March 2, 2018
An Interview With Far Cry 5’s Creative Director Dan Hay
With Far Cry 5 releasing this month, Screen Rant sat down with Dan Hay, Executive Producer at Ubisoft Montreal, to discuss the franchise, what makes Far Cry 5 different from its predecessors, that challenges with this one, and what could be next for the brand.
Outside of San Francisco, Ubisoft recently converted a horse ranch surrounded in steep hills into the fictional town of Hope County, Montana – the setting for Far Cry 5’s open-world choose your own adventure game. This venue was host to media and influencers getting hands-on with various modes and features of Far Cry 5 (more on this soon!) and participating in some real-life experiences inspired from the game.
In between firing crossbows and slingshots, offroading through steep hills, and rescuing Boomer the dog, we asked Hay about the changes and newness that Far Cry 5 brings to the series that Hay himself helped reshape and relaunch with 2012’s Far Cry 3.
Why did you chose the USA as the setting for this game and when did you know you’d be exploring the homefront?
Dan Hay: I think we knew we wanted to go to the USA as far back as right towards the end of Far Cry 3, sometime in 2012.
Day Hay: Yeah, and we kicked it around about how to do it. We didn’t know how to do it. It’s like “okay, we know we have to pick a place that’s a frontier, we know we want exotic and what not,” but it just didn’t go anywhere, right? And I think three years ago I was like “we gotta go back, it’s gotta be in the States, but where? How?” And somebody, I don’t remember where, but somebody goes “It’s gotta be frontier, you want it to be beautiful, you want it to be remote, but at the same time it’s gotta feel American,” and somebody said “Montana.”
And somebody else went “Montana?! Nobody knows anything about Montana.” and we’re like, maybe that’s a good thing. So it was perfect.
And how did the cult theme fit into that?
Dan Hay: It was pretty close to the beginning. It started with The Father (Joseph Seed) and the whole idea is – we know we have the pedigree of Vaas and Pagan Min – but how do we make this character different? How do we make this character magnetic? Right away it was about what was a believable, fictional conceit that would allow him to control people and we very quickly sort of got into cults. The moment that landed, the moment we understand that this is what we wanted, the whole family just sort of waterfalled from that. So it was a pretty powerful moment to know that we wanted to build this zealot and in particular, build a character that didn’t believe they were a bad guy, who was absolutely believing that this doomsday idea was real. And they were going to try and save you. That was a powerful moment for us.
With Far Cry 3’s Vaas and Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min they keyword you always used was “insanity” but you didn’t use that word today. Is Far Cry 5 still playing with that theme?
Dan Hay: I really like the idea of flipping the coin and going, this is somebody who on a regular note everybody would look at and say this person’s crazy but they’re looking at you and saying “I know you think I’m crazy but what if I’m right?” And there’s something very eerily calming about that. When I was a kid I was pretty afraid of the end of the Cold War from the standpoint of the timing of the Cold War looming and we were right at the tail end and I was really feeling that with all the stuff that was going on in the world, it’s like “man, I feel powerless.” The end of the world could happen just like that. I remember being terrified as a kid. And then the Cold War ended and everyone breathed a sigh of relief and I kind of shelved that feeling and then three years ago I had this weird thing in my stomach of like “something doesn’t feel right.” What is this?
It was just a remembrance of the feeling when I was a kid so you take all that information and jam it into the brain of The Father who says “look, it’s not a commentary on America, it’s a commentary on the world. We’ve been so close to the end of times so many times that we’ve been desensitized to it.” His point is that one time it’s going to happen. And when it does “I’m going to survive it and so are you. I’m going to take you whether you want to be saved or not and two or three weeks after it happens you’re going to turn to me and say ‘thank you.’”
That was an interesting way to think about it.
In terms of gameplay, what are some of the things you’ve added to Far Cry 5 that you haven’t been able to do until now?
Dan Hay: One of the things that happens when you’re building a game is that you’re building all kinds of stuff that you always end up leaving some stuff on the cutting room floor and going “oh this is genius! But no, we can’t!” and it’s painful. And so we know we wanted to do more with ‘Guns for Hire’ and we hinted at some of that stuff in previous games even with what [Far Cry Primal] did with the Beast Master and all that with the pets. So you take all those things and you try to make sure they’re always growing.
And then co-op. We’ve had elements of co-op but this time we wanted to give you co-op for the entire time. And then the story, making it more organic so it’s not prescriptive. You have a choose your own adventure. We don’t know where you’re going to be. When you come down after playing and sit in front of us, we’re like “did they play co-op? Did they have two guns for hire? Did they have one? Did they have no guns for hire? Did they have a sniper? Did they have a bear with them? Was it a dog?” It’s making it so that players can craft their own experience so that the stories that they tell are unique. I’ve played through the game six times and have never played it the same way.
In the intro of the game there’s a joke about not having to climb towers throughout the game, poking fun at Ubisoft open-world titles. Are there other things like that where you’ve learned and changed things from previous Far Cry games?
Dan Hay: For sure. The cool thing about working on a brand for a while is that you get a sense of how you want to grow it, right? You get to see where it’s going to grow. You’re always going to leave some stuff behind, you’re going to grow other things. And the cool thing about working on Far Cry is that we’re flexible. The brand is very, very flexible. As long as you’re making sure those systems collide with one another and you’re getting the glorious friction of all that stuff happening you’re going to have a great time with this.
So yeah, I think with towers we wanted to make it credible and believable. Would you go outside and climb a tower and turn it on? No, you wouldn’t do that. You’d go talk to somebody and then when you talk to them, they wouldn’t have all the information. And maybe they’d have wrong information or just a bit of information. And that exchange needs to feel real. You walk up and talk to them and if you walk away half-way, “uhhh hello? There’s info here!” You’d recognize that so you want to make it so that it feels organic but it also feels curated at the same time which is super hard to do.
Can you give me an example of something that might be on the cutting room floor of this game?
Dan Hay: I can’t think of anything in particular right now but we really do try hard. I think the thing that I’m glad that didn’t end up on the cutting room floor is that right from the get-go, from the very beginning we said we want this to be a choose your own adventure and that means the story has to be able to move with the player. That’s extremely hard to do and we always want the player to be able to pick who they are and what they look like. We’re not going to have a protagonist that talks. It’s just going to be you.
Those are two things that when you set the bar that high to something that difficult and that touches every facet of the game you’re making, those are easy to cut. And we just kept saying… [laughs] There were many discussions about “how do we…” and the answer is “no.” We’re not going go cut it. We’re going to make a game where the players get to author their own story and they get to look and be the way they want to be.
With Far Cry 3, the franchise expanded in to survival with crafting and foraging to build medical supplies and that’s since blown up into its own massive genre, similar to how battle royale games have. Of all the Ubisoft properties, Far Cry lends itself best to that genre…
Dan Hay: Yeah.
Is that something you can see for the future Far Cry?
Dan Hay: I won’t tell you what we see for the future of Far Cry but what I’ll tell you is, we’re always talking about stuff. We’re always thinking and it’s a great brand to work on because it’s never boring.
[Laughs] Re-release Far Cry 3 with a hundred plus players flying over that island, unarmed, and drop them in!
Dan Hay: [Smiles]
If you could some up Far Cry 5 in one word for newcomers joining the franchise, what would it be?
Dan Hay: Freedom.
Dan Hay: go into the world and play it the way you want. And it will be organic. And it will push back. You push. It pushes back. I think players are going to love that.