Posted November 11, 2015 by Andrew Cathie in Feature

Interview with Roland Lesterlin, Just Cause 3 – PAX Aus 2015

At PAX Australia 2015 I had the chance to sit down and have a chat with Roland Lesterlin, the director on Just Cause 3, and interrogate him about what decisions led to Avalanche Studios make what I now affectionately refer to as ‘Explosion Simulator 2015’.


Rocket Chainsaw: First of all, thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. So Just Cause 3, going by your LinkedIn, has been in development for about five years now?

Roland: No, Just Cause 2 came out around 5 years ago (2010, yeah), so that was just the end of one, but very few developers go straight into a new one, so we’ve been in development over 3 years now? Something like that.

RC: So with that, and obviously being a pretty big project, how do you keep people motivated throughout that time to keep working?

Roland: Threaten pain. (Laughs) Quote it!  *At this point Adam from PR who is sitting in on the interview got a little worried about the direction this was going*

We spend a lot of time laughing, and the game is so big, and there’s so many different systems that you develop inside of it, that you’re basically developing lots of games all within the same one. So there’s something fresh and new that you’re dealing with, be it player mechanics, wingsuiting and parachuting and wheeling around and all that, to the shoot mechanics and new weapons and new vehicles and water simulations, or physics, and destruction, and missions and story.

So every couple of months there’s some massive challenge that’s coming over the horizon and part of the job of directing is getting people excited about what’s next, because they’re already uber-talented at all their skillsets, the best designers and programmers and all that and you just want to get someone to pour their soul into something. So you just make sure that they’re always laughing and having a good time while they’re doing it, because for some reason when people are laughing within a dev, you kinda get that in the game a little bit.

RC: Definitely the opposite of a big soul-crushing developer where everyone kind of drops off and doesn’t care anymore, I can definitely get that.

Roland: And we’re not really that big of a team in comparison to other HUGE Triple A teams, so you really get to know everybody, you know their families, their wives and husbands and kids, and they come to the office and you try to keep a good balance between the amount of work you do vs. the amount of time you spend outside of the office. Avalanche Studios has had a strong focus on that for a while, you know, don’t burn people out because you’ve poured a lot of time and energy training them to understand the technology and the tools, you don’t want them disappearing, so you want them, uh, in love with their work so that that comes through in the games themselves.


RC: So one of the main talking points, I should say negative points for players of Just Cause 2 was that the world was so big but at times felt empty because of it. What are you doing to alleviate that in Just Cause 3?

Roland: So we built three regions that have three personalities within the world, and the first one is gonna be very dense, there’s lots of towns, lots of cities, lots of random encounters, you know, a very dense experience in that first area, and players who are getting to know how to navigate, move around, use vehicles, use weapons, get the construct of how you free settlements and destroy bases and all that, as well as play missions, that kind of gives you that tight, very dense experience.

Once you’ve mastered that first stage of toolsets, you’re ready to start exploring different ways of doing it, so our second region has a lot of caves and tunnels and bases built inside the cave systems and it feels like a very new experience as you’re exploring it, and there’s a lot of waterways so now there’s a lot more boats, and because we have a physicalized water system we can have jumps on the waves and stuff like that, and that kind of gives you a different vibe and it’s more of a water focus side.

The third region is really massive, so things are a bit further apart from each other but the reason is that you’re playing with jets and planes so you travel a lot faster, so you need that distance so you can buzz a jet and do a bombing run against a base and have enough time to turn that around and come back to do it again. We really thought about creating a personality between each one, and we also created a giant wall in our northern region, and it’s civilian and military below it, but north of it is all military, all the roads are military, which means if you get into even a small amount of conflict it can turn into a war very quickly. And that’s a very different feeling to the first place you started off in, in this beautiful coastal Mediterranean town.

RC: I think the thing that really put Just Cause 3 on my radar was the unlimited C4. Whose idea was that?

Roland: Well I think it’s one of those ideas where you’re shitting around and trying to figure out when do we want to give the player ammo? How do we want to give the ammo, how often, how big is the ammo cache for each weapon, how easy is it to get new weapons, where do you find them, because you kind of want an explosive element available all the time. And we’re like, well, if you wanna blow something up, and you ran out of RPGs and you don’t have any grenades on you, that’s kind of frustrating because it’s Just Cause and we really wanted to get out of the way of players having fun.

So it kind of came naturally to say Ok let’s turn off the ammo type for it, just make sure it always refills automatically, and the way we limit it is you have to PLACE the explosive, and by planting it, one gives you the ability to plant it exactly where you want, and the mods give you the ability to turn it into a booster, or a proximity mine, or whatever you want to turn it into, and you can really be like well I want to put it on this wall, or on this car, or on this person’s face, because that’s what you want to do! Once you level it up you can have up to five at once and then once you blow them up you can have your five again. And that kind of balances the game so it doesn’t become the ultimate strategy but it always makes you smile.

RC: As opposed to going to one town, putting C4 on everything and just blowing everything up.

Roland: Exactly. And part of the strategy that we want players to have is that they always have the plant explosive that I can always use, but I have an RPG and I have all these other tools, in the same way as the beginning of the game when you rebel drop a tank, you bring a tank over, it’ll take about 15 minutes before you can rebel drop the second tank. Now you can mod that and eventually make it zero so you can just bring tanks down but that’s later in the game when the balancing doesn’t matter so much and you’re just like, ‘Leave me alone and I just have a sandbox to just mess around in,’ and what we’ve found is that that just encourages people to drop the tank and then they’re like cool I love the tank, and then they want to drop something else and they’re like well, now I’m gonna drop a bus. You put C4 on the bus and use that, and the creativity that makes people smile is the variety as well. We’ve done so much variety in the game, it’s important that one strategy doesn’t become the only way to play.


RC: So with open world games, storytelling can be an issue, it can be challenging, because you don’t want to hem people in too much, but you also want them to follow your narrative. What have you done with Just Cause 3 to steer players?

Roland: When we started development we focussed more on the sandbox, more on player mechanics, wingsuiting, parachuting and grappling. We wanted that to be fun and funny and enjoyable and just…once players get an hour and a half into the game or so, a lot of them get caught up with grappling people to walls and cars and messing around, right? So to get them there, people are so used to playing games that kind of handhold them a little bit, and we had to create that experience for the non-Just Cause players, because we’re hoping that for Just Cause 3, we’ve learned our lessons from 1 and 2 and hopefully 3 brings all of that together and allows us to really make a massive, awesome world. And so in that experience let’s make a story that’s reminiscent of the 80s action movies, great one-liners and focusses on the characters as well, you get to meet Rico’s friends because he’s coming back to the place he grew up as a kid, and in coming back to that place you grew up you can also have friends that mess with you in the way that they used to mess with you when you were like, 12, and we all have those friends and there’s nothing you can do, there’s no amount of fame or anything else that comes into your life where that person’s gonna give a shit about it, right?

So you really wanna create a story that explores who Rico is. And Rico’s a bit stiff and “I’m an action hero” in the beginning, and by the end he’s kind of softened and gathered around him a group of people who join him in the revolution and help him overthrow the dictator. And we actually put a tiny element inside of it for those who want to get through the story where Rico actually cares what happens to this island after the dictator is deposed. And that’s a kind of an interesting twist that we haven’t really done before in the story, where Rico cares about the people, about the island, about the revolution for longer than just arriving to blow stuff up. Hopefully it works, hopefully people are enjoying it and having a few laughs during cut scenes.

RC: Well from everything I’ve seen so far, everyone seems to be really positive with what they’ve seen, I’ve seen a lot of big media sites talking about how much they’re looking forward to it.

Roland: We’ll that’s a pretty amazing feeling, you work so long and so hard on something and there’s always that thing of, “We like it here, and we all think it’s fun and funny and enjoying ourselves – are we just crazy and living in a little bubble and will it work?” and Square and Adam’s PR campaign and they were like “Let’s let YouTubers play a game early.” And if you’re a dev, the idea of letting your code out to people early is a frightening, crazy thing, cause you’re like “But, you know, I haven’t finished that” and “But I need to polish this corner” and then what we found was that people were laughing and having fun and you see the beginning of the mixture of the YouTube generation right not, there’s a whole group of people out there that are entertaining themselves through YouTube and just playing games and it’s fun watching people and this game is really built for that, it’s as enjoyable to watch as it is to play, and that’s pretty cool, so fingers crossed that people love it as much as we’ve loved making it, and we’ll see where it goes on December 1st.


Just Cause 3 will be available for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on December 1st.

Andrew Cathie

Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.


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