Storytelling in Contemporary Video Games: “Welcome to Kyrat: The Story Behind Far Cry 4”

As technology and entertainment continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, the medium of video games are being tasked with the challenging concept of creating more realistic experiences. Developers know that every nuance within a game matters, and players expect their money to go towards a product that rivals the cinematic quality of feature films. A modern day AAA title has a budget that eclipses most movies, and with that comes expectations. So how do game studios come up with fresh and innovative ideas to keep players engaged? Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the largest video game studio in the world, Ubisoft Montreal, to talk about the development of the upcoming installment in one of their most successful franchises: Far Cry 4.

When asked about creating an open world, Narrative Director Mark Thompson stated, “The goal is to make a place that feels credible. When you play a Far Cry game, you can believe that this place could actually exist.” Thompson, along with four other members of the development crew traveled to Nepal this past summer for research. Although he stressed that the world is not completely based off of Nepal, the influence of the region played an important role in creating and designing the open world. Much of their original designs of the region were scrapped after the trip, due to the region showing them a different world than what was previously perceived.

The Executive Producer of Far Cry 4, Dan Hay, relayed similar sentiments. “We really imagine walking into an airport and we look up at the board and say, okay, we have the gameplay, now where is this game going to live? And we build it.” The life of the game world started in Nepal, with the snow covered mountain top of the Himalayas, the rugged terrain, and beautiful scenery that is perfectly rendered within the imagined world. Hay says, “We want to make sure that it feels modern, unique and real. It can’t be cliche.”

Research is so crucial when developing a high budget game in a world with super computers, Xbox One and Playstation 4. And because gameplay is always going to be fantastical, the open world is what Thompson describes as “A permanent exercise in the suspension of disbelief. When people look around, you never want them to question their surroundings.” Far Cry 4 is meticulous in its details, even the slightest inaccuracy can take a player out of the game, allowing them to feel the designer’s presence. For these reasons, the open world has become a character in itself. You have entered the very realistic world of Kyrat. Make no mistake, this is a entirely imagined world built off of real world research. Authenticity is important, but the developers behind Far Cry 4 made the world entirely their own, removing restrictions by creating a place that could very well exist, but yet is also fictitious.

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In order to make the world of Kyrat more than just a pretty environment, there had to be a strong group of main characters, with interesting dynamics. Thompson described the characters as being directly involved with Kyrat and its history, in order to intertwine the open world with the characters. By tying all of the pieces of the narrative arc and world together, it creates a simpler, more believable and engaging story.

The team at Ubisoft Montreal has upped the stakes in terms of character development in the latest Far Cry game. You play as Ajay Ghale, a young man who has traveled back to Kyrat at the beginning of the game in order to spread his mother’s ashes. He has not been to Kyrat since he was four years old. The interesting thing is that every one in Kyrat is already familiar with Ajay. Lucien Soulpan, Co-Lead Writer of the game says, “You start finding more about your family, your history, a lesson about yourself. Both Ajay and the player are finding out about the world at the same time.” In a sense, you, as the player, are Ajay. This simple, yet brilliant storytelling mechanism allows the open world as a character to evolve before your eyes. The main character has taken a step back, removing some of his voice that traditional protagonists have which leads to the increasing importance of the characters surrounding Ajay.

Arguably the most interesting character in the game is Pagan Min, voiced by the versatile Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Batman Arkham Origins). He is the leader of The Royal Army in Kyrat, dawns the cover of the game, and from a traditional standpoint, he is the antagonist. Most antagonists are not on the cover of games because they are the “bad guy.” Thompson says, “It makes us different from other games. The antagonist is a big part of the experience. It’s less about who you are and who the ‘hero’ is. You are stepping into Min’s world. He is on the box inviting you in.” From the opening cut scene, Min is shown to be a brutal individual, but there is more to him than that. You, as Ajay, have a history with Pagan Min that unfolds over the course of the story. In some ways, Min is your ambassador into the world of Kyrat. Thompson and Hay both provided statements revealing that Pagan Min can be likable and maybe even respected. The dynamic between the protagonist and antagonist in Far Cry 4 is meant to blur the lines between right and wrong. Not everything is black and white, because even as the good guy in a first person shooter like this game, you are still doing bad things. Thompson describes it as removing a rigid morality from the game. Instead, it flips the traditional tropes of characters upsides down and makes them a matter of perspective. In regards to Min, Hay says, “You know he is bad fore, but you don’t know how. He wants to play. He wants to investigate your brain, challenge you, help you grow.” By giving the Min the cover of the game, Far Cry 4 stands out as a game that challenges players to make their own choices about the world of Kyrat.

To add another layer to player choice and storytelling, the world of Kyrat has an opposition to Pagan Min’s Royal Army. Ajay is challenged throughout the game by two different members of The Golden Path, Amita and Sabal. The Golden Path is the rebel group that is trying to take back Kyrat from Min’s rule. Lucien Soulpan states that both Amita and Sabal want freedom for Kyrat and its people, but they want to accomplish that feat in different ways. Amita is a Progressivist, while Sabal is a Traditionalist. You are forced to make decisions that affect the story by siding with Amita or Sabal, while also trying to figure out who this Pagan Min character really is, and why he has such an interest in your return to Kyrat.

With strong character development and a story that unfolds at the pace that you choose, Far Cry 4 allows the open world to become a large part of the game. You learn about Kyrat as Ajay does. The storied franchise has reached a new level in terms of development. In an industry where some developers are comfortable with staying with what works, the team at Ubisoft Montreal is continuing to change the way we view games as a medium for entertainment. The goal of any great video game is to create an engaging experience that keeps players interested for a long time. Far Cry 4 allows players to escape reality by entering a world that is realistic enough to maintain believability. The open world lets players do as they please, explore Kyrat, experience a seemingly simple story created from an abundance of research, and the characters in that world are a very real part of the experience.

Storytelling encompasses the writing within a game, the characters that live in the world, but also the environment that surrounds the player. Each of these three parts come together in Far Cry 4 to create a game that is easy to enter, but hard to forget. Far Cry 4 is available on November 18th for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows.

Welcome to Kyrat. View it and experience it from your own unique perspective.

Steven Petite

About Steven Petite

Steven Petite received his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Cleveland State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Publishing Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. His journalism has appeared in Playboy, Huffington Post, Crixeo, Ranker, New York Game Critics Circle, and others. His fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine. He can be reached at stevenpetite@gmail.com.