Although multiplayer has never been the focus of the Far Cry series, for the celebrated sandbox shooter's latest instalment online modes look set to offer a major attraction.
Previously the series' solid shooting has taken a back seat to its map-making features, which provide players with a surprisingly robust set of tools to build their own battlegrounds.
For Far Cry 3's multiplayer, Ubisoft Massive hopes that in addition to an even more in-depth map-editor, a suite of community features and a meaty co-op campaign will help deliver the series' most complete online package to date.
With just over a month until release, we caught up with creative director Magnus Jensen to discuss the shooter's online plans.
You've taken the interesting approach of integrating elements of the Far Cry 3 multiplayer into its single-player. Given the emphasis on narrative, how do you go about maintaining the purity of the story while getting the multiplayer hooks into people at the same time?
I'm a big fan of immersing myself in the single player, and we've been very careful not to force players. If you don't want to engage in competitive activities that remind you of the real world, that remind you that you have a snotty friend somewhere that you don't particularly like, you can completely ignore those elements as they're optional.
As you're going through the world in the single-player, you're in the open world experiencing it: sneaking, hunting, surviving, we're not going to blast pop-ups or achievements that break immersion at the player. It's going to be opt-in so that when you're ready, you can see it.
The bulletin board that keeps track of records is tucked away somewhat, so if you don't want to care about it, you don't have to.
The challenges are accessed in the physical world, so you go up and talk to people, they're not a menu.
Ubisoft Massive is known for creating RTS games like World in Conflict and Ground Control, how did you go from that genre to developing a shooter?
World in Conflict and Ground Control were both very much inspired by the first person genre, the camera is completely free look, you're close to the action and you control it with the mouse.
What we were doing with the single player, its strong narrative and focus on visuals were the result of having one foot firmly planted in the first-person genre. The multiplayer modes were domination, team modes, all things that are also a large part of first-person shooters.
Towards the launch of World in Conflict there were probably more people in the studio that were playing first-person games. The immersion, multiplayer and team dynamic were huge influences, so when the opportunity arose to jump in and collaborate with Ubisoft Montreal on Far Cry, it wasn't as strange a fit as you'd think.
For me personally, I'm a huge FPS fan. I remember the day, the weather, what I was wearing the first time I saw Wolfenstein 3D. That's what made me pursue a career in games. So it was quite natural.
Has the experience of developing RTS games with a focus on balancing and tweaking the minute details carried through to this project?
There's so much about the perspective that brings the immersion, the sense of being on the island. With Far Cry 3 there's this colourful grittiness too. Suddenly, there's so much going on, so it's less cerebral than an RTS.
Suddenly, in the balancing and feature building process, you're dealing a little less with the cortex of the brain and a little more with the gut and reptile part of your brain. From there we've had to rely on the fact that we're co-developing this with a very able studio and team with first-person shooter experience, they're bringing all this wonderful colour and insanity in terms of setting.
That's helped bring us down a little bit from the calculated, top-down perspective to a visceral level where if it feels right, we go with it. Of course we still benefit enormously from having the experience; we have details such as DPG and range on guns, that stuff is super-important in multiplayer. But we've had to become more savage in our design, which has been interesting.
Insanity is one of the main themes of Far Cry 3. In the story this is represented by Vaas, and a number of other characters, as well as the measures Jason has resorted to for survival. How are you representing this in multiplayer?
We're going very primal in multiplayer, Far Cry 3 isn't just literally colourful its figuratively colourful too. What I mean by that is we have stuff like the Psych Gas, which does strange things to your mind; it's kind of an insane state that makes it difficult to tell the difference between friend and foe. You get interesting mind games from this.
The gas is earned through the team play economy, which basically means when you do team actions such as capturing objectives or helping a friend, you earn the right to call in a team support weapon. Stuff like Psych Gas or burning oil dropped from the sky. It's not precise military equipment; it's all makeshift, tribal equipment.
We've also got four characters in co-op that are, I'd say, as unhinged as any of the characters that players will meet in the single-player.
How much have you looked at previous Far Cry multiplayer experiences and used them as a template?
Absolutely, very early on that was the process. The first thing we did was sit down with the creative director in Montreal and came to the conclusion that the game has to rest on a couple of pillars. One was the fact that we have previous Far Cry multiplayers, another was that team-play matters. And of course the final pillar was that we wanted this to work out of the gate. There was a lot of trouble in the past with getting online and getting in games with people.
So, we looked at what was good about Far Cry multiplayer previously. For me, that was the editor and the ability to make your own maps on any platform, not just the PC. It was a great editor even on the consoles, so we wanted to make that and better. We've spent time on making discovering player-made maps, playing on them and rating them easier.
We want the good maps to rise to the top so the players can come in and specify what they want to play on. They can play on the cream of the crop, or if act like a beta tester and play on the more experimental maps. We've made that super easy and clear.
I wanted to be able to take the very best map, the ones that equal or surpassed our official maps and make them apart of the normal map rotations and playlists, and we have the ability to do that.
In Far Cry 2 there was a little bit of team play in that reviving wasn't an ability exclusive to a medic class. That was really important, so we developed that. In other shooters, team play is important, ever since Team Fortress and Counter-Strike, but what we've found is that there isn't a lot of team play within the modes, or the modes are so demanding that you just can't get off the ground when playing with random players.
What we wanted to do is have the cake and eat it, we wanted the random experience but using a series of features and incentives, to pull them towards team play where they're tagging, reviving and giving each other boosts to earn points and call in weapons.