Far Cry 5’s Dan Hay on creating villains and making a shooter where the cultist plot could all too easily easily be a headline

I recently had the chance to chat to Far Cry 5’s Dan Hay about the game he’s helped shape as a producer since Far Cry 3. We chatted about what it’s like to create a game where the player can just wander off and miss half of what’s there, letting actors create the bad guys and more. 

Leon Hurley: What’s it like making a game where people can miss all the carefully crafted story moments because they’re too busy bombing cows in a stolen plane? 

Dan Hay: So, there’s two answers to that question. (Laughs) As a developer, I’m totally happy for people to do that. As a storyteller, it’s killing me inside!

There are two realities there. You build systems that collide and you let players play with them, and they’re going to have a great experience and they’re going to do it the way they want. You hope that your characters and the stories that you’re making all resonate and that players can look at that and experience it, but yeah – it’s tough to watch sometimes. You make an earnest story in a game and then someone shows up with a helicopter and blows your story up, you’re like “That’s wasn’t supposed to happen.” But for them, it’s their reality.

Leon: There are some interesting elements to the Big Bad, the Father; that he’s the good guy in his own head, trying to save people whether they like it or not. 

Dan: I think at first glance, when people look at the Father and go, “Oh what he’s obviously bad and what he’s doing is horrible,” but the more you that hear his voice and the more that you hear his story and what he’s doing, you may start to at least, maybe not understand what he’s doing, but at least understand perhaps his reasoning. You may not agree with it, but at the very least he’ll feel more human.

I think one of the things that I struggle with when I pick up a controller or when I go to a movie is, when there’s a bad guy who’s bad for no reason. They have to have a story, they have to have a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have to have a belief that makes it so that it’s believable and even justifies, in their mind, why they’re doing what they’re doing. If you don’t have that complexity, there’s no reason for them to be there.

Leon: How much of Far Cry 5’s characters are intended and how much are casting wins like Vaas in Far Cry 3? 

Dan: So I would love to tell you “Yes. Yes we knew what we were doing” ...and that character is one part design, one part Michael Mando [the actor who played Vaas] – he did a fantastic job. One of the things we’re learning with characters over time with actors, is to lean into what they’re good at. I certainly had a vision for the Father. I had this character in my head for months and months and months, and then we went to casting and Greg Bryk shows up, and we see his tape and chills go down my back...

And I think what we learned is that it happens to very normal people. And that this idea of building a magnetic character who has the ability to get inside your head and be able to say to you “Hey, this is where you want to go and what you want to do...” – I really needed an actor that I believed could start a cult, and that could actually convince me to join it. A lot of times when you’re looking at a performance of an actor, you say to yourself “Do I believe this person?” “Do I believe it, do I believe it?” and Greg puts forward his performance on a tape, and I remember watching it and my answer was “Holy shit! I believe this guy!” and not only that, when I met him; it confirmed it. He’s just magnetic, and he would say stuff and I’d be like “Yeah...” and then I’d be “Why the hell did I just say that? Why did I just agree with something I don’t think I agree with?” – and it was just super cool to know that... he kind of had me.

We didn’t see that character first, right? We knew we wanted the Father, but it wasn’t somebody we found right away – we found some of the other characters. And we found one character in particular and we thought “Holy shit, we’ve got a problem, we’re not going to be able to beat this guy. There’s no way the Father is going to be able to... like, this guy’s amazing!”

And then what happened was is there was a day on set where Greg first came in and the Father kind of appeared, and we shot the scene – which I can’t tell you [about], I totally want to but I can’t – and we we’re like “OK, this is make it or break it...” and Greg came in and just... the other character just completely cowered to him, just completely fell apart, and it was almost like watching a Vass-type character just disappear in front of this magnetic leader, and it was a very, very scary, eerie situation to be in, and at that point – we knew we had something. We had a guy who had the ability to, with a look, without any effort, just make somebody feel like they were going to say yes, and that was a little moment of magic. 

Leon: Given the whole focus on cults, and a shooter based in America, I keep thinking “What if something horrible happens in real life close to the game coming out?” Is there a contingency or... is that a thing you think about? If something awful happens just as the launch advertising’s about to go up?

Dan: I think what we did is we built a world that’s our world, right? We were really conscious of that from the beginning, so... we had an opportunity, we put it into Montana, make it a real place with real people and they get ripped from the headlines, and our answer was “Don’t do that.” Don’t do that because you want to be able to make it so that if you decide to take a character in a certain direction, if you decide to do something then it’s your world.

We think that people are going to enjoy coming to Hope, Montana, we think that it’s not a place that you can find on the map, we think that some of the characters that we’ve built they’re going to love and enjoy, and we think that although it’s based on some of the things that we know and hear from the world, it’s our world, and it’s a game and it’s designed to be something where you can escape into it and you can experience something that’s different, so I think that we’ve created a world that is compelling and generous and that is unique to us, and we just want people to play it. 

Far Cry 5 is coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 27.