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AusGamers Far Cry 3 Developer Interview with Lead Writer, Jeff Yohalem
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:26pm 30/05/12 | Comments
AusGamers recently caught up with Far Cry 3 lead writer, Jeff Yohalem. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers, you are here once again with Stephen Farrelly, out at Ubisoft headquarters in Sydney. I have Jeff, who is the lead writer on Far Cry -- Far Cry 3, actually. A pretty successful series that has put a couple of people on the map. Now we’re going to put this guy on the map apparently [gestures to poster]. He’s a crazy person; probably one of the craziest characters I’ve ever seen in a videogame before.

As a Lead Writer, I want to talk a bit about that -- about writing a character like this -- and how you kind of... I guess, what I really want to get into is the cadence with creating an interactive experience that has somebody like this as your antagonist.

Jeffrey Yohalem: Well, there are a dozen characters on the island which will be revealed in the coming months and they’re all equally compelling and interesting, and they’re an ensemble. The island is really its own character, and like Alice in Wonderland, you’ll be plunged into this space and have to figure out what’s going on with each of the characters and interact with them, and figure out what to do in order to survive, and save your friends as Jason Brodie -- the protagonist.

It’s been an incredible writing feat and I’m very proud of this game.

AusGamers: You guys released a trailer not so long ago, setting up where the main character comes from and his friends and stuff. And you’ve kind of got this... they’re on vacation and they descend into this hellish nightmare. Were you guys referencing anything along the way there? It seems like a sort of backbone to a lot of classic B-grade horror movies.

Jeffrey: This isn’t really a B-game at all. It’s really A-list, top-shelf and our references were Pulp Fiction, like I said: Alice in Wonderland, Hitchcock films. What else did we go into? There Will be Blood... a couple of other things too, that will probably come to me later.

But this game is really about videogames and it’s about society, and it’s about what’s going on in the minds of 20 year-olds today and the experiences that they’re having in the job market. And it’s about personal psychology. And I looked at Adam Smith, at Nietzsche, at Rouso, at Hobbs, and the history of social psychology and the way that society has been constructed to control people who come into it.

So this really is a script with a lot of things going on, and it’s not a horror game. It’s definitively not a horror game. We’re talking about a psychological action-adventure -- it’s kind of an Assassin’s Creed in first-person with a gun.

So the game is really about what it would mean for an ordinary person, or for the player, to pick up a gun and kill these people. And so unlike almost any other shooter on the market, our game is about shooting -- which is a revolutionary idea I think.

AusGamers: That’s an interesting thing that you say, because most first-person shooters are just a kill-fest. So how do you kind of separate that concept of “it’s the first time you’ve picked up a weapon; it’s the first time you’ve had to defend yourself or defend your friends and actually kill them”. How do you convey that in a game that already does that... in a genre that already does that so often?

Jeffrey: The first kill in the game is a big deal. And the first series of kills are a big deal. And the main character experiences dreams and hallucinations in which you relive moments from those. So it really affects his psychology and the island and the level-design is affected by his psychology.

So this game is about what it takes to be a killer and we really looked at a lot of other games and saw how much killing was going on in them, and wanted to make a statement that killing shouldn’t be taken lightly.

AusGamers: So just from a writer’s perspective then -- because I’d love to get into that field myself down the track one day -- obviously when you write something on the page, it has linearity. You can imagine that there’s a sandbox component to different parts -- if you just bridge them together with some kind of exposition. But for you, when you sit down and write this game and you write the direction. What’s the process when you’re talking to level designers and the Creative Lead and things like that?

Jeffrey: We all come up with the game together. It’s very important that a team come up with the story, because the story’s not owned by the writer. The writer writes the dialogue, which is different. So we come up with what we want to convey, all together and the Creative Director Pat Plourde is a genius -- I’ve worked with him on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and this is my second time working with him on a huge game and we really wanted to push the boundaries of what gaming was and what games could talk about.

So we come up with the ideas together, and sometimes there’s a game design element that will be pushed forward. For example, because our core mechanic is shooting, for me, the story had to be about shooting. So there are moments where game design contributes pieces of the story and then there are moments where I say “this scene needs to happen” and we’ll figure out how to work it.

But it’s incredibly important that the writer be a gamer; that the writer be an expert at all the games coming out at that time period, and that we work together as a core team.

AusGamers: So I guess then, on that note, you’re a big gamer then, yourself?

Jeffrey: Yeah.

AusGamers: What was the process for you then? In terms of... were you looking at games and kind of cutting them into pieces of “that’s great, I need to expand on that a little bit more”? Or “this is totally redundant, and that should never be in games”? What’s the process for you, in terms of being a gamer and then bringing that concept of hardcore gaming into a game that is going to be a hardcore game?

Jeffrey: The process is more about looking at sequences in games... like, the core team, when we’re coming up with a story, there’ll be moments when we’re like “oh, remember that sequence in this game? That drives me crazy because of X!” or “you know this sequence in this other game? I really liked it because of X”. And then we have to go one step past that always, or multiple steps past that.

You don’t just take a sequence from another game and say “oh, let’s try that”. It’s really about knowing what gamers expect, and then defying their expectations. So you have a sequence where... the perfect place to have a player is a moment where they’re like “ahh, I know what’s going on. This is going to happen!” and then you have them, and you do something different.

Then they go “whoa! I thought this was going to be the cliche I saw in six other games, then it turned out to be something that subverts that cliche”. So we really want players who play Far Cry 3 to look at games in a fresh light. To say “oh, this is refreshing. It’s not what I expected; it’s not what I saw in the six other releases this year”.

AusGamers: So what’s the ratio then for you guys, in terms of development and player interaction, between scripted moments that are going to defy gamers’ expectations and something like emergent gameplay, where the player creates their own story on-the-fly?

Jeffrey: Far Cry is an open-world shooter, so you can approach missions from 360 degrees; you can go stealth or you can go action: guns blazing. And we really leave that up to the player. Then the player will also encounter linear sequences that are as good or better than any of our competitor’s linear sequences -- within that open-world, which will take the player on rollercoasters. Rollercoasters of emotion or rollercoasters literally, in the sense that you’ll go through a series of explosions and you’re trying to get out of things and the main character is having a crisis.

So that’s basically how we change it up. That you can always go off on the side and do things on the side, or you can do main missions and those will have tonnes of different approaches, or you’ll be in a couple that are linear and about surprising you.

AusGamers: Well obviously the name Far Cry 3 basically says that it’s part of an IP; it’s part of a franchise. There was a bit of a mixed bag of results -- from players and critics alike -- for Far Cry 2. I actually quite liked it, but there was a lot repetition going on there, and the open-world was awesome, but then you’d get the checkpoints that would just re-establish themselves, and stuff like that.

What have you guys learnt from Far Cry 2, moving forward into this?

Jeffrey: We wanted to make a compelling experience with Far Cry 3, which is more than fun. That you can have moments that are not “fun” in a traditional sense, but are incredibly compelling. So Far Cry 2’s legacy is still there. I think they wanted to create a game that challenged what a game could be. And at the same time, the experience of Far Cry 1, where you’re on the island and sniping people, was really fun -- I had a great amount of fun with that.

So I think we’ve taken the best elements of the other games; we’ve taken out things that could annoy players, like jamming guns; we have a fast-travel system -- the checkpoints are gone -- and we have incredible motion capture, with engaging characters. So there’s not a procedural storytelling system -- we really worked to create an engaging, immersive world that doesn’t... that allows players to do everything that they want to do and doesn’t get in their way, in ways that impinge on that experience.

AusGamers: So why did you guys go back to the tropical setting?

Jeffrey: Because we thought that we could tell an engaging story there, and we liked the idea of an island, because we thought that that was core to Far Cry’s DNA. It was something that, I think, the Art Director was really excited about.

So for us, core to Far Cry were the fact that you’re stalking people, and the fact that you’re a stranger in a strange land. That there’s this place that you’re stuck into and you’re immersed in it and it’s different than you’re used to.

And we wanted it to be an island, because an island has this mirage-like character. You know, that if it’s in Africa, you’re somewhere that exists; that’s physical. Whereas an island is something that could be there one day, and not there the next, and “is it real or not real? What’s going on?”. And we like the multiple layers of meaning that could be provided by being on an island.

AusGamers: Did the mirage concept allow a little bit more exercise in the hallucination side of things as well? And two-part to that: there’s a game from quite a while ago -- I don’t know if you ever played it -- on the Gamecube, called Eternal Darkness, that actually played with player’s sensibilities, and it really worked a lot of the time. And I find it really fascinating that not enough games have actually gone down that route. How much have you guys toyed with that, and what’s the context?

Jeffrey: Well, we are very interested in the fact that this takes place in first-person, inside Jason Brody basically. You the player, are interacting with the world through his eyes. So we treat the player as a separate character than the protagonist and we’re thinking about what the player is experiencing at that moment and what Jason Brody the protagonist is experiencing, and how the player experiences the world through Jason.

There are situations where he is recording V-logs and you’re seeing him record them, in real-time -- the player is pressing record and you’re seeing it. And there are situations where he is living hallucinations and the level design is reflecting what’s going on in his psychology and how he perceives things. So it’s very much a journey in and out of the protagonist, which happens in films all the time -- where you follow one character and then you cut to another character -- but we’re able to do it in first-person, without breaking immersion.

So I’m very excited by those changes in perspective, and I think that we push the limits with them in Far Cry.

AusGamers: Ok. We’ll probably have to wrap it up, but can you sum up for me, and for the viewers out there -- that are interested, but haven’t quite crossed that line yet -- for Far Cry 3, what’s the hook? What’s the bait?

Jeffrey: Far Cry 3 is an open-world shooter/action/adventure. It’s going to take you to places that you’ve never been and you’re going to be changed by the journey. So this is really an experience that you’ll never forget.

AusGamers: Ok, awesome. Well Jeff, I’ve been sold since I saw it, so thanks very much.

Jeffrey: A pleasure. Thank you.

AusGamers: Congrats; cheers.
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