[The GDC special issue of our awesome sister publication Game Developer magazine seeing Clint Hocking explaining what went into the progressive Far Cry 2, and here's some extracts from said mag-exclusive postmortem.]

The latest issue of Game Developer magazine includes a creator-written postmortem on the making of Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2, an ambitious open-world first-person shooter.

These extracts reveal how the internal team behind the game struggled with far-reaching narrative difficulties, yet maintained a core commitment to design principles.

Ubisoft Montreal creative director Clint Hocking crafted the postmortem of the game, which was introduced in Game Developer as follows:

"Far Cry 2 had extremely lofty goals. The aim was to create a first-person shooter with an engaging and truly dynamic narrative, in a vibrant persistent living world. After three and a half years of development, creative director Clint Hocking shares the hits and misses of this fascinating and rather under-discussed franchise reboot."

Empowering Creativity

In this first excerpt, Hocking lays out his fundamental belief as to the role and responsibilities of a creative director as primarily a facilitator of the team's creativity -- and how that role was reached particularly effectively with Far Cry 2:

"As creative director, my job is not to create the game, but to get the most creativity out of an entire team by empowering people to work in a way that allows their creativity to be expressed in their work. Far Cry 2’s team reached that state more successfully than any other I’ve worked with.

"This creative empowerment took a number of forms over the course of the project. In the concept phase of the project, I worked with a small team to harvest and catalogue all our ideas about what Far Cry 2 could be, and then sorted through them to aggregate the concepts that seemed to work best. After that, I briefed every new member of the team to ensure they understood the game concept and had someone to talk to about any creative concerns.

"In production, I began the long process of turning over creative responsibility to the implementers. By ensuring that designers delivered all documentation on time, and that they then worked closely with implementers, we were able to slowly abandon the conceptual vision as it lived in documentation and in our heads for the reality of what was in the game and in the code. As this transition happened, individuals were encouraged and given the confidence to take creative ownership of their work, whether it was a level, an animation, or a piece of code.

"If, toward the end of a project, a creative director is still explaining to people how and why to do something, he has already failed. Under the best circumstances, a creatively invested implementer -- not a designer -- is the person most qualified to make the decision about how best to deliver on the vision."

Meaningful Characters Are Realization-Dependent

Far Cry 2's narrative is heavily reliant on its dynamic buddy system -- which means any failings in the effectiveness of that buddy system have a strong impact on the effectiveness of the game. Here, Hocking describes one area where that aspect fell short:

"Far Cry 2 is fairly unusual for a shooter in that the player gets to play the high-level gameplay: the dynamic story and the relationships with the characters.

"The decisions he makes when assassinating a major character, being rescued by a buddy, or dealing with a buddy who has fallen wounded on the battlefield, have lasting repercussions, the effects of which might not be relevant until much later.

"In these sorts of sequences, iterating low-level gameplay is not as important as polish and realization. For example, we could have made a surgery mini-game where you try to save the life of a wounded buddy, but frankly, it would have been focusing on the wrong thing. The gameplay that occurs when a buddy is wounded should not be based on reflex skill, but rather on the challenge of making a difficult moral decision with far-reaching repercussions under various situational pressures.

"What mattered was not iterating the low-level mechanics until they were fun, but achieving a high enough level of realization that the player would be emotionally invested in the unfolding events and would find the decision to euthanize or abandon his wounded friend more challenging than any test of reflexes.

"Unfortunately, we underestimated the degree of realization that was required not only in these sequences, but globally. For the player to care deeply about a buddy bleeding to death in his arms, he must find the character credible and engaging all the time. Only then can the climactic moments of the relationship -- the moments that determine the course of the rest of the game -- take on the emotional weight and resonance they need."

Performing Under Pressure

As a heavily procedural game, Far Cry 2 required competent and usable tools for its developers. Here, Hocking describes how that went right:

"From the very beginning, technical director Dominic Guay asserted, 'We have designed a game that forces us to make tools that will allow artists and designers to build and iterate content very rapidly.'

"With engine development planned to happen parallel to game development, we would be working under constantly shifting budgets, and we would need to be constantly tweaking and tuning the gameplay, even as the technical constraints changed. We literally needed to be able to build a square kilometer of the game in one day, and then be prepared to throw it away the next day if things changed.

"At the end of pre-production, we presented a two-minute time-lapse video of a level designer and a level artist creating a one-square-kilometer section of African jungle in four hours. The proof-of-concept included all the terrain, dynamic vegetation, roads, structures, AI, and gameplay, and demonstrated beyond any doubt that we could create our game world.

"The toolset would ultimately become the foundation of the level editor that shipped with all versions of the game. It allows players to create multiplayer maps rapidly and iterate their designs to deliver professional-quality levels to the Far Cry 2 multiplayer community."

Additional Info

The full postmortem, including a great deal more insight into Far Cry 2's development, with "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" reasoning, is now available in the March 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The issue also includes "dirty coding tricks" from professional programmers, a particle-based terrain generation method, and a feature on subtractive design.

As usual, there is Matthew Wasteland's humor column, as well as development columns from Power of Two's Noel Llopis, Bungie's Steve Theodore, LucasArts' Jesse Harlin, and Maxis' Soren Johnson.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of March 2009's edition as a single issue.