Butler: Like I say, it’s the largest open world we’ve done in an action-adventure game. But knowing from the start that we were going to have this huge world – lots of different environment types, lots of systems going on in that world – with so much freedom for co-op, it was something we built into our gameplay designs and technical designs. We have some very talented programmers. Those guys had it in mind from the beginning. It was a big challenge for them, but as you can see, we got the result.
We don’t necessarily need to load the entire space for everyone, but we’re aware of what everyone’s doing all the time when you’re in co-op. You’re always sharing that experience. Even though you were seven kilometers away, you were still technically playing with your friends, even if you weren’t localized with them. It might be that you break off because you’ve spotted a base, it’s nighttime, and you think you can snatch a chopper and use it to catch up with your guys later. Maybe you break off, they continue on, and then you come over the hill launching rockets later on.
This was a first for us. We hadn’t seen it done before. When we went to look, comparatively, at who’s done open worlds well and what we could learn from them, we struggled to find good examples. But we’re happy with how it turned out.
GamesBeat: I don’t think I ran into any loading screens.
Butler: When you load into the world, or if you need to fast travel, we have some loading. Otherwise, while you’re playing, there’s never any loading.
GamesBeat: Sometimes it can be a problem in open-world games when you lose track of your main story arc or mission. Do you have a way to easily find that focus again, to make that obvious to players? “If you want to get back on the story track, do this.”
Butler: We’re aware that’s something that can happen. What we’ve found in traditional open worlds that’s been done in the past, you have one narrative thread going through the whole game. You have to expose that and make that obvious. But the way we’ve broken down the story, there are multiple arcs. Initially we separate those out province by province. When you’re in a given province and you pop that tac map, we’ll show you, “Hey, this is what’s going on here. This is what you need to do in order to complete this province.”
Then we have what we call the cartel overview. You can pop out and see, on a more macro level, how you’re breaking down the organization from a business perspective. We have different operations like security and production and smuggling and influence. There are bosses and groups and organizations associated with those operations. As you start to take them down, you’ll see them get crossed off. “Okay, I’m closer to completing influence. I can go after the smuggling bosses.” We give you lots of ways to see how to do things. Everything is color-coded, so if you want to do narrative, you can follow those golden icons and that’ll take you right through the story.
We wanted to make something built around a concept of “no wrong answers.” You sounded a little guilty when you talked about going full assault and just driving a jeep into the compound. That’s great. That’s the way you wanted to do it. Other people will play it differently. Maybe next time you play in co-op you’ll be with a much quieter group. Maybe they haven’t tried the mission before, so you can tell them what you’ve seen, and they’ll suggest doing more recon to see if you can get in and out without killing anyone.
You can mainline the whole story. That doesn’t mean you’re always going full assault. That’s not always going to be possible, especially as the enemy reinforcements get stronger and more involved. But that’s always there for you to do. There’s nothing blocking you.
GamesBeat: I was a little surprised by that toward the end. We’d angered the police, and then wave after wave of them came in. They had three helicopters circling us.
Butler: Yeah, the Unidad are a pretty severe bunch of guys. They’re the military side of the corrupt government. They’ve made an alliance with the Santa Blanca, but it’s kind of a tenuous arrangement. If you get into a fight with Santa Blanca and the Unidad are around, the Unidad will attack Santa Blanca as well as you. You can spark inter-faction fights, and you have to be careful, because Unidad are super tough. The Santa Blanca is pretty serious, but the Unidad have the heavy armor, the heavy vehicles.
Sometimes it’ll be in your interest to set off those fights between factions. Say you have a heavy group of Santa Blanca and maybe a Unidad helicopter passing by. We give you a flare gun that you can use to attract the helicopter. While it’s nearby, if you fire a shot at the Santa Blanca while you’re still undetected, they’ll draw their weapons. Unidad will see that as an aggressive action and they’ll start shooting. Sometimes one group will wipe another out and you don’t have to do anything. It’s a lot of fun, playing with the factions and seeing what can come out of it.
GamesBeat: I think what turned the Unidad against us, we were leaning out the windows with our guns as we were driving by in a car.
Butler: Oh yeah, they’ll see that. You have to be a bit more subtle.
GamesBeat: Have you figured how many hours someone could spend on the story?
Butler: It comes up. When we were setting out, we tried to get an idea – is this going to be a 20-hour game, a 60-hour game, a 100-hour game? But because we were so focused on building systems, like the factions and the NPC agendas and the weather and so on, and then the secondary activities, it became something—we do a lot of internal and external playtests. One of the questions that kept coming up from testers was about the average time to completion. But it differs so wildly that the number becomes irrelevant.
There’s a lot of content. You probably played for two or three hours today, and I don’t know if you completed even one province. Obviously you’ll play differently at home or with your friends. But we want to make sure that players can very clearly see what they want to do. If they want to mainline the story, they can. If they want to opt for the side content, they can. They’re not obligated to complete lots of side content before they go the main missions, but it’ll make sense to do that, because you’ll get stronger. You’ll get more support, more options in the field. But it’s up to you to dial in to that as much as you want.
GamesBeat: Does this bear some resemblance to the systems in games like Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed?
Butler: There will be similarities between our world and other games, both inside and outside Ubisoft. We’re building an open world with missions in a military shooter, so you’ll have seen elements in other games.
GamesBeat: Calling in the rebels reminded me of calling in the gangs in Watch Dogs 2.
Butler: Right. You’ll see similarities like that. One thing where it starts to feel different—like I said, we have a lot of side content. One aspect you can really dig into is supporting the rebel faction. These guys will exist in the world whether you help them or not. They’re an oppressed group. They don’t have much support or influence. But they want to fight back. If you invest time into them and help them out through a series of side missions, you’ll get direct support, like you’ve seen in some other games. If I do a mission where I defend their radio station, holding off waves of enemies that are coming in while they broadcast, the rebellion might offer me mortar support I can use in the field.
But because we’ve built a world that’s systemic, where we have all these systems ticking over all the time and interacting with each other in interesting ways, by supporting the guys in these optional missions you’ll boost their presence in the background – in traffic, in events, in towns and villages. You’ll start to see more of them showing up organically in those systems. They’re going to get a boost. As a result, you’ll see more inter-faction fighting. You’ll change the dynamics in the open world as you do some of these side quests. It’s not just a one-for-one exchange like you might have seen in the past – do this mission and get this thing. That’s where it starts to feel different.
GamesBeat: Did you introduce more gadgets that we haven’t seen yet? I used the drone a little bit for marking targets. That was in the past games, though, like Future Soldier. Are there more high-tech things you can acquire along the way?
Butler: Because the game is set in a modern time – it’s set about two years from now – we were conscious about involving too much futuristic tech. We wanted something that had a lot of systems interacting with each other that would let the player do what they wanted, but in order to do that, we needed a world that was coherent and kind of understandable to players from the outset. For example, if we had plasma guns or something like that, we’d have to explain what that is. When we have C4, mines, grenades, remote detonators, these are things players understand pretty easily.
So we don’t have as much in the way of advanced technology. We wanted to keep the game a little more grounded. But you mentioned the drone. Every Ghost will always have a drone. That’s part of your basic recon kit. That’ll start off with a limited range, limited visibility, limited applications – it’s really just for recon – but as you start to use it more, there’s a whole upgrade path dedicated to the drone. You can get night vision and thermal vision. You can add payloads to make it explode or set off an electromagnetic pulse to knock out vehicles or generators in camps. Approaching a camp at night, if you can sneak in and disable the generator, all the lights go out, but it’s even easier to fly in a drone with the EMP and knock it out. Then you turn on your night vision and attack the camp. It’ll support you in stealth, in assault, in recon.
That’s where we wanted to focus – modern-day tech, without going too advanced or abstract. We wanted things that players could anticipate, and then they could make up their own tactics — “Maybe I could use it this way” – because it’s something they inherently understand.
GamesBeat: You have a pretty strong villain in there at the very top. Do you have a lot of focus on that character, cinematics keeping you interested in the chase?
Butler: We have El Sueño, the boss of bosses, the head of the cartel. For sure, we introduce him right at the start. His organization is built around the different pillars with their different lieutenants along the way. As you’re taking these guys out and interacting with them—it’s run like a business. He’s dealing with his lieutenants quite regularly. You’ll be hearing interactions, sometimes talking directly to him. You’ll hear about the results of things you do. Maybe you manage to extract one of his lieutenants and get him in for questioning. You’ll see the effects of that in how Sueño’s going to deal with you, the threats he’s making, the offers he makes as he tries to deal with you. In short, yes, he’ll be present right from the beginning, all the way through the story.