Far Cry 6 developer interviews: building a revolutionary revolution

We spoke to three of Far Cry 6’s top developers, and if the game lives up to their ambitions, it should break new ground.

You can tell a lot about a soon-to-be-released videogame by how eager – or otherwise – its development team is to talk about it. On that criterion, we’re harbouring high hopes for Far Cry 6. Its development team, clearly proud of what it has crafted, has just put in a marathon stint of talks, panels and interviews.

We managed to grab three of its top protagonists for one-on-one interviews via Discord: Narrative Director Navid Khavari, World Director Ben Hall and Thierry Noel who, as Senior Content Inspirational Advisor, heads up a team of researchers and academics at Ubisoft’s HQ in France.

Far Cry is one of those triple-A franchises that has a boundary-pushing agenda, especially in terms of setting new standards for narrative quality and complexity and taking place in game-worlds that boast incredible levels of detail and realism. The proof will be in the playing of the final game, but Khavari, Noel and Hall certainly waxed lyrical on both those aspects, while also revealing details of innovative downloadable content for Far Cry 6 which will let us play as iconic villains from past iterations of the game, a very personal plot device and much more.

The revolution begins

Khavari kicked off by outlining the narrative team’s starting points for Far Cry 6: “After working on Montana and other locations, we thought it was time to go back to a tropical setting and all the beauty, wildlife and gameplay that entails. Then from a narrative point, we were looking at how to put a different twist on the rebellion story; part of the Far Cry DNA is a story about rebellion. The jumping-off point really was when we started looking at freedom fighters, and guerrillas in particular.

“Because the guerrilla experience brings something different to mind – at least in my eyes – than the word freedom-fighter or even the word rebel. It brings this image of someone who is not just fighting for a country or their beliefs, but also has their own particular point of view. There’s a sense of adventure to that, but also something that is deeply character-driven.”

Familiar but fresh

One of the trickiest aspects of making a new Far Cry game must have been balancing the twin desires to keep it recognisably Far Cry and to bring some new elements to the party. Khavari highlights the fact that as Dani Rojas, you’re a guerrilla bringing a revolution to an entire country as one aspect which is new for a Far Cry game.

“Narratively, I wanted to try to have a strong focus on the protagonists, the heroes, and everyone in between. I had a running thing of, ‘We’ll draw them in with the villain, and we’ll keep them in the game with the heroes.’ What that means is having a microcosm of what revolution is, and one of the things in our research that became clear was we tend to view revolution as this homogenous group that agrees on everything and is fighting a dictator or a military organisation when it’s anything but that. If you peel back the onion of revolutionary fighters, there are different factions, there’s vying for control, there are wide ranges of motivations.

“Then, on top of that, in a more practical sense, we had to look at what it means to do an entire country. We knew that if we were going to do the island of Yara, we needed a capital city, something that’s never been done in a Far Cry game before. On top of that, there was the notion of a country frozen in time for over 50 years and the concept of Resolver, which in Cuba means making do with what you have.”

A new form of narrative

Khavari and his team evolved a complex narrative, in which newly installed dictator Anton Castillo, whose father fulfilled the same role until a 1967 revolution deposed him, wreaks terror on the fictional island of Yara, and Dani Rojas joins the guerrilla organisation Libertad and begins to foment a country-wide revolution, while Castillo grooms his son to take over his autocratic reins.

Marrying that with the giant open-world playground that is Yara, Khavari says, necessitated the design of a new type of narrative structure for a game: “It’s almost an innovation on what came before. I see it more that you’re going to be able to explore the narrative on the island in whatever direction you choose. We’ve found a way in which you can approach the narrative so that once you enter Yara proper, you can go to any of the regions and tap into the Netflix series that is that region’s story.

“But we’ve also found a way to have a meta-narrative over all of that, which will draw you into the bigger story of Anton, Diego and Dani. Then on top of that – and I think folks are a little surprised that we wanted to do this – we’ve instituted cutaways to Anton and Diego at key moments in the story, where the player isn’t even there. So altogether, it creates this cinematic experience, but with a hell of a lot of freedom.”

A personal plot device

One of Far Cry 6’s key plot devices, which Castillo uses to justify his brutality, is Viviro, a miracle cancer-treating drug extracted from genetically engineered tobacco plants treated with noxious chemicals. Khavari reveals that the idea for Viviro stemmed from his personal experience: “I’m a cancer survivor, and I was thinking about what we could give Anton that would allow him to have the leverage to justify what he was doing – not only to his people but around the world.

“Cancer, as a survivor, is always top of the mind, but I began to imagine if someone came to me when I was sick and said, ‘Hey, I have this treatment that is going to solve everything’ – luckily, I did have that. But you don’t necessarily question where it comes from. Diving in deeper, we found that there are companies out there that are developing medicines and cancer treatments by bio-hacking plants, and that’s where it came together. That would give Anton this leverage to say: ‘Yes, I’m committing atrocities, I’m doing these incredibly brutal things, but look at what I’m producing’.”

Thierry Noel has a fascinating remit at Ubisoft, as an academic rather than a conventional developer: “Ubisoft has a permanent team of researchers: historians, geographers, political scientists: we are a group of specialists. Our role is to collect first and then to provide to the creative teams all the materials they need when building their fictional world. In my case, I’m a historian specialising in Latin American history.”

In search of nuance and authenticity, he researched guerrilla movements meticulously: “In the question of guerrillas, the idea was really to understand how a movement starts. Why do people join up as guerrillas? How does that movement work, how can it win, and how can it lose, too? And to look at what its political message will be, and its popular support for the fight.”

Cuba was the main, but not only, inspiration for Yara: “It offered many examples of fighting and guerrillas – not only the guerrillas of the Fifties but in other moments of its history. We studied all kinds of guerrilla movements from South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Mostly in the contemporary period, but also looking back in history. We looked into the Dominican Republic, for example, Nicaragua, Peru, Colombia.”

Ubisoft has got itself in a twist in the past by asserting that its games weren’t political, then admitting that maybe they were, but at least in Far Cry 6, it has sidestepped strong reactions from those who are for or against Cuba’s near-unique communist regime, by dictating that Castillo is a newly installed, dynastic dictator taking over after the incumbent revolutionary leader died. Noel says: “What we focused on was more like the archetype of nationalist dictatorship, thinking about Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, in the 1930s to the 1960s, and thinking about the Batista dictatorship in the Fifties in Cuba. There were other examples of ideological dictators, but these ones were interesting, as their nationalism stemmed from the idea of a family that has ruled over a country for decades, and keeps on reproducing and having rulers of that country.”

Noel describes the main justification for his research: “The idea was definitely to be much more nuanced in our approach: to understand how a dictatorship works, to understand how people start fighting against that kind of tyranny. But with a balanced approach, and something more complex than just bad and good. One of the questions of the game, clearly, is how far you’re ready to go. How far will you go to overthrow the dictatorship?”

Play as a Far Cry villain via DLC

One very unexpected aspect of Far Cry 6 – which we’ll have to wait for post-launch – is a wacky-sounding chunk of downloadable content made by Ubisoft Shanghai which, as Khavari describes, will let you play as iconic villains from past Far Cry games: “It’s rogue-lite, and you essentially enter each of the villains’ minds — that’s Vaas, Pagan Min and Joseph Seed — and have to escape the trappings of their own minds. it was almost like a fun project that, as we were working on Far Cry 6, we could feed into at the same time.

“What we focused on narratively, which I cannot wait for people to experience, is that you get to see those villains’ perspective on events that happened in the previous games, which I can guarantee are slightly different from what you’ve seen. And on top of that, you get to experience and see new story elements that add both to the mystique of the characters and give a deeper insight into who they are.”

Ben Hall is Far Cry 6’s World Director, so was the ultimate head of the team that created the island of Yara. As with the game’s narrative, he says, the world-building team went through a meticulous research phase. “When we’re trying to create any new world for the games that we’re making, we go back to school. At Ubisoft, we work with an internal research group called World Texture Facility, at our HQ in Paris, who do reference and research. But the team also went out and did extensive trips. We got over a terabyte of data: thousands of photographs, hours of video, audio; there were interviews with people. We sent out people from audio, from the narrative, but also from art. So you’ve got people who are obsessed with taking pictures of leaves and doing photogrammetry of little piles of dirt and things. We go to those lengths to try to ensure that we make something that feels authentic, grounded and realistic, and that stays true to the area of the world that we’re working with.”

Hall describes the interaction between the narrative team and his world-builders: “When we’re working with Navid and his team, they are coming up with elements of story and arcs for characters. They want to take the player on this particular journey, and then we’ll work together with them to think about the locations that we can use, the reference that we’ve found.

“It really is a process that we go through with each of the different missions, operations, and each of the different open-world areas that we create. And that idea that Yara is what the guerrillas are fighting for then becomes then a thing so, as Dani Rojas, you want to free Yara, for the Yaran people. Yara thus becomes a character unto itself. We built a timeline with Navid and his team back to the 1400s, so that we could layer in different historical stories and tell stories to the player as they are exploring through the landscape.”

Hall maintains that Yara itself should be considered a major character in the game – indeed, it’s his favourite character in the game. “I actually answered that question in a panel recently, and I would say that I chickened out because I said Yara is my favourite character. I think I’m a bit biased being World Director, but what it says is that we’ve put the same amount of effort into building Yara as a character as any other character. Yara really has so much depth that you can explore it, and get to understand and learn about it, as a character. And there’s so much variation within Yara that I’m really happy with the world itself and I can’t wait for people to explore it.”

Explore it is precisely what we’ll be able to do when Far Cry 6 is released on October 7. If it comes anywhere near to living up to its developers’ descriptions of it, it should be a mighty game indeed.

Steve Boxer
Steve Boxer
Steve Boxer mis-spent his youth in the arcades of the 1980s and has been writing about videogames since the mid-90s for the likes of The Guardian, Metro, Pocket-Lint and Checkpoint. London-based, he can often be found DJing or supporting Tottenham Hotspur.

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