Skydiving into the swanky members only Hospital Club near London’s Covent Garden, we took some time out to find out a bit more about Rico Rodriguez’s second action-packed outing. Chewing the fat with Just Cause 2’s Lead Designer, Peter Johannson, we discussed creating chaos in the game’s huge open world, the importance of crafting an expansive island full of meaningful things to do and the opportunity for insane stunts using the improved grapple and parachute.
Strategy Informer: What were the biggest challenges you faced in building the sequel to Just Cause?
Peter Johannson: We all felt that after finishing Just Cause, there were a lot of things that we wanted to do and there was so much more potential, which is why we’re doing the sequel now. There are a lot of things we want to do with the franchise, so we sat down and started by taking another look at Just Cause. We then said to ourselves, ‘what do we want to take (from the first game), what is the core experience and where should we take it?
The key areas that we worked on were first and foremost the stunts, which we’ve taken to the next level using Rico’s main tools: the grappling hook and the parachute, and made it better integrated into everything you do, such as moving around and combat. It’s also more integrated into the missions. (We looked at) the mission structure, the whole structure of the game, giving more freedom to the player, making sure that the huge game world we have is actually filled with fun and meaningful stuff for you to do, so it’s filled with a lot of content – that was one thing we worked a lot on. The combat is another area that we worked a lot on, to improve it, make it more tactical, more challenging this time around. The aiming system and AI ties into that too.
Those were the main areas that we identified, that we wanted to improve and as you can see, we’ve done a lot.
Johannson: “…chaos is so important; it’s part of giving the player freedom.”
Petrol Stations are an obvious target for a well-aimed rocket…
Strategy Informer: What was the single biggest criticism levelled at the first game you felt needed addressing immediately?
Peter Johannson: Filling the world was the most important thing, because we have this huge world and it was important to make sure that you always see something interesting and you can get there and once you get there there’s something meaningful for you to do. That’s been the guideline for us throughout development, because we wanted to make sure that the world was filled with stuff to do and also less linear. If you have this huge game and it’s completely linear and there’s only ever one spot that’s of interest at any one time, then what’s the point?
Strategy Informer: There’s a surprising amount of detail in the game, especially for such a vast open world. How much time and effort was required to pack it all in?
Peter Johannson: A lot! Getting all of that detail in there is a lot of work because, basically all of the locations had to be made by hand if they were to provide good gameplay, so there’s a lot of hard work gone into each of these small settlements and locations. The engine allows us to create this huge world, so if you approach something from afar you can still see it, but less detailed. We scale that gradually as you get closer to that area and that allows us to create this detail. You can see it from the other side of the world, but you can still add a lot of detail once you get close, so it’s a really good engine. A lot of dedicated people worked really hard, (laughs) and it took a lot of effort!
Strategy Informer: What lessons have you learnt from other open-world games such as GTA IV, Saints Row and Mercenaries 2?
Peter Johannson: I think most of our lessons came from the first Just Cause. We had this engine and we’d created Just Cause, building the engine from the ground up, so we learnt a lot from that. We had quite a clear view of the areas where we wanted to improve the game and the pitfalls we wanted to avoid this time and that would be where the key areas of focus that I mentioned earlier came from. So, the main inspiration came from Just Cause 1, as we had a core experience that was really unique and we just wanted to take it further and improve.
Strategy Informer: If you were to single out one new feature in Just Cause 2 as your favourite, what would you choose?
Peter Johannson: It would have to be the way you can play around with the parachute and the grappling hook, which is all part of Rico’s character now, so it’s something you’ll use all the time. All of the cool, fun things you’ll discover you can do experimenting with it. It’s so fun, people in the office even now, keep doing new things and finding new ways to deal with certain situations just by using it. It’s really, really fun and addictive, I find myself entering a military base sometimes and I’ll just start playing around. It’s so fun and versatile.
Strategy Informer: We noticed in your presentation you used the word ‘chaos’ a lot. How important is creating chaos in Just Cause 2 and was it the main objective for the game?
Peter Johannson: (Laughs) It’s actually very important because the chaos system is the core ingredient of giving this freedom to the player and making it all feel meaningful. That’s the heart of everything basically and by causing this chaos, you’ll provoke reactions in the game world that enable you to reach your goals, which are the key missions that you’ll unlock by causing chaos. Then we have the faction missions and the free-roaming missions, so it’s all up to you how you create chaos, to meet your needs, to provoke the reactions in order to unearth a piece of information, or whatever it may be. That’s why chaos is so important; it’s part of giving the player freedom, filling the world and making all the stuff in there meaningful. It won’t only be side missions that enable you to buy a new weapon, they’ll also help you progress throughout the story, so everything you do is tightly integrated into the story and your progression through the game.
Strategy Informer: Just Cause 2 seems like a very light-hearted, OTT action game. Are there any strange or surreal extra features or secrets to discover?
Peter Johannson: Some of the ideas we’ve put into the game, when we first thought of them, we were like, ‘oh, man! Can we really do that?’ (Laughs) But then we put them in there because they’re so fun and we couldn’t resist it. We have a lot of really insane locations that you can discover; sometimes you’ll see them from afar. If you’re flying through the sky, you might see something while you’re up there and you’ll think, ‘hmm. Maybe I can get there’ and you can. Once you get there you’ll see what kind of location it is, so there’s really a lot of things to discover.
Strategy Informer: Are there any secret vehicles for players to find or unlock?
Peter Johannson: Yeah. There are actually over 100 vehicles in the game and if you explore all the locations you can find some really weird vehicles in certain spots. The game will keep track of all the different vehicles you’ve tried, so you have a vehicle database that checks off all of the vehicles you’ve driven. Each vehicle has a name and trying to drive them all to finish the list can be quite addictive! You’ll get like 5 out of 110 vehicles, which will make you want to keep on finding new vehicles and gradually you’ll get achievements as the metre fills up.
Tear down Panau’s propaganda piece by piece in any way you please.
Some of the game’s vistas are truly stunning, like this tiny beachside village. Raze it to the ground!
Strategy Informer: How complete was the build of the game we saw today then?
Peter Johannson: That’s an Alpha build actually, so we have a few months left until the fall release, 2009. Basically, we have the features in there, you can do all the things you want to do and we have a bit of polish and a bit more content to put into the game, so we’re working on that. And then we’re working with bugs and stuff like that as it’s important to us that we make it more bug free than the first game, while getting the technical polish in there.
Strategy Informer: Are there any plans for some post-launch DLC?
Peter Johannson: I can’t talk too much about that now, but we have the technology to do it, so we’ll see what happens in the future.