As video games have advanced from rough rollercoasters to polished pieces of entertainment, not every aspect of storytelling has improved as quickly – villains being one of the most obvious. Usually bent on world domination, kidnapping, or just plain chaos, those game developers looking to craft a truly compelling villain have a tall task on their hands. But with Far Cry 4, the team at Ubisoft Montreal is looking to cement one of a kind villains as their specialty. And with Pagan Min, he seems to defy expectations from the moment players meet him.
The studio and series set a precedent for surprisingly twisted and unique villains with Far Cry 3, letting the twisted antagonist Vaas (played by Michael Mando) essentially take over the game’s marketing. That’s a tough act to follow, but when Far Cry 4 was revealed at E3 2014, it was, once again, the villain of the game – in this case, Pagan Min (played by Troy Baker) – who stole the scene.
Of course, that’s just what fans expected once the official cover for Far Cry 4 featured Min prominently, with any indication of the game’s hero completely absent. We recently spoke about that approach with the game’s narrative director Mark Thompson, who claimed that the pressure and assumptions that fans will make about the structure and story of Far Cry 4 aren’t just recognized by the developers; they’re using them to their advantage:
“We have a lot of fun with things that we know people are going to take for granted. As soon as we put Pagan Min on the box and say that he’s the bad guy, everybody knows that the game is going to be about killing this guy. We embrace that, we understand it, and we play with it. Pagan is very self-aware that that’s going to happen, so… we have some fun with that in the way that he interacts with Ajay.
“He knows the inevitability of the story. He can see Ajay’s arc before Ajay even understands it. The moment where he comes to meet him at the border he’s like: ‘No, don’t mind this. You don’t need to come back and learn about your parents, or your people. Come with me, I’m going to take you back to my palace, we’ll have a party, it’s going to be awesome!
“Any other villain would have tried to set the bus on fire with Ajay on it, and there would have been a gunfight, blah blah blah… you would be knocked out and wake up on the other side of the world, and slowly get revenge. Because… I don’t know… your brother was on the bus and he died as well or something.”
While taking some playful jabs at typical video game (and movie) stories, Thompson points out that Pagan Min’s introduction was about far more than just establishing him as a cold-blooded killer. The team has promised to challenge several assumptions this time around, whether it’s turning Far Cry 3‘s story upside down, or casting the villain as a potential hero of a prior franchise installment.
Apparently, that extends to the very awareness that Pagan Min has over his own place in the game’s narrative. Consider if his introduction began with an attempt to murder Ajay Ghale (the player-controlled Kyrat native returning home): players would know he’s not to be bargained with, and answer with an attack of their own. But sidle up to the hero as Pagan does, and the player is immediately confused and disarmed.
According to creative director Alex Hutchinson, that subversion of the normal villainous figure is no accident. By depicting Pagan as a breath of fresh air (for a video game villain), the hope is that players will see the story and action in a different light. And hopefully, that mean’s challenging fans’ consciences, not just their reflexes:
“A villain in a game is a challenge, essentially, but when you pay the sixty dollars, you know you’re going to win. So there’s actually no emotional or surprising narrative content in that at all. So he needs to be two things: he needs to be larger than life, and charismatic. But I don’t want him shaking his fist at you and saying he’s going to kill you. I want someone who really doesn’t understand why you keep running away.”
“We’re playing with that idea: you know it’s a game, you know you have to challenge him, and you know in the end you’ll win. So the question is: How do you feel about that? We’re just trying to get a different emotional reaction from players, and try to get them to think about things a little differently.”
We can personally attest to just how many emotions arise in an average Far Cry playthrough – be it on a frozen mountaintop or an elephant-filled base camp. But in case you prospective players were thinking that your quest to conquer Pagan Min’s forces would be a dilemma for your conscience – if he’s not all bad – Thompson has some good news:
“Pagan has his own kind of horrific approach… he’s a horrible, horrible character. But it’s fun to make that kind of character also charismatic and appealing. Because there are moments when you’re with him and you think: ‘Oh perhaps he is a nice guy, he’s just misunderstood.’ And then you’ll discover something, or he’ll do something, or say something, and you realize that this guy is lost, that someone needs to stop this guy.”
That task will fall to the players, but just how far off the beaten path Ubisoft will take them before bringing Pagan Min’s empire crumbling down remains to be seen. Where does Min rank among recent video game villains for you? Were you eager to see more immediately after his memorable debut, or are you more interested in the open world of Kyrat?
Far Cry 4 will be available for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 on November 18, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.