8 February 2022

15 Min Read

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How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains

Joseph: Collapse, the third DLC episode for Far Cry 6, is out now, letting players explore a hallucinatory dreamscape within “The Father’s” own mind. Joseph: Collapse completes a trilogy of episodes starring the series’ most memorable villains; previously, players could slip behind the eyes of a deranged pirate in Vaas: Insanity or explore the mind of a dictator in Pagan: Control. Instead of just letting players be really evil, however, each episode digs into what makes these characters tick, and what exactly turned them into monsters.

To better understand how that approach took shape, we spoke with Scriptwriter and Narrative Designer Nikki Foy, who worked on all three episodes and helped bring Vaas, Pagan, and Joseph back in a compelling way.

How was it decided that Far Cry 6’s DLC should be set in three new worlds based on the minds of villains from previous games?

Nikki Foy: I wasn't there for this, but as far as the stories go, Narrative Director Navid Khavari and Creative Director Ted Timmins came up with it together. They knew all along that they wanted to play as villains; they just didn't know how to do that, especially because a lot of their stories end very ambiguously. So it was like, “are they going to be prequels? What's the situation?” And then one of them floated the idea of, “what if you go inside their minds?” And that was it, nothing could top that.

It’s such a great approach, because you really get to experience the characters in a new way, and dig way deeper into them.

Far Cry 5’s developers did a lot of research into destructive cults and what motivates cult leaders. Did you have access to that, or did you do your own research into cults, when writing Joseph: Collapse?

NF: I did do my own research, because I was actually raised in a very, very, very strict religious upbringing that I left when I was a young adult, when I went to university. So I could really draw on a lot of my personal experiences from that. That really is, in a weird way, a gift when you're writing something, to have that experience you can pull from. Obviously, I've been very interested in this subject since then, so it was something that I felt was really close and personal to me.

Digging into it and trying to reflect a lot of the feelings of doubt that you have, and the kind of responsibility Joseph felt, and how he used that in negative ways – I think you can give a lot of credit to people in similar situations. Which I don't think we necessarily have to do, but in this case, trying to tap into that was what I attempted, and trying to come at it from a not-too-cynical perspective. To find the heart in people that maybe I've met from my life that behaved in ways I disagreed with, but that I understood. And using that was really powerful.

[UN] How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains - IMG 1

Do you see Joseph as a better person, or at least better-intentioned, than Vaas or Pagan? Do different things motivate a cult leader than motivate a dictator or a pirate?

NF: It's really about where in their stories we meet them. Joseph is a lot more selfless than Vaas and Pagan when we find him, but all three at some point in their lives were dedicating themselves to something that was beyond them. In both cases, it's their family. Vaas, for a while, was dedicating himself to this legacy he was supposed to uphold, which is a pretty selfless thing to do. He eventually broke, and that's what turned him into who he is. Pagan in the same way: He broke when his family was taken from him. He tries to be selfless in how he is with Ajay, and it fails.

I think Joseph has the largest scale of that, but all three of them, at different points in their stories, felt like they had a responsibility to someone other than themselves – and that's what pushed them over the edge.

I'm really excited for people to see that Joseph: Collapse is the only DLC we place in a chronology, between Far Cry 5 and New Dawn. That's a unique element. We're catching a character in the middle of something, and we're filling a gap in time. So hopefully, players will get to see the bookends of the games, and see bits and pieces of both. I'm really excited for a lot of the new things we're revealing in Collapse, and I hope people enjoy it.

Does working in these bizarre dreamscapes give you more freedom as a writer to experiment and get weird, or are you constrained by gameplay? How do you approach something like this?

NF: It definitely gives you a lot more narrative freedom. When you are writing anything, there's this idea the world should exist to change your protagonist, or to challenge them. In a game, sometimes it's a tricky line to walk, because gameplay needs often will outweigh the character’s needs. In a DLC like this, where the world is literally the character and it's a part of them – that challenge goes away. Any ludonarrative dissonance that you might have in another game, you don't have here. Everything the character is doing reveals something about them and is challenged by a perception they have.

The world gets to be built based solely on that: What's important to this character, what do they think about? What do they do, and how, and why? Narratively, and especially for a game, it’s so freeing to write, because you lose a lot of those constraints in a surreal world.

Touching on a specific example from the DLCs, I’d like to ask about the bell tower in Pagan: Control.
It’s shattered, with pieces flipped upside-down and scattered up a waterfall for players to climb; what does that reveal about Pagan?

NF: Pagan is obsessed with constructing this perfect image, and bell towers in Far Cry 4 were such a big thing, because Pagan used them to spread propaganda. In his mind, seeing this fractured bell tower in the DLC, it's this contorted idea he has that he needs to do everything perfectly. The bell tower is playing intrusive thoughts he's had, or thoughts he wishes he didn't have. Things he doesn't want people to know about.

[UN] How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains - IMG 2

The player needs to go up this broken, upside-down bell tower, kind of how Pagan twists the truth and the story. He's always bending reality to try to make himself look better – or feel better, at least. So, you have to struggle to get up there and then replace it with happy thoughts, the approved message of Pagan, like he's never had a bad thought in his life.

For another specific example, what about the upside-down “reflection” of Dr. Earnhardt’s house in Vaas: Insanity, where players can swim underwater to unlock doors, which then open in the right-side-up version? Did that start with wanting to have something hallucinatory, or did it begin with a puzzle design?

NF: For a lot of the visuals, Ubisoft Shanghai – who were an incredible studio to partner with on the DLCs – had a lot of concepts of locations they wanted to do, and really memorable moments that they felt connected to the characters. Those were brought to us, and then we would see how we could inject narrative into them.

The Earnhardt house is one of those examples. It’s somewhere Vaas would have been a lot. There’s also this theme of duality throughout Far Cry 3, so having these two houses right next to each other can represent a lot of things! I’ll give my interpretation of it: Vaas feels like there are these two sides of him, and the vision that you see at the end of that location hints to that. There's this side of Vaas that's an addict, and there's another side that doesn't want to be. And not, like, addicted to drugs – he's an addict in every sense. He's on a self-destructive path, and there's a part of him that knows he shouldn't be. So the house, that vision, these two sides to everything – all of that connects to those themes.

What's it like to write dialogue and narrative that you know players are going to experience over and over again? Not just because they're dying, but by design?

NF: Approaching the die-and-retry-style narrative was really daunting, because we have never done anything like that before here, so it was a lot of trial and error. Approaching it, we wanted to do as much as we could with diversifying dialogue. If you die, we wanted the player to say something new when you re-approach this interaction or mission.

So that was a big part of the design when we were coming up with how the narrative would play out. It’s the same reason the visions are also skippable – you can just walk by them. You don't have to watch them every single time. If you want to, that's great. If you've already seen it, you can move along quickly. We tried our best to prioritize the player’s time and keep it sounding fresh without sacrificing how we wanted the narrative to be delivered.

[UN] How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains - IMG 3

There is, I think, a danger in roguelike games where you can just prioritize hearing new things, and you're not prioritizing pace or impact. It was a really hard balancing act to try and get all those together.

The DLC episodes do a great job of recapturing the characters and mannerisms of their villains. How did you accomplish that, as a writer? Did you work with the original writers, or the actors, to get the tone right?

NF: We did homework – capital-H Homework. I think I've watched every cinematic from those games; if there's a million views on those videos, I am 500,000 of them [laughs]. I would have them on all the time, no matter what I was doing, when I was writing each DLC.

That was the first step, just making sure to really get it right. I read every fan wiki, I read Reddit. Any theory, or things people wanted to see or felt really strongly about, I wanted to know about. Then when we brought the actors in, that was another huge piece of the puzzle. All three of these actors know the characters so well. They really helped shape them from the beginning, so getting them involved was important.

I also talked to the writers. I talked to [Far Cry 5 Lead Writer] Drew Holmes, and then Lucien Soulban [former story designer for Far Cry 3, and lead writer for Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and Far Cry 4] also super-graciously chatted with me. And luckily our narrative director, Navid, worked on Far Cry 4 and 5 also. So we had a good roster of people who also were there for the creation of it, who were very helpful. It really was like a collective, “these are our children whom we love. Let's do them justice!” [laughs]

What are some key things you learned about these characters while doing all that homework? Did you come to view them in a different light?

NF: The thing I came to learn about all of them, which is kind of interesting and surprising to me – because it feels a little obvious – is that they're all really motivated by family, and I think the Far Cry brand is actually quite about family. In every case with these villains, family either has a huge impact on why they broke, or why they do what they do. Finding that through-line for all of them was a really interesting revelation, because it wasn't the first thing I thought of when I played the games originally, or even when I considered the DLC, that family would be so integral to all of their journeys.

[UN] How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains - IMG 4

Speaking of family, how did you decide who the antagonists should be? Citra and Jason seem like clear choices for Vaas, but for Pagan it seems less obvious that he would be his own tormentor.

NF: For Vaas it was very easy, because there are a lot of duality themes in Far Cry 3. Vaas says “I am you, and you are me” to Jason a lot, and their journeys are the same; one succeeds, one fails. Pagan was a harder one, because Ajay is not Pagan’s villain. Pagan loves him, and he's trying to support him. Amita and Sabal? Pagan doesn't really care about them! They're kind of annoying to him.

We talked about it and played with a lot of different things, but it always came back to Pagan's worst enemy is himself. He's trying to become perfect. He wants everyone to love him, he wants his “stepson” to love him, but he's done horrible things. I think about this in terms of Pagan’s id and ego, to get very writerly and pseudo-psychological; Pagan is a good example of just letting the id go wild; what would happen? But you don't want that to be the case – you still want to be cool and perfect and strong! Considering it that way, and knowing that we're going into the villain’s mind, we really hammered down on Pagan’s self-loathing. That's who his villain should be.

We had a similar conversation about Joseph Seed, because he does not see the Deputy as his villain, either. Or maybe the Deputy is, and Joseph struggles with that, but that's a journey he already completes in Far Cry 5. So similarly, Joseph's villain is himself – or the voice that he hears. It’s doubt, really, because he has such strong convictions, and he was right about the world ending – but he didn't save anyone, so he was wrong in this huge way. We see so much of his story in Far Cry 5 and New Dawn that we really wanted to get into the middle of those two games, right in between them, and see what Joseph was struggling with when he was in the bunker. What did he go through internally? And doubt came as the most obvious answer, and what we want to personify the most.

Is it a challenge to present characters engineered specifically to make players want to destroy them in a sympathetic light? How do you square their sympathetic aspects with the awful things that we've seen them do?

NF: We had really good writing to springboard off of. These are not unsympathetic villains when you first see them. You sympathize with them, or you at least understand them, and that is what we were trying to hit. We weren't trying to make them sympathetic; we weren't trying to redeem them. It was about understanding them.

There's this idea in storytelling with antiheroes: You don't have to like them, you just have to know why they're doing it, and understand that. Showing, “this is why Vaas is the way he is, this is why Pagan does the things he does, this is how Joseph feels, and this is what motivated him.” Sometimes, knowing that is enough for a viewer to really connect and understand a character.

[UN] How Far Cry 6’s DLC Episodes Got Inside the Heads of Their Villains - IMG 5

Honestly, boiling it down to the simplest thing: hurt people hurt people, right? If you can show how this character got hurt, why they hurt other people, it's a lot easier to understand them – without redeeming them, because we certainly didn't want to do that. These ARE bad people!

Is it a little bit redemptive in Vaas’ case? I got the impression he maybe begins to understand the error of his ways.

NF: I think Vaas self-actualizes, certainly. I don't know if he thinks what he did was wrong. What he comes to understand, I think, is that how he did things was wrong, but from a selfish perspective. Vaas’ journey is very much about himself, it's very internal. So Vaas breaking free of what Citra turned him into, and trying to become his own person, that’s a happy ending for Vaas, but I don't think it's actually a happy ending. He still is who he is. He's still going to behave the way he does. The “why” and “how” might have changed, but I think the “what” will always stay the same.

Joseph: Collapse is available now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Stadia, and Amazon Luna via the Season Pass for Far Cry 6 or as a separate purchase for Far Cry 6 owners, and is also included with a Ubisoft+ subscription. For more on Far Cry 6, check out our dedicated news hub.