First of all Jason, can you tell us what your role of Narrative Director actually involves? Oh man!
Well it involves the story, the characters, the setting, everything to do with the context...the reasons for the play, what the hell is going on here, all of that falls under Narrative. And so my responsibility is to make sure you believe in the characters, that we’ve got great stuff to do and that it all makes sense in the end, that’s the role. With Far Cry 3 containing such an open world, how do you get that process started? The most important thing for me is to start with a solid foundation of that open world. You’ve got to create a deep understanding in the team about the shape of your space. We’re on this new island in the South Seas , you’ve got to look at the history of that, build that in so each space has its own logic to it. You understand where the economy started and all that stuff. And then what you’ve got to do is look for great characters. This time round with Far Cry 3 our focus is on making great characters come to life. You saw Voss in the demo and hopefully you believed him as a person, that’s my hope and the goal of this project is I want you to walk away thinking ‘Wow, that guy was intense!’ rather than ‘That character, or that boss, was pretty cool.’ I’d rather you think about him as a real person, because if we do that we’ve crossed that uncanny valley and fooled you into believing he’s a person. To do that right nowadays it’s mostly about working with actors and learning to create great performances. On the technology side we’ve got performance capture, motion capture, but if you don’t get the acting right, if you don’t give actors the space to work and co-create your characters, you’re in a lot of trouble before you even begin. With so many ways to complete missions in Far Cry 3, how do you go about taking into account anything players could do? One player, for example, could do something completely off the wall and unexpected. [Laughs] Absolutely! This kind of structure requires you make objectives, like you saw in the mission, get in the helicopter, right? The mission isn’t kill 14 guys, sneak up on this guy, run across the bridge and then get in the helicopter, the mission is get in the helicopter. How you do that is entirely up to you. If the mission is ‘Kill this guy’ as long as that guy dies then the mission is going to be over. So we’ve put all our story and narrative stuff, the structure and great moments, at the beginning of the mission, so we’ve frontloaded it. Then we open the mission up and let you do as you want to.
And then when you come back around and you want to ask for another mission, then we’ve got a perfect opportunity to tell you more of the story. We’re also going to embed the story throughout the island if you go exploring. Because the other big thing that Far Cry has offered is exploration, you want to go around this huge open world and take advantage of it, right? So we want to make sure that around every corner is some new piece of information, some new detail that fills in the blanks for you about what’s going happening on this island. You mentioned Voss, how do you go create a character such as him from the beginning? [Laughs] You summon him from the deep! Actually, that’s an interesting question. The process is actually more complex now because we’re shooting for this high level go. Usually in the games industry you think up ‘Oh I want to have a tough guy’ then the concept artist draws a tough guy, and then you show the tough guy to the producers, and they’re like ‘Good to go’ You cast some dude, write a script and then say you’re tough guy go and stand there and do that. With that kind of process you get these really clichéd, flat characters. Instead of doing that what we’re doing is we’re starting with a core idea, starting with a real person as a reference or several real people we want to bring together and we talk about that and the archetypes. Then we cast very carefully, we go and look for actors, even before we’ve completed the script we’ll be looking for actors that bring a character that we have in mine out. In this case we actually found this guy - Michael Mando – when we were casting for another character we found this guy and were like ‘Hey, my God this guy is amazing!’ He really has this ability to become this guy. And so we co-create on the set, even just in motion capture we talked to Michael about who this guy is then he starts talking to us about ‘Oh I think he’s going to be like this and this and this!’ and we cocreate this character. We get that fantastic capture through rehearsals and giving the actor their space. Then once we get that we put it in the engine and polish from there on out. It’s a lot of work but I think the result speaks for itself. Is bringing in actors the future of the industry? I certainly hope so. I would love to...in fact what I’m trying to do with this game is raise the audiences expectations. I think we’ve been putting up with poor performances and poor writing for too long in the industry. There’s a lot of people who’ve kind of accepted that it’s just a game so you don’t need to have a good story or don’t need to have good believable characters. Why not? We should have good, believable, strong characters every time. We have examples of that, there have been great characters in gaming and we should continue with that, we should expect that. I believe that now that the technology for performance capture is becoming more and more available, and we’re learning more about it, I expect the quality bar to rise and I hope you guys should be demanding better characters out of your games.
What are the main improvements and additions to Far Cry 3 over the previous iterations in the series? First of all this characterisation is a big deal, the narrative is a big focus for us we have very high detailed characters and facial animation. Then we have these huge spaces in these gorgeous settings and lots of enemy NPCs and player driven choice and all that, all in the same engine running at the same time, it’s a real challenge, we like to do things the hard way in the Far Cry team! We’re also taking that huge scale from Far Cry 2, that big space, and we’re adding density to that. We’re going to fill up every square kilometre with a bunch of cool stuff to see and do, lots of activities to keep you occupied between the missions if you want to engage in that sort of thing. And then we’re bringing the story – Far Cry 2 was about crazy governments and conflicts – we’re bringing that down to an individual level and focusing on individual people. You’re going to play this game as a guy named Jason Brody; his story is a big part of what Far Cry 3 is about. His ship sunk, his girlfriend is lost in the wilderness and he’s found himself on this island full of people who haven’t seen the rule of law or a stable government in decades, and so they’ve been allowed to go a little nuts, they’ve been set free and that’s not always a good thing for humanity. You mentioned the tech, is there a new engine for Far Cry 3? No, no. This is the Dunia Engine, the same engine that won all those awards for Far Cry 2 and we’ve been working on it since Far Cry 2 shipped so it’s a very solid tool set and we’ve expanded it ever further. We’re pretty delighted with it’s actually great to work on an engine that’s already been through the ringer. How did you get into the games industry, and what advice would you give to those looking to get in? [Laughs] I got started in the dawn before time back when we did our computer programming with sticks and stones! I got started because I learned to programme, my dad was a computer programmer, and I wanted to be in entertainment so I studied film, because the idea that you could be paid to be a game developer didn’t exist when I was a kid so I couldn’t even conceive of that! I got in as a programmer on the X-Files game way back in the day doing CD-Rom stuff and programming, and just followed my passion, learned to work with teams, learned to work with people. My recommendation to people who want to get into the industry is to focus on learning how it really works. Learn about technology, learn about creation, learn about writing, learn about characters, learn about play and the human psychology; learn about whatever parts of that interest you. Then go finish something. Really try to make something yourself because in doing that you’re going to learn the skills that you need, but you’re also going to prove to the world that you can finish it. And that’s one of the most important things. Thanks for your time Jason. Far Cry 3 from Ubisoft is released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in 2012.