John Sonedecker On Ghost Recon

Hi John and thanks for giving up your valuable time to help us celebrate Ghost Recon’s 15th anniversary!

You’ve been kind enough to give us your time for an interview a few times over the years, but we really wanted to make sure and include you in our Ghost Recon 15th anniversary celebrations.

My pleasure! I love talking about the old Red Storm Entertainment days.

red storm entertainment

Previously you’ve explained your background as one of the first developers at Red Storm Entertainment and your work on Ghost Recon. What memories do you have of the 5 years you spent with the guys at Red Storm?

It was very challenging and a ton of fun. Development teams were way smaller than they are today so it allowed all of us to become good friends and spend a lot of time together. It is where I got my start in the industry and where I was able to participate in some of the most innovative games that shaped modern gaming.

Do you have any specific memories of the work you did on Ghost Recon, for example what you learned or enjoyed doing or was most proud of?

I have a ton of memories and most of them good! One thing that always comes to mind when asked questions like this is that many people don’t know the original direction for Ghost Recon was set in WWII. We did a lot of brainstorming on the direction we wanted to go, but WWII is what stuck the most initially. I also had a lot of fun designing the map layouts with Brian Upton as he was working on the back story.

Do you think that in the 15 years since Ghost Recon’s release there has been another game that captures the tremendous feel that Ghost Recon achieved?

Interesting question. I don’t think so, at least as far as the genre Ghost Recon was set in. It definitely had the benefit of a great design, solid execution and almost perfect timing. Its very hard to balance out those things and we seemed to get it right.

What are your best Ghost Recon memories regarding the actual game?

For me its that first mission of the game. The setting and atmosphere let you know immediately that you were in for something different. Then you are introduced to an enemy and game AI that you weren’t expecting. It setup the pacing and details right off the bat. After that it would be the mods. I have always been a huge advocate for modding and even to this day I am amazed at the things people were able to accomplish.

ghost-recon-mission-1-caves

Mission1 – Caves

 

How about the Ghost Recon Scene – best and worst memories?

I love the community that grew around the game and obviously Ghostrecon.net was a huge part of that. I’ll mention mods again as well. Not only were the game and mission packs themselves awesome, but they were built in such a way that a community could organically grow around them. I’m not sure I have any bad memories that revolve around the Ghost Recon. Obviously as time went on things changed, but I feel everything around the time of the originals was positive.

Do you still have time to game – which format and games?

Not nearly as much as I would like. My kids are older now so it’s mainly my fault. LOL! I still love to play shooters, but don’t enjoy the faster paced stuff anymore. I’ll play whatever platform has the game I like, though I still prefer PC if I have a choice. Strangely enough I love playing the Lego themed games as well as trying out various smaller scale/Indie titles. I put a lot of time back into the Red Dead Redemption re-release as that is one of my favorite games. Of course I try to play most military themed shooters that come out as that is still my favorite genre, though my time to play online is limited.

 

Ghost Recon Wildlands

Ghost Recon Wildlands

 

Ghost Recon Wildlands is only a few months away; have you been following its development?

I have and it is interesting. I think it has a lot of really neat ideas and potential, but in my opinion it will need to be played with a group of like minded people to be truly enjoyed. Open world games like that depend on the group playing to be “on the same page” to be truly enjoyable. The last thing you want is for a group to be playing tactically and some joker running around being an idiot. It destroys the entire experience.

 

Also, I’m not sure it captures what Ghost Recon was originally about, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as games and ideas evolve, so more power to them to push things in new directions. As with most AAA titles, you can see the amount of work the development teams have put into it and the game does look like fun.

What frustrates you about the gaming scene these days?

I may sound old now, but social media and the way developers are treated. Most consumers have no clue how games are made or how development decisions come about. It pains me to see developers getting ripped apart online and even in their personal lives simply because a person or group of persons didn’t like how something turned out in a game. In general, game development is not one person, and no success, failure or outcome is the sole responsibility of an individual. People need to remember that this is entertainment. We aren’t trying to cure cancer here!

 

Along those same lines, the cost of games bothers me. I completely get it as to why they cost what they do but I see it as a result of choices the industry chooses to make and not out of necessity. The latest AAA games need to be $60 and need to sell millions of units simply because the industry chooses to push itself to be more and more feature rich and then chooses to push for higher and more flashy marketing. We built Ghost Recon for well under $10mil, but that would barely get you past pre-production for AAA games these days. Not to mention you would never see a TV spot for Ghost Recon back then.

What excites you about the gaming scene these days?

The fact that literally everyone has access to the tools needed to make great games. I want to make it clear though, that it still takes a lot of skill and dedication to make a GOOD game, but there are no longer hard and fast barriers to entry.

What games are you looking forward to?

The next Red Dead title! I would also love to see a Rainbow Six and/or Ghost Recon remake… assuming it kept to the original design of course. If something like that came along I would absolutely love to be a part of it.

Final words for Ghost Recon fans, or a final comment about the original Ghost Recon – 15 years old this month?

It’s great to see this community continue to thrive and be relevant. It still amazes me that a game I was part of creating was able to do something like that. Those were some terrific years of my life and it’s great that Ghost Recon will always be there as a bond that helped to create so many friendships.

Thanks for taking part in our series of Ghost Recon interviews as part of our Ghost Recon 15 year anniversary celebrations John!

 

John Sonedecker was part of the Red Storm team that created the original Ghost Recon in 2001, and prior to that Rainbow Six. John’s gaming credits include over 20 titles and he is the Founder and Creative Director of BlackFoot Studios.

Author: Rocky

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