Far Cry 5 director Dan Hay has pitched a potential new game project, featuring a misplaced space teddy bear, during his developer lecture at the British Academy of Film and television. The question is, will it end up becoming into a real game?
Hay, who's variously been producer, executive producer and creative director on the Far Cry series since Far Cry 3, was presenting a talk entitled 'Rooted in Reality - How the real world can make your creativity soar', which broadly discussed how recognisable real-world experiences can be used to create games that are better, more impactful, and more affecting to players.
Toward the end of the discussion, Hay began to pitch a game idea, which had started out as a thought experiment, based on meaningful personal memories and interests. Namely, his childhood teddy bear, the tale of Prometheus, and his fascination with space travel: "I want to retell the story of Prometheus, giving that key moment of thought but I want to replace fire with a teddy bear and I want to put it in space because it's f**king awesome."
Several weeks ago, he took this germ of an idea and sat down with Ubisoft's Serge Meirinho, senior concept artist for Child of Light, to develop it into something more substantial. And so began Hay's very own on-stage storytime during the BAFTA talk, in which he shared his "pitch experience", enlivened by Meirinho's illustrations on the screen.
"It starts with a bear, and a little girl who loves her bear - in space, because it's cool," Hay began. "She lives out in space, she has normal parents, a normal life; she loves this bear, she has tea parties with this bear, she has birthdays with this bear [...] She goes to bed every night knowing that this bear is there to protect her [...] until one night she's not protected.
"Danger strikes, a klaxon goes off. Her parents come running into the room [...] they pick her up and they rush outside, and the bear is left in the bed. And she turns and she screams "No!" and she runs back, she grabs the bear, and they head to the spaceship. But at the last possible minute, she stumbles and she drops the bear. The doors close - fwoosh - and she sits there pressed up against it, screaming "No!" as the bear is left behind. And the rocket takes off and goes into space and gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
"And the bear sits alone on the edge of a great precipice until a gust of wind pushes it down. And down into the hole it goes, further and further, past caves and monsters [...] all kinds of things, until it finds its way all the way down into the centre of the planet and it rests in inky darkness alone until it sees a little light suspended from a little string.
"The light gets bigger until it presents itself as a little creature staring at this teddy bear. And this creature has a name - it's called a Razagaboo. Now the Razagaboos are very inquisitive creatures [...] but they've never left the cave, they never had any information about the world outside - they don't know what this thing is.
"So this Razagaboo looks at it and offers a soft little purr to the other Razagaboos that are up in their webs, and they all come down. And they move forward, gingerly, carefully, looking at this bear - no clue what it is - forward and forward until they touch it.
"That's when they have their Prometheus moment [...] this is where, up until that moment, they've only ever thought of building their webs in 2D, but they saw that this thing was built out of yarn and they understood that it could be built in 3D, they could re-engineer what they build [...] This changed everything about the Razagaboos - their understanding, their education, the idea of their culture, and the idea of their engineering."
And that's Hay's set-up, which he then began to focus into something resembling a game. Here, players - in the role of a newly enlightened Razagaboo - would journey out of the darkness and into the light, "where no Razagaboo has gone before".
There'll be unknown dangers and creatures, said Hay, challenges and puzzles; you'll have to engineer your way around, maybe make a bridge or push things. There'll be collapses and cave-ins, obstacles and monsters, "but eventually you'll reach the surface and return that teddy bear to a very happy little girl".
Hay then took a few moments to demonstrate how changing just one aspect of that initial germ of an idea could lead to an entirely different sort of game. A panda teddy bear, for instance, might lead to a scenario where a Razagaboo elder sees black and white and is inspired to outlaw all colour, leading to a game more focussed on creative expression, rather than pure puzzling, in which you restore colour to the world.
Yarn, as Hay called his pitch idea, was something he returned to several times later in the talk, implying that, although still early, it might yet be something that finds a foothold within Ubisoft to become a real game.
"This is literally the first time I've told anybody", he explained during the closing Q&A, "we kind of were doing this off to the side. I'm going to go back and think about that, and I think if people like what they're hearing, I'll have a new problem. [...] I'm gonna walk back into the office and [everybody will ask] 'What the hell is Yarn?'."
While Ubisoft publishes big budget franchises such as Far Cry and Assassin's Creed, it has dabbled in releasing smaller, more experimental projects - such as Child of Light, Grow Home and Valiant Hearts. Yarn looks like it would be a project of the same scope as those games.
Even if Yarn remains nothing more than a thought experiment though, and a simple story about a girl and her bear, Hay's BAFTA lecture is still a fascinating, philosophical look at game development and design, and well worth an hour of your time.