Far Cry 3 and the never-ending story debate

It was a desperate attempt to avoid the latest FPS army games, in which I know I’ll get sniped from 3,000m by an invisible eight-year-old savant with a nifty line in sexual insults. I went to my groaning game shelf (just below my Groening animations shelf) to pick an oldie-but-goodie shooter. Far Cry 3 fell unbidden into my hand… after I reached up and grabbed it.

I didn’t like it. I don’t like playing any old games, really. The nostalgia associated with games lies in remembering them and, more importantly, the good time you had playing them. Actually playing them today is an exercise in frustration and embarrassment that you once thought this was the best thing ever. The past is a foreign country – one of the dangerous ones, too. Never go back. Even though Far Cry 3 only came out at the end of last year.

I took to doing what I always do when not utterly immersed in a game (assuming Bargain Hunt hasn’t started): I thought about the writing. It’s widely opined by people (I can’t quite bring myself to write the phrase ‘the gaming community’) that Far Cry 3 has an excellent story, excellently written. If true, and I’m in no special position to judge, it could be down to Jeffrey Yohalem. He did most of it, and he is responsible for saying the following: “In my mind, the gameplay has to be the story of the game. I participate in the design of that, but also the point is to deliver a meaning.”

I totally get the first part of that utterance by old Jeff (I don’t actually know him). What you
do is the tale, not what you are presented with. However, when Jeffy (I’ve never met him) talks about delivering a meaning, I’m not so sure a) what his meaning is, and b) whether he’s totally right. Nevertheless, a shout out to the Jeffster for nailing the first bit (in fact, I don’t think I even know what he looks like).

If the story is the tale, the job of the narrative engineer, or ‘writer’ as I pretentiously like to call us, is to intervene as little as possible. Back to Far Cry 3 I went. Sure enough, less is more and because you pretty much know what to do (it’s a firstperson shooter), you let the elements fall into place in your head. It’s a gaming convention that if you’re not actively being told you’re going the wrong way, you’re certainly going the right way.

Similarly, if you can pick up and carry that obscure artefact, you should do so. If it weren’t important, it wouldn’t be portable. How much else do you need to know? The ultimate aim of the game? Read the back of the slipcover. Other than that, you need to be aware that anyone with the title ‘Doctor’ or ‘Colonel’ is a bad guy, and probably the bad guy; the first female you meet will be stunning and will try to double-cross you or otherwise attempt to contrive your early demise; and that when there are three barrels stacked up you must shoot them, for they will explode and probably harm the various henches crouching (with a stunning lack of tactical awareness) behind them.

Armed with these truisms, you can win any firstperson game. My regular readers will also recall that a tiny girl in a stained nightie who, ripped teddy under arm, is unafraid of walking into dark places alone, might also be a character worth keeping an eye out for. If she’s a GP or has a military title, though, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I propose a game. It’s called Shooter. You play Shooter (or the shooter – it’s never clear whether this is his name or simply what he is; or whether it’s just the name of the game, which it is).You are airlifted to Generic City. Something has ravaged this once stunningly average and, owing to storage limits, surprisingly small metropolis. As you climb out of the clearly-Avatar-inspired flying machine, you bang your head on the coathanger hooky thing by the door. You lose your memory. As you explore, you meet a girl called (or not) Rebel. She’s stunning despite six months of battling evil and not washing. She explains that in the heart of Generic City is a Thing. This must be destroyed, stolen (if it’s small enough) or switched off (if it’s connected to the mains).

Next you meet Desserter. He works for Dr Colonel but says he is on the run owing to his conscience. ‘On the run’ is unlikely as he is obese (hence Desserter: he loves his pudding). He warns you about Rebel but you fear that, as he’s fat and lonely, it’s a trap. An ambush occurs at the corner of Ambush Street and Chokepoint Avenue. Desserter runs to save you (well, waddles with a swishing noise as his thighs rub together) but seeing this, you double-tap him with your railgun. At least one of the rails (or whatever they fire) gets as far as his internal organs and he bursts like an overladen Lada on a Russian dashcam video.

Rebel consoles you and urges you to head towards the Thing. But at this point you notice that there’s a tiny girl in a grubby dress holding a teddy… oh, this is useless. If I’m going to do this properly, it really does need a story. The more the better. What, I think, the Jeffmeister is getting at is that story is vital. Just let people find it sparingly, and thus make it their own. I still don’t know why he says we have to deliver a meaning. I’ll ask him down the pub, if we’re ever in the same pub by sheer coincidence (and someone I’m with recognises him and points him out to me).

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