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‘Reality is stranger than fiction’: talking Far Cry 5 with Dan Hay

While Far Cry has never been a series that’s seemed particularly averse to controversy, the latest game in the franchise, Far Cry 5, seems to be courting it more than most. 

We got the chance to sit down with the game’s creative director Dan Hay to chat cults, the real-life parallels that are being attached to the game, and where the series might go from here. 

Jumping straight into the world of Far Cry 5 itself, we asked Hay about the decision to set Far Cry 5 in Montana, America. 

Cults and controversy

Though previous Far Cry games have been set in real locations, the setting for Far Cry 5 is more specific than any we’ve seen before. When it was first announced, we told Hay, it struck us as somewhat, well, ‘wow.’

“I’m glad you said that” he laughs, “It does seem wow. The thing we try to focus on in Far Cry is that it’s always a surprise.

“The challenge we had is that I think in Far Crys in the past we’ve had a tendency to spin the globe and go where’s it going to be next? [points] and that’s where it’s going to be. And that’s okay. That’s one way of doing it. But the other way was to think […] we’ve been leveraging exotic locations that the average person might not be able to go to. Why don’t we take a look at home, at the things next door? A look at the fact that reality is stranger than fiction, and that maybe what’s going on next door is just as potent, exotic and beyond your imagination.”

‘Maybe what’s going on next door is just as potent, exotic and beyond your imagination.’

Dan Hay, Creative Director

 It’s this ‘looking next door’ angle that led the Ubisoft Montreal team to turn its attention to the US

“We were in a meeting throwing out states,” Hay recounts, “and someone said ‘what about Montana?’ And somebody else goes ‘Montana? I know nothing about that.’ [Hay takes a pause here] …Not bad. And then we started to learn about it. It’s a really rugged place, the people are really cool – they live a lifestyle that’s very frontier. They’re self-sufficient and some folks go there because they want to be left alone. That’s a recipe for what we do.”

Of course, it’s hard to talk about modern day America without hitting some kind of political nerve. 

Far Cry 5 has, in some ways, swerved direct political associations by going down the route of exploring cults. However, when we pointed out that in western politics there seems to be something of a Cult of Personality taking place and asked whether any parallels between his game and reality (whether intentional or not) scared him, Hay considered his answer.

“It’s a question I get asked a lot,” he explains, “You asked does it ever scare me? I think it’s definitely unsettling and I think it’s just a matter of tapping into that we all have a kind of shared experience. 

‘I think it’s just a matter of tapping into that we all have a kind of shared experience.’

Dan Hay, Creative Director

“It’s been interesting to see the themes that I experienced in the 80s with the end of the Cold War and people feeling we were this close [to the end of the world]. Then that time was over and there was a kind of gulf – a space where people really didn’t feel like the world was going to end but I’m not confident that’s true anymore. And what’s really interesting is to know that as a kid I was deathly afraid of this, and as an adult I’m afraid for my kids but there was a space in between where it was kind of carefree where everyone just had a collective sigh of relief. And so it’s unnerving and unsettling.”

Hay often gets asked, as many developers and creators who create fiction that that clips close to our reality do, how he knew what would happen. But, like everyone else he told us he had “no clue, no idea.” 

“But I think we’re all drinking the same water,” he continues, “listening to the same stuff on TV. We’re subject to the same inputs coming from all over the place. When we began to conceive this game I think some part of that influences our brains and what we create.”

Real-life parallels

There’s a difference, however, between picking up on a cultural and political feeling and trying to react directly to specific events: 

“There’s then an opportunity to try and react to that [shared influence] every day which I don’t think you can keep up; think about the number of things that have changed just in the last year. I think if we get fish hooked by every single headline and every single thing that happens – you know – you try to make everything you make nothing.”

Rather than trying to make specific comments, then, Hay’s team “really focused on pouring the commitment of that fear of the end of the world into the father. We focused on doing our due diligence on creating a cult that felt real and believable and characters that felt real and believable but also not forgetting that it’s a game and it needs to be fun.”

While the tone of the father and its “dark elements” are the “spine” of the game, Hay tells us, “there’s a lot of meat around it and there’s a lot of other stuff that build the body of this game. So it’s going to be okay for players to go out and just blow stuff up, have a crazy time, play co-op, take their guns for hire and, you know, play Far Cry.” 

‘It’s a game and it needs to be fun.’

Dan Hay, Creative Director

However, he adds, “for the players that want it they’ll be able to ease in and snack on elements of an earnest story with unique characters. They’ll be able to drink that in to the degree that they want to and think about it. If they leave the game saying ‘I played it this way, I had an amazing experience, this was super cool’ and someone else has played the same game and has authored a different story but [both experiences] share elements that build a conversation that’s somehow applicable today that’s okay.”

The game is, then, somewhat open to player…

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