Having played Far Cry 4 for a good few hours, diving into the wild and untamed world of Kyrat, unlocking large areas of the map, tackling outposts and even enjoying a spot of co-operative play – all of which you can see and hear me chatting about with Peter – we then had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Lucien Soulban, Lead Writer on Far Cry 4, about the game’s vibrant world, it’s characters and how choice is deeply ingrained in this latest entry in the series.
Of course, I secretly hoped that Lucien would stumble into another of the little controversies that Ubisoft have had of late…
TSA: So, is there anything controversial that you want to say and get out of the way before we get to the main questions?
Lucien Soulban: No, no. Nothing controversial, I’m an easy guy!
TSA: [laughs] Given Ubisoft’s recent track record, I figured I’d best get that out of the way! With Far Cry 4, it’s this whole new set of characters, story, setting, but what was it like starting from scratch rather than having a direct follow on as we usually see with sequels?
Lucien: Actually, it was liberating. I mean, there were certain things that were legacy issues that we knew we had to carry forwards. There was a certain expectation that we had from the fans, from what they’d seen in videos, but rather than saying, “How can we match up with that experience?” we said, “How can we beat those expectations and blow them out of the water?”
So a lot of what you’re going to see in Far Cry 4 and in Kyrat, both narratively speaking, game design, level design, everything, is taking all of the strongest elements from Far Cry 3 and seeing how we can amp them up, how we can show players that we’ve been listening to what they’ve been saying and carry that forward.
TSA: Yeah, and one of the criticisms of Far Cry 3 came for the lead character, whose name I think was Jason Brody…
Lucien: It is Jason Brody!
TSA: [fist pump] Yes! I remembered it correctly! But he was kind of a marmite character in some ways, and a number of people didn’t like him and his frat boy attitude, so how have you gone about making Ajay more relatable in Far Cry 4?
Lucien: Well, honestly, I think we made him shut up!
One of the things we do is say that this game is going to be about the place, and we want Ajay Ghale to be the vehicle through which the player explores Kyrat. But in order to do that, you kind of have to kind of give them a little bit of a similar experience.
So with Ajay Ghale, it wasn’t just a matter of dropping somebody into a country that they don’t understand, it was a matter of dropping them into a country that was somewhat familiar to their experiences, but then they find out more about themselves in discovering this country than they knew before. What happens is that we take the player along for that journey.
Ajay Ghale goes to this country, thinks that he’s there for one reason and he suddenly discovers that his family has a deeper connection to this place. As a result of that, he starts learning more about himself, and the players get to experience that at the same time, and they’re using the same mechanics to experience it, but ultimately, it’s going to be about how the player decides to play through the world, the same way that Ajay is making his mind up as to who he’s going to be to the Golden Path.
TSA: Along those lines, you’ll sometimes have a choice between two paths that you can take between, Amita and Sabal. That feels like an integral part of the game, letting people decide their own fate.
Lucien: It was, and part of it was also the fact that we didn’t want somebody that would come in here and would be king. We wanted somebody who would come in here, but you already had people in power, you already had people with an agenda, you had people that were working together that hated each other. We wanted to give the sense that this world existed before the player stepped foot on it.
So with Amita and Sabal, that’s an integral part of it because we wanted the player to go, “I understand her motivation and I understand his motivation, and now it’s up to me to decide what I support, based on my own personal views and not because the game is telling me I’m this kind of person and to do this.”
TSA: There is a lot of this duality, even within the game’s systems, like the upgrade tree where there are the two sides of the Tiger and the Elephant.
Lucien: Right, exactly. For us right now, it’s a really cool place to be, because it feels like one of the first times that Far Cry has managed to say this is about you, your freedom, your world, your playground. What do you want to do?
TSA: Obviously, after Vaas in Far Cry 3, there’s a lot of focus on the main antagonist in the game, Pagan Min. Or is it Pagan?
Lucien: It depends on who you ask, but he calls himself Pagan.
[I’ll be the first to admit that jokes about pronunciation lose a little nuance in the written word. He calls himself Pagan, as in the religion – Tef]
TSA: Right, and I think that’s quite appropriate because he is kind of…
Lucien: A false figure.
TSA: Yeah. There is this common feeling back to Far Cry 3, with the over the top characterisation and situations. Are you aiming for this kind of satire again and this hodge-podge of crazy ideas?
Lucien: Well that’s the thing, I think the satire was more Blood Dragon, but what we want is for the main character to take a step back from outshining the player. We want to give the player a personality that they can hook into.
So yeah, we do have those flashy, over the top characters, but in some ways that’s the flavour of the brand. That’s part of our identity, but are we ever going satirise it? I think there’s a thin line when you star Freddy Krueger-ing yourself, because then at a certain point it becomes, “Oh here comes the joke again.” It becomes a two dimensional treatment of something, while we’ve tried to have flashy characters that have a little bit of a deeper motivation.
TSA: I guess it’s a case of, with the cover art and Pagan’s pink suit, it’s clearly a flashy attention grabbing character, but there’s got to be more to a character than that.
Lucien: Exactly, and one of the things we did do, and we’re really proud of the fact that with the NPCs, they fit within the world and are part of the ecosystem within that world. When you do a mission, you’re hurting their trade, their business, and you can understand the chain of command and how things progress from A to Z.
So we gave depth to our villains. All of them have a backstory, all of them have reasons for doing what they’re doing, and that’s the most important part. It’s not the gang up on Ajay Ghale backstory, each of them has a motivation and somehow the player keeps getting in the way of their objectives.
TSA: One thing that I was quite glad to see, in comparison to Far Cry 3’s single tropical setting, was how you have the foothills of the Himalayas, but this is alongside trips to the tops of the mountains and also the Shangri-La missions. Where did the Shangri-La missions come from, and how have you integrated them into the game?
Lucien: So Shangri-La’s inspiration for them was was, if you think about the mushroom missions that we had in Far Cry 3…
TSA: Yeah, it very much feels like this equivalent of the drug trips.
Lucien: It does. That’s the thing though, the mushroom missions were well received, but for the most part they really didn’t have an impact on how you played; they were on rails experiences. We wanted to do something that would offer the same thing, but we basically said, “Here, go and explore.”
The Shangri-La missions came about because we said, “What happens if you have the opportunity to explore the backstory of the country itself?” Initially, when Ajay Ghale was a little bit more of a front figure in our game – before we realised, “No, no, shut up, go back to the back to of the class and sit down.” – Shangri-La was more Ajay Ghale’s backstory.
Then we looked at it and decided our story was more about Kyrat, and once we realised that we thought that since we’ve created this mythology about Kyrat, rather than telling you about it, sitting you down with a book and saying, “These are the entries you need to read in order to understand our game,” we said, “Play through it. Play through it to understand who the hero is.”
TSA: So, my final question is an odd topic, with the skinning of animals, something which I think people could find distasteful particularly with endangered species, but you’re placed in a situation where they are so actively aggressive towards you so that you’re often acting in self defence. Do you think that’s something that can sit uneasily, or is it something you can brush off by saying it’s just a video game?
Lucien: Well no. The thing is for us that it’s all about the context, and that’s one of the things that we always look at, and we debate and we argue and go round and round. If the context doesn’t make sense to the setting that we have, it doesn’t belong there, and we’ve been the first to cut things that simply didn’t belong in the game.
With the skinning of the animals, we’re in the wilderness. Animals are going to be a threat and there are going to be dangerous animals out there. They became part of the DNA of the brand, because you have more threats than just humans.
But the thing is that if we have the killing of the animals, why are we just going to kill them and leave them out to rot? So we thought that maybe it’s a dual process where if you kill something, then you can put it to use.
TSA: It’s still pretty weird to have to collect three rhinoceros hides in order to get a bigger grenade bag, or something.
Lucien: It’s a very stylish grenade bag! Have you seen a rhinoceros grenade bag?
TSA: No! Has there ever been one made in real life?
Lucien: But this isn’t real life!
TSA: Yeah, OK, I’ll give you that…
Thanks to Lucien for taking the time to talk to us. Far Cry 4 is out in the middle of next month, but don’t forget that you can savour some plenty of captured footage and a discussion about the game between Peter and me over here.
This coverage of Far Cry 4 came from a trip over to Paris, travel and accommodation for which were provided by Ubisoft.