This letter is two weeks behind. Sorta feel like a failure churning these out on time. When I picked this draft up a couple days ago from publishing, I reveled in how nice it is to write. I get in my head sometimes, amping up a dreadful atmosphere to writing these, but when I put “pen to paper” it’s enjoyable.
I also announced I was having a baby and quit my job. Kinda been going through some stuff. My sincerest apologies. I promise the rest of this letter is way more fun.
Game - Just Cause 3
Released on December 1, 2015
Developed by Avalanche Studios; Published by Square Enix
IGN’s Wiki Team - Jon Ryan, Shawn Saris (freelancer), and me
My contributions - Main Walkthrough with video, mapping some islands
Pay - $500; copy of the game provided by Square Enix via IGN
Time Spent Playing: 27 hours
Not to get ahead of myself, but this letter has an all-time favorite wiki story of mine. Just Cause 3 was a quintessential game to end 2015 on. My first full year of wiki work sailed into the new year with grapple hooks and hang gliders. This project alone may have involved nearly 200 emails, but it wasn’t anything some bullets, explosives, and good vibes couldn’t liberate my spirits from. After nearly an entire year in the marshes of Witcher and unraveling the twisty tales of decision-based narrative games, I was cut loose into a sandbox of freedom.
Considering this project, I felt like this tenth letter would be a great entry to explore the tools I used to make guides. In my career (and in this series of newsletters), I’m nine guides in. My freshman learning curve was leveling out into a sophomore stride. My workflow is fairly well established at this point. Some tools and processes I still use to this day; Others I’ve tweaked or thrown out altogether. I was cruising along in 2015 though and this is a perfect guide to explore that pace.
Before busting out the tool belt, I wanted to establish the guide and its nature. I was asked by my main IGN staffer Jon Ryan where my Hearts of Stone work was. Feeling good about where it was at, he asked if I’d be up for the task of helping with Just Cause 3. I was always down for more work and eagerly said yes.
The lack of a gaming PC hit me once again though. IGN did not have a PS4 copy early at the time and so they turned to another freelancer for earlier coverage—Shawn Saris.
Join me on a brief digression about PC gaming. I still don’t have a gaming PC in the year 2022. I’m comfortable with the idea of building one for capture and VR, but I still prefer a console for playing games. Sure, controller support is far better today than I recall it being in 2015. But by Bill, I am prefer the simplicity that a console can provide on a big ol’ TV.
Only having a MacBook Air cost me plenty of earlier access opportunities. But I think the tools I could use on macOS allowed me to make better guides 1. It also pushed me into guides I probably wouldn’t have done if I had been PC-focused early in my career. It’s easier and easier to play games these days wherever you want as a consumer, but I’d wager that PC is still king when it comes to press access.
Working with Shawn was the first time I ever worked with another freelancer in an official capacity. We outnumbered the full timers! I believe this was, in part, why we had so many emails. Shawn and I seemed to be far more communicative. Jon was on vacation during stretches of this gig. I think the freelance mindset opened up the channels to talk more. If Discord was a tool we could have used in 2015, I totally bet we would have lit that channel up. 2
A few days before release, IGN had a PS4 code they gave me. Since Jon and Shawn were tackling the big ticket items and articles, I was tasked with beating the story. Afterward, I’d help map the islands of Medici. It was all straightforward on my end of the guide. 3 The missions were direct. That made capture, writing, and producing procedural. These could be the best guides to work with since they are clear cut. Being on a team makes that even clearer.
While my job was clear, like a drawn out path on a treasure map, I still needed to use tools to get the job done. The core of guide writing revolves around capturing gameplay, editing said gameplay footage, and, of course, writing the darn thing. My tools (i.e. hardware and software) for accomplishing my job haven’t changed too much in the intervening years: They’ve mostly just gotten fancier. 4
Back in 2013, I got an Elgato Game Capture HD for my birthday. I was perusing the Apple Store and they were selling them. A little googling says that the Game Capture HD was released in 2012 in response to people pirating the company’s EyeTV software to capture gameplay. 5 I had no idea I was buying this capture card that close to its launch. I hadn’t heard about it at all; it was a true window shopping, serendipitous birthday whim.
I still own this particular card (and two others from Elgato). What makes this original capture device special is that it can capture analog video signals. They even came up with a way to circumvent the PS3’s built in HDCP (HD copyright protection) by including a component/D-Terminal adapter. All that makes this card still valuable to me in 2022.
But in 2015, I was just using 1080p30 HDMI capture straight to my MacBook Air. This card was my work horse until a friend gave me an extra HD60 he had lying around. I honestly don’t remember exactly when that was, but it sure wasn’t in 2015.
When recording gameplay in my early days, I would record in chunks. Each mission and the path to the next mission was one video. This would make organizing, editing, and finding specific moments more digestible. I could import the raw footage into my video editor, trim the fat (i.e. delete the deaths and wandering), and then export a clean and proper IGN video walkthrough.
Later on in my guide writing years, I’d incorporate writing down timestamps for interesting bits to even further narrow down moments in my footage. I could never use my computer while recording because of how demanding the process was on the system, especially the MacBook Air. The fans on that sucker could rip. Pen and paper was the way to take notes for post. I sill prefer it to this day.
With the hundreds of gigabytes of footage, I needed something to edit it all in. I’ve been a Final Cut Pro user for around a decade now. Always have enjoyed the interface and deep-integration with macOS. Cutting my teeth on FCPX instead of Adobe Premiere was the best decision my high school TV production class ever made for me.
The catch though was that everyone I worked with at IGN used Premiere. This led to me having to recreate certain effects and assets for myself. If it was me today, that’d be no sweat. Back in 2015, I was much more green around the gills. Some text transitions and effects weren’t quite up to snuff (personally). It’s probably a creator’s curse, you notice the flaws every time they run it back.
Over the years, professionals in the industry that I know or follow complain about Premiere crashing, failing, etc. far more often than they should. I’ve never had FCPX crash on me—at the very least during an export, which is the most crucial moment. 6 And Final Cut Pro is still a one time fee, instead of a subscription. Who knows how long that will last, but I still prefer buying software instead of renting it.
And speaking of buying software, my dad purchasing Scrivener as a word processor changed the way I write. The gist with Scrivener is that it allowed me to breakdown my huge writing tasks into manageable chunks. I wrote every guide, script, and major blog post in Scrivener. I wrote Chasing the Stick entirely in Scrivener, even produced the e-book version in the app too. It actually wasn’t until last year that I left Scrivener as my day-to-day writing app. Now I use Craft, which is ironically a subscription.
The appeal to me was simply how I could structure the project. I’d have folders nested inside folders with documents galore. Segmenting the work kept it readable without sprawling out all over my file system. 🛎️ I would take what I wrote in rich text and make copies in IGN’s flavor of Markdown / HTML. That way I could paste in the code editor or edit in Scrivener without losing everything because IGN’s backend wouldn’t save the page. Scrivener protected my work from technical hiccups all while giving me a flexible approach to a writing structure that made sense for me.
My favorite tool for this guide in particular was my PlayStation Vita.
The Vita flies in the face of recording gameplay. It wasn’t feasible to produce any mainline work from play time on the Vita. The power the Vita provided was enabling remote work for more tedious tasks. Is it really even remote work when I am using remote play?
This only happened once, maybe twice, but at some point during this project, my then girlfriend (now wife) Abby was sick. It was one of those times where I could bring soup and just spend time with her to help her feel better. I’d go to her house with my laptop and Vita in tow. When she fell asleep, I’d boot up the Vita in remote play with my PS4 back home.
Since I also helped map the game world, this proved to be an effective method. I could just glide around the game world, which wasn’t an intensive task, get to the next island on the map and write down the names, places, etc, for the wiki. I’d lie down on the floor and just channel my inner cartographer.
I think that is one of the biggest lessons I learned in my wiki years: Find creative ways to get things done. I was learning on the fly in 2015. Flexibility and creativity kept me on the edge of the wave I was riding. If I didn’t know how something was done, I’d learn. This ranged from asking directly for help (based off my emails, I was not afraid to do so) to cooking up some method that worked for me. Be eager to learn and don’t be afraid to try creative solutions. Who knows, I may be the only guide writer in IGN’s history that used remote play on the Vita to get work done.
Just Cause 3 feels like an easy game to “review” from memory. It’s all freedom of movement, creativity, and explosions. There was a flow to it all that was liberating. Hardware performance was a non-issue to me then, outweighed by the thrill of it all. 7
The sandbox mechanics and approachability stand out in my mind. True experimentation and rewards for said zany ideas. Reminds me of the runes in Breath of the Wild. You could experiment with the world however you saw fit and let the physics take control. Refreshing and engaging.
The “previously worked on” curse loomed like a cloud over Just Cause though. I was sorta excited to see the fourth entry announced and released in 2018. My brain has a hard time separating franchises from play and work. I’ll talk about it in future letters, but there have been a few exceptions to that “rule.” They often revolve around the greats, like Celeste, Cuphead, and God of War.
Just Cause 3 (and probably 4, if my friends impressions are anything to go by) are not in the those upper ranks.
Part of me feels like Just Cause 3 did blaze the trail for plenty of modern games/sequels to have grapple hooks as a cornerstone of movement. I know Just Cause didn’t invent the grapple hook, but I can’t recall a time where the grapple hook got so much love. We have DOOM Guy and Master Chief swinging around nowadays. I like to picture that’s in part due to Rico.
It certainly allowed me to work the way I wanted to. ↩
I do know IGN uses Discord now. I used to be in the server for guides, but quietly left after a while. Not actively working with the team felt like I shouldn’t stick around their work server. ↩
Sometimes I find it odd that story is not ticket item number one: I understand why it isn’t – the SEO gods deem it so – but my brain always prioritizes the story first. Just means I was fortunate to focus a bunch on the story in games. ↩
Read as “more expensive.” ↩
Now Elgato’s entire business is built off this spike in piracy — “The response from gamers has been great. Looking at their requirements and giving them what they wanted has certainly been a good move for us.” ↩