Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Far Cry 2: Memento Mori

"So I don't know, maybe you're dead, maybe not. Maybe you'll find these stupid tapes and do whatever the hell you wanted to do with them. Or maybe the interview is over. Wasted words, wasted life. Maybe I'll see you soon."

(If you're just joining, here are part one and part two of this series)

I had wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, surrounded by explosions and a ring of fallen militiamen. To go down fighting, the proverbial last stand. Instead, it was quiet, quick and anonymous. It was so sudden, I didn't even get a screenshot. Andre fell without any ceremony at all. His body was likely dumped in the desert for the buzzards or thrown in a truck with those he killed, ready for smuggling C4 or whatever else Mbantuwe had in mind.

I got sloppy, just like Paul. Despite a few close calls, I had only required one buddy rescue and that was due to a nasty fall. Perhaps that was an omen, but instead I continued to ignore the few instant-death perils present in Far Cry 2.

After the unfortunate incident with the king's gold and Paul's death, I quickly headed back to Mike's to find another buddy. There the infamous Michele asked me to retrieve a briefcase of her intelligence, stolen by one of the factions and stashed at the railyard. I headed north and stopped into a safehouse on the way, to ensure Josip had my back. But that proved an unnecessary caution. Despite the viciousness of the firefight at the railyard, I got away clean without needing Josip's help. I returned the briefcase to Michele and took another mission from the UFLL.

They wanted the Occidental Growers Company razed. I accepted, but to my surprise, Josip called me as I was leaving. He had some mad scheme involving chemical defoliant and an old prop plane, but as I'd never lost a main buddy before, I wasn't sure if I needed to complete this mission to "promote" Josip and have Michele replace him as my rescue buddy. I went along, secured the defoliant and made it to the airfield without any problems.

Now, getting from the airfield to the OGC is a long and awkward trip no matter what route you take. In retrospect, I should have just headed west to the bus station, gone to Pala and drove east from there. Had I done that, Andre would still be alive. Instead I drove east, looking to clear scout more checkpoints and perhaps find some diamonds. I ended up ditching my jeep to go after a diamond case and then following a semi-hidden switchback path into the rear of a guard post. I easily dispatched the three militia, but as I did (as is often the case), an assault truck tore up the road.

Feeling brazen, I threw a grenade in the truck's path. But it advanced too quickly and passed the grenade, bearing down on me. I moved lazily to the side, opening fire on the truck's gunner. But at the last second, the truck veered sharp to the left, the direction I was dodging. It clipped me by just a hair, but that was enough. Andre fell to the ground and I was staring at the game over screen. Andre was run down like an indecisive squirrel crossing the interstate. And the face of his killer does not impress:

(To be fair, I had completely forgotten being hit by a car is an instant kill, or I certainly wouldn't have been as brazen)

I was sorely tempted to reload, saying such a death "didn't count" because it wasn't fair. But it's never really fair, is it? Andre's abrupt end was actually pretty affecting. I was shocked that things had come to such a sudden halt, and my feelings of (over) confidence were largely at fault. But as I laid in bed, still reeling a little bit, I couldn't help but think about how quickly the end can come sometimes. A gas leak, another driver nods off at the wheel, crosses the median and hits you head on or you just slip on the ice and hit your head; sometimes, you don't get to say when. I held my fiancée a little tighter as I fell asleep that night.

I thought I would be fine without a buddy for such a short time, with Josip being occupied with the mission and Michele not yet my rescue buddy. I ended up reminded most harshly that, without them, even small accidents can prove fatal. I forgot that unless you've got someone watching your back in Far Cry 2, you don't get to choose your time. In life, you don't even get that. Memento mori indeed.

This isn't necessarily big, dramatic life & death things either. I wasn't expecting to lose my first job in the industry, but it did happen. And suddenly, without warning. Sometimes, that's just how things are.

That a game could make me reflect on something like this is further evidence that games are not mere diversions or amusements. Even though I had to change the context of how the game was played a bit, it was able to affect and significantly so. Plus, isn't it the hallmark of a great work that it can be examined and utilized in many contexts and produce different interpretations?

I'm not going to say I felt some amazing landmark moment, but it was significant. I almost felt a little shame saying so, but I'm doing everything I can to throw those feelings overboard. If my aspirations as a game designer include emotionally affecting others through games, I have to seek out and embrace existing games that can do the same to me. Especially ones that do so without merely replicating the emotions evoked by linear narratives in other media.

I'm actually really tempted to do this again, even though I'm currently working on about three other games. This little taste of FC2 was not enough to satisfy, even if I have to play the first four-five hours again. It's dynamic enough to stay engaging and in writing this, I've come to appreciate this little experiment even more. So my thanks to Ben Abraham for proposing it, and to Michel McBride for joining as well. Bonne chance lads, may you make it further than Andre.

I've got Wednesday off for Canada Day, and I'm not sure I'll be able to stay away. I probably won't write about it in as much depth, maybe a quick synopsis when that run eventually comes to its end. This really was an excellent experience and I'd encourage you to try the same with FC2 or another game of your choice (but I'll admit that the buddy rescues make this a far more tenable proposition in FC2 than in other games).

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Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, death always comes in the most unexpected situation in FC2. On main missions, when I'm on top of my game, I usually do fine. I mostly die or need to be buddy rescued when I take on the checkpoints. I tend to be more sloppy and less organized when dealing with a checkpoint, which inevitably leads to death because something crazy always happens that I wasn't mentally prepared for. This is the genious of FC2.

June 30, 2009 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Khoa It's interesting how that need to always be alert causes mental exhaustion that ultimately proves fatal. There's probably something of a modern parable in there, eh?

June 30, 2009 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Mr Durand Pierre said...

I have to admit that for a long time I never really "got" this experiment. So you're trying to play through the game without dying? Well, isn't that the point? No one is ever trying to die in a game, so all this imaginary rule set does is make you play extra cautious. Which may make for an interesting experience, but could be true of just about any game- you can just imagine permanent and have a unique experience (admittedly, I have yet to play Far Cry 2, so I'm not sure what other reasons Ben had for choosing it).

But then I got to the bit about your death and it got to me about how unfair it is. I probably would have been in denial, cheated, and reloaded and lied 'til my dying day that I'd never died at such a lackluster event. So the regretful realization that this is truly what happened was rather harrowing and made the experiment all worthwhile. Now I kind of regret not partaking in it myself. Maybe I'll try it whenever I get around to playing FC2.

June 30, 2009 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@M. Durand Pierre Thanks for that comment, I'm glad I was able to communicate the experience's effect. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect going in and certainly wasn't expecting what happened.

Should FC2 show up on a Steam sale or something, I'd highly recommend it. You know, in case that wasn't obvious ;)

July 1, 2009 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If you are a gamer looking for something more substantial in a FPS, by all means check out FC2. It's one of the few FPS which actually require real combat tactics. Contrary to most FPS conventions, circle strafing or bunny hopping are not combat tactics. In FC2, however, you will need to fire and maneouver, use cover, aim precisely, etc. to survive engagements with the AI. It is a difficult game to get into because it defies tried and true corridor shooter conventions, and it is unrelenting intense (esp. on hardcore and infamous difficulty levels). You will be bewildered and frustrated and dead if you use typical FPS tactics.

I'm on my third playing and it is a different game each time. The AI reacts dynamically to your tactics so the combat experience is unique to each encounter. For instance, the first time around, I was a sniper whore. This time playing, I'm a shotgun freak. Both types of playstyles require different tactics, and have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The gunplay is extremely well done and realistic for a videogame. I speak from experience as a former Marine officer.

FC2 is a good testbed for "sudden death" experimenting because almost everything in the gameworld is randomized. Even if you played it through before, you will not be able to predict enemy behavior (i.e., avoid that flak jacket because X monsters will spawn as soon as I pick it up). That means each and every time you play, you have to be alert and on top of your game. Otherwise, you will be humiliated by a gunman manning a checkpoint who you wounded but didn't kill and who popped your last bit of health with his pistol.

Nels, thanks for sharing your experience. It's not easy to produce quality writing on a consistent basis, especially if you have no idea if anyone would read it.

July 2, 2009 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Khoa Wow, very interesting how closely FC2 maps to real engagements.

And glad you hear you enjoyed the posts. I really wasn't sure what to expecting going into this, either for me or when writing about it. But I must say, I've been very pleasantly surprised at the outcomes on both fronts.

July 2, 2009 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, the tactics are realistic. In open spaces, the AI does what I expect a well trained fireteam to do when engaging the enemy. Flank, cover, fire. However, the AI is noticeably stupid when engaging vehicles or fighting in closed spaces. Vehicle combat is comical. (I'm going to ram a truck with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun that that can rip me and my car to pieces with my Datsun, or I'm going to abandon my pinto mounted machine gun that is the most powerful weapon available to me for the driver's position because the driver has been shot). Despite these weaknesses, FC2 is a huge leap over other videogames out there in terms of AI quality. I chuckle with admiration at the times when the AI outflanks me.

July 2, 2009 at 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this experiment very cool and found the reliance on the buddy rescues the most interesting part. I noticed that you mentioned that it is the presence of this part of the game that makes the one death play a more viable option. This is true but I think only because of your awareness of the rules and limitations of the buddy concept in the game. I feel that it would be similarly possible if your understanding of the rules behind the enemy tactics were acutely developed. Indeed the death you experienced was from a momentary lack of awareness of the possible instant death rules in FC2 as well as the rules that govern what is needed to keep buddies happy. I think as a result that any game might be possible to attempt at a one death play it is merely an awareness of the rules in place that might make it seem less viable

July 5, 2009 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Like has been said before, the best thing about Far Cry 2 is the anecdotes and I loved having Paul as my main rescue buddy, when I witnessed him being fatally shot and helped him onto the next life peacefully, via painkillers it was a touching moment.

I have not touched Far Cry 2 in months and now I can see me dusting off the copy of that game tonight.

July 6, 2009 at 5:54 AM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Gerard Certainly. But the implementation of the buddy system makes it quite easy to parse and utilize, and thus, more tenable than other games. In contrast, Jorge over at Experience Points tried a permadeath Mirror's Edge run that lasted about 20 minutes. Of course, that might in and of itself make that also something interesting to look at.

@Rob Heh, while proselytization wasn't my intent with this endeavour, I'm perfectly happy with it as an side effect. Enjoy!

July 6, 2009 at 9:16 AM  

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