A Galaxy Far Cry Away: Hocking Exits Lucasarts

By Alec Meer on July 2nd, 2012 at 9:23 am.

I'm not even trying with that headline pun I know, but the house is out of coffee so I'm barely conscious right now

While he’s most known for the rightfully divisive Far Cry 2 (me, I’m glad it exists but never, ever want to play it again), Clint Hocking is a fascinating games-brain whose trajectory is well worth following. Not purely because he played a big role in the first three Splinter Cells, but also because interviews and talks suggest a restless, ambitious mind that seems taken up with the sort of emergent, open world, experimental experiences we generally crave here on RPS. So, while a bit odd, the news two years back that he was joining LucasArts was rather exciting. With Georgey-porgey’s bunch having lately dropped any number of balls both in terms of Star Wars and, well, anything else, Hocking’s presence was surely just what this hobbled giant needed. Only now he’s bally left without any projects coming to light.

Frustrating, in a way. While Star Wars and I divorced, citing irreconcilable differences, a long time ago, that dim hope that someone could do something special (and, I’d hoped, sandboxish) with the titan of pop-sci-fi remained. Instead, we’ll have to settle for Uncharted In Space.

With no clue given as to why Hocking jumped starship, and his next destination currently under-wraps, there ain’t much to conjecture about. I can only imagine he’s fetching up somewhere big’n'interesting, as he’s quite the known name in dev-world. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another two years to find out what he’s working on. And that it doesn’t involve respawning mercenaries who sound like they recorded their lines on a tape deck set to high-speed dubbing.

Hey, maybe he’s gone back to Ubisoft and is shouting at everyone involved to ditch the generi-bloke playing Sam Fisher and bring back Michael Ironside instead. That would be nice, if astonishingly unlikely.

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80 Comments »

  1. Phantoon says:

    Huuuuuuuuuh.

    I kinda expected… more? I guess.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Hocking’s 2011 GDC thing on “How do games mean?” was genuinely one of the best things I’ve seen a game dev say.

    ALSO, one of the best interviews I ever conducted was regarding the production of Far Cry 2 (post-release) with Hocking and the damned thing didn’t record. It couldn’t be rearranged, and it remains one of my greatest failures.

    Sigh.

    I genuinely hope he can find a place to make the game that he has in him.

    • f1x says:

      You mean… a facebook game?

      shivers

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Out of curiosity, what is stopping you from putting up what you remember of that interview/what you had in notes (if you had notes), Jim? Just generally not remembering much or is there something else? I’d love to read that, basically.

      • Jim Rossignol says:

        Quoting from memory is usually a bad idea, in my experience.

        It was an amazing interview. A lot of time spent on people’s criticisms of how it handled open-worldness, etc.

        Also on some of the technical stuff about how they got the big old maps working.

        My great lost interview. :(

        • felisc says:

          Ah i would have loved to read that. Far cry 2 was quite a special game.
          I blame zoom recorders. And your thumbs.

        • Dozer says:

          Good bloody grief, Jim. Why don’t you use at least two completely independent dictaphones? I have a cassette one you can have. I don’t really know why I’ve got it.

        • Cooper says:

          That sounds like an incredible shame.

          The usual defenses of their choices for open-worldness in FC2 are pretty dull, but whenever I caught a glimpse of Hocking answering the criticisms, there seemed a massive amount of thought and intelligence and I’d loved to have heard that in full.

    • woodsey says:

      Yeah, he’s always struck me as a remarkably intelligent designer. I hope someone gives him the same sort of opportunity that Harvey Smith and Raf Colantonio have had with Dishonored.

  3. SkittleDiddler says:

    Far Cry 2 is one of my favorite shooters EVAR, so props to this guy I’ve never heard of before.

    He’s better off somewhere else than LucasArts anyway. When was the last time they released an actual game?

    • N says:

      Republic Commando

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        Battlefront series and Empire at War (not FoC, though), were pretty good, too (though BF2 had the worst mouse acceleration I have ever seen in any game to date).

        • Jason Moyer says:

          BF2 and Empire At War were developed by real studios though (Pandemic did the BF games, Petroglyph the EaW games). I think Republic Commando might be the last decent game they actually did in-house.

          • Koozer says:

            I must inform you that Galactic Conquest is miles ahead of Battlefront. Good day.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        urgh

    • neonordnance says:

      Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds is and shall remain the greatest game they have made in-house since 2000. People were confused as to what it was when it came out, but to me it was simple- a wonderful, star wars-themed expansion pack for Age of Empires II that vastly expanded the gameplay. The expansion to the expansion was also pretty solid and added some new, interesting wrinkles.

    • Yosharian says:

      no wai, Call of Dooty is much bettar

    • pilouuuu says:

      When was the last time that they released an actual game that’s not about Star Wars? Grim Fandango?

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        No offense to Grim Fandago, but I want that goddamned Full Throttle sequel!

  4. Premium User Badge

    AmateurScience says:

    I absolutely loved how hard Far Cry 2 worked to keep you ‘in character’ in terms of your movements and actions in game, actually animating hand actions like opening a door etc. I appreciate that that sort of thing has to be handled carefully lest one gets one’s face shot off in the middle of a canned door opening animation but it’s the kind of thing that I really dig in first person games – total antithesis: third person killcams (I’m looking at you Skyrim). Oddly enough the third person stealth camera of DX:HR completely failed to elicit a negative response.

    Anyway, FC2 really felt like there was a whisper, a twinkle of something exceptional to come and I wish this guy all the best.

    Edit: Also as a (proto) scientist working on malaria, it was weird/cool/probably-never-going-to-happen-again to see a crossover between work an play.

  5. GallonOfAlan says:

    Far Cry 2, glaring annoyances like respawning aside, managed to create an extremely evocative dirty little third world war.

    • roryok says:

      If they’d added a few non-violent NPCs and any kind of interaction with the environment besides shooting and picking up guns to do more shooting, then it would have been so much better. As it stands, I liked it despite the flaws, and it was one of the most consistently visually impressive titles I’ve ever played

      • Premium User Badge

        HermitUK says:

        Yeah, I think a bit more interaction with local people who weren’t involved in the war would have helped. Too often it felt like two armies fighting over an empty tract of land. I’d also rather the player had been given a bit more choice; rather than forcing “buddies” on you, it should have been up to the player to cultivate those relationships for his own (selfish) ends. Likewise, taking sides in the war should have given certain bonuses – side with the guys who own checkpoints to be let through them, for example.

        A few more RPG elements like this and Far Cry 2 really could have been something of a STALKER for the masses. Nevertheless, it was a very good shooter. Hope Hocking finds a studio to work with that still likes making games.

      • Jay says:

        It’s such a shame they never offered mod support. I honestly think a few simple tweaks would’ve made all the difference. Even tweaking the respawn rates could’ve been enough to save it from being so massively divisive.

        • Premium User Badge

          HermitUK says:

          Yeah. A lot of the files you’d want to edit were encrypted because they were also used for MP, which was a shame.

          The buddy system seemed like the perfect excuse to add in 2-player co-op, as well.

          Edit: That said, http://www.moddb.com/mods/dylans-far-cry-2-realism-mod has popped up fairly recently on ModDB. Maybe there’s some hope for modding yet.

          • roryok says:

            that’s one of those mods that’s not really a mod though – just tweaking renderer config files. It’s basically just adding a filter to the output. There was a set of community made mod tools but last time I looked you had to sign up to a paid forum to get them. also they were pretty limited in scope.

          • Premium User Badge

            HermitUK says:

            Editing the ini files is more than was possible at launch, though. All the files are encrypted because the game used the same values for SP and MP (so increasing SP weapon damage would increase that player’s weapon in MP as well).

            I still suspect it’s a bit late, but this sort of poking around with values is how STALKER modding got started.

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            It was going to have co-op, but the feature got cut due to time restraints.

            FC2 wasn’t perfect, but ti was damn fun in what it did. I still feel that it had some of the best firefights ever in a FPS. Throwing a molotov into a base with ammo supplies and watching the bullets cook off never got old to me. Flawed in so many ways, but so very exceptional so many others.

            I’m still looking forward to FC3. Day-one buy for me. Well, unless they put an always-online requirement. I don’t do that dance.

        • Guvornator says:

          I think it really needed, and was possibly intended to have, a gang dynamic a la GTA 2. I can understand why people are shooting at me when I approach certain check points, but why, if I’m working for one of 2 powerful warlords, is EVERYONE shooting at me at EVERY checkpoint. it just seemed like a bit of a bodge.

          • roryok says:

            exactly. It was like there were three factions in the world: the UFLL and the APR, who controlled the towns and various facilities in the country, and a third unnamed faction of nutcases who controlled all the checkpoints in between.

          • Mistabashi says:

            It was more like there actually weren’t any factions at all. Even the supposed faction leaders seemed painfully aware of that while giving you the missions, it’s almost like they were apologising for the designers.

            A fun game regardless if you can get past it’s problems, but it really seemed like they had big ideas but ran out of time to actually make them happen.

          • Guvornator says:

            “…and don’t forget, you’re on your own out there.”
            “Why?”
            “…um…magic?”
            “Riiiight. But won’t that mean I’ll have to kill all your troops?”
            “Yeah, but there will be another lot along in a minute, don’t worry about it – just take these diamonds I am giving you at the start of the mission despite having no guarantees that you’ll do what you say you will and get the hell out of my office…”

        • terry says:

          I’m pretty sure gibbed was working on this a while back, never saw what came of the patch though.

      • Guvornator says:

        Loved the atmosphere, loved the shooting and could get get past the obvious shortcuts. It wasn’t a finished game come release day, and I don’t just mean bugs – I think there were entire dynamics that were left out. It almost felt like the money ran out and they had to consolidate what they had. Everyone rightfully got on it’s back due to the sheer shoddiness of it’s quality control in release, but I’d rather play it than any Modern Warfare game.

        • roryok says:

          Everyone rightfully got on it’s back due to the sheer shoddiness of it’s quality control in release

          Was it really that buggy? It needed some tweaking and it was missing that faction dynamic, but don’t remember any actual tech issues with the game.

          • Guvornator says:

            Things you did at the start would prevent your progress 50% of the way through. That’s pretty huge. I also remember mission triggers not working, multi-story jeeps and some weird physics stuff. That was pretty much all sorted by patches…over a year later. But I thought it was worth waiting for to finish it.

  6. Hakkesshu says:

    I always thought it was weird that he joined Lucasarts, considering what an utter, nigh-irreparable mess they’ve made of their games division over there.

    I hope we’ll actually get to see what he was working on someday.

    • Guvornator says:

      It’s sad. I’m old enough to remember when Lucasarts games were the business. Here’s a hint to them – make X-wing and Tie-Fighter again, changing nothing but the graphics.

      • pilouuuu says:

        Back then they were THE business, now they’re just BUSINESS…

      • Zenicetus says:

        A graphics-only update of Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe would also be great. But they won’t do it.

        I’m guessing it’s the opposite problem from a typical indie studio. They have so much money floating around the company, that they can fool around endlessly with projects that never get off the ground, and nobody cares.

  7. Unrein says:

    Judging by Hocking’s blog, Far Cry 2 and his tweets, this guy sure talks the talk but so far hasn’t walked the walk. Also, writing checks that his ass (so far) can’t cash.

    • Jimbo says:

      Far Cry 2 walked the walk. Oh, the divisiveness of it all.

      • Unrein says:

        I liked 50% of Far Cry 2. 50% because I always get terribly, terribly bored with the game and stop when you get to the second map. I loved the shooting and the player actions tied to animations (like digging a bullet out of your leg or looking at a map), but the world and the story are awfully mediocre. The gameplay also becomes tedious with its repetitiveness and the lack of ways to interact with the environment other than destruction (no neutral/friendly NPCs, infinite soldiers at guard posts). The few neutral/friendly NPCs are formulaic and boring, and the Jackal is nothing but a banal cliche dispenser.

        Comparing that to all the grand things he talks about in his blogs and the way he dismisses other mainstream games, I really do not see the walk.

      • MikoSquiz says:

        As an immersive environment it was wonderful. As a game, it was a hideous failure. Enjoyable as a root canal.

        • Dominic White says:

          As a game, it was probably the most consistently enjoyable shooter I’ve played in ages. Yes, you were constantly threatened – that is because it’s an FPS. A game where you shoot people, and that shooting was brilliant.

          As an immersive environment, I thought it wasn’t a patch on STALKER. The environment felt more like Morrowind, with all the action happening down narrow mountain paths and valleys. Yes, the african scenery was lovely in places, but immersive? Not really.

        • roryok says:

          ever had root canal?

    • Salt says:

      I sadly agree. I first heard about Far Cry 2 from reading Clint Hocking’s blog and from that was ready for it to do amazing things with narrative, emergence, and all those words that give one hope.

      I quite enjoyed the game as a shooter, but with regards to what I think Hocking was trying for it just failed. I felt no attachment to nor belief in any of the characters. They all just felt like especially bizarre quest giving robots with malfunctioning speech units.

      • Yosharian says:

        I feel like that with regard to so many games these days, it feels like developers have forgotten/never learnt about this stuff

    • Stinkfinger75 says:

      The first three Splinter Cells are pretty impressive in my opinion. I would even put Chaos Theory in the discussion for one of the best games ever made. It was a three headed beast, great campaign, co-op way before co-op was cool, and an incredibly innovative Spies vs Mercs adversarial multiplayer mode which is yet to be duplicated by anyone (anyone, please duplicate this).

  8. wodin says:

    Seems to me like being a (big name) game developer is the only job you can spend two years in getting paid and yet do nothing…and still get high praise…

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Novelist, director, etc. Novelists can work on books for decades and never release them, and they still get praise for their work.

      And to state the fucking obvious, rightfully so.

      • Ultra Superior says:

        Like you Mr. Kieron. Please write more warhammer.

      • PopeJamal says:

        Are you serious, or is that “Sarcasm”? I’m American, so I can’t tell the difference.

        • Ultra Superior says:

          I believe Mr. Kieron is dead-serious. For in the grim darkness of the far future, novelists, directors and KG sit on the golden throne of Terra, doing nothing, yet receiving high praise by the untold billions.

      • wodin says:

        A director doesn’t get employed by a film company to do nothing though does he? Also a novelist I expect has to get drafts in off their book on set deadlines..yet big game developers seem to do nothing…unless what they did was utter garbage and kept secret? I’ve read a few times where a developer went to a big studio, produced nothing then moved on a few years later..what pray tell did they do at these studios? Do they sit at a desk trying to look busy but are really learning the art of origarmi?

        • Ultra Superior says:

          You have a point. Novelists and directors may live off their past works, getting some sales % being authors.

          Game devs get employed to make and ship something. Often they fail, burning investors’ money.
          That’s a sad reality.

          Mr. Kieron now surely regrets his outburst as he most certainly realizes that reading RPS and not writing no warhammer is a waste of his time and his employer’s money.

          • Kieron Gillen says:

            Games Workshop never paid me, Ultra Superior. I did it for the love. The love, I tell you.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            Oh no. Please don’t ruin yet another of my few remaining fantasies. I’m genuinely saddened by that :(

            Although you might think me being all unfunnily sarcastic, I LOVE (love > money) Warhammer. I think that WH40K desperately needs better writers. There are but few… including KG and Dan Abnett.

            The rest of black library is mostly tragic. Good writers = good stuff = good WH40K games.

            Too bad. Too bad GW often act… against the greater good of their IPs. Like not paying good writers to stay.

        • Kieron Gillen says:

          I’m sorry – I didn’t realise you *literally* thought developers who are at a company who don’t release a game when they’re working there have done nothing for all the time they were there. I thought you meant it in the “a developer can have not released a game for years, and still get respect” way.

          (Which is a common enough opinion in gaming circles that I roll my eyes at it. Which you didn’t mean. So forget it.)

          The reason I didn’t think you literally meant it is that your facts are wayyyy off. Modern AAA Games take four years to make. If you leave after two years for whatever reason, clearly a game won’t have come out. Most likely the game you were working on won’t even be *announced* two years into development. So everything you did will be entirely unknown to the outside world. And that’s not going into all the other things that can go wrong, like the game being canned or whatever. Of course he was doing something.

          To use a really basic metaphor, the internet tells me WWII battleships took 3 years to make. You’re accusing a welder who spent a year and a half welding the fucker together as basically doing nothing, because there’s no finished battleship for you to point at. Some jobs just take time.

          (Er… imagine he was working on some kind of secret battleship.)

          In terms of the respect bit of your point, in the case of Hocking – and other developers in a similar position – they get respect on their previous work, which segues into the writer/director/other-creative kind of thing.

  9. Heliocentric says:

    Clint Hocking is quite possibly my favourite of the disbanded Olympic sports.

    • GallonOfAlan says:

      It’s ridiculous that synchronised swimming is still in, and clint hocking is gone.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      It’s coming back in Rio 2016 in the form of Beach Clint Hocking, which is identical to Association Clint Hocking in every respect bar the requirement for all players to wear inflatable top hats.

  10. KenTWOu says:

    …and bring back Michael Ironside instead.

    Unfortunately, It’s not going to happen. It seems like Michael Ironside is not interested in Splinter Cell anymore. Moreover he doesn’t like classic Splinter Cell formula – Sam Fisher is a government agent. Check out this old interview with him.

  11. Jason Moyer says:

    Far Cry 2 was brilliant. I don’t think it could be possible to do a better simulation of a quasi-wartorn African nation, including everyone being hostile, and the blood diamonds as currency was an awesome touch.

    I hope he lands on his feet with someone who will let him do whatever project he wants to do.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Dunno what your experience of quasi-wartorn African nations is, but when I see them on the news the thing that sticks out the most is all the fleeing refugees and starving villages, something that was oddly absent from the game.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Maybe if you got your information from someplace other than a 30 second item on the news you might know why. ;)

      • Ultra Superior says:

        you didn’t play till the very end did you. there are your refugees.

        Shitty ending aside, a brilliant game indeed!!!

      • Jason Moyer says:

        Well, the game seems to pull its fake setting from a lot of African civil wars, which have been numerous as of late, but the two that I immediately associate the setting with are Sierra Leone and Rwanda, and I’d imagine being a non-native (an armed, mercenary non-native) and entering either of those countries during those wars wouldn’t have gotten you much in the way of a welcome beyond a hail of bullets.

  12. Dances to Podcasts says:

    The entire Star Wars franchise needs to go away for a while. After three decades of an overload of movies, games, cartoons, toys and whatever else it’s been milked utterly dry. Go away and then come back reinvented and reinterpreted, I say.

  13. Arglebargle says:

    Pffft. FC2 was an awful, awful failure. Awfulness x extra, in part, because with a few changes it could have been great. Interviews that I have been able to read said that they were told about a bunch of the games problems in beta, but it was just too difficult to fix for release. Ugh. And that’s without some of their flawed premises that got in the way of gameplay or atmosphere.

    If Far Cry 2 had had a mod kit released, it would probably still be selling well today.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Far Cry 2 was a failure because people were expecting Far Cry 1.2, and they got something else. The amount of sheer hatred FC2 still gets from butthurt FC1 fanboys still boggles my brain.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Since I didn’t play FC1 before FC2, I can’t claim that for myself. It was bad because elements were poorly done, unnecessarily.

        Good parts aside, major screwy decisions were made. Doesn’t mean you can’t like it though.

  14. Eight Rooks says:

    I’m very glad I got to play Far Cry 2, and it remains one of my favourite virtual landscapes I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. At the same time I bloody despise the game, and feel very little bar contempt for Clint Hocking’s empty posturing because of the utter waste of potential it represents and the complete failure to do anything meaningful with his grand ideas for narrative design beyond interesting ways to kill people. Buddies were pointless, dull, and poorly written. Choice of any kind – emergent or scripted – was meaningless beyond moment-to-moment survival, and often of very little import even then. The setting could have been anywhere – other than guns breaking more often and having to do a lot of fast travelling/wandering around it represents nothing different to the vast majority of triple-A open world shooters, as in a giant, immutable hedge maze full of angry people who shoot you on sight. And on, and on – for all its flaws, plot holes and linearity Spec Ops: The Line does a vastly better job of cribbing from Heart of Darkness.

    And Far Cry 2 was going to be so god damned awesome. I still have the old issue of Edge where he talked about how keeping your malaria under control was going to force you to choose between altruism and ruthless, mercenary pragmatism, and how you could almost literally turn into a monster, wracked by disease, taking it out on helpless bystanders just to stay alive but ending up feared and respected – or do the ‘right’ thing and be the hero, but have the road to victory be that much harder. The idea of that kind of storyline woven around a STALKER-esque open world had me practically foaming at the mouth, and the idiot neutered thing we ended up with instead was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had from the medium in ages. Yes, yes, games often don’t live up to the original pitch, but when there’s this much of a gulf between the two… I’m sorry, I’ve read article after article of Hocking’s (because, you know, I honestly would like to understand what I’m not getting), and I’ve started to suspect that while he’s not without smarts on the whole he doesn’t understand the real implications of half the stuff that comes out of his mouth. At least. I have little to no interest in what he does next, and I’m only venting on an article like this because this is one of those times where people’s sheer adulation for the man despite the lack of anything to justify it in his back catalogue is so baffling as to make steam come out of my ears. Steam.

    Anyhow. Carry on.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Preach it, brother!

    • PopeJamal says:

      Very well stated. I agree wholeheartedly.

      I only recently played STALKER (yeah, I know) and now I realize what FC2 was trying to do in certain areas and how far from the target they actually were.

  15. Hastur says:

    Far Cry 2 is a shining example of the perfect Steam Sale game. I pay $50 for a game, it better be close to flawless. But for $10 I can forgive a lot of flaws to find that nugget of amazement.

    In Far Cry 2, it was the immersive environment. When I think back to my hours in that game, I can practically feel the sun on my face and the sweat on my forehead. It got a lot of little things so right, a lot of big things so wrong, but I feel like I got my money’s worth even if I set it aside for a time with a shrug.

    See also: Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed

    • Mistabashi says:

      Not sure about Assassin’s Creed (never played it), but the Mirror’s Edge comparison is quite apt. Both these games seemed to have big ideas behind them, and were supported by excellent visual design, but for the most part they simply didn’t live up to what was hinted at, although ME did break the mould a little more with it’s first-person platforming/freerunning (but repeatedly ruined it with standard first-person shooting, much like FC2).

      I’d like to think it was solely down to time and publisher constraints, but it’s quite likely a big factor was the difficulty of creating a truly ‘different’ game, especially at the kind of level where AAA production values are required. Still, FC2 in particular seemed like it wasn’t that far off being a great game – all the groundwork was there, they just fell short where it really mattered.