine what's happening, and that's much more effective.

So with our characters, we are not telling their whole story. We didn't want to. We wanted to leave the interpretation up to the player.

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It's clear you have great ambitions for the narrative and thematic elements of Far Cry 3. I just wonder whether this can be perfectly achieved in the videogame format. How do you tell a story, set a scene or leave a clue if the player can look the other way and bunny-hop endlessly?

Yes that's a real challenge. The player controls the camera. It means we have to be so careful. We have to offer opportunities for players to become involved in the storyline.

The player isn't going to witness every moment, or pick up every part of the story. But we have a job is to entice them to be involved in as many of these moments as they can.

We want to portray the island in Far Cry 3 as exotic, beautiful and deadly. It's hard to portray that when the player is free to explore. But we can entice them, with sounds, with voices, with things you spot in the distance. We want this to be a living, breathing world.

The first two Far Cry games had its fans and was praised by many, but there wasn't a sense that its narrative was an integral part of the game. Do you feel pressure on trying to achieve that in the series for the first time?

There's no question that people see Far Cry 3's narrative plans as a departure from the series. Does that add pressure on us? Sure.

But our overarching goal incorporates more than the narrative. We want to entice as many people into this game, either through gameplay or narrative. If people want to come in and use the island as a toy, then we have to do that for them. If people want to immerse themselves in a story, we have to do that too. It's a very delicate balance, but I feel we've achieved it.

Outside of the review scores and the sales, what defines success for Far Cry 3?

I like the idea that, one day, a person will tell their friends a story about traveling to this crazy, exotic island, doing all sorts of amazing things, and then that person is busted because someone would say, 'wait a minute, that's Far Cry 3'. I think I'd be a very happy man if that happened.

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