Just Cause 2 will see the return of Rico Rodriguez - the gaming hero who's part CIA Black Op, part Hollywood stuntman. Last week we spoke to Peter Johansson, lead game designer at Avalanche, about unfulfilled potential, hidden brothels, and why the new game won't have a multiplayer mode.
VideoGamer.com: We liked the original Just Cause, but on the whole felt that it maybe wasn't as good as it could have been. How do you feel about it, and what have been the biggest things you took on board from the critical reaction?
Peter Johansson: That was our feeling as well, and that's why we wanted to make this sequel. It was a game that had so many good things in it and so much potential, but it really didn't get to that point. So when we began on Just Cause 2, we started by identifying the core experience of Just Cause 1 and where we wanted to take it. We had the stunts, and that was one area where we really wanted to take it to the next level, but we also wanted to integrate it more into everything you do. In Just Cause 1 you could do a lot of cool things, but it wasn't necessary to do them so people didn't use it. It was a bit too difficult. Now we've made it more integrated into everything by putting the grappling hook on your left arm - in Just Cause 1 you had to equip it once. So that's one thing - enhancing the stunts. Then also the combat, which we wanted to make more challenging and tactical - that's something we worked on a lot. And of course our game world, its structure and size... Just Cause 1 was a bit like going from story mission one to story mission two to story mission three. That made it a bit linear, and there was quite a lot of transportation between those missions. So we want to make sure that this game world is filled with fun and meaningful content, giving you a lot of freedom to choose what to do. That means that wherever you are, there will always be things close by that are important - not just some mission on the other side of the world. I guess those are the three main areas.
VideoGamer.com: There was some pretty crazy stuff in the demo we were just shown. What's going to be the weirdest or most unexpected thing we find?
PJ: You're going to see a lot of things. When you start experimenting with the things you can do with the grappling hook, that's really cool. But just now we only showed you a village and a military base. I can tell you that a lot of the missions you do are going to take place in some pretty insane locations. Baby Panay, the dictator of this world, really doesn't spend his money on healthcare and schools and stuff.
VideoGamer.com: Any examples?
PJ: You're going to see a massive spaceport, with huge rockets and stuff you can get to. In the first Just Cause we had this brothel inside a volcano, and there's a similar place in this game, called The Mile High club. And there's lot of variety to the locations, and of course we have the new climate cels that really add to that.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of open-world games, a lot of people look to GTA IV as being a game that raised the bar. Do you agree? What was its impact on the genre?
PJ: Well, the main influence on Just Cause 2 is actually Just Cause 1, because like you said, there was so much potential and so many things that we wanted to do. We don't really compare ourselves to GTA a lot, but they [Rockstar] do a lot of things very well. That experience of going around a living, breathing city... that was something they made better than anyone has ever done before. But it's such a different experience from Just Cause because we have this huge world and we really want to give the player the freedom to play around and experiment. The things you can do with Rico are so different. People talk about this genre like it's one big thing, but each game finds its own identity, I think.
VideoGamer.com : What do you think of the way they have handled DLC with GTA IV? Are you planning to offer new content for this game?
PJ: The DLC is nice! It's something that's important in the industry now, I think. It's definitely something a lot of people are doing. At the moment we're concentrating on the core experience and what we can do, but we have the ability to do DLC for Just Cause 2, so we'll see what happens in the future. Can't talk too much about it!
VideoGamer.com: What is your attitude to platform-specific DLC? Obviously it's something Eidos has done before.
PJ: I think DLC is good. The industry is moving so fast, and you know how it is. Even for you [journalists], you see every game that comes out... You're so hyped up for a game, but then even before it comes out you start thinking about the next game. I think that's definitely a problem in the industry, and I think DLC is an important way of making a game live longer, so to speak. I think that's important, because it's not fun when you've worked on a game for a few years and then suddenly it's like... everyone's hyped for it and then before you even see a release, people start looking at the next big thing. It's such a fast-moving industry, which is also part of the fun of course.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think that exclusive DLC slightly changes the nature of the competition between platforms? There's always been competition, but now even with a game that comes to both systems you might get a slightly different experience.
PR officer: Touchy area!
PJ: Yeah, it is. [Laughs.] I don't know, actually. For Just Cause 2 we... of course, we can't talk about downloadables now. Sorry, can I pass on that one? It's difficult. But to me I don't see a big reason... I mean, of course that's companies doing deals with each other. But as a developer I don't really see myself [as saying] "Oh, I want to do this exclusive to Sony," or "I want to do that exclusive to Microsoft". So that's based on business stuff. And of course if there are different features of one machine, then it would be interesting for us as developers to take advantage of that. And then there can sometimes be business stuff, that the other company doesn't want you to do that.
PR officer: I suppose you do want to get the game in as many hands as possible. You don't want to be limited to one console.
PJ: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of people talk about, "Oh, what's the difference between the different versions?" I can tell you with Just Cause 2 that they're going to be the same. It's not like one version is going to be inferior in any way. We've had two versions being developed in parallel, and even now they are the same.
VideoGamer.com: The first game didn't come to the PS3, so how have you found the development process on this project? Some developers say that they find it hard to work with.
PJ: Of course it's different, but I can't say that we found the PS3 to be inferior or had difficulty with it. Of course, when we started it was a bit of a learning experience, but soon enough we had everything up and running to the same level as the 360 version.
VideoGamer.com: Just to check, there are no plans for any form of multiplayer mode in Just Cause 2?
PJ: No, we're not doing multiplayer because we wanted to make sure that the core single-player experience was as good as we could. We wanted to get it right this time, so we didn't want multiplayer to put a limit to that.
VideoGamer.com: Fair enough. Was it something you ever considered?
PJ: Yeah. What we've done is that we've started talking about how it could be done in such a game, without limiting the core experience. We have a bunch of ideas, so no-one knows what will happen in the future. But for Just Cause 2, it's single-player only.
VideoGamer.com: So it could be part of Just Cause 3?
PJ: It's something that would be nice to pursue, yeah. If we know that we can do it to enhance an experience, yeah. Multiplayer can sometimes be something that we need to tack on, because it's the big thing to do. It's very difficult to do it right, and it costs a lot of money to do it right. If it ends up that there are a lot of other games that do it better, then why do you do it? I think it's important to do it when you know it can enhance the core experience.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think there's a lot of pressure to include multiplayer, that it's something people expect?
PJ: It can be, of course. Some people really like it, and it's fun! But you have to look at it from game to game. I don't think you can automatically say that all games need to be multiplayer because they have guns in them. If it's just tacked-on, it's just going to be something you try out once, and then you'll go back to Halo 3 or Gears of War 2. They did really well, and when we know we can do it really well we'll do it as well.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think multiplayer modes are "tacked-on" quite often?
PJ: I can say that there are games where it's probably not worth the resources that they put into it. I'd say that. And me as a player, personally, I would prefer that [the resources] were spent on improving the single-player game. If you don't have a good foundation, the multiplayer part isn't going to be good anyway. If it doesn't feel right, if the mechanics aren't there, you're not going to get great multiplayer.
VideoGamer.com: The first Just Cause used a lock-on system for combat. What made you decide to use free-aim in the sequel?
PJ: It was part of making the combat a bit more challenging and tactical. In Just Cause 1 there was full auto-aim, which basically did all the work for you. We didn't want to go that way, but it's a difficult balance because we need to keep the action fast, and if it's too hard to aim it becomes stop, aim, shoot. We now have quite a unique hybrid system that means you have a little bit of help. You always have control of your crosshair, but if you aim close to someone you'll get a bit of aiming assistance. The closer your manual aim, the better your accuracy will be. So skilled players will always get that reward on higher difficulty settings and on later enemies. So if you get this crosshair on top of the enemy's head... [takes aim at us with a pretend finger-gun]. You'll have to excuse me!
VideoGamer.com: That's okay!
PJ: I'll get a headshot by aiming at your head or a knee-shot by aiming at your knee, but the further away I am the worse my accuracy is going to be. So it's a system that helps you a bit and keeps the speed up, but that rewards you for skilful play.
VideoGamer.com: Okay, I have two more questions. Firstly, any demo plans?
PJ: I can't talk about it now, but we're looking into it.
VideoGamer.com: So there will be one?!
PJ: We'll see![Laughs.]
VideoGamer.com: Final question. How confident are you that this game is going to be bug-free? The original had quite a few problems.
PJ: Bug-free? I'm 100 per cent confident that it won't be! [Laughs.] No, I'm just kidding. The thing is, it was important for us to get this technical polish up to a higher level. And of course with Just Cause 1, we had developed the engine from the ground up, on the last generation consoles at the same time as current gen machines. So it was a different process, and now we can just take a step back and look at which specific areas we want to improve. It's been a lot more controlled a process this time around, and I think that ensures that we'll get a lot less bugs and a lot more technical polish. It's been very important to us.
VideoGamer.com: So... Will it be bug-free?
PJ:[Laughs.] No game is ever bug-free. But we're going to get rid of...
PR officer:...99.99 per cent!
PJ: Yeah, 99.99 per cent. You know, you ask a PR guy, they're going to say "Yes!" to that question. You ask a game designer, and you'll get, "Oh man! No, but there was so much else we wanted to do with it!". But yeah, we're going to get rid of the bugs.
VideoGamer.com: We're going to hold you to that!
Just Cause 2 will be released on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 later this year.