The Far Cry 3 Template is a basic plan to make an open world game, one which everyone will recall as fun, praising its gameplay, all without an inch of proper game design.
This template existed before Ubisoft’s Pile Of Shit 3, in many different forms, from many different developers. I term it as such because the game follows these guidelines so precisely, that simply describing the game reveals the entire template.
The first step is gameplay. Just kidding, this is AAA, gameplay never comes first.
The first step is the world. What kind of environment is the game taking place? In Far Cry 3‘s case, it’s some shitty generic island, with forests but not too much forest, and wide open space but not too wide open. Different environments help keep the map from all feeling like the same place, but the contrast doesn’t have to be great. The ideal world will have the capacity for an interesting landmark, but will have as few as possible in order to force the player to submit to the monotony of the gameplay, which comes second.
This world will be segmented into a handful of areas, but this doesn’t have to play into the creation of the world so you won’t have to worry about any sort of clever design or creativity. This segmentation is how the world is gradually revealed to the player. With a big enough world, the entire thing might be overwhelming, or fun, so the solution is to let the map increase in size. How Far Cry 3 does it, and how many other games which follow in its footsteps, is by requiring a mind-numbingly simple task like climbing a tower, which is rewarded with a portion of the map. Note that, like the rest of the map, there’s nothing significant here, it’s all the same shit, but the chance that it might not be the same shit keeps the player going.
Next, gameplay. This should be the most generic, accessible, basic gameplay you can think of. FPS works really well, especially if it’s made tailored to consoles. The other popular gameplay scheme is 3rd person, with shooting optional. Note that in both of these, the world will be seen easier at every point of the game. Putting the focus less on the player character and any sort of gameplay, and more on the Open World is essential to pseudo-enjoyment.
The specifics of the gameplay aren’t very important, but it must focus around dispatching a handful of enemies at a time, usually around 10 per engagement. This is enough to keep in your mind at a time, while making it feel like a realistic battle, despite not being anywhere near reality. If the number is too low, the game starts to feel tactical and puzzle-like, requiring players to think. And remember, this is AAA, a consumer who is willing to spend $80 on a game plus season pass obviously doesn’t have the capacity to think. If the number is too high, the game becomes similar to those Musou games, which are foreign and different and fun and therefore not immediately recognizable to even the most casual of players.
Another thing the gameplay needs to have is stealth. But not Thief or Splinter Cell stealth, that’s a little too fun for this game. The stealth of a Far Cry 3 Template game requires sightings to be gradual and obvious to the player. Just having a sound or AI reaction won’t do, it needs to be obvious. The gradual sighting bar is a good implementation of this, because it tells the player exactly where the enemy is and how much they’ve spotted you. Upon sighting, every and all stealth mechanics are dropped immediately. The game is no longer a stealth game, and any player trying to treat it as such is in for a bad time. But that’s fine, because this is AAA, and all of our consumers have ADHD. Given the enemy hasn’t spotted you, and the game is still kind of a stealth game, being able to easily track these enemies is necessary, too. Thankfully, another factor of The Template is tagging, which allows players to see through walls, and drops all need for them to keep count, think, or immerse themselves at all.
Repetition is the key to keeping this gameplay afloat. Across the Open World™, there should be challenges for the player. The same challenges are repeated constantly, in order for the player to feel like they are mastering the mechanics. In reality, however, they’re mastering the scenario of the repeated challenge. Each of these challenges absolutely need to have the same structure, otherwise something new and exciting might happen, which requires skill and knowledge to handle (obviously undesirable).
But repetition is boring, right? Very boring, so boring it might dissuade even the most brain dead players. This is why the game must provide options. The aforementioned stealth comes into play here, big-time: giving the player the option to perform a task stealthily can be incredibly effective bait to goad the player into doing the same thing over and over. Another, deeper approach to options includes the weapons. Giving the player a handful of guns or gadgets to use lets the player experiment with each one. And they’ll experiment with it, regardless of how good the current loadout is. Include an absolute shit weapon, and they’ll still try it. Classes of weapons are good, too, since the developer can make 5 or 6 identical guns with slightly better stats. Allowing the player to customize the weapon is a great idea, too, since it feels like options, despite it being essentially the same.
Each of these games would just be boring if you’re walking around an empty Open World™, with nothing to do but deal with soulless gameplay. That’s why these games have Things: literally anything which can be picked up, collected, or whatever. Maybe there’s only 499 of them in the world. Maybe there’s an infinite amount (but you’ll still collect them). Maybe they have no use, maybe they’re constantly used. Most games have pickups, but what differentiates the two, is the Things are everywhere, and there’s a lot of them. In Far Cry 3, they’ll be in crates, dead bodies, animals, growing in the wild, or just sitting in random locations.
But what are Things without crafting? Crafting is a logical conclusion to having a bunch of useless shit, for it makes it seem like the shit is less useless than it really is. There’s not much to say about crafting, since in 90% of cases there’s not much purpose for it. The things to craft in a game like this won’t be much real use, usually minor quality of life improvements which make the already easy gameplay even easier. So, in a game with not much fun gameplay, why not include it to make the game feel like more than it is?
Another logical conclusion from Thngs is an inventory, or rather one that limits you. Managing a pile of shit in your pockets may not be fun, but in small doses this works wonders on padding out the boring. This inventory also plays into the options component, as the player feels like the limited space to deal with is another option. The player might try to pick up a Thing and realize their inventory is full. If at this point the player doesn’t realize the uselessness of the Thing, they would go into the inventory and remove another, equally useless, Thing to pick up the new Thing.
A derivative of Things are Counters, which are basically a Thing which has a limited number in the world. Sometimes, collecting Counters will result in something useful, but usually it’s just a number. These are almost always in “significant” places throughout the Open World™, which are usually small, man-made structures that house the Counter. These landmarks are identical, which aids the player searching for it, and removes a small amount of monotony from exploration.
This is where the Open World™ really shines. Instead of exploring new areas, why not travel the same areas you already know and love? The Far Cry 3 Template usually requires some “fun” form of transportation, cars being the most basic, which still don’t include any gameplay or mechanics, but allow for travel to be less painful. Adding options for travel, like a wingsuit or an elephant, goes a long way to make backtracking not look like a chore. Most of these games add in a fast travel anyways, since everyone will eventually notice how terrible backtracking is.
That’s it for the template. There’s probably more, but this is the basics. Any game which follows this template isn’t a bad game per se, but it does do an exemplary job of hiding the fact that nobody on the team has any skill in game design. Also, no game needs to follow each aspect exactly in order to successfully follow the template. Just Cause 2, one of my personal favorites, has (arguably) good gameplay, no gradual map, and no crafting, but the entirety of the game follows the rest of the template. None of the above elements, nor anything in Far Cry 3, have proper design, mechanics, or challenge, yet the games still get positive reception from all sorts of players. General consensus on these games are always something like, “it wasn’t a wonderful experience, but the gameplay was great,” even from people with slightly good taste. Add some polish and heavy amounts of marketing, and you’ll have a Game Of The Year in no time at all.
Next you’re going to say, “but Blood Dragon was fun”
Also published on Medium.
- @ April 9, 2017 9:38 pm