10 questions for Far Cry 3′s lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem – Prince Of Persia, Assassin’s Creed dreams and acting aspirations

1. What game from the past has had the biggest effect on the way you make games today?

I’d say the three great games by Jordan Mechner, which were Prince Of Persia, Prince Of Persia 2: The Shadow And The Flame, and The Last Express. My philosophy has always been that the player needs to be an actor in the game. The meaning of the game has to be created through actions, because that’s what the medium is about. In each of those games, the most powerful moments occur through action. There’s a moment in the first Prince Of Persia where you get trapped inside this little room through the mechanics of the game… So you’re trapped in this room and it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, there’s no way to solve this.’ That game was very hard, so when you got trapped in that room you [thought you] must have screwed up. But you wait, and this mouse comes to open the gate and let you out. And it’s a mouse that had been in several of the scenes beforehand because it’s the princess’ pet mouse. He introduces
the mouse in this space that you don’t think is interactive.

2. We’ve had motion control, 3D, cameras… what do you think will be the next big innovation in games?

I’m not as interested in technological innovation as I am in treatment of the medium, because for me the next big step that I’m advocating right now is that we need to use method acting techniques to involve the player in the game. Just like the way that a director works with actors when they’re creating a movie or play, that’s how we need to work with players. I think we can democratise acting. Games can allow me to act with someone like Angelina Jolie and experience the best theatre in the world.

3. What have been the highs and lows of your career so far?

The high point for me is Far Cry 3. I’m really proud of this game. I think it’s really daring, and a lot of it is forging into the wilderness – the direction I’m trying to go with the way the player’s treated and expressing meaning through action. Brotherhood was also a high. I guess my low would have been the first game I worked on, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, but it taught me something very important. I realised that the sound mix wasn’t quite right, so you couldn’t hear anyone talking over the music or the sound effects, so all the work put into trying to make it an immersive, story-driven experience ultimately failed. When I played the game later, I felt like I didn’t care about what was going on.

4. Which matters more to you, review scores or sales?

My philosophy is that every creative has a direction that they’re interested in going in. Every person has something they love that drives them, and you can’t change that thing. Steven Spielberg likes mainstream experiences and his experiences will always appeal to the mainstream, whereas David Cronenberg likes more obscure stuff. If a director tries to change for the public, it won’t be honest and that will come across. So basically I would say that caring about sales is impossible, because either you love mainstream stuff and it’s gonna sell, or you don’t. If the producer wants a lot of sales, it hires creators that sell. I just care about expressing what I love, so reviews.

5. If you had to make one golden rule of game design, what would it be?

Play: don’t show or tell. If the meaning of the game is conveyed with the game on mute, then you did it. Brotherhood was about becoming a leader, and the mechanics are about [that], so when you play it on mute you still see a guy who’s developing a team and fixing a city. Never settle for empty spectacle.

Talk to as many people as possible. It’s an accessible industry. It’s not like Hollywood.

6. If you were to work with a star developer from any team, who would it be and why?

My dream was to work with Patrice Désilets, and I did on Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. I’d love to work with Jordan Mechner, too.

7. If you weren’t a games developer, what would you be doing instead?

I’d have loved to have been an actor, but I wasn’t good enough. I did acting all the way growing up – and so, on some level, this is me acting through videogames… I guess on some level when I write scenes now, and I go with the actor and we’re recording or doing mo-cap, it’s like being part of a film.

8. What’s your top tip for someone who wants to pursue a career in games?

Talk to as many people as possible. It’s an accessible industry. It’s not like Hollywood, where people are all hidden behind star maps. You can call the greats and they often answer. It’s the most collaborative medium in history.

9. You’ve got unlimited time, an unlimited team and an unlimited budget. What game do you make?

There’s something I’ve wanted to make since college – if I get to make that before I die I’ll be really happy. It’s a coming of age love story. But other than that I feel that rapid iteration is a good thing. I don’t like sitting on ideas. I think it’s important you ship and see how the audience responds. If you sit on something and don’t release it, you start losing touch with what’s good.

10. What do you think it will take for games to be accepted as part of mainstream culture?

Treating the player as an actor. If you want to get the people who watch Titanic  to play games, treat them as actors. If I’m experiencing the emotions that the characters on-screen are having, that’s the next evolution. In films, the closest I can get is a close-up… in games, it’s inside me. That’s what I’m pushing for – if we’re able to nail that then we’ll have something the mainstream can enjoy.

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