Far Cry 2 Interview: Ubisoft's Clint Hocking on Missions, Multiplayer Maps and Discarded Features

The Far Cry 2 level on display at E3 was the same one we got a look at months ago, and I managed to play through it in an almost identical fashion.

After embarrassing myself with a flamethrower for a few minutes, I had a chance to talk with Far Cry 2 creative director Clint Hocking, who took me through a few detailed examples of what we'll be doing in the open-world shooter.

We also touched on a now-discarded feature, as well as the expansive multiplayer features set to appear on both console and PC platforms.

Shack: So we've seen how the game plays within a mission, but not a lot on how the game will play over several. Is it going to be like Grand Theft Auto?

Clint Hocking: It is kind of like Grand Theft Auto. I mean, the mission structure is.. there's sort of.. I'm not going to talk about side missions, and exploration and stuff like that. But it's an open world, so when you're not on a mission you're free to go where you want, and do whatever you want. There are markers on your map telling you where you can go get a mission. Of course you can explore, you can unlock stuff, you can do whatever you want.

When you get a mission from one of the factions, which are sort of the main missions of the game, you go and talk to them, they offer you the mission. You can accept it or not; if you accept the mission it becomes active, and you get paid in advance. You walk out the door, and there's always one objective for the mission, and the objective can't be failed. It's always something like blow up a bridge, or kill someone. It's not like, "Do something at 10 o'clock," and if you failed to do it at 10 o'clock you fucked it up. The mission is active until you complete that objective.

The objective is going to take you typically about a kilometer to a kilometer and a half out of town, into the territory of the other faction. So you're going to have to fight your whole way there however you want, taking whatever path you want, using whatever vehicles, until you get to the objective.

The objective for the main missions is always in what we call a key location. There's usually 20, 30 guys there, they're well dug in, they know how to defend themselves, and so you have a big battle there. That's the base mission, and then from that point you can pick up side missions along the way, you can unlock safe houses, you can do whatever you want. You can go back to town and get another mission, whatever. But as soon as you complete that objective, the mission is over.

However, if you have a buddy, when you accept a mission from a warlord from one of the factions, within two or three minutes your phone will ring. And your favorite buddy will say, "Come and meet me at this location if you want more information about the mission." It's totally optional. If you do that, you go to a safe house--an icon appears on your map telling you where to go--you go there, you meet the buddy, and the buddy says.. so here's a fake example:

"I heard the warlord's hired you to blow up this bridge. Cool, that's awesome. I happen to be working for the other side, and if you really want to fuck these guys hard, work with me. Because I happen to know that one of their lieutenants is going to be crossing this bridge with this convoy at 10 o'clock tonight. If you blow up the bridge while the lieutenant is crossing it with his convoy, you'll take him out. He's my enemy, that will give me an opportunity to raid his little camp, steal the stuff that he stole from me, and then I'll get out ahead, you'll get out ahead, the guy you're working for will be even more happy because you killed this guy he doesn't like, and it will be great for everyone. You should do that."

And then that adds the objective to destroy the bridge at 10 o'clock. That objective can be failed. If you destroy the bridge at 2 in the afternoon, or if you wait three days and destroy the bridge then, you've failed that objective. However, if you do it at 10 o'clock, then you've sort of initiated the alternate version of the mission. So you go to the bridge, you destroy it, and if you happen to destroy it at the right time, then you've enabled your buddy to do his part of the mission, so he'll phone you and update you and say, "Awesome, good work, now I'm gonna go do this, and you're gonna need to be there and back me up." That's it. And then once you've either done or not done that, the mission is complete.

Shack: So how do the factions play into this?

Clint Hocking: The thing is, you are not really officially working for either side. So warlords have their men, and they're on this side of the world, and the other guys are on that side of the world, and if the two factions encounter eachother they fight. If you're being chased, you can lead one of the factions into the other faction's territory, and they'll open up on them and kill them for you. But even if I'm working for the APR, if I go into APR territory, the APR guys will attack me on sight.

Shack: So you're always the enemy.

Clint Hocking: I'm always the enemy, yeah. Except for the underground, who are civilians, and priests and stuff like that. But they're not a faction of armed combatants, they're civilians and priests and doctors hiding in safe areas, where you can't go in with weapons.

Shack: And you just play both sides against eachother.

Clint Hocking: Yeah. And the warlords need a guy like you, because you're a dirty motherfucker who's willing to do crazy stuff. Like when you do blow up the bridge, you're the guy who's willing to find out, "Hey, I happen to know if I blow it up at 10 o'clock you're going to like it even better." And then they start to go, "Fuck, this guy's a motherfucker. Not only does he go blow up the bridge like we asked, but he goes and blows up the bridge when that guy I hated was on it. I need guys like you, but I don't need you so much that I want anyone to know that you're working for me." [laughs] So yeah, that's kind of the relationship we have there.

So does that make sense? We've never really shown it, because the problem is, the whole process of going to get a mission, fighting your way to get a buddy--there's 15, 20 minutes of gameplay. Maybe you want to go back to a weapon place, change your weapons and equipment, fight your way to the place where the buddy told you to go, steal some documents, fight your way to the main location, blow up the bridge--it can take an hour and a half to play a mission, even though there's only two objectives.

Shack: Given that kind of length per mission, how long is this game going to be?

Clint Hocking: We have testers who can get a walkthrough in eight hours, but that's eight hours connecting the dots. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: So there are primary story missions?

Clint Hocking: Yeah, there's a set of story missions that you have to finish. And then there's all the exploration stuff, unlocking all the safe houses. Every safehouse is occupied by the enemy, you need to kill the guys that are there and capture it.

All of the PGPs--PGPs, that's a production term--all of the checkpoints along the roads.. [laughs] checkpoints. We call them PGPs because it means perimeter guard post, but checkpoint unfortunately means a "save the game" point--roadblock, let's call it a roadblock. Those things, you need to scout them all because they tell you what kind of ammunition they have there. So you're walking around in the jungle and you're like, "I'm low on fuel for my flamethrower," so you pop open your map. "But I've hit all these roadblocks, and I happen to know that this one here has fuel." So I take this vehicle and I drive 250 meters west, kill the six guys in the place, refill my flamethrower, and then go and do the mission.

Plus there are assassination side quests, there are side quests to raid convoys to unlock new weapons, there's collecting the diamonds that you use to buy weapons and all of that stuff. So there's a whole pile of stuff that's totally optional.

But the main missions, there's--I don't remember the exact number, I don't even want to try to quote you a number--I think it's something like 26. But maybe it's 36, and maybe it's 19, I can't remember. But yeah, there's a set of story missions, and then there's what we call the "mission library," which is really the meat of working the two factions against eachother. It's kind of a minigame in itself. Which one do you like better, and which one do you like working for more, and which one is going to come out ahead?

Because the one that wins in the mission library determines how the next set of slightly more linear missions plays out, in terms of which side is going to try to wipe out the other side, and what they're going to try to do with you, and who's going to live and who's going to die, and who's going to be exposed for you to assassinate, and that kind of stuff. And that kind of cuts there, and then there's a few more story missions to establish the second, what we call "mission library," where all of the missions are non-linear and interconnected and impacting eachother. And then there's a resolution to that, and then there's a third act, and it ends.

So yeah, it's very hard for us to show this stuff. Like I said, it maybe takes a tester eight hours to do a walkthrough, which is a super long time. But to just play the game beginning to end quickly, like if you have to review it or something, you're probably talking.. I'm gonna guess and say it's 25 hours just to play it right through without doing anything optional. It's going to be 25 hours.

Shack: That's a long game.

Clint Hocking: Yeah, I think so. I wish we'd made it shorter in hindsight. Because it's so hard for us to test everything--the game is so massive. I'll be driving around, I'll get in a chase, and I'll have to take a turn that I haven't taken in a long time. I'll end up off-road, my vehicle will break down, I'll kill the guys chasing me, and I'll be like, "..where the fuck am I?" I'll be like looking around in my game that I've been working on for three years.

And then I'll start walking a little bit, I'll take out my map, and go, "Oh, there's a little watering hole around these rocks." And I'll walk around the corner, I'll find a little shack there, I'll walk inside, find some exploration diamonds, climb up on the roof and watch the sun setting and watch some zebras and be like, "This is rad." Except I just wasted 45 minutes when I was supposed to be actually testing this stuff. So yeah, sometimes I wish we made it a bit smaller, but what can you do.

Shack: So as far as the soldiers go, and how they freely rove from camp to camp, do they ever respawn, or..?

Clint Hocking: They do repopulate. Obviously when we run out of memory we have to respawn stuff that has been destroyed. But other than that, if you--a good example is a safehouse. If you go to a location and kill everybody and then go sit on a hill 200 meters away and wait, the guys will never respawn because we haven't run out of memory. But if you were to walk 10 meters from there and go into a safehouse, and fast-forward time 24 hours, they would all be back.

Yeah, you won't actually see guys popping into the world of course, but if you pass time, that's when we do our loading.

Shack: I've heard about a system in the game where the player actually loses control of the character for a time. Can you go into detail on that?

Clint Hocking: Yeah, we dialed back on that significantly, just because it was too hard for us to get it in with all of the testing that we needed to do. It was supposed to be kind of a high level system where the player would eventually, literally lose control of his actions more and more frequently. And that wasn't easy to test, and it was turning out ot be very risky for being fun, so we cut it.

But what does happen is your reputation still grows, and your reputation in the high level still determines how frequently guys are wounded, how guys behave in combat. They're more afraid of you if your reputation is very high, they're like, "Holy fuck it's that guy, get the fuck out of here." They're really defensive and they're afraid of you. So all of that stuff changes over the course of the game.

As your reputation mounts you're going to end up walking out of a battlefield with like 16 guys holding their guts in calling for help. In the beginning of the game guys don't get wounded as often because they're not afraid, it's psychological. But if your reputation gets too high, the people who are providing you with medicine to treat your malaria symptoms start saying, "Dude, you're a psycho. We don't want to give you medicine to treat your malaria, you're a motherfucker who's butchering people." So you have to balance your reputation against your malaria symptoms. That's sort of the high level progression of the game.

We didn't really have a name for [the cut system], but your reputation was called your "infamy." It's still called that in the menus and everything. When you go to check your reputation, your sickness, your sort of journal that updates you on your story progress and all of that, it's still called your "infamy." It's like your reputation in the world. And yeah, as you become more infamous people stop liking you.

Shack: So as far as multiplayer goes, there will be user-created maps on the console, right?

Clint Hocking: Yep, user maps for console, for Xbox 360 and PS3. User maps for PC as well. The map editors are different for PC, the PC one is a lot more PC-like. It's like a Windows-based kind of look and feel. The one for consoles is kind of like the one that was built for Far Cry Instincts. The kind of bare-bones skeleton of that, and how usable it was, became the template.

We rebuilt it--it's not the same thing because we had to rebuild it for the new engine. But yeah, it's super user friendly, it's super powerful. It's a lot more powerful than the Instincts one was, just because we have a lot better tools for manipulating terrain and stuff like that.

Shack: And how will these be shared exactly?

Clint Hocking: They'll share them over PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, and on PC they'll share them just over the web. And then there'll be community management, and ranking and rating of maps. The main problem with Instincts was like, there were 10,000 maps out there, and 9,850 of them are a flat piece of sand with a cube floating in the air, and a ladder and a shotgun.

Shack: AwesomeMap 10.

Clint Hocking: Oh yeah. Well even worse, it would be called like, [adopting evil voice], "Devil's Gorge."

Shack: [laughs] Oh yeah.

Clint Hocking: You'd be like, "That sounds good--download." So yeah, we have the ranking and rating stuff, so hopefully--I mean, we don't know because we haven't really done a complete load test on it--but hopefully you'll be able to pop on you get the thing, maybe a couple days later, and there'll be dozens, if not hundreds of maps for you to download. And you'll just go, "I want the five-star ones." And that will rule.