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Interview

Just Cause 2: Lead Designer Interview

IncGamers took some time out to go and see Just Cause 2 recently at Avalanche, and was lucky enough to chat with the game’s lead designer Peter Johansson.We saw Just Cause 2 at E3, and the big thing that we got from there was the vistas and the open-world, no loading times, no draw distances… how has that panned out?

At E3 we basically showed a part of a mission – actually the first mission that we finished in the game. We’ve been working on since then, filling the rest of the world with stuff to do, as that’s been one of the main priorities for us this time around: to really make sure that the game world is just packed with stuff for you to do.

That was a bit of a criticism from the first game.

That was the most important thing that we wanted to improve. More variety, more stuff to do into the game, so that’s why we put a lot of things in there and basically redesigned the mission structure  completely to give you, as a player, more freedom to work out your own path through the game. That’s been a really important area.

The open-world genre this year seems to be a big thing – Just Cause, Red Dead Redemption, and a few more. What defines Just Cause 2 and what makes it different?

I think it’s important for all the games in the genre to find their own style; their own flavour and their own direction, and we’re happy with how we’ve achieved that in Just Cause. We feel like we’ve injected some well-needed fun into the genre. That’s important, and we’re not taking ourselves too seriously so we can have these insane stunts and a lot more freedom than most other games in the genre, so that’s been an important area for us.

A lot of the focus today has been on the game itself, but also on the 3D gaming aspect. From a PC perspective, sometimes PC users feel like they’ve been short-changed with regards to games and DLC and release times. How important was it for you to get the PC community on board, and how important is 3D gaming to a PC user?

The PC version of the first game was a bit of a port, actually, so it maybe didn’t get the proper attention that it should’ve gotten, but this time around it was important for us to really create and take advantage of the features we could when it came to the PC version. Of course, you have normal, fully configurable controls, and stuff like that, but if you have a high-end PC you can really make the game look even better than you can get on the console – if you’ve paid a lot of money for a high-end PC, that’s what you’re after, right? Of course, the 3D stuff is really cool. It’s actually the first time today that I’ve played the final version of it. It’s really interesting, so it’s a great experience for me, as well, actually! [Laughs] Of course, it’s still a hardcore thing, the 3D. It’s niche. I think it’s going to take a little while before it becomes a huge market, but it was important for us, as we want to be at the forefront of technology with our engine and it was something we were really keen to jump onto and try out.

Is the PC version built from scratch for the PC?

It’s based on the same engine – the Avalanche engine – which we can port to PC, but then it takes advantage of the benefits offered by high-end PCs as well. Use of shaders, the view distance – we can get objects at even higher detail at longer distances. We can have higher resolution shadows as well, and of course we have the new Nvidia features like the water, GPU accelerator, and it looks really, really cool. Depth of field stuff… There’s some really cool things there that will only work on PC. That’s how our engine works: we adapt it to every game we do. We’re not using the exact same engine; we adapt it for the game, and for PC we can adapt it to take advantage of the PC.

Will there be any dedicated or exclusive stuff for PC users that console users won’t get?

Content-wise it’s going to be the same.

You’ve presumably thought about DLC already. Will PC users be getting the same DLC?

I’m not allowed to talk about DLC stuff, unfortunately. We have the Premium DLC that you get from pre-ordering the game…

But you have got a DLC strategy?

Yes. We’re going to offer a lot of DLC after release.

Is there anything in the game that you wanted to put in initially that you had to take out because there’s no room, no time, or the technology wasn’t advanced enough…?

There’s always stuff like that when you finish a game, and I think that’s really interesting with Just Cause, because it gives us as developers a lot of freedom to come up with all sorts of insane ideas.

You haven’t answered my question…

[Laughs] I know, I was trying to dodge it! There are a lot of different ideas, of course. A bunch of ideas.

Just the one. The one that you maybe really wanted to see…

There’s more stuff that we can do community-wise, with our online presence. A lot of people ask about multiplayer; we’re not doing it for Just Cause 2 because we felt it was extremely important for us to make the best single-player core experience that we could, because otherwise there would be no use doing a multiplayer version anyway – people would just try it out and then move onto other games. I think there, we have an area we can improve, so we have a bunch of ideas. If I were to brainstorm a list, I could get a huge list in ten minutes which is really cool and which I think speaks to the strength of the franchise.

{PAGE TITLE=Just Cause 2: Lead Designer Interview – Page 2}So the multiplayer is something you’d want to do?

I think even online presence as a concept as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be multiplayer. The way you play it and share with your friends, and see what your friends are doing, compare your records to friends – stuff like that is also really interesting.

Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example of a single-player game that has no multiplayer, but a connection that’s done really well. Obviously, if you have a riveting story and an environment in which you can play in, you’ve got everything –

It can feel tacked on, and it’s important to us that we don’t just put it in there just because it’s a hot thing to do and just because everyone expects it to be there, and I think a lot of people who ask about it, also – they wouldn’t want to play it unless it was really, really great. When we have this strong foundation that we have now for Just Cause 2, then we’ll see what happens in the future and then we’ll feel more comfortable about doing it.

As far as the story goes, I presume there’s scope for a Just Cause 3?

[Laughs] I guess the Agency in Just Cause is probably open to operate anywhere in the world where there’s work to do, so we’ll see what happens in the future!

Where would you like to go? It’s becoming very difficult to have an original setting now. Panau is beautiful, it’s great, but we saw it in the initial Far Cry, the first Just Cause… and now we’ve got Modern Warfare which has done deserts and snow, and Operation Flashpoint – where can you go next?

I’m not sure at the moment, but it’s important for us to find a setting that works well as a playground for you to have all this fun, where you can use all these fun tools that you have at your disposal – the grappling hook, the parachute, all these different vehicles. That’s the important thing: to find a setting that allows you to have a lot of fun. Where that may be, I don’t know, at the moment?

I’d suggest… Madagascar?

Perhaps! We’ll see. I was speaking to some Australian guys, actually, who were saying our next game should be in Australia.

Why was it important to bring Rico back? He was a bit bland in the first game.

He was. You probably noticed he’s changed quite a bit, and why we did that is because we wanted him to be a bit more rugged, and change him a bit from the first game. In the first game he was a bit like a secret agent, and that’s not the way he does things. He goes in with a bang, and causes a lot of chaos, and that’s why we redesigned him completely. His look should reflect that a bit more.

Finally, your favourite thing about the game itself? What, for you, is the killer feature?

I definitely think it’s the way that you can develop your own style while playing it. I can watch a video of someone else playing it, and I can immediately tell that it’s not me playing it, because I would do it in a different way. That’s really interesting. A lot of people start developing their own style, start talking to each other – “I did it this way, how did you do it?” “Oh, I used a helicopter!” – stuff like that. Even small things, and small decisions, that really have a huge impact in your experience.

The Avalanche engine looks incredible. Have you thought that Avalanche is something you could sell? Remedy has got its own engine for Alan Wake, which is incredible, and what seems to be happening now is that developers seem to be developing their own engines from scratch. Will you guys continue to develop the Avalanche engine, maybe to sell?

We’ll definitely continue to work on the engine, and improve on it a lot. That’s something that we do all the time – adapt it to different products. But we don’t have, in the immediate future, any plans for licensing. You should never say never, so we’ll see what happens in the future, but at the moment we have no immediate plans to sell it.

Is Just Cause 2 really your IP now, to keep, or are you going to work on other IPs?

We’re actually already working on other stuff at the moment. The IP, of course, is owned by Square Enix, so we’ll see what happens in the future.

Any hints?

You know how it is! [Laughs] We can’t talk about it at the moment. It’s going to be interesting stuff as well.

Open-world?

We’ll see what happens. We haven’t said that we’ll only work on open-world games. We’ll adapt the engine to whatever the requirements of that game are, so we’ll see what happens in the future. It’s going to be interesting. It’s not a puzzle game! [Laughs]See the video of this interview along with footage of the game, and clips from our interview with Nvidia’s Bea Longworth over on IGTV.

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