The freedom of the sandbox, and size of the world, enables missions to be open ended, and there won’t be any set way to finish them. “Our missions aren’t scripted in a way that you can do anything in them that you can’t also do in the open world. But we will provide opportunities to do fun things, because we know where the player is going, and we can set cool things up.”
Even so, Lesterlin wants players to try things out and experiment, and says that watching QA testers has proven to him just how many ways there are to complete objectives. “They’ve finished them in very different ways.”
Just Cause 2 is a curio in that it’s still selling well to this day on PC. It regularly appears in the Steam charts, four years after it was first released. This is thanks to the modding community, and especially the famous mod that added multiplayer to the game.
“I started making games by modding,” says Lesterlin. “ I remember being eight and editing the text files of a game so there were swear words in it. Then I started trying to do things that were more advanced. It started out as cheating for me, seeing if I could find a way to break the game systems. Then I got into machinima. I actually saw a Just Cause 2 video where someone had used the game engine to make a film. It was set in the mountains at night, and it was like a thriller or a horror movie. I see that kind of inventiveness and I love it.”
Lesterlin considers it an honour that players want to spend their personal time messing with his games. “The guys who made the multiplayer mode spent two years on it, just because they loved it,” he tells me. “If we’re lucky enough to get that same kind of support with Just Cause 3, that would be great. We’re trying everything to make sure it’s possible.”
He also sees streaming and YouTube playing as potentially being a big part of the word-of-mouth success of Just Cause 3. “You’ve got Steam’s new streaming feature, and Just Cause 3 is just perfect for that. Everyone wants to watch an amazing Just Cause player. You see some of the things they do and you can’t believe it.”
“I can’t wait to watch that first person who uses the wingsuit to go from the top of the mountain, all the way down to the ocean while staying just a metre off the ground. You know that people are going to come up with these amazing routes, soaring through caves and out the other side. It’s like how people were flying planes upside down in Just Cause 2, two inches from the water, under every bridge, in one go.”
My favourite new feature is being able to tether multiple objects. Better yet, you can now control the tension of the tethers. Chased by a helicopter, I stuck a tether on it, and attached the other end to the ground. A squeeze of the tension button and it ploughed violently into the earth. I also had way too much fun attaching groups of NPCs to cars and pulling doughnuts, watching their bodies flail wildly through the air. The potential for physics-based mischief is even greater than it was in the last game.
The Avalanche team is huge, and spread over two cities, but they’re still very much an indie studio. I ask what their development process is, and how they come up with their ideas. “We have a very flat hierarchy,” Lesterlin says. “Everyone on the team, from QA and design to sound, art and tech... every single one of them knows games. We average quite a lot of years in the studio. We’re talking seven to ten years of making games, and some of the biggest games ever made. They know what makes a game great.”
As I’m playing, I stumble across a weapon that can lock onto multiple targets, then fire eight rockets at once. The havoc it causes is exhilarating, and a new ‘cascading destruction’ system means that blowing one thing up will likely cause a chain reaction that will blow another dozen things up. The explosions in Just Cause 2 were impressive, but these are on a whole other level. I spent some time planting C4 on the big oil rig base I mentioned earlier, then sat back and watched the whole thing fall to pieces. It’s not quite Red Faction levels of destructibility, but it’s close.
I mention the rocket gun to Lesterlin. “That was dreamed up by a coder. He came to us and said ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ And we instantly said ‘Yes! That has to go in the game!’ This is a highly collaborative project. It takes a lot of work to polish a game this size. Our people need to maintain their passion, and one of the ways you do that is by listening to their ideas.”
One of the biggest changes to the Just Cause formula in this new game is that you can now call in supply, weapon and vehicle drops at any time, without having to spend any money. Anyone who spent a virtual fortune on a plane in Just Cause 2, only to immediately slam it into the side of a mountain, will rejoice at this news. But to ensure the game doesn’t become too easy, Avalanche has also upped the difficulty and the reactivity of the AI.
“If you took an armoured, missilelaunching chopper into a base and spammed it with missiles without taking damage, it would take away the joy,” says Lesterlin. “So our AI guys have been working hard to balance that by introducing things like anti-air guns and heavy enemies. If you get into some tough military vehicle, we’ll send in RPG troops to counteract it. That way you constantly have to shift your priorities and tactics.