Every now and again you play a game that knows precisely what it is, precisely what it wants to do and precisely what people expect of that. What's intriguing about Just Cause 3, however, is how people's expectations of the game are quite pared back — they just want to blow things up.
That's a bit of a relief for Roland Lesterlin, a game director at Avalanche Studios for Just Cause 3. He's in Australia right now taking Rico's open-world sandbox around the country.
I had a long chat with him just near Sydney's Redfern Station, an environment that Lesterlin seems like he would fit quite well in. If you can picture a slightly happier, warmer Edward Norton who happens to be chiefly responsible for a game whose entire premise revolves around dragging stuff into other stuff so you can blow everything up, that's what Lesterlin is like.
Partly because he was so relaxed, I was interested to know: are other developers jealous of him? After all, Just Cause 3 is one of the biggest releases of the next couple of months. It might not have the marketing push of a Fallout 4 or a Star Wars: Battlefront, but it is a major release all the same. But fans are much more tempered in what they expect Just Cause 3 to deliver, a luxury that isn't necessarily afforded to other people in the industry Lesterlin knows.
"That's a fun way to think about it, I've never thought about it," he replied. "I have some friends making some pretty big games, I've become pretty good friends with a lot of the game directors who are making various games within Square Enix as well. And you're right, there are probably different pressures on them than there are on us."
"Our job was, 'Don't mess up what was cool already'. That was kind of the baseline and if we can have a slightly better story, cool, but don't worry about it. More explosions. More destruction. More grapples. Big open world, make it beautiful, I want to mess around in it."
In a presentation before the interviews, Roland used a supply drop to call down a tractor, which he then later modified with nitrous oxide and a small jump that would have looked at place in Rocket League. It's remarkably silly, but then so is everything about Just Cause 3 — which is really one of its major selling points.
"Sure you can binge play the opening of the game if you want and play it for six hours, but you could also spend six hours playing with red barrels and blowing them up or something," the game director continued. "It's cathartic, and it's relaxing in a way. I know it's weird that an action game that has a lot of explosions is relaxing but it can be from a difficult day's work to just come in, mess around and just blow stuff up, and it felt that way a little with [Just Cause 2]."
"So I think we're lukcy that we've had a fanbase who has done a lot of incredible mods, kept JC2 alive, talked about it and written countless words on it, uploaded 12 million videos about it. It's insane. And that community has said, very vocally, this is a game that is just a game that makes me smile, I enjoy it. There should be a place on someone's game library that's just a game that makes you smile and then you gotta blow stuff up and you don't have to be ultra serious. I talk to a lot of the devs internally, as well as externally, and it reminds me of being 12 years old."
"Cliffs feel a little bigger than they should be, everything's a little larger than life because when you're 12 you're smaller than most people. I know there's some 12 year olds that aren't — but you get that sense of wonder in everything, everything's interesting, it's so easy to get excited about what's around you. And I think games are pretty special in that they can give you that feeling, a bit, and I think that's where we've been trying to get Just Cause 3 to feel [like]. But I never thought about some of other devs being like, you guys have it easy."
The studio has certainly gotten a lot of support from Square Enix. Just Cause 2 came out in early 2010, and until Mad Max shipped in September the studio's only main release for a long time was theHunter series of free-to-play hunting games.
Just Cause 3 has been in the works for over three years, but I couldn't see a hint of stress on Lesterlin's face. "When we were putting ads out to say, who wants to make Just Cause 3, the level of talent that showed up raising their hands saying, 'Yeah I wanna make Just Cause 3!' because it's the game a lot of devs love to play too," he said.
"I think it's because it's a bit of escapism, a bit of just joy and a lot of indie games are doing that. There's a lot of playfulness in the smaller games in the world that allow you to try out those sorts of things, but to have publishers and even the CEO of Avalanche say, yeah, go ahead, make a game that's just weird and insane and fun and yet do it over 3+ years with lots of people and lots of money is a pretty special thing to do."
Just Cause 3 is due out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on December 1. Lesterlin confirmed that the game would run on 1080p and 30 FPS on the PS4, and 900p and 30 FPS on the Xbox One, while PC users would be able to enjoy the game at any resolution or frame rate their computer was capable of.