Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft's Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2
July 18, 2008 Page 3 of 7
CR: You've mentioned System Shock before.
PR: Well, I think that this is kind of a touch-point for a lot of us. I mean, certainly amongst first person games, they're the ones that have come the closest to sort of trying to do something that is really supportive of a narrative in an interesting way, with tight integration mechanics, a lot of emergent game play.
I think, as well, I look at games like X-COM and Fallout, that kind of classic, sort of action style RPGs in the western mold that kind of did an amazing job of making me care about my actions. Giving what Doug Church calls the "meaningful consequences" in terms of the choices that I'm making.
And I think that's something that I've... I really value that. I would rather play a primitive game that has that, you know? I'd rather play Ultima IV than play a Final Fantasy game that's beautiful to behold but which ultimately abducts me from the game every twenty minutes and shows me a cinematic. You know what I mean? And that's just my personal taste. I know some people who really love that stuff. It just doesn't happen to be the kind of game that I want to work on.
CR: Jumping off on that note, we kind of spoke about this at GDC a bit, but I liked your answers, and maybe I can just mine them again. Far Cry? I loved it. Great game. But, I think fairly obviously maligned for its complete lack of any meaningful narrative. What makes you think this game is an audience and demographic and franchise is supportive of your narrative ambitions, and how did you convince Ubisoft as well?
PR: Because we're trying to be subversive? No, I mean I think my feeling on the matter is that, okay, if we had just simply started out saying, "We're going to make a game. We don't know what genre it is. We don't know what any of the mechanics are. But we're going to make a game that has incredibly complex, rich AI, with incredibly real, emotional reactions and complexity in characters that can be either... they can be friends, they can be enemies, they can completely dynamically alter the nature of the story."
If we just started out with that as a goal? Honest to God, we would have just been stalled out at the start line. Because really that problem is more massive than anything else that's being worked on right now, right? It's like a full, rich, twisted, difficult AI problem that we're not going to solve.
So instead, what we do is, we say, "Well, can we take what is debatably one of the more lizard-brain oriented types of interactions, which is in the first person shooter running around and shooting guys, and can we make the mechanics of pulling the trigger and firing bullets sort of feed in at a low level into this kind of larger dynamic narrative approach?" And that's where the whole Infamy idea came about.
There's this notion that Infamy is this sort of the big counter under the hood that's driving the story to unfold in different ways. And the way I build my Infamy is by pulling the trigger. And by choosing to pull the trigger in a certain way, I can accelerate my growth of my Infamy. I can be a more cruel human being. Well, I mean, that's an easy fit for a first person shooter. I mean, a first person shooter that's about being a cruel bastard? Is not exactly a subversive idea. Right? And it's certainly going to be an easy sell to people who buy first person shooters.
But a first person shooter where being a cruel bastard results in meaningful consequences that affect the unfolding of the dynamic narrative? That's something that's pretty stealthy. The player who picks this up because they want to pay sixty bucks, and they want to have a good reason to upgrade their machine, and they want to headshot guys from across the map? They're not going to be necessarily thinking about that dynamic narrative. But it's there.
And if they encounter it in little doses, or if they end up embracing it a lot more fully than they even thought they would, then we've accomplished something. We got them to maybe challenge maybe some assumptions that they've made about the shooter experience. Maybe they walk away from it feeling a little weird, or a little different about what that game was like. I think that that's kind of what we set out to do.
I think, for us, Far Cry... like people always say, "Why even bother making this a Far Cry game?" Like, what does this have to do with Jack Carver running around with mutants on an island? I mean, the simple fact of the matter is, Far Cry is a Trojan Horse brand. You know? We can say, "Let's investigate something that's a lot more deep and meaningful and interesting and complicated, and let's do it within the framework of a brand that nobody has any expectations for." I mean, not to be totally blunt about it, but that's what it really boils down to.
We could fly below the radar there for a while, because everyone's like, "Yeah. Far Cry. All right. Yeah, it was a really cool PC game that you guys went and over-saturated the branding on through your console efforts." And what we're able to do is say, "Okay, that's fine. You just keep your expectations nice and low. We're going to go do this thing that's way more complicated than people are expecting." And I think what's cool about that is there is a sort of bait-and-switch component to it, and I don't think we're ashamed to say that.
CR: Obviously that Trojan Horse idea is fairly comprehensible, but do you think that the really impressive, frankly, level of simulation you guys are trying to do with the weapon degeneration, with the persistence, with the fire spreading, with characters not spawning in - all that stuff -combined with an expectation players might have after playing games, that they will get static cutscenes every twenty minutes - do you think that might scare players away? Is that something you have to try to work on in the balance?
PR: That's a good question. I'm trying to think the best... the relevant answer to that. Because the thing is, immersiveness just for its own sake, I don't think is interesting. I think immersiveness that makes people challenge their understanding of why the game works the way it does is useful.
CR: Clint spoke about this at GDC.
PR: Yeah, I think immersiveness that allows the player to use the attributes that he or she has as a human being rather than as a gamer is interesting. And I think that by kind of doing that, what we're doing is we're sort of... it's kind of like sticking a lobster in cold water and turning the heat on them. We're kind of easing the player into this world that is much more visceral, that is painful, and sticky, and sweaty, and dirty, and where shit rusts and breaks down, and falls apart, and catches fire, and where their own weapons can hurt them.
Like really kind of startling them every few seconds, we're giving them that stimulus that kind of sensitizes them to this stuff. And then as the story proves to be more dynamic, and more reactive to their actions, then they're kind of in that - hopefully - that moment of epiphany where they're like, "Oh, I get it. This world really is affected by my actions. It's affected at a very, very low level when I bump into things or set things on fire, or unjam my weapon, or yank a bullet out of my arm with a pair of pliers. And it responds at a high level when I choose to assassinate the leader of one of the factions, or abandon my buddies in the time of their need."
I think we need to ease them into that idea, and it may be better to ease them into that idea low-level mechanics that they're going to encounter from one second to the next, so that there's that kind of understanding that that's just the way the universe is working. I hope that answers the question.
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