The Far Cry series is back this month with Far Cry 5. Paul Jones spoke with lead writer at Ubisoft Montreal, Drew Holmes.

I’ve been hooked on Far Cry since I picked up Far Cry 2 in 2008. It’s a quality franchise crammed full of content to be discovered, and has progressively improved with each new entry. It often surprises with its settings and locations, too, as evidenced with Far Cry Primal, a game that released just over a year after Far Cry 4 came out in 2014. Far Cry is a popular series with gamers; it was the must-play game at E3 last year for us, and judging by the queues at the Ubisoft booth at PAX in November, the gaming public agreed.

For the fifth official title, Ubisoft set the game closer to home; the fictional town of Hope County in the US state of Montana. Lead writer on FC5, Drew Holmes, recently talked us through the process of deciding how the locations in Far Cry are determined.

“Like most things in game development, it’s a lot of people pitching ideas and that list getting whittled down,” he explains. “Everything builds out of that location, so everyone along the Ubisoft chain is going to give their feedback.

“There are some key criteria you need for a location to feel like it’s “Far Cry”. Wildlife plays a huge part. Ferocious predators and interesting prey to hunt are key. You also need to feel like it’s a bit of a frontier – that you’re not quite sure what’s over the next hill.

“You always want that pending sense of danger, not just from your villains, but from the environment itself. You also want verticality – there’s nothing more satisfying than climbing to the top of a mountain and wing-suiting into a nearby valley.

“There had been a desire to bring Far Cry to the United States for quite a while, and when the scout team went to Montana it really nailed all of the key criteria and then some.”

For Far Cry 4, Ubisoft sent a team to Nepal on a research mission to ensure they accurately captured the region’s landscape in order to create an authentic depiction of the fictional Himalayan country of Kyrat. Despite Montana being practically on the doorstep this time around, a team was still dispatched on a reconnaissance mission to gather intel on the location.

“We had several trips with various groups,” says Holmes. “It’s really important if you say, ‘This takes place in Montana’ that the game world looks and feels like Montana. Getting to know the locals and seeing what their favorite parts were was key. But it’s still a game, after all. It’s a fictional county and we’ve condensed the biomes of Montana into our county. Montana is a massive state (a third larger than Victoria), so we wanted to make sure we had all of that variety you’d see without adhering strictly to reality.

“What’s been really great is to get feedback from people who have lived in Montana – one woman and her son at E3 played the game and made a point of saying how much the world looks and feels like their home, which is exactly the response we want.”

If you’re not familiar with the Far Cry 5 narrative, a tyrannical preacher called Joseph Seed has laid influence over Hope County. Adopting the name of ‘the Father’, Seed has assembled a doomsday cult known as Eden’s Gate. Assuming the role of Sheriff’s deputy, players become embroiled in the fight to take Seed down and restore law and order to Hope County.

When you think of cults in this context, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple (that led to the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, in which over 900 followers committed mass suicide) spring to mind. According to Holmes, Ubisoft Montreal turned to leading authorities on cults for advice on narrative specifics.

“We had a couple of ‘cult experts’ – Rick Ross and Mia Donovan – that we consulted with during development, as well as doing a ton of research ourselves,” notes Holmes. “We would have periodic meetings where we could say, ‘based on our research, here’s what we’re thinking – does this make sense?’ And they could help us tweak based on their knowledge and experiences. It really helped us build a cult that was our own creation, but still held true to the common traits seen in cults.”

As far as memorable video game antagonists go, the Far Cry series has a reputation for creating convincing and formidable characters. From Vaas Montenegro to Pagan Min, fans now expect these towering adversaries in their Far Cry games, and from what we’ve seen of Joseph Seed, that trend is set to continue.

“We knew from the start that we would have a cult leader as the main villain and we had the basic idea of what he believed, but WHO that guy was and HOW those beliefs manifested themselves in the game took some time to solidify. It was very much an evolutionary process. We started by researching a bunch of different cult leaders – from famous to obscure. You look at how they present themselves, how they exert their control, what their backgrounds were… and then you start to take pieces of that and mould a character.

“The first thing I wrote for him was a story he tells about the first time God tested him – it was a way to show what his values were, how far he’d go to achieve his goals… but it was really just a character sketch. It wasn’t until Greg Bryk (the Canadian actor who played Seed) came in and read the scene that I started to really be able to understand Joseph. Greg brought gravitas to that character. He brought empathy. I could suddenly hear Joseph’s voice as I wrote him, and the collaboration we had on set continued to flesh this character out into someone who felt real.

“Joseph is much different from Vaas or Pagan Min in that he’s more than just a colourful psychopath. He has a purpose he believes in. He’s driven. I think it gives his scenes more meat than the previous Far Cry villains – he’s trying to convince you that he’s right.”

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