Far Cry 3: Interview With Level Design Director Mark Thompson

By | 5 years ago 

A few weeks ago, Game Rant visited Ubisoft Montreal to preview the single-player offerings of Far Cry 3. At the event we had the opportunity to interview some of the creative leads behind the game’s development, including Level Design Director Mark Thompson.

In our chat, we discuss the design, size and intricacies of the dangerous island paradise Jason Brody finds himself trapped in for Far Cry 3, surviving nature, crafting and collecting resources, history and open-world freedom.

How big is Far Cry 3 compared to the previous games?

“We have the same technology, so there’s no restriction on us to have a world the same size, but I want it to be more than a number because a number doesn’t mean anything. It’s about what you can do, it’s about meaningful experiences inside that space.

There seems to be this arms race in open world games to be bigger and bigger. I remember I saw a map comparing the different sizes of worlds and some of them are so big, I wonder how much value is there actually in that. How many meaningful experiences will I have in a world that size?

What we wanted to was make a world that was interesting, that was compelling, that was full of things to do and explore and find, and if at any point we ran out of things to do, the size of the world would be a problem.”

The game is based on one very large island, so how can players traverse it?

“We wanted to make sure that travelling the world and getting between missions wasn’t a chore. If you want to follow the mission path, it’s quick to get from mission to mission. There aren’t huge, huge distances between them and we have a super accessible fast-travel system. Like at any point you can jump into the menu and fast-travel from wherever you are.”

Although we didn’t see it, there will be a map system like other open-world titles. We can assume fast-travel points will be unlocked once they’re discovered. Because of the open-world nature of the game and that feeling of exploration – just like in Skyrim – players will frequently find themselves going off the path to see and do new things. During playtesting, given a series of missions that should have taken 45 minutes, players were still not done after four hours and it wasn’t because it was difficult or because they were dying. It was because they were exploring and intentionally getting lost in between the missions thanks to distractions like wild boars, a lighthouse, an abandoned shack and even some unique plant life.

Far Cry 3 Screenshot - Vehicles

Are there incentives and rewards for exploring?

“We wanted it to be a little deeper than getting XP because you know, Jason’s trying to survive on the island so the world is full of resources. If he was stranded on a desert island, you’d look for food, you’d look for shelter, you would look for things that could help you. If you were hurt, you would want to try and find medicine. We wanted to make sure the island gave this to player. You can just follow the story path but you perhaps wouldn’t have as many resources as someone who goes off into the jungle, someone who kills and skins a boar, someone who takes that meat, someone who takes that skin from the boar and uses it to make something, and the same for the plants.”

Plants will act as resources, some of them useful that can be harvested. NPCs in villages will buy these off of you and players will be able to craft potions and the like. Players need health packs and so they can make them.

Can you give other examples of players using the environment?

“At E3, the demo we showed, you use the sound of the waterfall to mask that fact that you were killing that guy, and you dragged him to hide him behind the waterfall… It’s not just scripted for that demo, it’s something systemic. You know, if you drag a body and hide it in a bush, it’s going to be there, it’s going to be hidden. If you’re inside a bush, you’ll be hidden. The AI isn’t omniscient, it doesn’t see through walls, it doesn’t see you through bushes. If you think you’re hidden, you’re hidden and the AI don’t know where you are.”

Far Cry 3 takes place on an island so it’s surrounded by the ocean and loaded with rivers. Not only does this provide a stealth tactical opportunity in many instances, but the water element is also the source of exploration, from a sunken boat, crashed plane to underwater caverns and… sharks! As we spoke about in our preview, the transition from land to sea is seamless and leaping off of a cliff or object into the water provides a very neat first-person animation when diving into water – Jason’s hands actually go forward in a diving position.

“The water is almost like a stealth path really, it’s a stealth tool. If you dive down into the water, the enemy isn’t going to know quite where you are. They’ll train their weapons on the surface of the water but you can go swim, come up behind them – and the guys will be all on the dock saying ‘where the f*** did he go’ and you can go behind them and kill them.”

Far Cry 3 Screenshot - Rebels

What can we expect from the environment?

“What’s cool about an island, especially a remote island like that is if we look at islands like that in the real world, in that kind of area of the world and they’re just filled with thousands of years of history. They’ve been civilized, they’ve been industrialized, but at the same time that’s only on small parts of it so you can move through these islands and you’ll see things like Nan Madol which is a temple from thousands and thousands of years ago… and nobody quite knows how it was even built. It was built with basalt stones that weren’t even from that island… so we were inspired by things like that. We make sure the island has thousands of years of history and you can explore ancient ruined temples as you explore them you start to learn the history of the people and what gods they worshipped and why these temples are still on the island.”

Is that part of the game’s main story?

“No, this is just part of the world. The world is embedded with stories that are there for you to go and find if you want to. Obviously, that part of the world, the pacific, was involved in the conflict in World War II so in the concept art on the wall there you can see old wrecked planes down at the bottom of the ocean… and each of these things has a story to tell. Perhaps you’ll learn the story of a Japanese soldier who crashed on the island, but you know, his body is down at the bottom of the ocean so you’ll have to swim down and find that.”

The island was rich in phosphates so years ago, Western civilization industrialized the island to a certain extend and there are some modern roads, structures and towns but it’s mostly abandoned now.

Can players go wherever they want from the get-go or are there restrictions based on progress?

“No no, the only thing that restricts you is that fact that it’s a really scary island. At the start of the game, Jason is just a regular guy, he’s not trained, he’s not military. The only time he will have shot the a gun before coming to the island is at paintball or on the range. He hasn’t killed before. We wanted to make sure Jason and the player learn together, so it feels more natural… but yeah, like I said, the island is free but the jungle is dark, it’s dangerous. There are people that help you but there are people who want to hurt you as well so it’s just about how much you want to deviate from the path of Jason’s adventure because that will pull you through the wall.”

Far Cry 3 Screenshot - 50 cal on a boat

How long will it take players to beat the game?

“If you just main-lined the missions, it’s probably like 20 hours. But even then, it’s hard to say how it can take for someone to play a mission.”

As an example, we discussed the Medusa mission from the demo where Jason must attack a beached ship to get to the radio tower on top. Someone can hang-glide their way in and do it in 2-3 minutes whereas players who take the time either by being stealthy or tagging all of the enemies to snipe – so the campaign length can vary substantially depending on the player’s style.

“It’s just up to you. If you want to get the XP from killing every guy, if you want loot every body for cash and resources – what’s more valuable to you? Is it time or is it the actual resources?”

For more in-depth details on Far Cry 3, check out out interviews with Producer Dan Hay and Animation Director Robert Purdy.

Far Cry 3 will releases on September 6, 2012, for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.