Avalanche’s chaos-crazy developers tell us how extreme weather and creative destruction are the order of the day in Just Cause 4
How has the new Apex engine helped development and what can we expect from it?
Francesco Antolini, game director: Each of the new features that Just Cause 4 offers wouldn’t have been possible without it, from the new destruction model and stunting mechanics to wind and extreme weather itself. But first and foremost, it makes for a game that’s much more stable in performance than its predecessor.
Apart from the new game mechanics, how is JustCause4 different from previous games?
Francesco: The first thing you’ll notice is that we’ve stepped away from the ‘shopping list’ style of the previous two titles to offer a system that gives players greater autonomy, and at the same time is grounded in Solis’ narrative and Rico’s motivations. Solis itself is a world that’s quite different from the previous games: we’re back to South America, but with a level of detail and an amount of variety a Just Cause has never seen before. My favourite novelty is probably the new destruction model: we started just blowing up vehicles in Just Cause; we got Chaos Objects in Just Cause 2, with destruction states rendered through the good old model swap; we approached physicalised destruction in Just Cause 3, but it’s only with Just Cause 4 that we could fully realise that vision. In Just Cause 3, even if Chaos Objects are composed by different physicalised parts, once they get damage they ignite a self-destruction sequence. That was something we had to do because of technical limitations, so that you could never, say, take that giant spherical fuel tank and roll it over a military base. We haven’t had those limitations any more with Just Cause 4, and the result is what I call ‘play-with-me-destruction’: a set of props and destructibles that can really be used in creative ways; destruction goes beyond simple destruction to offer emergent gameplay opportunities. One of my favourites is the classic horizontal fuel tank: in Just Cause 3 it exploded, in Just Cause 4 it can propel itself forward, effectively becoming a rocket, wreaking havoc all along its path.
What did you learn from the previous games?
Francesco: I joined Avalanche as lead designer on Just Cause 3, contributing to the opening of the then-new New York studio. The biggest learning from that experience has been in regards to processes and ways to work together – and that getting that right is a first, fundamental step in making a studio a great studio. History can confirm that: successful and long-living studios are usually defined by a core team that has stuck together through the years, and sometimes by the fact that that team has focused on perfecting a single original IP or idea. The fact that Just Cause 4 packs more than four times
the scope and far deeper mechanics of its predecessor tells us a lot about how changes in processes and mindset can actually benefit both creativity and production.
Where does Rico get the motivation to take on all these dictators and mercenaries?
Omar Shakir, narrative director: Rico started as a victim of a series of events that were out of his control. Intrinsically, he can’t stop himself from getting involved in situations where he sees others are victims.Because he tends to solve problems in loud ways this often draws the ire of dictators.They see Rico as the ultimate challenge. If they can stop him, then they can prove they are in control.In Just Cause 4, we dive into the relationship between Rico’s rebellious nature and those that seek to control him.Beyond the symbolic good guy vs bad guy dynamic, we discover just how intertwined their fates are.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome during development?
Niklas Norin, lead AI designer: The introduction of extreme weather. Not only the implementation of that in isolation, which is an achievement on its own, but to make it work with all the other systems in the game. What happens if a tornado hits a front-line battle? How do car chases work in the sandstorm? Having a game with so many systems that can already be combined in different ways makes it a big challenge to introduce something that basically interacts with all of them.
What can you tell us about Gabriela Morales?
Omar: Gabriela represents Rico’s antithesis. Whereas the rebel with a cause fights without thinking about consequences, there must also be someone that fights the rebel because of the chaos they cause.The funny thing about Rico and Gabriela is they both want the same thing. Presenting Rico with an enemy that he can’t just outright hate is very disarming for him.It’s easier to fight with someone who deserves it, it’s harder when you have to fight against someone that, any other day of the week, you might actually agree with.How that resolves, well – you’ll just have to play the game.
What were the challenges in creating Solis?
Jacopo Antonucci, world designer: We knew that we wanted to offer more variety than in previous titles, while also maintaining a large map that catered for the speed of the Just Cause franchise. In order for us to fully realise our vision we incorporated a procedural- generation pipeline when creating our landscapes. By thoroughly researching each of these landscapes we were able to mimic the essence of each and every environment at a very quick pace, something we haven’t been able to do before. Knowing the gameplay style of Just Cause the challenge lay in creating a landscape that was interesting both from the sky as well as from the ground, the former preferring big and dramatic undulation and the latter leaning more towards a toned down approach.
Apart from the change of landscape, how will each biome differ from the next?
Jacopo: Each biome offers a unique experience for the player, both in terms of visual variety but also in terms of how it changes the player’s interaction with the game. Rivers and waterfalls snake across the rainforest, encouraging traversal by boat and the drastic high peaks of the mountain biome are better suited for traversal by air, for example. Paired with each biome housing their own Extreme Weather event the player will never see the same thing twice.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done or seen someone do using the new tools and abilities?
Joshua Jay Espinosa, technical designer: One time, I saw a player get into a bit of trouble with the Black Hand on a bridge. They set their Air Lifters to have Explosive Hydrogen Gas and lined the bridge with them. When the Black Hand came rushing in, the player released all the tethers causing the Lifters to explode and blow up the vehicles. The explosion caused the bridge to collapse and the trailing Black Hand all drove off the bridge and into the water. It was wild!
“Destruction goes beyond simple destruction to offer emergent gameplay opportunity”