March 28, 2022

11 Min Read

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Improving Stealth in Far Cry 6

Far Cry 6 is an action game first and foremost, as the explosive Resolver weapons, supercharged Supremo backpacks, and vicious crocodile friend named Guapo are more than happy to demonstrate. But like its predecessors, Far Cry 6 also has gadgets and systems that allow you to play stealthily, and the guerrilla story of Far Cry 6 makes it even more suited to such a playstyle. Fitting, then, that Lead Programmer Rich Welsh picked “A Good Guerrilla Is A Hidden Guerrilla” as the title for his Game Developers Conference talk about the development team’s approach to improving stealth in Far Cry 6.

Not only did this initiative fit with the guerrilla narrative of Far Cry 6, but it also addressed something the team discovered when analyzing player data from previous Far Cry games: Welsh observed that “it was very uncommon for players to finish outposts stealthily.” So, he and a “strike force of designers, technical designers, programmers, and dev testers” set out to evaluate why this might be, and to develop, playtest, and implement improvements. In this article, we’ll share some of the key areas of focus for Welsh and his team, such as enemy AI behaviors, tools for the player to maintain or regain stealth, and the ability to hide in plain sight.

[Ubisoft News] [FC6] - GDC Stealth - Juan & Dani


A LOGICAL YARA

Dani Rojas is different. Unlike Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody or Far Cry 5’s Deputy, the protagonist of Far Cry 6 is a local; not an outsider arriving in a new place met with a hostile reception, but one of the very people that dictator Antón Castillo counts among his citizens, for better or worse (usually worse). Yet for all the regime’s oppression of the Yaran people, it wouldn’t make sense to have military personnel regularly opening fire on a random citizen just walking down the street. This was a paradigm shift for the Far Cry series, and it opened up new opportunities for the development team, one of which was the chance to look at how the player moves through the world in a new light.

Traditionally, the player in a Far Cry game always has a weapon in their hands because they are viewed as a threat right from the start. “Running through the streets of a busy city with your weapon out was a surefire way to draw attention to yourself, something that didn’t make sense for a guerrilla.” Welsh and his team realized they’d have to bring a new feature to the Far Cry franchise: the ability to holster your weapon. Welsh says, “Once holstering your weapon was added to the game, it felt incredibly natural to do so, and we were able to move ahead with our plans where Dani could freely explore.”

This was a significant change for the Far Cry series, Welsh notes, and it “gave the players the ability to traverse Yara at their own pace.” This theme of player control is one that ran through all of the team’s efforts, and part of that was helping players understand when those indifferent soldiers would turn suspicious, and when that suspicion would boil over to aggression.


IT’S ABOUT TRUST

Even though the player can move freely through Yara, there are still plenty of things that can raise the suspicion, or outright ire, of Castillo’s military forces. To manage this, Welsh and his team relied on a World Aggression system, a catalog of player actions and behaviors that would increase enemy suspicion. Some were merely making yourself a nuisance, like standing too close to a noteworthy enemy or stealing a car, while others were more decisively antagonistic, like placing an IED or firing a weapon. The system also governed the enemies’ response level based on the action the player performed; aiming down sights at an enemy for a quick moment will anger them less than holding a steady gaze at them through your sights.

The actions that increase suspicion all seem logical, but what really matters is that the player can understand the impact they are having on their enemies. “Having enemies jump from relaxed to combat when a threshold was crossed,” says Welsh, “would be confusing and frustrating to players. We solved this in two ways. Firstly, we added behavioral cues. As NPCs became more suspicious of the player, their animations and audio barks would change to become more threatening. They would turn to face the player with gun raised and say a dialogue line such as, ‘Back off! That’s close enough!’”

The second way was to use elements of the user interface to visually represent how things were going. The detection bar, which is introduced early in the game when the player is in hostile areas to indicate when they were being spotted, was adapted to do double duty as a suspicion meter in non-hostile areas. These two solutions made it clear to the player when things were escalating, which helped them have more control over when they got into combat. However, without the ability to de-escalate the situation, the player would have no way to recover from an errant gunshot or mistaken trespass without a full-on gunfight.

“In order to allow players to back out of a fight, we added a decay to the suspicion meter,” says Welsh. This allowed players to cool things down if they didn’t want to engage in combat just then, reinforcing that idea of player control that was central to their efforts. Of course, like many things in game development, the feature required some refinement. “This did lead to some erratic behavior at first,” recalls Welsh, “as the player could find the boundary of an NPC’s personal space and then step back and forth across that line, causing the suspicion meter to fill and empty over and over. To mitigate this, we added a delay before the decay kicked in.” This cooling off period helped smooth over the transition period between rising and falling suspicion. Relatable, to be honest.


CLEAR AND PRESENT CONSEQUENCES

Of course, there are some areas of Yara where these hiding-in-plain-sight systems do not apply, where things work in the familiar Far Cry way and enemies will shoot you on sight. These are restricted, military-controlled areas and the team wanted to make sure that players knew when the rules were changing. Sharp red outlines on the map delineate these zones and, once you enter them, a glowing red border encircles your on-screen minimap, and audio cues clearly signal that you are in a danger zone.

These are the places where clarity matters most of all, because the consequences of breaking stealth and being spotted are a whole lot of bullets and explosives headed your way. To help them gain a clearer idea of when and how players were breaking stealth during their time in these restricted areas, the team conducted regular playtests, asking players to clear several areas without being detected and give their feedback on the stealth experience.

“With that information, we were able to start building our improvement plan,” says Welsh. “One of the things that stood out to us as we went through the feedback from players is that they responded to each failed stealth attempt as being unfairly detected, that the game was unbalanced, unfair, or broken.” From this, they were able to identify a host of areas for improvement, unified under one guiding principle: “Players must have a fair experience with our systems in order to fulfill that immersive stealth fantasy.”

So what were some of the changes they made? Well, when players weren’t realizing that their footsteps were triggering a hostile reaction, the team agreed that enemy guards shouldn’t know immediately that the steps came from a player; their reaction was changed from a hostile response to an investigation reaction. When players were getting surprised by stationary enemies positioned around corners too frequently, the team made sure that when an enemy was standing still, they would whistle, hum, cough, or chat with a comrade in order to tip the player off. When players were failing melee takedowns – a brutal hallmark of the series’ stealth play – they added a one-second window between when an enemy would spot an approaching player and when they would have their guard up and resist takedowns.

The list goes on. The team decided that adjusting the speed at which enemies detect the player was preferable to adjusting the detection area; better for alerted guards to spot the player more quickly than gain the ability to spot them from farther away. And they tweaked it so when a player is spotted in a restricted area, it’s the enemy who actually spotted the player who will likely run for the alarm, rather than an enemy elsewhere on site that has only been alerted by their compatriot. This cut down on player confusion and, like many of the other changes, helped “make NPC behavior more readable and predictable by players, so they feel empowered when they then outsmart them.”

[Ubisoft News] [FC6] - GDC Stealth - Chorizo

A SHOCKING SECRET

The most impactful work they did on the stealth experience, says Welsh, was on the stealth mechanics themselves. However, they also added a number of new stealth gadgets to give players more options on how to approach their enemies, including an overpowered Supremo that was eventually cut from the game.

One of the foundations of Far Cry stealth is tagging, a mechanic by which players can methodically spot their enemies and place a mark over their heads that makes them easily visible, even when obscured by a building. Dani’s phone is the easiest way to accomplish this, and aiming down sights at an enemy will do it as well (though slightly more conspicuously). The team then added a dog named Boom-Boom, a stealth Amigo, who would automatically tag nearby enemies and not cause combat to start, as well as the perception grenade, a tagging gadget linked to the EMP Supremo.

This Supremo began its life as a Shock Supremo, designed to damage and disable vehicles, as well as stun and damage NPCs. That’s pretty much every hostile thing you encounter in the game, and beyond that broad impact, players in tests kept expecting it to have an effect on electrical elements like lights and TVs as well. With the Poison Supremo already heavily focused on damaging enemies, the Shock Supremo wasn’t just overpowered, it was overlapping. Thus, the EMP was born.

Designed not to damage, but to disable, the EMP Supremo is designated as a stealth Supremo. While there’s nothing particularly stealthy about EMP-ing a tank to a halt so you can hijack it (Ed. note - though that maneuver does absolutely rule), the stealth power of the EMP backpack comes into its own when dealing with new mechanical agents such as the auto turret and security camera. Both devices are found in restricted areas, and both are new threats that can damage or alert enemies. While the gadgets mentioned earlier brought new solutions for stealth play, these devices introduced new challenges. Destroying them will bring enemies running, but a quick EMP and you can sneak by on your stealthy way.

AND ONE MORE THING

While clearing out a restricted area without being detected in Far Cry 6 does comes with its fair share of challenge and reward, I’ll admit that, for me personally, it does lack some of the impact of bringing the big guns and bigger explosions to unleash absolute havoc upon my foes. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered the Triada Supremo and its accompanying rifle. When activated, the combo allows you to see and shoot through walls, instantly vaporizing any enemies you take out and leaving no corpse behind to be discovered. Welsh says, “Far Cry has always had these WTF moments, and the Triada weaponry allowed us to deliver a little bit of that Far Cry craziness while also complementing the stealth playstyle.” Who says stealth players can’t have their cake (quietly), and eat it too (undetected)?


For more articles on presentations from Ubisoft developers at the Game Developers Conference 2022, visit our Inside Ubisoft page or get a rundown on all the talks from Ubisoft Toronto here, and check out the new Stranger Things crossover mission that is available for free now in Far Cry 6.

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