Narrative designer Patrick Redding and the team behind Far Cry 2 at Ubisoft Montreal have worked for several years to produce a game that operates outside of the strictures of genre -- in fact, to deliver a game that operates outside of the strictures of expectation, period.
With great attention paid to dynamic gameplay systems and expansive design, the game has won plaudits from many progressive-minded gamers, but has not satisfied all audiences.
Here, Redding looks back at what the team learned over the course of its three-year development cycle, reflects on current industry trends that informed its development and those that will affect development in the future.
As he moves from this project into a new, unnamed and unannounced inheritor to its innovative design at the Ubisoft Montreal studio, Redding takes the time to reflect on what the team truly accomplished.
Far Cry 2 has been out for a couple of months now. How do you feel about it at this point, having completed the cycle?
Patrick Redding: Well, there are obviously lots of mixed emotions on a game that you spent upwards of three years on. There's the weird postpartum depression that comes from having finished the thing and having a hard time believing that you're not actually working on it anymore. I think everyone in the industry has experienced that at some point or another.
Then obviously, we're dealing with the more specific emotional rollercoaster of seeing reactions to it and hearing what people say about it, what they like, what they don't like. Obviously, there's seeing the scores come through in your sales figures -- all that usual stuff that in one moment either validates or crushes your dreams, right? [laughs]
What do you think of the reaction to the game? Compared to most of the big triple-A games that are in the same market category, it seems like there's more of a gap between people who understand what the game's going for and those who don't.
PR: Sure. I think we're coming to grips with the fact that there are a few challenges that a game like Far Cry 2 is up against. One is when you create a game that is ostensibly a first-person shooter, we have to understand that that market encompasses an awful lot of people who are not particularly hardcore. There are guys that are going to get a fifteen-second or ten-minute impression of a game by watching their buddy play it, and say, "Yeah, okay. This looks cool. This is a game I want to try."
And I think that when people hear that you're releasing a first-person shooter, they're kind of thinking in terms of this very accessible type of experience that is going to be at least sort of similar to what they've played if they've played Call of Duty or Half Life 2 or Halo or Gears of War, even.
The reality is that we certainly have struggled with accessibility issues with the game because the openness of it made us take a much more systemic approach, for one thing. But also, it has a rhythm -- the rhythm associated with the game is really different, because of the amount of objective-to-objective movement, and the way the player is invited to use the training, use the landscape as kind of a game ingredient.
And that's not something that most players have necessarily done. But at the same time, there's also the part of the market that's totally fine with that, and is totally anxious to see something that's new and different -- a new wrinkle in the treatment on the first-person shooter.
For them, I think our challenge is to not mislead those people by making them think that what we've given them is some kind of RPG/first-person shooter hybrid. There are folks who kind of compared it to Fallout 3 -- that tendency to view it as a first-person experience that involves a lot of like exploring the world, meeting people, having conversations with them. Players hear things like that.
Managing an inventory.
PR: Exactly. Like resource management. They hear there are factions in the game -- that immediately implies a different kind of dynamic, right? They're like, "Oh, why is everyone shooting at me?" [laughs] Well, it's still a first-person shooter.
So, communicating those differences to those different parts of the market is something I think we contended with. That's something that we're still trying to do.
I think the reviewers who had an opportunity to take their time with it -- not just kind of blaze away through the critical path, but got to know the dynamics of the game world -- tended to end up giving us a very positive reaction because they went, "Wow, okay. I understand after a certain amount of time, this thing kind of clicks, and then I understand how to maximize my enjoyment with it."
Obviously, some reviewers have five games they need to get through that week, they're going to try to play it and think, "I'll sit down for a couple of days and play Far Cry 2." And they may be left feeling a little frustrated by it. That's something I think we dealt with. We're learning a lot about how better to communicate.
It's an interesting game in that respect, because the movement of a lot of shooters these days is more of a linear progression, and structuring Far Cry 2 like that would basically make it pointless.
PR: Yeah, I think there's an agreement there with the player, and the player has to be willing to commit themselves to that idea, and that's fine. I don't think there's a problem with that. I think there are players out there that are willing to.
But then the onus is on us to make sure that that commitment is clearly spelled out in advance, right? [laughs] You know, we can't mislead them or make them think, "I can play for fifteen minutes at a time and be fine."
For me, a huge part of the value and quality of the game came out of simply investing myself into the African savanna and just letting interesting things happen as I tried to get the most out of the game's systems. It's not only different to the "play for fifteen minutes at a time," it's basically the opposite of that mentality.
PR: I think a good way to think of it -- or at least the way we thought of it -- is that a lot of what you're describing grew out of necessity, as soon as we realized that we were going to be supporting an open world and having to support a certain amount of exploration and a certain amount of non-linearity.
What you're describing, that sense of being in the environment and letting the environment kind of drive the experience, is a function of us building that foundation. We needed to build an infrastructure, a framework for supporting the player moving around the world kind of at his own will and using whatever resources he wants -- whether it's vehicles, boats, on foot, or what have you.
That's kind of like the base layer of the gameplay experience to a certain extent, because in the absence of anything else, that's what the experience is going to default to. Then, subsequent efforts and other iterations of the game's development were about adding these additional layers of experience on top of that.
So I think players may find that there are circumstances in which some of those other layers have been throttled back a bit and they're experiencing just the basic undistilled physical sense of being in that world.
I think that's something that we executed on well. And I think that it's good to have a strong foundation, right? The game becomes a lot more unpredictable and dynamic, obviously, when these other layers have an influence and an impact on the experience. But they kind of come in and out at different moments in the game, depending on the player's style of play.