It’s been a funny old year for gaming: the next-generation of consoles has well and truly arrived, but developers keep blindsiding fans with surprise announcements of blockbuster games for PS3 and Xbox 360 too. First there was Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, then Grid: Autosport and then Ubisoft’s one-two of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and Far Cry 4. With its unusual mountaintop setting, jaw-dropping graphics and unusual adrenaline focus – you can drive vehicles, ride animals, even jump off cliffs – the latter is shaping up to be the first person shooter of the year.
To find out more about the game ahead of its November 20 release, we caught up with Far Cry 4 creative director Alex Hutchinson for a chat. Hutchinson is a AAA veteran who previously oversaw Assassin’s Creed 3 at Ubisoft as well as Army of Two: The 40th Day at EA, and was lead designer on titles including Spore and The Sims 2 at Maxis in California, so the title is in safe hands, but with BASE jumping and mountain climbing all planned, this is a game all about risk taking.
Hi Alex. Where are you right now and what have you done today?
I am sitting at my desk in Montreal, playing through various missions, editing for flow and objective structure, working with the team. Before I got here it was shuttling my son to his new daycare and drinking far too much coffee.
Tell us how work on the game began. What was your original vision going into the project?
Work started almost immediately after Far Cry 3, and I joined a while after that: the idea is always to build on the best and most successful elements from the previous game and integrate new features and ideas to make sure it’s fresh and that the game takes a significant step forward. For me, the most important things are enabling more player agency, building better tools and adding co-op so people can create more interesting player stories, and trying to make a seamless experience.
The game is being worked on by a collection of studios across the world. How is that work being divided up, and how do you keep everyone in sync on such a huge project?
The core of the game is developed in Montreal as well as the main missions and most of the open-world; we try to leverage our co-development studios’ talents on self-contained elements of the game, so they can have a certain degree of independence in production while sticking closely to the core creative vision of the game. Ubisoft Toronto is working on a series of missions set in an all new environment outside of the game world, and so is Ubisoft Shanghai (we’ll be showing their work off shortly, so stay tuned). Red Storm Entertainment is working on the competitive multiplayer part of the game. The mix of talent and production horsepower allows everyone a certain degree of ownership, while the core identity of the game and creative vision are centralised here in Montreal.
What did you know you wanted to keep, and what did you want to add that was new?
We wanted to keep the amazing player agency: the 360 degree approach to problems, the ability to play the game in your own style, the animals and the sense of the exotic. In terms of additions, the biggest for me were the ability to invite your best friend into the game to play co-op in the open world, and the idea of expanding the narrative to allow players to make choices: which faction do you align with, what sub-objectives do you get because of that? We want people discussing their different experiences the next day.
What worked with Far Cry 3 that you’re bringing back for 4? What didn’t make the cut?
The takedown system was great, the outposts worked brilliantly, although we’re expanding those to include fortresses, which are like huge outposts. The climbable towers have been improved and expanded, and the weapon customisation are all making a comeback in bigger and better forms.
Why the Himalayas? Does the height and altitude of the gameworld add much more to the gameplay?
We wanted a unique open-world environment that challenged gameplay in a new way, so verticality was a big plus: it pushed us to include the grapple and the gyrocopter, which radically change gameplay and provide more options for the player.
How many people have been working on the game and for how long?
Many hundreds of people are working on the game, and most everyone will have spent two years on it by the time we ship.
Elephants are rideable this time around, which is something you don’t see every day: what made you have the decision to include them?
There weren’t any elephants in Far Cry 3, and when we thought about including them in 4, we realised we had an amazing opportunity to make them intelligent vehicles. Weaponised animals are a huge amount of fun.
Hunting was a mainstay feature of Far Cry 3, will that be expanded upon in 4?
Yes! New animals are one way, as well as the idea of a ‘clean’ kill which will give you much more valuable rewards. We’ve also included the idea of bait which can be harvested from dead animals and can then be used to lure predators.
How many weapons can we expect to see this time around?
We have dozens of weapons in the game, although the list is still being finalised. I’m a big fan of the auto-crossbow which is a strong stealth weapon, and the bait system as well, which means you can drag tigers into outposts and fortresses whenever you need them.
Tell us about protagonist Ajay Ghale. What makes him different to Jason Brody? Will Brody or any other Far Cry 3 characters make an appearance?
Ajay was born in Kyrat, and although he was raised in America, his name is known by most people in the country. He is the son of a famous Kyrati freedom fighter, so his name carries weight, and he is back in some ways to deal with his family’s legacy in the region. Some Far Cry 3 characters will be making an appearance, but not Jason Brody.
Extreme activities like wingsuit flying were surprisingly fun — will they be expanded on? Does Ajay know how to use stuff like that?
The wingsuit is indeed back, so Ajay will know how to do it, but that’s probably the most unusual or ‘extreme’ feature in the game. We’ve tried to include a lot more local, exotic elements and vehicles like the Tuk Tuk and the elephant this time round.
Pagan Min seems to be even crazier than Far Cry 3’s main antagonist – what can you tell us about him? What makes him different from other foes we’ve seen in the past? What impact does his self-imposed king-status have on the player?
I don’t think Pagan is crazy, I think he’s so rich and powerful in Kyrat that he doesn’t operate in the same world as the rest of us. He’s been able to do whatever he wants for decades, so he operates in his own weird alternate reality where nobody can tell him no and even other people’s lives are his to play with. We also liked the idea that he didn’t want to kill Ajay – he wants to be his buddy, and you’ll find out why in the course of the game. But we really didn’t want another villain who would threaten the player and who you knew, in the end, that you would have to defeat – there’s no emotion in that.
The plans for co-op player for PlayStation Plus subscribers sounds interesting. Where did the idea for that come from and why can’t it be done on Xbox?
It was an idea I had based on how I discovered new games growing up: I would go to a friend’s house to test it on their console or PC before I bought it, and I thought this was a fun digital version of that idea. Play the game with your best friend and then if you like it, buy it to unlock the rest. We’ve had a close relationship with Sony on this game and it’s something we built together.
What made you decide that this was going to be a cross generation game? Couldn’t you have done a lot more if it was developed just for PS4 and Xbox One?
It’s always easier to focus on the newest hardware exclusively, but there are tens of millions of players who haven’t bought an Xbox One or a PS4 yet and we want to get the game into the hands of as many players as possible.
Finally, what are you most excited about for players to check out when the game launches?
I’m excited to see all the YouTube videos of people creating their own stories, except this time with their best friend. I’m sure they’ll discover ways to play that are new even to us and that’s what makes games special.
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