Just Cause 2 Interview: Peter Johansson and Fredrik Larsson

Developed by Avalanche Studios, Just Cause 2 finds Mr Rico Rodriguez returning to a much better, bulkier game world. Having unlimited access to a grapple hook, a parachute and a massive arsenal of death in a beautiful open-world is essentially a dream come true for most gamers.

To sweeten the pot this open-world goes out of its way to pat you on the back for all the destruction you cause. It's a lot of fun, but I came away with some questions that needed to be answered.

So I asked: What other Easter-eggs exist beyond the Lost island reference? Were fully destructible structures ever considered? Will Just Cause 2 ever end up on the Wii? How does the Heat system really work? Why on earth can't we purchase multiple items from the Black Market? I posed these and many more questions to Avalanche Studios.

Let's start with with Game Designer Peter Johansson:

What're the plans for Just Cause 2 DLC , and will any of it contain new islands?
There are plenty of DLC planned but unfortunately I cannot go into details of future DLC at the moment, sorry.

Will any of the DLC be free, if not what will it cost?
The first DLC item was released in all territories early April free of charge as a thank you to the community for their support of the game. We’ll continuously release more DLC at a very low cost and there may even be more free items available in the future.

Rockstar experienced less-than-expected sales with their DLC for Grand Theft Auto 4. Some believe this is due to the original games enormous amount of inconsumable content. Given the relative size of Just Cause 2 are there worries with the planned DLC performing similarly at Avalanche Studios?
Many of the coming DLC items for Just Cause 2 are tools that, for a very low price, immediately give you new ways to play around and experiment in the game world. So the DLC adds a new dimension to the core gameplay which makes it very accessible regardless of if you’ve already finished the story or not.

Besides the island dedicated to the TV show Lost I’m curious if there are any more hidden areas in the game you care to reveal or hint towards?
There are lots of hidden things to discover if you explore Panau and keep your eyes peeled. Hot air balloons, mechanical shark and, if you look hard enough, a bubble gun.

How is the game performing in the US in terms of sales?
I don’t have any sales numbers yet, but we’re very happy about the positive reception we’ve got from reviewers and the community so far.

In regards to the narrative, the game seems to walk the line between being serious and comedic--was this planned from the beginning or was it intended to lean more towards another direction?
Just Cause 2 allows you to do some insane over the top stunts. You have an unlimited amount of parachutes and a grappling hook that defies gravity simply because it makes the game more fun to play. At the same time, the theme of the story is quite serious in nature and some of the things that you can do in the game are really quite violent. Therefore, we felt that the overall tone of the game needed to be playful or it could all just end up being in bad taste.

Is any of the voice acting in the game meant to be humorous or ironic?
Yes, it’s meant to be lighthearted to fit in with the overall tone of the game.

Has work begun on Just Cause 3?
We have a lot of ideas for a sequel but nothing has been decided yet.

If Just Cause 3 is in the works, are there plans to include local and/or one-line coop?
There are no firm decisions yet about a sequel so naturally I can’t go into any details.

Were fully destructible buildings ever considered for the game?
Yes, we did some prototyping of it and our engine supports it but it was a bit too late to get it into the game since it also needs to fit into the logic of everything else that’s destructible. You also need to handle buildings that play an important part in missions etc. It’s something that really needs to be integrated into the design from the start.

Are there ever plans to bring Just Cause 2 to the Wii in any form?
There are no plans for that at the moment.

What's the theory--in terms of gameplay challenges for the player--behind the hybrid health system? Why combine both the regeneration and health pack mechanics instead of sticking to one?
In Just Cause 2 most enemies fire quick projectile attacks at you (i.e. bullets) and the accuracy of those attacks depends on your actions. If you stay exposed for too long, move or stand still then there’s always going to be a certain amount of randomness to it regardless of how well you play. Therefore a recharging system is suitable to ensure there’s a “shield” for those random hits and to give you time to react if your combat tactics arn’t up to scratch.

A fully recharging system usually punishes you very quickly with death since that forces you to stay on your toes at all times and constantly play tactically. Frequent deaths like that would be very frustrating in an open world game the size of Just Cause 2, so that’s why we opted for a hybrid system where instead of dying, you receive permanent damage that can only be recharged by health packs. That way combat can still be tactical and challenging, but not as hardcore or demanding as a pure shooter where each scenario can be directed in detail.

What was the biggest challenge for the team in terms of gameplay design?
I’d say that the biggest game design challenges when creating a non-linear open-world game the size of Just Cause 2 is to create a structure for the progression of the story, missions and rewards for the player.

Just Cause 2 already appears to have a fairly large fanbase due to its wacky departure from reality in terms of gameplay. For example falling 3000 feet without a parachute and suddenly using the grappling hook 50 feet above ground to pull yourself to safety. It's incredibly wacky, fun and rewarding trick to pull off! The first time I fully upgraded the Assault Rifle I expected it to shoot mini-missiles but nothing of the sort happened. It left me wondering why the weapons and vehicles don’t seem to follow suit.
We wanted the weapons to retain their basic properties even after upgrading, to keep the game balanced. But there’s a possibility for something like this for DLC.

Why doesn't Rico have the ability to grab on to ledges? In some cases it seems it would make it easier to navigate close quarter combat and environments.
It’s always a balancing act to decide where to spend development resources. A ledge grab system in such a large and varied game world as in Just Cause 2 is not a small undertaking, just consider the amount of QA required. And since Rico has the ability to traverse any object anyway with the grappling hook it was decided that those resources were better spent elsewhere.

Why is this process of purchasing items from the Black Market sandwiched in between two cut scenes? Why can’t we purchase multiple items at once?
I agree it would be nice to be able to purchase multiple items but unfortunately we couldn't implement it in time. It’s not simply a GUI issue, you must also consider where the items end up in the game world.

Was there ever an upgrade path considered for the grappling hook and parachute?
Yes, upgrading the grappling hook was considered but, again, it comes down to resources and time and how this would affect the overall balance of the game.

Have you had a chance to check out any of the community made mods like the Bolo patch? What are your thoughts on what they’ve added to the game?
Just Cause 2 has been a labor of love for us and all we want is for gamers everywhere to have fun with it so we really like the mods.

Can you explain in detail how the Heat system works? What conditions must be met to trip an alert? How does the meter cool?
Heat is triggered when you do certain actions that are considered hostile by the military, for example sabotaging their property or if you’re discovered in a restricted area. Heat starts to cool down if the military hasn’t seen you for a while.

The ability to run seems to be fairly ineffective. Was this designed specifically to not compete with the grapple system in any way?
The sprint is a bit quicker than the normal run but it’s mostly useful for very short distances. The grappling hook is always more effective if you want to get to anything that’s further away than about 20 meters.

How come some cutscenes can be skipped and some can't?
The Avalanche Engine constantly streams resources in and out of memory to enable the player to seamlessly navigate through the huge and detailed game world without interruption for loading. So when a cutscene is running, the engine streams resources for the next location and that’s why it can’t be skipped before loading is finished.

The other night I spent almost 2 hours trying to track down the final item in one of the larger cities to completely liberate it--it was exhaustive. I'm curious if it was ever considered by the team to assist the player in tracking down some of the more difficult items?
Resource items can be tracked by using the signal strength indicator in the upper left corner of the screen but there isn’t a similar system for other activities that count towards completion. There’s the military logo on items that can be sabotaged, but I agree they can sometimes be easy to miss in the larger locations.

A few systems to assist the player with this was considered, for example marking them out on the map or listing them in the database for each location so you know what to look for but that unfortunately couldn’t be implemented in time for release.

Moving on to Lead Programmer Fredrick Larsson:

What was the biggest technical challenge Avalanche Studios faced in developing Just Cause 2?
The biggest technical challenge would be the capitol city of Panau. We have always been good at drawing lots of trees and landscapes but we didn't have the necessary building blocks in our engine to be able to create the city when we started development.

The challenge was much harder than we thought it would be, mainly due to the fact that we couldn't cheat at all since the player is able to reach every surface of the city with the grappling hook.

Many hours of programming and optimization has been put into the city to make it acceptable as far as memory consumption and performance goes, but in the end it feels like it was worth it.

Why is the YouTube system that's present on the PS3 not integrated in the PC and X360 experiences?
The YouTube feature was actually included because Sony included it into their SDK and if it would have been a part of Microsoft’s XDK then we would have included it on the Xbox as well. I really hope that Microsoft includes it in the future because as an avid Xbox gamer I would really like to see that feature on the 360.

Did Avalanche Studios incorporate some kind of procedural shading and/or texture system to create the landscape or was it completely crafted by hand?
The landscape is partially handcrafted and partially procedurally generated. Artists 'paint' the landscape in an editor that we have created for them but instead of painting with colors they paint with heights and types. The type could for example be beach, arctic, desert or jungle and is the basis for how the landscape is generated.

It is not just the textures and shaders that are influenced by the type but also what kind of trees there are going to be and how sparse they are going to be placed, if there are going to be rocks on the ground and much more.

Was there strong debate amongst the team to exclude DX9/Windows XP support?
Actually there was very little debate regarding this decision. We all felt that it would steal too much focus from other features if we were to implement and support both DirectX9 and DirectX10. I am guessing that the reason we for choose DirectX10 is obvious for everybody that has played the game! We would never have been able to make it as beautiful on DirectX9.

The PC version of the game handles many things correctly like offering adjustable sliders for many graphical settings along with proper Xbox 360 controller support, but there is an issue that has cropped up with rebinding the ‘E’ key. Why can’t this be rebounded like other keys? Will that be changed in a future patch?
This is an annoying little bug that unfortunately got through our Q/A processes. If, or maybe rather when, we get to do another patch it will include a fix for this bug.


ramoseven said...

interesting intervieuw i like this game alot but after i play a long time i feel like i am a little bored but thats not a big problem i liked the first one alot and this one is even better only thing i wanted more is that there are more diff vihicles on the roads but the world is so damm big that i dont care that much thanks for this great game avalanche

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