When Ubisoft asked us to E3 this year we already knew what to expect, thanks to our trip to Paris 1 week earlier for a secret meeting with the developers of the next installment in the Ghost Recon series. At E3 we were treated to a second look at the live co-op demo of Ghost Recon Wildlands (see boxout below), and an interview with Senior Producer Nouredine Abboud and Lead Game Designer Dominic Butler.
We already knew from our trip to Paris which aspects of Wildlands that the team could not discuss at this stage in its development, so to avoid an interview plagued with “we cannot discuss this” type replies, we focussed on the developers motivations and their thoughts on working with the community to deliver a game true to the Ghost Recon franchise.
Questions are by Rocky, Deosl and #Mattshotcha, recording by Deosl and Emma Delage.
So thanks for meeting us, it’s a great opportunity and we are really thankful for that. Ubisoft have been extremely open with us, and this has already been well received by the fans, with positive feedback for Ubisoft being so welcoming with us.
Nouredine : Thanks, thanks a lot.
Rocky : So at the Ubisoft Press Conference at the Orpheum Theatre in LA, Ghost Recon Wildlands was saved to the end, as the finale. Obviously very few in the audience knew what was coming, and the tension was ramping up, it must have been the same for you guys. Were you getting excited for the Ghost Recon Wildlands trailer to come up on screen?
Nouredine : Ah yes definitely for us, we have been working on it for 3 years, so just imagine spending 3 years with your family and friends but not talking about it, keeping the secret; it’s a big moment because 3 years in the life of somebody is a big thing. But also, and I think this is the most important thing, when we do games we do it for an audience, so at the same time it is a personal thing, but it is also something that we are very happy that is the moment we can finally show it to all the gamers.
So for people who create stories and games etc, it is always a very important moment, and that was great we were like every second, we are waiting for that. Of course we had already seen the trailer many times, but just being at the theatre with the sound and all of that, we had the feeling that we were in touch with all of the community, as we were able to watch it in different conditions, it was great.
Was it good for you Dom?
“We got the kind of explosive response we were looking for”
Dom : It was fantastic, it was exactly as Nouredine said; three years of hard work has gone into this, three years of trying to keep it a secret, and contain leaks, meanwhile still being able to share it with you guys in the community. So it’s been difficult, but it’s worthwhile in the end. We got the kind of explosive response we were looking for, and it seems like everybody is really excited about it.
Rocky : With the game being in development for 3 years and there not being any leaks is remarkable.
Dom : It is unusual.
Rocky : I think that’s one reason it got such a fantastic reception, as the majority of people were not expecting that.
Rocky : So perhaps at the press conference this was the first time you were seeing trailers for some of Ubisoft’s other games, did any of them grab your attention?
Nouredine : You know it’s always different when you look at things from a gamer’s point of view rather than as someone working on games. If you look at what we have at the show, I think, the game For Honor really shows lots of different things, it is very different from our game but as a gamer I think that each time Ubisoft is pushing the boundaries, so it’s great.
Dom : It’s fun to see a new IP come out, and to get a big response from the fans, and to have it playable here at the show is a feat in itself. I still get excited at these things, I still get excited for E3, the gamer in me, I love it.
Nouredine : But they are always amazing!
Rocky : And obviously the Ghost Recon Wildlands trailer, you could watch it over and over and see new things each time.
Dom : Oh we have! And we still like it.
Rocky : It’s just a fantastic trailer. So was it a sense of relief for you to finally see the trailer received so well?
Dom : A sense of relief but also, expectations are high, people are excited it seems, the media we have met and hearing back from the fans, people get the promise, but they also get the sense that we are showing real footage, and we are showing real gameplay.
We have a demo here on the stand, so we are seeing its not just a nice intention, but it is a game we are really making. We have shown what we intend to do and now we just have to keep pushing, go back to Paris and with our partner studios continue to push and try to make the best game we can.
Rocky : You mentioned the demo there, we were in the Wildlands booth to see the demo half an hour ago. The four player co-op demo was a fantastic idea, with the live play we could see the open world, non linear gameplay especially.
One of the things that we were excited to see during our studio visit in Paris was a live rehearsal for E3 that involved four of the dev team undertaking a co-op mission. At E3 selected press were invited to also enjoy this live demo, played by 4 of the dev team, with live commentary by two media guys. The demo involved the Ghosts splitting into two teams of two, with one pair assaulting the mission area and capturing the target – unceremoniously dumping him the trunk of a car (which is an option open to players during missions), before heading off to a rendezvous point. Along the way they are covered by the other pair of players circling above in a helicopter.
The mission showed perfectly how players can attack missions in any number of different ways, with or without vehicles, stealthy or loud – it really is extremely open and non-linear.
Rocky : I’d seen it before, in a secret demo in Paris 2 weeks ago, so I was looking around the room to watch the journalist and media reactions and see how people were receiving it, and it was fantastic, at some points they were nodding their heads smiling and rubbing their eyes, they could not believe what they were seeing in a Ghost Recon game. For example the helicopter providing cover from the air, they were loving it; it was just superb, and definitely very well received; that must have been very satisfying for you.
“I was like, wow, I’m not sure we are going to be able to do it, how is it going to work?”
Nouredine : Yes when we begun to work on the project the creative team was pushing for ideas and as producer your job is to wonder what we can do if it will succeed or not and the team came up with this idea of having the game which at the same time was a military shooter, co-op and openworld, I was like, wow, I’m not sure we are going to be able to do it, how is it going to work? So, of course we prototyped the demo and it is just a demo and one small part of what we already have, it’s also fantastic to see that all these people, just by showing it, how they react, seeing it running I think is great; for us it’s the summary of all these years of work and belief, and the whole team think we will nail it so it’s fantastic.
Rocky : So, Dom is it now back to Paris? Can you share with us which aspects of the game you will be working on.
Dom : Well actually the game is so huge, it’s really really massive, it’s not just the concept and size of the open world, but it’s also the systems that inhabit that open world, and its something we know we need to push, we know we want to create a world, a living breathing world – you’ve seen it, there’s real life traffic, real life agendas, there’s people going about their daily lives, internal conflict between rival factions, business dealings going on, so we have the basis of it now we need to push it to the next level. So its not one particular thing it’s a big combination of systems to make this world and bring it to life.
Rocky : Everybody watching this after the E3 trailer and perhaps the demo will be asking “when is this game out?”. So we have to give them a timeframe, if we cannot give them a date…
Nouredine : (Laughs) At this stage we are not talking about when we are going to release, but I can say, you have seen the demo, you have seen the game, we are not just at the very beginning of the project, we have been on it for 3 years, so what is sure is that we have a clear plan, I think the most important question for us is when are we going to show some more but the first thing for us right now is just to see the reaction and then to see when we are going to show some news stuff.
Rocky : So although the game has been in development for three years, it still has some ways to go, Ubisoft have been holding workshops with fans, are you finding these workshops are providing value?
Dom : Absolutely, we don’t make the games primarily for ourselves we make them for gamers. We are gamers, right, but, it is to make sure we deliver on not just what we think is cool but what gamers are looking for from these experiences. We can take examples of things that have happened in the past, and as you said the game is in development its going to come out sometime in the future. So, we need to be ready, and future proof against that and build something that’s going to be new, going to be interesting, but still relevant and recognisable as part of the Ghost Recon brand.
Rocky : Some of the fans on hearing that the game has been in development for three years, felt that the workshops might be a token gesture as it’s already three years down the line, and too late to change things with it being too far into development.
Nouredine : What I would say is the first thing is that we have been in contact with some of the fans very very early. I mean we discussed it, right away we wanted to get feedback. So the first thing is that of course when the game is unannounced, we can’t have contact with all the fans, but the very first step was from day 1 as soon as we finished Ghost Recon Future Soldier we had the opportunity to meet some members of the community for some feedback, and after the first year we do the same, so for all of these three years have been full of interaction with some specific community members. However because of the way things are done we could not include everybody. However what is important also to know is that right now, what we’ve shown was all the core basis of the game. The difficulty when you are talking with many people is that we at one stage need to show our cards, to show the basis of the game, so that we can begin the conversation.
I would consider it more of an opportunity than an issue because you know it is good to talk, but it is better to “talk and do”, so right now we have done some stuff, so we can interact with the people, and then we can fine tune and that’s very important.
Dom : And because we have been building the systems very much step by step, without rushing in to it and creating lots of disconnected systems, it means we have a base, a proof of concept, and we can show you guys and let some people try out, we can demo here at E3, it gives us something to really discuss and then see how we can take it forward and see how we evolve it.
It’s not just theoretical, “would you like to play a game like this”, it’s “hey look at this it’s a basis of what we are trying to do, it’s just a sample“. But it gives a good idea of where we are going with it in the future.
Nouredine : And it’s also why we are not announcing a date yet, because if the question is do we still have some elements to tune up, and is the game ready yet, and the answer is not yet.
Rocky : So to wrap up have you any closing comments for the fans?
“what we are doing right now is to work on the core of what Ghost Recon is, which is tactical”
Nouredine : Yes for me the most important thing, I was working on GRAW 2 PC with GRIN at the time, and I was working on Ghost Recon Future Soldier, so I’ve been involved with the Ghost Recon game for quite a while and for me the most important thing, is that everybody understands that what we are doing right now is to work on the core of what Ghost Recon is, which is tactical, tactics. For us, with the big open world it is clearly the next evolution, and the only way at this stage to go fully tactical.
Just to give you an example, on GRAW2 night mission, I think mission 7, I worked with Grin for a long time setting the map and we were happy about the tactical side of it. But right now, in this game, all the missions can be night missions. Which means that we are delivering the full power of the tactical side, which means you can choose your weapons, the time of the day, the location, the vehicles, so yes all Ghost Recon games were showing how you could be tactical, and they were all great games for their time, right now with what technology we have available, this is a way of pushing it forward. It doesn’t mean we are going to some of the things we did in the past etc however right now and this is the main message, I can’t wait for you guys to put your hands on the controller, I have a feeling that as soon as you touch the game you can feel the tactical side of things, so that would be my main message.
Dom : We look forward to you guys playing it as soon as we can!
Rocky, thanks a lot guys.
Nouredine : Thank you!
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