Dear Avalanche Studios,
Hi, I hope you’re all well. I wanted to get in touch to make a few requests about Just Cause 3.
Obviously you’re deep into development now, but with no fixed release date, I’m also sure there are many months left to go. So I hope I’m not too late with my requests. After I begged and begged and begged and begged that you not let the game get in the way of the fun during the run-up to Just Cause 2, you let the game get in the way of the fun in Just Cause 2, so it seems imperative that I get in touch now.
You guys are amazing. The spirit in which you create the Just Cause games is one that I desperately wish others would follow. Abandoning idiotic ambitions of “realism”, and replacing them instead with tools for pure, daft fun. “Infinite parachutes” is a phrase I imagine is written over the entrance to your office, emblematic of all that makes the series so special. One parachute is realistic, but offers a lot less potential for fun. Infinite parachutes is beyond ridiculous, and absolutely brilliant. Combined with infinite grappling hooks willing to grapple to almost any surface, and a huge, open island on which to blow shit up, everything is in place for so much entertainment.
And then you add in a story. And escalating difficulty.
Avalanche, Just Cause 3 doesn’t need a story. If the evidence of Just Cause and Just Cause 2 is anything to go by, you’re really, really terrible at writing stories. The flimsy, yet oh-so incessant narrative excuses for the fun are completely superfluous. I do not need to sit through hours of cutscenes, and have dreadful voice actors bark inane gibberish at me, to feel motivated to run about the island enjoying myself. Sure, there needs to be some sort of ultimate direction, a nebulous purpose to aim for, something about which to structure scripted missions, that we can ignore for as long as we want. But it should be where it belongs, in the background, keeping out of our way.
Just Cause is not, I’m afraid, going to be remembered alongside the works of Dostoevsky or Ingmar Bergman. School children of the future are not going to be studying its texts, before going to see live stage productions. Just Cause 3 is not going to feature a story that will be told around the post-apocalyptic campfires of 2019. If it is remembered at all, it will be for being the annoying stuff that got in the way of the fun. It doesn’t need to do that.
Learn the lesson that Ubisoft cannot, show them the way. Show them that creating a playground packed with joyful pleasure is not something that needs to be roped off, hidden behind construction walls, or with signs saying, “You must have completed THIS arbitrary portion of the story to ride”.
The stories we love in games like yours are the stories we create for ourselves. The madness that unfolds by the glory of the opportunities your games create. The barked banalities of some angry local warlord, and the snippy demands of a remote CIA agent, probably feel important to you, but they don’t to us. They’re your vanity, getting in the way of your game. Set yourselves, and us, free from it all.
And now to turn to difficulty. Games need to provide some challenge, certainly. But unfortunately something went a bit wrong a few years back when others tried to mimic Rockstar’s escalating police response system. In GTA, the point was that if you raised your scale of wanton destruction to certain levels, the city would respond in kind, eventually bringing your waged carnage to an abrupt end. But, importantly, usually with no penalty. Others took this system, and misunderstood it, misapplied it, such that it became a fun limiter. “Uh oh, you’re having too much fun at this point! We’d better send in three helicopters and ten tanks to stop you.” Rather than giving you more opportunity to blow more shit up, they were the authorities, shutting you down. And none got this more wrong than Just Cause 2.
By the later stages of the game, even on the easiest setting, just trying to take over a settlement saw players automatically raised to extremely high “heat” levels, such that impossible armies of red-hatted enemies poured on you, and ensured you weren’t able to enjoy yourself at all. It’s fun to shoot down/take over one helicopter responding to your antics. It’s miserable to see three of them and know that you absolutely cannot survive, as one will kill you while you take on another. And you’ll probably get a rocket launcher in the back of your head fired from one of thirty spawned soldiers, anyway.
Please, don’t do this in Just Cause 3. And if you do feel the need to implement a similar system, let it be meaningfully moderated by players who would rather be free to have a good time. Modders attempted to break through the unhelpful code of JC2 to fix this, but the game seemed to fight incredibly hard to stop such things – it’s worth recognising this strong desire in a huge portion of your customers, and acknowledging how people want to play your games.
It’s about fun! And you are so completely brilliant at creating it. And then you get all worried and start piling up boxes in front of it all in case anyone sees. Everyone wants to see! Games afford us this freedom, and they don’t need to behave like an overly busy swimming pool, handing out coloured wristbands and demanding, “Could all people with blue wristbands please stop having a good time.” We can stay in all day, and never need to share the floats or slides with anyone but our friends.
So please. Please please please. Please, in Just Cause 3, don’t let the game get in the way. Please.