PAX 2008: FarCry 2 Demo and Level Editor
FarCry 2 creative director Clint Hocking gave a large crowd of PAXgoers a live look at Ubisoft's upcoming game, demoing its single-player campaign and console level editor Saturday night. Hocking began his presentation by advising the audience that he'd be playing not from a prepared demo but from an Xbox 360 production unit he'd taken straight from his Ubisoft studio.
For about 15 minutes Hocking loaded up save points and played live through apparently unscripted scenarios set in FarCry 2's African environment. They typically began in safehouses, where one of the his in-game "buddies" would issue an assignment. Hocking explained that FarCry 2 includes twelve male and female buddy characters that act as central figures in the unfolding plot. The player actually chooses to play the role of one of these characters at the outset of the story, and the remaining eleven appear in the game to be discovered and befriended as the game progresses.
Hocking took on one mission where his goal was to assassinate a troublesome character. He fell to enemy gunfire during the mission, but his defeat wasn't the end of the game. Instead, the same buddy who gave him the mission arrived to drag him to cover and revive him so he could continue. Hocking indicated buddy characters would become more or less valuable to the player depending on the player's actions. Buddies can also be killed in combat, in which case they'll be permanently gone from the game.
Ubisoft appears to have approached FarCry 2 with the same nonlinear level design employed by Crytek in the early levels of the original FarCry, and more recently in Crysis. To hear Hocking tell, though, in FarCry 2 players will have even more choices. The game's first-person shooting takes place in a completely continuous, wide-open space 50 kilometers square, where Hocking says players will choose to accept and approach objectives as they see fit. He demonstrated the game's stylish map system that allows the player to navigate the terrain and and mark items of interest without ever actually leaving the game world.
Ubisoft doesn't seem to have cut any corners in terms of FarCry 2's presentation. Besides being generally beautiful to look act, the game ran smoothly throughout and employed impressive gameplay physics and visual effects. Hocking took particular pride in demonstrating the game's dramatic fire technology, which allows flames to propagate across the environment. We saw and heard fire spreading across dry grassland, climbing trees, and igniting explosives. In the large PAX theater the sound was incredible.
Hocking didn't give us much information on the game's storyline in the short demo, and we didn't see a lot of enemy behavior. What he did show looked very good, though. He did note that due to the game's open environments players will have to manage combat very differently, using strategy and the environment to manage confrontations. This certainly seemed to be the case in the scenes he showed, where his presence tended to stir up plenty of very aggressive enemies.
Hocking concluded his presentation with a detailed tour of FarCry 2's console level editor, which will allow players to build their own environments on maps 512 meters square. In a matter of minutes he used the Xbox 360's editor to build a lifelike African savannah, convert it to a forest, add a road, create a small settlement, dig and fill a river, and then flood and drain the whole map.
Hocking demonstrated how FarCry 2's level editor procedurally updates the environment as players create and revise the landscape. Painting in jungle foliage, for example, automatically adds appropriate ambient sounds and other details, which then update if the player swaps in a new environment type. Drawing in roads and clearings relocates vegetation. Setting time of day and weather effects determines features such as wind speed, cloud cover, and ambient fog.
The editor worked completely in real-time, with the game engine running in the background as Hocking built the level. At several points he jumped immediately into first-person player mode, where he could explore, shoot, ignite, and otherwise test out the completely working level before jumping right back to editing. The quality of the environments was so high, and the ability to play them immediately in first person view was so dramatic, that Hocking's actions drew frequent cheers and applause from the audience. He ended the presentation by hang-gliding across the map from atop a mountain he created.
Despite all the editor's presets and procedurally generated content, most of the features we saw included all sorts of adjustable parameters, so it certainly seems like an enormous amount of creative control will remain in the hands of players. In addition, Hocking assured us that all of the single-player game's environments and items will be available for use within the editor. Unfortunately, he didn't provide any information on how maps will be shared and played between users.
FarCry 2 seems hugely ambitious. Its open-ended structure sounds fantastic, but it's a design approach that comes with all sorts of challenges. Ubisoft's previous take on the franchise, FarCry: Instincts, was certainly a solid game, but FarCry 2 is a huge leap forward in terms of game design. I can't wait to see whether Ubisoft pulls it off, because if they do it will make for one incredible game. Hocking didn't comment on its anticipated release date, but previous announcements have indicated FarCry 2 will ship for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 before the end of 2008.