Far Cry 5 is an open-world shooter for the PS4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs set in the US state of Montana that squares you off against a doomsday cult called Eden’s Gate. In our time with a pre-release build of the game at IGX 2017, we noticed that it felt inspired by the current state of world affairs more so than other games on the horizon. Gadgets 360 spoke to Dan Hay Executive Producer and Creative Director on Far Cry 5 to find out more.
“When you think of the genesis of where the idea came from, when you think some of the different things that inform the creative [process] on Far Cry 5 it was really borne from the feelings that I had as a kid looking up at the Cold War and the titans that were waging this Cold War - the Soviet Union and America and really feeling that the end of times could come and feeling tiny and insignificant and not feeling there was anything I could do about it,” says Hay says, as he talks about Far Cry 5’s inspirations, which are surprisingly personal yet universal at the same time.
"As I watched that happen over the course of years I remember - I was a child of the 80s and I was watching everyone spending money like there was no tomorrow and I think it's probably because they thought there might not be. And I think that towards the end of the 80s, cooler heads seem to prevail, and there a secession of hostilities, there was a calming across the globe to a degree, and I think overall the world took a step back and calmed down a little and it didn't feel like we were on the edge of a precipice and it went away for awhile. The Berlin Wall fell and there were key moments where the Soviet Union and US weren't in a cold war," he continues.
"So I really remember that when I was a kid and I remember that feeling and for about 10 to 15 years I didn't have it. There were still terrible and amazing things happening in the world but I didn't have that [feeling] and I got married had kids, and then I started to have moments, when 9-11 happened, it was horrible. Everyone remembers that day and where they were, and that familiar feeling of angst, that pang in your stomach comes back.”
This sense of uncertainty extended through the subprime mortgage collapse in the US during 2008 and 2009 which impacted those close to Hay.
“People who had really been planning for their future, people that I know, people that were around me being extremely upset saying 'Where's the government? Where's the people that are supposed to be protecting us? Who is on watch? Who is taking care of us? Who is going to protect our legacy? And it was really disconcerting and hard to watch and to live through that. And then I started to watch across the landscape of the globe the language of the global village was disappearing. We're hearing less of 'we' and more of 'us' in them,” he explains.
“When you think about Brexit and you think about all the different things that were happening at the time and I think what really formulated for me was I started to hear about things in the United States and I started to hear about tensions and I was walking in downtown Toronto, there was a guy who came around the corner and he was wearing a sandwich board. And it said 'The End Is Nigh'. I had two thoughts: that guy might be right and I've never thought that about somebody who thought about the end of the world before,” says Hay. “It kind of hit me like a lightning bolt - that feeling from when I was a kid was back. That we're not going to be okay or we may not be okay and that somebody has their hand on the button that could end it all and we're on the edge of that cliff. That feeling of we're on the edge of the cliff and that really informed the creative for Far Cry 5.”
These feeling on events both current and otherwise snowballed into a what would end up becoming Far Cry 5’s main villain, Joseph Seed.
‘It's not specifically about separatism. It's not specifically about religion. It's more about the idea that a character, a person living in the United States who has moved to Montana to be left alone and running a cult is believing that we've been to the edge so many times that we won't know when we're going to fail," Hay explains. "And he's simply going to say 'look it's going to happen' and he truly believes that he's right. So what he says is, ‘you're not going to understand it, you're not going to trust me, you're not going to believe me so what I'm going to do is save you whether you want it or not and when it's all over and the dust settles you'll thank me.’ We have an interesting legacy of building interesting and unique antagonists, but this time what I wanted to do was make sure that this person had an ethos, a purpose and a belief and it all starts with him.”
In this sense, the villain of Far Cry 5 feels like a good fit for the series, but the setting of Montana is, well, a far cry from the norm for the franchise. All the previous entires have been set in an exotic locale, right from the first game back in 2004 which was set on an island, upto last year's Far Cry Primal
“It was super interesting to make this selection to go to Montana because we want to make sure Far Cry is surprising and that people can't guess where we're going to go and I think we were kicking around where in the States we would go…we were in the room and someone threw out the idea of Far Cry being always in a frontier and how it's always removed and a little bit rough but that it's beautiful and inviting and that it's generous,” Hay says. “Somebody threw out Montana to which someone else says they know nothing about Montana, nobody does. That was an opportunity. We started to look at it and kick it around and we heard that people wanted to move to Montana because they wanted to be left alone from the government and wanted to live the frontier life style and they wanted to be able to not be told how to live their life and they were self-reliant and all of those things spoke to us in Far Cry.”
Next, Hay and the team at Ubisoft Montreal went over to Montana, met locals, filmed it, and tried soaking in as much of the atmosphere as possible.
“I think what's interesting about the story and the location and characters is that sometimes people don't have an appreciation for what's exotic right next to them," says Hay. "I think that we've managed to build a place that feels like the real Montana but we've made it our own. There are stories and there are characters and there are opportunities that are going to feel as robust and generous and exotic as previous Far Crys but with a new feeling to them and I think players are going to love it.”
Game world and inspirations aside, we wondered how reactive Far Cry 5 is to player choice. According to Hay, choosing your character's gender, appearance, and skin colour in Far Cry 5 ties in to the gameplay, to ensure that there's as little dissonance as possible between what your character does onscreen and what you as a player thinks.
“The way that we're building avatar customisation - our real focus was that the [player] character was as thin[ly scripted] as possible," says Hay. "When I play games I don't like it when I say something in my living room and the character says or emotes something different. I don't like it when the game responds more to the character's story then it does to my action. It just doesn't feel genuine.”
In fact, he sees this to be the natural evolution of the series’ player character going forward.
“[Y]ou can see the progression of thinness as we move forward. [Far Cry 3's] Jason Brody was a very specific character who had an agenda to get his friends back," Hay explains. "He shows up on the Rook Islands and he goes from zero to hero. He had a very specific voice, and then if you look at Ajay Ghale from Far Cry 4, it was the same thing but slightly different from the standpoint of now going back to the place he was from and actually discovering it. But those weren't necessarily the player's agenda. Those were the stories that we told and I think the goal in Far Cry 5 is to make that character as thin as possible and follow the progression of trying to minimise the distance between the player and the game.”
Far Cry 5, like its predecessors is an open-world game with a story. Hay’s approach to its protagonist hints at experiences that are more emergent, allowing for unique experiences depending on how you play the game. With that in mind, how does Ubisoft Montreal make sure critical plot points are not missed by players?
“What we try and do is we try and build action bubbles [note: action bubbles are open areas that give players total freedom to complete an objective as they see fit]. It's difficult. We don't know where the player is going to be, we don't know what they're going to be doing and we don't know what exactly they've done when they run into that situation," says Hay. "We try to create action bubbles where there are micro-stories in the world and that you can add up the concert of those micro-stories and build your own story.”
“But it doesn't matter which order you do it in. The key moments that happen with a main antagonist, those moments come based off what a player does and how the player progresses through the world," he explains. "It's tricky, it's super hard to pull off. It creates a digital choose your own adventure but I think we're pretty proud of the results.”
Hay’s statement more or less mirrors our experience with the game, wherein player choice was front and centre, allowing for multiple ways to play. From a design standpoint it means that creating missions that tie the story together is a bigger challenge, something that Hay also says.
“The difficult/ cool thing about missions is quite often they're tied to the story and the player has a remembrance of what they've done based on the missions and interactions they had that they do," he says. "And they're tied to progression a lot of times and I think what we wanted to was make sure that when we build these action bubbles that each one of them have something in it that was memorable.”
Of course, this approach can have certain downsides. “Here's the toughest part: as a designer, as a creator you really want a player to see all of those. When you build a game like this you have to know that they just won't and so what's heart breaking, what's heart wrenching is building this world knowing to whatever percentage players will have their own experience and leave on the table stuff that you think is imperative for them to see and experience," he says. "But you have to be okay with that. It's the only way that we can make situation where the player can be the author of their own experience."
Finally, we had to ask Hay, who has been working on the Far Cry franchise for over half a decade, what his favourite game in the series is. And like any diplomatic creator, he refused to say which. But he did leave us with a hint of what to expect from his favourite mission in the series so far. Mild spoilers follow:
“I don't think I can make a choice between the games, but there's a mission in Far Cry 5 that's my favourite mission. I can't tell you what it is, it's not imperative to the story, it's not something you have to do but it's a very charming moment that closes the loop of your involvement with guns for hire [your allies in Far Cry 5] and it's a really fun moment that's a gift to the player. You get the experience the end of a story or the beginning of a new one from a family. I can't tell you anymore. There's a really charming moment and that is absolutely my new favourite mission.”