Imagine juggling a diabetic, cheese-burger craving bear.
Now add to mix a dozen NPCs, some of who love each other, hundreds of side missions and a vast open world.
Oh, and let’s not forget Joseph Seed – a deranged preacher who’s hell bent on killing you.
These are just a handful of elements Far Cry 5 has to balance as it walks a tight-rope between narrative-driven gameplay and open-world shooter.
“Sometimes as devs you think of yourself as the band and you think of players as the audience,” said creative director Dan Hay. “It’s not the right way to think about it.”
“We may have the intention to give you great narrative moments, great character moments and emotion or a cadence to the game but we can’t do that.”
Hay joined Ubisoft Montreal in 2012 for Far Cry 3 – which arguably kick-started the series after a middling effort with Far Cry 2.
Despite critical praise, FC 3 represented a learning process – a chance to experiment with the open-world genre and refine elements that subsequently found their way into 2014’s Far Cry 4.
“The main learning I’d take from 3 to 4 was when I joined the brand, I think I was narrative focus – tell a story and let the game sort of help that story progress,” said Hay.
“I think since then it’s the opposite. I think that open world and the idea of open world is let the player play the way they want.”
“You got to make it so that the game comes first and you give the player the opportunity to go anywhere, meet any character and that’s really where the idea comes from – go anywhere, meet anyone.
“What we have to be wary of is that when you read a book or when you watch a book or when you watch television there is a cadence that narration uses to be able to tell you a story. We’re not doing that here.
“If you want to go and fish for four hours, then you can go fish. If you want to go hunt, go hunt. If you want to go off and play the game you want to play… do it and the story will unfold based on what you do, at the pace you want to do it.”
This lack of signposting and cadence is made clear from the start of the game – which (spoiler alert) sees you fly into Hope County and try and arrest the game’s antagonist Seed. Once you load the preacher on to the chopper, his followers sabotage the main rotor – causing it to crash and leaving you stranded.
“We know what a powerful opening feels like,” said Hay.
“But even in those moments, the micro-moments – like when the helicopter crashes – ordinarily what we would have done is say, OK that’s a teaching moment – climb under a log, vault over the log, learn how to run.
“What we said was, ‘Go… just go. And then what will happen based on how far you get whatever you run it into, an opportunity will present itself.”
With so much empathises on player freedom and choice, is there still room for traditionally linear, on-the-rails shooters such as Call of Duty?
For Hay, although open-world games once lacked the fidelity and cinematography found in many more linear experiences, that is now no longer the case.
“I’m a player of all of those games,” he said.
“I’ve done tons of first person shooters, RPGs – I love playing all that stuff.
“But I think what’s happening is that as open-world games get better, we’re able to give you a level of realisation and cinematography with an incredibly high fidelity – even though it’s in an open world moment.”
Despite being vast in scale, Hay revealed just how much detail has been crammed into the fictional Hope County, Montana.
As well as hundreds of side missions, you’re able to take to the skies in planes, interact with the local wildlife and make allies with NPC guns for hire (which can also be controlled by a human player in co-op).
“I’ll give you a big detail, then I’ll give you a small one,” he said, with a smile.
“The big one, is that people may not know the road they didn’t travel.
“I’ve played through the game six times and it took me three and a half months to do it. Every time I played it, I played differently.
“The connective tissue, the characters that I linked up with, the guns for hire, the things I invested… they were all different – and it very much had a different feeling.
“Number two is that there are amazing guns-for-hire moments.
“Say I go out and find an amazing gun-for-hire and then I get another gun-for-hire character and it turns out they know it each other. There are conversations written about them that you only get if you have them with you for a while and if they play with each other.
“If you swap them out, you’ll miss out.
“My favourite is when one of these characters is in love with the other, who’s not interested. So he writes her poetry and the poems are ridiculously bad but super cute and her reaction is amazing.”
If Ubisoft manages to pull this off, we’re sure gamers’ reactions will be too.