Far Cry 3 was a resounding success, selling more than six million copies in its first six months. D.I.C.E nominated the title for seven awards including Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction, Outstanding Achievement in Animation, Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, and most impressively, Game of the Year.
Improving on such masterpieces is not an easy task, but something that every studio is faced with when considering the next installment in the franchise. So when Ubisoft Montreal got word that they were green lit to make Far Cry 4, they knew that there was a long trek ahead of them, filled with many hurdles to overcome.
We spoke with narrative director Mark Thompson, who was quick to admit that despite the huge amount of critical success, Far Cry 3 stands as an area where the team failed to capitalize. "The whole idea was that Far Cry 3’s open-world was a lot of fun. We knew we were going to rebuild that design philosophy in Far Cry 4’s open-world," he tells us, "but we realized at the end of Far Cry 3, open-world co-op was a missed opportunity.
"In Far Cry 3’s, we decided really early in production to do a separate co-op mode and that was before we knew just how powerful the open-world experience would be."
This has been one of Ubisoft's focuses when promoting Far Cry 4. The amount of freedom and number of possibilities adding one more person brings is tremendous.
"Obviously, it was too late by the end [to implement co-op]. For Far Cry 4, one of the first things we started thinking about was how hard is it technically? So we [built a prototype] and then started building on it and building on it."
A large part of that cooperative experience is exploring the game's beautiful environments. And while the beautiful tropical islands where fun to explore, Thompson admits that there were no large differentiating factors between stages of the campaign, something Ubisoft Montreal hopes to remedy this time around.
"On Far Cry 3 one of the things we failed at was providing really different environments like you were either on the beach, in the ocean or in a jungle." Thompson discusses the best part about FC4's new location, "So the Himalayas was cool because you can get that transition [more effectively]. Nepal itself goes from sea level to the highest mountain in the world in a tiny, tiny country, so we have that gradual progression.
"Our intention was that if you take a screenshot during hour one, five, ten, and then 35, the color palate, the architecture and the environment will look radically different. If you did the same thing in Far Cry 3, it would be like beautiful beach, beautiful jungle, beautiful beach."
Despite that, Thompson confirms that the size of traversal land is "pretty much the same size as Far Cry 3, we've just added more to it. . .The world is a lot more vertical, [which] gives us a lot more new gameplay opportunities. It allows us to add new features like the gyrocopter, the grappling or climbing system."
Thompson describes the situation his team finds itself in with each iteration of the franchise. "Every time you move to a new location in Far Cry, you have a new ecosystem. We have a new set of animals that bring their own unique opportunities. . .[The verticality] adds another dynamic to the way the open-world is seen. . .Later on when you start to get to the tops of those mountains, we start to play with the environment a little bit. . .Some places you even need to use oxygen to get to that altitude."
As far as what's in that area for players to do, Thompson describes various objectives that players are probably familiar with.
"We take the same basics as Far Cry 3. We have towers, outposts, we obviously still have the same ecosystem for hunting. Like in Far Cry 3, all of that stuff is inward facing in terms of the progression. Everything you do in the open-world feeds into the player-progression, so there’s a natural motivation and reward for everything you do."
He continues, "You need better equipment so you hunt for animals; you need more XP to get better skills to take on the harder outposts. We know that formula works and it’s pretty powerful. We wanted to keep that sacred, but also add new side quests and new opportunities."
Another area the team focused on was the hunting system. "In Far Cry 3, you could hunt with an RPG and you could hunt with grenades," Thompson quizzically says, "which when you think about it logically it’s weird because the hide from a deer would not be intact after a RPG hit it."
"We've refined the hunting system to promote and reward more careful hunting. If you were want to get immersed in hunting, you can go with the bow, craft the right potions or sneak up on the deer and take a headshot, allowing you to get the good hide and craft the materials."
As before, Thompson says players start off with "only carry one weapon pand] you can’t carry much ammunition. . .you only have a certain sized loot bag.
"All of that stuff pushes you to go in the open-world and hunt for the right animals and find the right materials so you can craft the upgrades."
Replacing one of last year's best antagonists in Vaas Montenegro wasn't an easy task either.
Thompson describes him to us, "He’s just Pagan Min, he’s crazy, eccentric, audacious and he’s really a peacock. The way he dresses, he has daddy issues as a reaction to his father."
"His father was very formal and very overbearing. Pagan was a bit of an embarrassment, so the way he dresses is he use for rebellion [against his father]. As he grew up, he embraced it more and more and created this persona that he has.
"No one can stop him so he does what he wants to do."
Not even us? Well we'll just have to wait until the game releases this fall to find out. Thompson believes that players will love exploring the new areas and will truly appreciate all of the effort Ubisoft Montreal has put into Far Cry 4.