Just Cause 2 was one of the bigger surprises of E3. Starting off at the top of a beautiful cliff the E3 demo started with Rico Rodriguez jumping off a cliff and then falling down the mountain until he neared the ground and neatly parachuted to safety. From there we got to see some of the cool new acrobatics he can perform and the new tricks he has up his sleeve with his grappling weapon. Eager to learn more we pestered the folks representing the game for an interview and here's are the results.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
My name is Peter Johansson and I’m the lead game designer on the Just Cause 2 project. That means I do a lot of listening, a lot of talking and a lot of explaining why I’ve changed my mind about a particular feature in the game.
Can you give us the high level overview of the plot of the game? If I didn't play the first game will I be lost in Just Cause 2 or not?
The lead character and a few other characters return from the original Just Cause but you don’t need to know anything about it to enjoy Just Cause 2.
Rico Rodriguez, expert in regime change, is back into action and sent to the island nation of Panau in South East Asia on a somewhat different mission. His objective is to hunt down and kill his former boss, friend and mentor Tom Sheldon who has gone rogue and disappeared in Panau with top secret intel and several millions of agency cash.
Panau is run by a ruthless dictator and things soon escalate into a full scale international conflict so Rico can do what he does best, cause some loud and explosive chaos!
What was your process for developing the game? Do you start with the plot points of the game and evolve from there or do you approach it a different way?
For Just Cause 2, we started out by analyzing which areas we wanted to improve from the original game. We wanted to create a completely new and huge game world, but this time make sure to fill it with things to do and create a structure that gives the player an unprecedented freedom to explore and play around. We also wanted to improve combat to make it more challenging and tactical and we wanted to really take Rico’s signature stunts to the extreme.
How has the story changed/evolved since you started development?
The story has been developed gradually throughout the project and organically with the game design and mission design so they have all influence each other. The game takes place on the 400 square mile island of Panau, is it all jungles and beaches or will there be some variety? What areas of the world did you look for inspiration for Panau?
Panau is a much more varied game world. The setting for the first game was basically just jungles and beaches but the new Avalanche Engine has allowed us to create several different climate zones such as arctic, desert and tropical. So you can stand on one of those tropical paradise beaches and look past a jungle towards snowy mountains in the distance. You can then catch a helicopter and fly over the jungle and actually travel to those mountains without any interruption for loading. There are also gradual transitions between all climate zones and each is filled with settlements with their own distinct architecture.
Panau has influences from many different Asian cultures and since it’s run by a dictator who doesn’t care much about spending the tax income on healthcare you’ll find some truly magnificent architecture and installations… and then blow them to pieces.
Could you talk about some of the inspirations behind Rico Rodriguez and explain how he's changed since the first game?
Rico has learned many new tricks since the first game that have really transformed how you traverse the game world and battle enemies. You have a lot of freedom to develop your own style and learn to get a great flow of movement.
Your main tools are the enhanced parachute and grappling hook. The grapple is mounted to your left arm at all times and can be used to for example quickly reel yourself around or pull enemies off their feet or down from guard towers. It attaches to pretty much anything in the game world so there are no predetermined grapple points.
The parachute is now much more fun and controllable and it can be opened not only while freefalling but anytime you’re travelling above a certain speed, for example while driving a vehicle, climbing around on a vehicle and even while reeling in with the grappling hook. You can also use the grappling hook while parachuting to slingshot your way around.
Rico can now climb around on vehicles while firing his weapons so you’re going to see some really insane car chases.
But perhaps the coolest thing is the new dual hook that allows you to tether any two objects together. You can for example drag enemies behind vehicles; lift objects, vehicles or even enemies with a helicopter. You can also smash enemies together, suspend them on a wall or from a lamp post. The possibilities are endless and this is something you can really experiment and have fun with.
What lessons did you learn from the first game that you are applying to Just Cause 2? Where there certain limitations you had to deal with the first game that you don't have to now?
There are of course a lot of benefits in being able to develop the game without regard to last generation consoles but I think the most important lessons we learned is how to design a sandbox game in such a huge game world. How to fill the world with fun and meaningful content? How to give the player a lot of freedom to form his own path through the game? How to create missions that make better use of Rico’s many abilities?
What examples of fan reaction from the first game did you take into account when doing Just Cause 2?
We set out to improve all main areas that were criticized in the first game. The main ones were getting more content and variety into the game and improving combat.
You've made a significant overhaul to the grapple and parachute system, why did you make the change? We saw some pretty radical things at the E3 demo of the game, what's the craziest thing you've seen so far in the game? Any chance we'll see achievements/trophies tied to using the parachute and/or grappling hook in some unique way?
Rico can do some pretty insane new stunts and tricks with the grappling hook and parachute. Stunts and flamboyancy was already a part of the first game and for the sequel we wanted to take that a lot further. I think it’s important for all games to find their own identity and Just Cause 2 really feels and looks like no other game out there. After getting used to all the things you can do you start to miss those features in other games.
And yes, there are several achievements/trophies that are tied to some clever use of the grappling hook. A particular favorite of mine is the wrecking ball.
From what we've seen Just Cause 2 will have upgradable weapons, can you talk about what kinds of upgrades we can expect to see? How will this compare to the weapons systems in Borderlands and Army of Two?
There are quite a few different weapons in the game and the stats for all of them can be upgraded with weapon parts that you can receive as reward or collect around the game world. The weapon parts can be tracked by using a signal strength indicator and once collected, you hand them over to your black market contact for upgrades.
Missions are the core of any sandbox game, what kinds of things can we expect to be doing in the game? What kinds of problems do you run into designing missions for Sandbox games?
Rather than restricting the player, we want to give him freedom to try out almost anything at anytime. We really wanted to use the many possibilities for the player to our advantage. The emergent gameplay that occurs from this freedom creates some extremely cool situations. For example a car chase will actually play out differently each time and while it’s definitely a challenge for us as developers, it’s an important part of the sandbox experience we want the player to get when playing Just Cause 2.
Just Cause 2 doesn't have a release date yet but with the first half of 2010 being turned into what looks like a second holiday season. Would you consider delaying the release of the game so that you don't have nearly as much competition or is that a non-factor?
The release date is actually now set to March 23 in North America and March 26 in Europe. We’re not looking too much at what the competition is doing since we really feel that Just Cause 2 offers such a unique and fun experience that you can’t get in any other game.
Anything we missed that people should know about the game?
A cool thing with the freedom is that there are actually only a few missions that are completely mandatory for you to complete in order to complete the main story of the game. Each player will be able to form his own path through the game and it’s perfectly possible to do just a minimum amount of missions and instead explore Panau for alternative ways to cause chaos. After finishing the game, you will probably have played an almost completely different set of missions compared to your friend.
I'd like to thank Peter for taking the time to answer my questions as well as Matt and Brandon for putting up with my constant nagging about this interview.