Far Cry 5’s American setting and religious cult themes have been heavily publicized since its reveal in May. Set in a fictional part of Montana, USA called Hope County, the open-world game will explore how problematic groups and charismatic leaders can make people believe whatever they want. Below, you can read more about those subjects, as well as how director Dan Hay feels about where Far Cry is heading as a series, and more.
GameSpot: The Far Cry series has been to a number of different locales now, and gone to far-flung places in the world, so why bring it back to a much more familiar setting in America?
Dan Hay: I joined the company and my first game for the company was Far Cry 3. And at the time, we were steeped in this idea of building a character that maybe people out there didn’t have the ability to take a year off college or that gap year between high and school and university and go out and just explore. We kind of built a game with a character that was sort of doing that with their friends and it spoke to people. I think it was a cool idea, it worked. And then the next one we talked about somebody who was, not obligated, but had an opportunity to go over and discover a place that they were from and that was interesting as well. And then with Primal we did something completely different.
I think that the idea in the back of our heads, all the way back to as far back as Far Cry 3, was to explore the idea that you don’t have to go far to see something strange. You don’t have to go far and yet people tend to overlook the things that are in their own backyard. I think that idea had resonated with us as far back as when we shipped Far Cry 3; we just didn’t know what to do with it. And then about three years ago-ish, the idea came back and it felt right, so we just sort of started to explore that the things, sort of in real life and in your backyard, can be as wondrous and strange and sometimes scary as all the stuff that you could do if you go out and visit an exotic locale.
Sure. And it’s not just a walk around the park in America; at least from the look of the trailers so far and the gameplay that I’ve seen, it’s very much focused on this idea of the cult, the Project at Eden’s Gate. What made you want to tackle that kind of issue and those themes?
There were kind of two ways that we built the cult. One is that we know that we build these unique and interesting annex and that a lot of the times we build characters that you’re going to have a face-off with, that are magnetic and that are interesting, unique characters. And in this case, what we really wanted to do was build somebody who stood for something and that wasn’t just there … You know you build a character that’s a bad guy and you can ask yourself, “Why are they bad?” And the reasoning doesn’t satiate anything. It’s just, well they’re bad because they’re supposed to play a role. And the point is, is that what makes this character tick, what do they believe in, why are they doing this? Maybe they don’t believe they’re the bad guy. That was sort of element number one: how do we build that and how do we grow on the things that we did with Vaas and Pagan Min and how do we take it to the next level?
Well, the next thing was, as you do that, it has to be believable in the space, and that’s a challenge. You know, going to the States, putting it at the Frontier, putting it out in the West, and so, we kind of were kicking around different ideas and one of the things that really resonated was this character that is deeply spiritual and believes that the end of times is coming. When I tell the story remembering that when I was a kid and being a child of the ’80s, looking up, just being a kid and thinking, “What’s going to happen in the future?” And seeing the titans of the Soviet Union and United States locked in this battle and this Cold War and thinking, you know, a lot of people in the ’80s were spending like there was no tomorrow, and part of me believes it’s because they may have believed there wasn’t one.
I think that feeling of looking up and being scared and feeling so small and so insignificant and not being able to act on it, just made me feel like we were close to the edge. Harnessing that, harnessing knowing that we wanted to make this magnetic leader and then putting it in an environment where this person was deeply spiritual and believed a little part of or elements of, what I remember as a kid about the potential of the world could end and if it was this close, would we know it, when it appeared? Would we have the wherewithal? Would we have the maturity to go, “Guys, we’re this close to the edge, take a step back?”
This guy just basically says, “There’s no taking a step back, it’s going to happen and the best you can do is survive it.” That made that character super interesting. I remember [when we were pitching Far Cry 5], just basically putting a picture on the wall with a cliff and somebody standing next to it and a “we are here.” That was the pitch.
Somebody would come in and say,”Okay, well, tell me a pitch, tell me what’s going on.” [He points at the metaphorical picture.] “What does the character believe?” [He points at the metaphorical picture.] “What’s the middle part of the game about?” [He points at the metaphorical picture.] “Well, how does it start?” [He points at the metaphorical picture.]
But it was super interesting because you could kind of look at this and go, “Guys, this is it.” We built this complex character, we looked at the idea of a cult and then, I think the other thing that we did was, we also know that we want it to be a game and we want it to be fun, we want to be able to own it, we want it to be ours and so we definitely put it out West, we put it in Montana but we wanted to make it a place you couldn’t find on the map. We wanted to make sure that we built Hope County, we built our story, we built our characters, and they may be inspired by certain things that we may have seen but the truth is is that it’s our space. It’s our game and it’s our world.
In a lot of ways, I kind of feel like our brand is a little bit The Twilight Zone, right? What The Twilight Zone did that was really, really smart is that they would have themes, they would have ideas, but they would kind of hide it with a whole bunch of other stuff, science-fiction or [other] moments, and you would learn something or it would offer thought-provoking commentary, but at the same time, you would just, you’d be in the moment and would be consuming it.
I feel like we’re a little bit like that. We have an opportunity for you to go out and play with the anecdote factory, play with all the systems, and have guns for hire and have Boomer there with you or be able to fly a plane a do all that stuff. But we also have compelling characters who have this ethos, that have this belief. If you’re the type of player who just wants to go out and be crazy and do a whole bunch of crazy stuff, for sure you can do that, but we want you to be able to go into action bubbles, we want you to be able to meet these characters and see what they believe and feel it.
To what extent have real-life cults and individuals influenced Far Cry 5’s cult, The Project at Eden’s Gate, and its primary antagonist? I know you’ve worked with real-life de-programmers, right?
Yes [we did]. Basically, one of the things that stuck with me was as we were doing our research… I was looking at cult leaders and different names came up and [Peoples Temple founder] Jim Jones came up and the horrible things that happened with Jonestown and all that and I remember that. That’s one story that I really remember from when I was a kid because I didn’t understand how that could happen. It didn’t make any sense to me, it didn’t seem believable. When I was little kid I didn’t understand. But there was something scary about that. I remember that story kind of stuck with me. It’s not that the game is about that at all, but definitely, as we began to think about cult leaders, you draw on what you know, right?
But I think one of the dangers of building a cult, in some cases, is that people have a tendency to think, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of people running around in robes,” and it becomes cliched. We really wanted to go and meet with experts who were going to talk to us about, you know, how long does it take for somebody to come into it, what do they believe? How real is it that could happen? I think the thing that really I focused on was … I think a lot of us most likely won’t ever be in a cult, and because we don’t have that experience, we probably believe that we’re safe and that we’re smarter in that nobody could really talk us out of our ideas and we wouldn’t fall in line like that.
It became super important that we found an actor who had the ability to win us over. There’s a certain thing when you’re watching an actor work, you ask yourself, “Do you believe this person? Do they believe themselves as they’re giving that performance?” We got a bunch of different performances together and I kept coming across do I believe this, do I believe this? Then we met Greg Bryk, and he basically put a performance on tape. Somebody goes, “Come here, you’ve got to see this.” From, like, the first 30 seconds, this chill went down my back and I was like, “I absolutely believe this guy could lead a cult. I absolutely believe that if I spent too much time with him, I’d join him.”
That was a moment where there’s a little bit of magic, where you realize we’re pretty well-known for making these interesting, unique, and magnetic villains. We knew the bar was set high. We set the bar even higher for ourselves. When we did that, we knew that we had our father, but we also set the bar so that [we decided] it wasn’t just going to be him, we would build the whole family.
Then we had to build some other characters that would respond to that. This has been a much wider experience for us. We’ve learned a lot. We’ve tried different stuff. But I think, when people play game, the promise of being able to go out into the world and play the game in any direction that you want to and meet different people and hire some of those people as guns for hire, and to be able to go through and experience the game at the same time as being able to snack on story or the entirety of the open world, we want to make sure we deliver on our promise.
Far Cry underwent a huge change from the original to Far Cry 2, and then another huge change from 2 to 3, and then some people have criticized the series since then for not moving on hugely in terms of its mechanics. Is that a fair criticism and if so, how you’re going to go about changing that?
It’s a great question. Anybody who’s a consumer, anybody who wants to be a part of stuff, and players want verbs, right, they want actions. It’s a really difficult thing as a developer to go, “Okay, we have this really cool recipe. Now let’s break it.” Half the team’s like, “No, but it’s a real cool recipe.” It’s like, “Exactly. So let’s break it.” It’s super hard to know when’s the right time to do that.
I think the rule that I have, that we have, is it even comes down to something as simple as choosing to be in Montana, right? I think Far Cry’s done a pretty good job historically, of [doing different things to what people expect]. Because we really do try and challenge ourselves. We really do try and change things up and shift them. In this game, it’s about bringing guns for hire with you. It’s about having a pet that comes with you.
I think that we’re evolving, I think that we’re growing, and you can see we’re leveraging stuff from [games] that we’ve done in the past. You can see that the really cool stuff that was done in Primal with all the beasts, master mode, and all those types of things, we take that and go, “Wow, this is really, really cool. Now, how the hell are we going to figure out how to put that in [Far Cry 5 and have it be] a feature that grows?” The truth is that all that work helped us make Boomer, right? And some of the other things that we have in the game.
I think sometimes it’s easy to look back at it and go, “This game was this and this game was this and I need something completely different.” When in truth, the line is much more jagged and we’re evolving all the time. We have runs of, “Oh, it’s going to be you climbing towers and that’s what’s going to inform you about the space.” Then just one day we don’t.
I think of [the game] more as an organism. It’s growing all the time. I think people are going to be really pleasantly surprised about this, what we’re building, and what they’re going to be able to play, and how organic it is and how generous it is.
Does the removal of towers and a mini-map mean Far Cry 5 is going a little more ‘hardcore’ than Far Cry 4 or Far Cry 3? Do you think the series could ever be a more hardcore, Far Cry 2-like experience ever again?
People [might look] at it from the outside and go, “Well, what category does it fall into? There’s a bucket and I need to know where it goes on certain things.” There are hints as to where you might be able to put that category, but the truth is that games are getting so big and they’re getting so complex and they’re getting so organic, that we’re shifting the categories. I totally understand where, if you’re looking at the game and you’re going,”Oh cool, I don’t climb towers anymore. How do I get permission? How do I open up the world?” The natural place to take that is,”Oh, well then that must mean that it’s not as generous or it’s more hardcore.” What I would say is, “No,” but it’s difficult for me to explain why.
The best I can tell you is, we really wanted to focus on the idea that if you want information and if you want to be able to learn about the world, you go and you talk to people. People have that information, because that’s what life is like, right? It’s not that we didn’t like the towers and it’s not that the towers were generous, it’s just that after a while, it felt like we could grow from that idea. How do you do that? Let’s say that you actually took a plane, you’ve landed in this place, the place got taken over by a cult, you need info. Chances are, you wouldn’t necessarily climb up a tower to get it, right? What would you do? You’d go and meet people and you’d knock on the door, you’d go and meet people and they’d have information, but they wouldn’t have the whole picture.
One of the things that’s really difficult is when you meet somebody in the world and they go, “Here’s what you need to know, here’s when you need to know it, here’s why, here’s why I’m so important, this is what’s going on.” You’re like, “Okay. That feels completely artificial.”
I’d rather walk up to somebody and have them give me hints about data that I can use, but maybe it’s not the perfect data and maybe they don’t have all of it. Which means that I have to explore and I have to go and I have to try, I have to work for it. Then, be generous with that data and give brand-new opportunities to explore. I understand the question, I just think that once people play the game, they’re going to see different buckets.
Is there any chance that we could see Far Cry 5 or any Far Cry come to Nintendo Switch?
I know what far Cry’s shipping on, you know what Far Cry 5 is shipping on. I think that when it comes to what we’re going to ship on, you know, we’ve got a big game and we have a plan, and we’ll be shipping on the stuff that we’ll be shipping on, is how it’s going to work. But in terms of where the game could go after that, give me some time to think about that, because it’s not where we are today.