Games For Windows Live Maybe, PhysX Not So Much

The Ubisoft Montreal folks showed off some spectacular Far Cry 2 gameplay today touching on a laundry list of new features there shooter will have including the need to treat your own injuries, weapon jams, "Real Tree" technology and their thoughts on DX10, Games for Windows Live and the PhysX physics card.

The game takes place in a 50 kilometer open world set in Africa with view distances of about 850 metres. You drop into this world as a mercenary sent to track down and kill an arms dealer. Right off the bat the developers dropped into a jungle to show off the graphics.

"Far Cry is sort of known for its jungles... Jungles are not our signature location, but they do kick ass."And they did. They said that the game, which is built on a proprietary engine, uses something called "Real Tree" technology to give the game's varied vegetation a much more realistic look. And the tech goes beyond just how the trees look. They all move in relation to real world physics and the weather. You can burn them, you can brake off a branch, leaves drop from them.

And this tech isn't just to make the game look good, it also subtly effects how you play the game. If, for instance, you drive through grass, the grass lays down so people can track you, but if enough time passes the grass stands back up again. If people are shooting at you as you run through the trees, the branches will snap off in front of you as the bullets whiz by and hit them.

Far Cry 2 seems to go out of its way to rid itself of or at least change the way a lot of gaming cliches. It doesn't, for instance, have a hud, instead it relies on real world actions to tell you things. Your map is a map, your compass a compass and when you take damage your world turns red. To heal yourself you don't use a health pack, there are none. Instead you have to do a little field dressing.

After a particularly nasty firefight, the developer ducked his character into a shack and then used a knife to cut a bullet from the top of his foot, healing himself. The build we saw of the game only featured a few animations for self-healing, but when the game ships they expect to have about 60 different healing animations in the game.

The game also tweaks the way you can interact with the piles of ammo you always seem to find laying around in games. They're still there, but in Far Cry 2 if you shoot them they will start to spark and fire off random shots.

Far Cry 2 seems to feature a pretty robust AI, from what we saw. The game runs on a 24 hour day, night cycle and when night rolls around those AI controlled bad guys left outside will start up campfires and limit their dangerous activities. None of their movements, in fact, are scripted. That's because the game is open and the developers couldn't set static points for guards and make the game fun. Instead they gave them behaviours and rules to follow.

At one point in the game the developer used a sniper rifle to take out a man standing in a clearing at a depot. He said he didn't kill the guy, just injured him. A few seconds later a second man came out checked on the man and then lifted him to his shoulder to carry him to safety and treat him and the developer killed both men.

Another really stunning piece of technology in the game is the weather. Not only does it change as you play, it actually affects the environment. At one point the developers cranked up the wind. In the sky the clouds slowly coalesced into an ominous thunderhead. The wind picked up until dust began to billow across the tundra, some trees whipped in the wind, others moved only slightly. Branches snapped, some taking flight, others slowly tumbling across the field. The grass swayed rhythmically. The developers said they plan to use the weather effect to, among other things, help convey emotion and create cinematic moments in the game. Like making it rain after a buddy in the game dies.

Buddies actually play a pivotal role in the game. You can use these non-player characters to get information, buy weapons and help you out in a pinch. Specifically, they can rescue you when you're in trouble. This Buddy Rescue only works if you tell them ahead of time that you might need their help.

In one chunk of the play through the developer was pinned down, taking fire from all sides, his character slumped to near death. Then suddenly a character he had run into a bit earlier appeared, crouching by his side to lift him to his shoulder and carry him to nearby cover. This was all done with the in-game engine, without changing the perspective.

The character covered the player while the dev self-healed and then the buddy handed him back his weapon and stayed by his fight for the rest of the confrontation.

The last neat tech the team showed was fire. In the middle of a gun battle sparking a blaze that ended up spreading to a nearby field and burning out a giant patch of grass, trees and buildings. It was amazing. The developers said they did have to set some artificial limits because they didn't want gamers playing on 50 kilometers of blackened earth.

The game, if it delivers on all of its promise, will be an amazing title, certainly something that lives up the Far Cry name in the PC arena. The developers said they hope to get it out the door by the spring of 2008.

I asked if they were going to support DirectX10 and 9, they said they were and pointed out that the game is running on a current gen PC right now. They said they probably won't make use of the PhysX physics card because the pay-off didn't seem to warrant the investment in time.

The developers are currently in talks with Microsoft about possibly incorporating Games for Windows Live elements into the game, but no final decision has been made, they said.


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