Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Just found this in an old screenshots folder.
Last one of these, I promise. For those who don’t follow the comments, something pretty remarkable happened in the Impersonation Of A Buddy post. The guy who actually made Far Cry 2, Clint Hocking, showed up to explain how some of this stuff works and how it came to be. I say he made it – more specifically he was the creative director of this vast team of people.
He was also a designer, writer and level-designer on the original Splinter Cell, and the designer, writer and level-designer of the best Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. For that reason, and for his excellent talks, I am a fanboy of his. So this is very exciting. I can’t even conceive of the good grace it takes to read criticism of a game you made and say something other than “Fuck off.”
Anyway, I started this post first but it’s taken longer to finish because praise is always harder to nail down than criticism, and I’ve had no spare time lately. So here are the things I like next to screenshots that have nothing to do with them:
These could happily be the entire game as far as I’m concerned. Screw Far Cry 2, they could have made Convoy Intercept 2. There’d be convoys of thirty cars, convoys with tanks, convoys you have to steal without destroying, convoys where you have to kill one guy but not the other, convoys you have to scout without being seen.
I’m happy to just keep intercepting these easy three-car convoys the arms dealers ask you to, I’m just saying, I’m up for that extra Convoy Interceptin’ challenge should it arise. I like to make roadblocks, find vantage points where they won’t see me until it’s too late, or vantage points where I’ll see them from far enough away to snipe the drivers, or vantage points far enough away from the IEDs I’ve laid that I’ll survive the blast with most of my limbs.
Of course, a single hand-grenade can complete any of these missions with ease, but I like to make life difficult for myself. One time I found a tree that leant over the road I knew the convoy would pass through, and stood atop it to snipe at the drivers. I failed wretchedly because I’m what I call a Parkinson’s sniper, but I discovered on the fly that a well-aimed petrol bomb will burn out a van’s driver even if it doesn’t come close to destroying the van.
Tim describes an amazing moment in his review where his best buddy is wounded, and he’s used up all his syrettes on himself, and so she all but begs him to shoot her – which he does. I was cocky that this would never happen to me – I started out on the hardest possible difficulty mode, then switched to Medium because stealth wasn’t working. So I’ve always got 4 more syrettes than I’m counting on.
Then, yesterday, my usually reliable friend Paul had already sent up a distress flare by the time I got to him. I sniped everyone quickly, hurried to him, and injected him with a syrette. Nothing happened. “It’s.. not enough…” he moaned. I used another. “I need another…” I used another. He didn’t say anything this time. I used another. My character, without my consent, stroked Paul’s unfocusing eyes closed, and laid him down. I… I had another! I could have saved him, damn it!
This part of the buddy system really works. I didn’t even like the guy, and it certainly wasn’t my fault he got himself killed, but the moment’s rendered so physically and handled with such a gentle and unexpected “Fuck you” from the designers that it managed to affect me regardless.
I’m not talking about blowing stuff up, that’s great in every game. Every time a car explodes a little piece of me does a happy jig. I’m not even talking about when you blow something up, and that starts a fire, and that fire blows something else up. I’m talking about when, after setting that chain of events in motion, you throw three more grenades, then fire a rocket launcher at a three-car pile-up and petrolbomb a gunpowder cache. Not BOOM, but BOOM BOOM BOOM Ker-THOOM KRAKAKAAKAKA-KOOOOM phwooosh SKANG! That’s new.
This started out as a point about the scenery, but I realised I actually don’t have much to say about the scenery – it’s the baking, blazing, dazzling sun that makes it special. I’ve spent some time in Zimbabwe, and the sun in African countries is a different one. Far Cry 2 isn’t exaggerating: every time it sets, a spectacular explosion of orange light floods the world. And when it’s high, it’s all you can see, feel or think about. Somehow their tech guys have found a way to render this ubersun, it actually feels brighter, hotter, harsher than the sun in other games – especially Crysis’ feeble Maglite-in-the-sky.
There’s a river that runs through a mountain, steep rock on both sides, and every time I pass through it in the game, a part of me feels the blissful cool of the shade – the way coldness seems to radiate from wet stone in hot countries. I think one of the reasons I’m so often fawning about a game’s art and harsh on its design is that I truly don’t understand how it works. I don’t know how they made me feel that coolness, what arcane renderers or filters triggered that sense memory. But whatever they’re doing, Ubisoft, pay them to keep doing it.
I’m always in awe of design decisions that solve a problem by not solving it. How could anyone build an underwater city, Ken Levine? “It was not impossible to build Rapture under the sea, it was impossible to build it anywhere else.” Wow. Doesn’t even attempt to answer the question, but it sure shut me up.
How does my guy survive bullet after bullet, explosion after explosion, burn after burn? Well, sometimes he has to stop to pull the bullets out, cauterise the wound or, in the case below, yank a rebar out of his own stomach. Doesn’t even attempt to explain my survival, but it sure shuts me up.
Fewer enemies (but not fewer people – some of the existing ones just need to calm down), more serious injuries (I’d like to perform awesome Jack Bauer self-surgery any time I take a major hit – right now it’s only in the rare event that I’m probably dead anyway), a stealth indicator (just an eye icon when I’m in good cover, and a faint one when I’m partially obscured), monocular tagging (of people – best thing about Far Cry, and your realtime map is already an omniscient piece of science fiction anyway), different mission rewards (intel on the Jackal), better buddy rewards (you help them, they’ll help you for a while), different briefcase rewards (something unique – perhaps weapons), a buddy who’s in some way helpful (man the gun!), a buddy who’s in some way likeable, a buddy who’s in some way tolerable (not trying to get me killed would be a start), and an ongoing mission to find and kill some guy.
Currently your ongoing mission is to repeatedly commit the atrocities you’re here to exact vengeance for, perpetuating the war you’re here to stop, while waiting for the man you’re supposed to find to instead find you, whereupon you will fail to attack or even pursue him and he will fail to neutralise or even discourage you. It’s not exactly the manhunt I had in mind.
I’d love to just be dropped in some fictional African nation with nothing more than a machete and a name. I’m talking about a game in which the Jackal would actually physically exist somewhere in the game world at all times, and the challenge is to find him. All those icons on your map, instead of being different locations from which to get the same boilerplate mission re-runs, would be unique leads.
A guy at the airport you can bribe or threaten for a list of all passengers coming in or out of the country in the last month. The owner of a run-down hotel who might know one of the Jackal’s aliases. The car-hire guy who can tell you what he’s driving, but only if you can show him a photo. The journalist who has such a photo, but won’t hand his notes over. Local police headquarters that would have intel on where the arms shipments come in to. And the untouchable gang leaders who deal with him on a monthly basis, but who won’t talk unless you can terrify them more than the Jackal does.
Each has only a scrap of knowledge about your target, each has people they’re afraid of if this gets back to them, or jobs they need doing in return, or they just want money that you can only raise by working for someone unsavory. Some have bodyguards, some travel in motorcades, some only pass through the region at 10am each day. If an irreplacable character with essential intel dies, the game invisibly adapts to keep your main goal viable: the journalist died? The car-hire guy doesn’t need a photo, he knows what the guy looks like. The airfield official died? The passenger logs are in his desk. The hotelier died? The police HQ has records of your target’s aliases.
Right now the missions follow one after another in a very long line, all received from two buildings in the same town (and later one other). It gives you no real choice of which mission to do next, and it gives the impression that there is no story, life or interest outside of those two tiny safe zones. Everything out there is just mindlessly firing generic bad guys.
This would be a more civilian world: open fighting between factions only where they clash, not everywhere and solely against you. If you’re working for them or in their vehicle, a faction will let you pass and their enemies will attack on sight. Both factions will let civilian cars pass unless there’s been an attack on their forces nearby – in which case they’ll want to stop you and see your papers, which you don’t have.
Getting to missions wouldn’t be the repetitious series of battles it currently is if you picked the right car and the right route, but if you’re on your way out from fucking over a faction, every checkpoint in the area is going to be on the lookout for someone like you coming that way.
In truth I don’t need a buddy system, I don’t need to be able to choose a silent protagonist from a lineup of Who Cares, I don’t need bonus objectives, I don’t need realtime weapon degradation, I don’t need a whole other game world right after the first one, I don’t need fifty hours of filler-rich main quest missions, and I don’t need malaria. Particularly not if it’s going to be Disney malaria that just makes you feel queasy until you pop a panacea from your magic pillbottle.
I just need a little more life outside the 2Fort township, and a little less death interrupting me when I try to explore the blazingly gorgeous world around it.
On the plus side: the M79 Grenade Launcher. It sits inexplicably in your pistol slot, and makes dealing with pursuing jeeps significantly less of a chore. Park, disembark, turn, fire at their tires. I’ve lost count of the number of times this thing has exploded an oncoming car at just the right moment for its flaming wreck to somersault over my head.
Also: it’s out on Steam in Europe too now.
Today’s screenshot theme: StabCam! What crazy face did YOU pull when I ended your suffering? You won’t believe the results! 7″ x 9″ prints available at the gift shop 3-4 hours after time of death. I added a new one to yesterday’s collection, to.
“Who are you thanks for saving me you look ill you have malaria you should see Reuben at Mike’s bar but let’s leave separately it’ll be faster bye.”
Is how I met Buddy 1.
“How’s it going buddy in times like these you need a guy like me man of action okay see you there.”
Is how I met Buddy 2.
“Hey, I just had a weird tingling in my pituitary gland – did you just accept a mission? If you did, say nothing. Okay, I sense from your silence that your mission is to blow up a generator in the North-West airfield to cripple APR operations in the area. Drive five-hundred miles in the opposite direction, through nine heavily guarded enemy checkpoints, come into my bedroom, and I’ll give you some important information that for some reason I can’t tell you right now, then stand there for six hours wordlessly watching you sleep. If you don’t, I’ll hate you.”
“Hey, about time. It’s been forty-five seconds since I demanded you cross half the breadth of Africa to hear me say something I could have easily said down the phone. So, the UFLL want you to blow up that generator, right? I’ve heard that the police chief’s cousin’s step son is carrying a piece of paper with the location of a magic radio that will summon a whole battallion of enemy troops to your objective, pointlessly making your mission much, much harder for no extra reward.
“Intimidate him, steal the radio, lure the troops through a hostile village by performing a flamboyant jig, then defeat them all while being shot at by two other armies that you would have otherwise easily avoided. Then blow up the generator. Then save me because I’ll be in life-threatening danger by then. If you don’t do this, I will forget you saved my life and phone you up just to insult you.”
The idea of setting up an ambush, Michelle, is that the enemy should get ambushed. Not me, twice.
There will now be a short interlude for a joke.
Ubisoft’s Clint Hocking walks into a bar. A man he’s never seen before, leaning against the wall, announces that he is Clint’s second-best buddy in the world and will one day save his life. When Clint returns home that night, he finds the man standing in his bedroom, trying to get cellphone reception. Clint goes to bed and dreams of the game he will make at work the next day.
I’m missing something fundamental about the buddy missions. Why do they want to hurt the APR/UFLL much more seriously at enormous risk to my health and for no extra reward? And why do they think I will want to? It can’t be that they’re die-hard UFLL or APR supporters, because my next mission will be against that faction and they will again demand that I take enormous, preposterous detours to commit mass murders.
Some of these missions are to destroy medicine. Some are to ruin farms or sever water supplies. I’ve had five buddies, and each one’s sole motivation seemed to be to cause as much indiscriminate human suffering as possible, even – in fact especially – mine.
On the plus side: Did you know you can slide? I didn’t know you could slide. It’s awesome. You tap duck while sprinting, and you skim smoothly along the ground into a crouch.
Today’s screenshot theme: Car Crashes I Would Later Be Unable To Satisfactorily Explain To The Authorities.
Far Cry 2 is out! I’m not wild about it.
I like it a lot, I just don’t love it. I love open-world games, and I love shooters, but I’m still waiting for someone to succesfully combine the two. In Morrowind and Oblivion, I couldn’t summarise what was in those worlds in less than a few hundred words. With Far Cry 2, I can do it in one: enemies.
The factions and backstory and war-torn mood all hint at something I want to play, but bear no relation to what’s actually in the game: an entire nation of people whose sole objective in life is to hunt and murder you. You’re an unknown foreigner, and neither of the factions have uniforms, but they’ll shoot you on sight from a hundred meters away, abandon the posts they’re supposed to be guarding to hunt you halfway across the country, and even abandon a mounted gun to chase your M60-equipped deathjeep in their rusty sedan.
It’s not the realism issue that bothers me, nor the respawning enemies, jamming guns, blurted voice acting, nonsense plot, or even how damn hard it is to see the people firing at you in this much undergrowth. All those things have bothered me, but I’d happily overlook them if I could see anything interesting beyond.
Far Cry 2’s world is alluring beyond belief, glorious escapism to a place we rarely get to visit, visualised by a properly revolutionary engine. But its contents are uniform, angry, and ultimately dull to me. And I can’t entirely avoid them, because the same five guys and the same jeep are at the same damn checkpoint every 42 seconds along every road. The missions themselves provide plenty of fun combat, and if I wasn’t so sick of fighting by the time I got to them, I might be enjoying it a lot more.
On the plus side: fire lol.
I have some other things I want to mention about Far Cry 2, some of them more positive, but I think I’ll split this up into a series of daily posts to avoid wall-o’-text syndrome, and as an excuse to post more screenshots. Today’s theme was Things I Set On Fire Then Wondered If It Had Really Been The Right Thing To Do.
I guess I knew devs teams were this big these days, but still: wow. Next time I pan a major game, I’m going to imagine that many people simultaneously bursting into tears. I’ll still to do it, I’m just going to feel bad.