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Why Ghost Recon May Never Be Surpassed (And That Might Be A Good Thing)


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I believe that there was an amazing confluence of opportunity, timing, talent, and game design that has not only made the 'original' Ghost Recon an exceptional high water mark in tactical realism game design, I think it may never happen again, actually be something we should value, and a good thing!

Ghost Recon was developed during and set in the height of the Cold War, where covert warfare peaked in terms of skill based tactical operator intervention. Not that this still isn't a thing today; but contemporary warfare, weapon systems and intervention are designed to obviate operator skill and the skill of his/her intended target, even avoid have him or her in proximity of an intended target, or, remove human operators from the theater entirely.

The theaters of operation, kinds of missions and actions performed by elite special operations have in many cases been automated, supplanted and even obviated -- and those that are still in motion are so highly classified we lack an author with the background, imagination, motivation, research skill and writing talent of a Thomas Clacy to reveal at any depth what might be going on in a compelling way.

Tom Clancy played an important role in what made Ghost Recon outstanding, both monetarily, his knowledge, insight and inspiring writing. While there are many great military writers (fiction and non), none have surpassed Tom Clancy in the breadth of what he was able to convey; some may be better writers, have more in-depth, or even hands-on knowledge and experience -- but I would argue none have brought as much to the genre as Tom Clancy, and at time in military history that was making history, very advantageous to his success and the level of attention a game like Ghost Recon received.

Gaming was also just hitting its stride; very polished, professional talent and standards of quality in 3D game design were in many regards peaking, with many 'firsts' established setting a high watermark for execution. Of course, if you compare the absolute aesthetics of the original Ghost Recon to a contemporary tactical realism game it's obvious the bar has been raised considerably (more on this to follow) but critical immersive levels of game design, and interactive features beyond having a simplistic shooting gallery with moving targets had been achieved.

This was also a time where game developers didn't even have to 'think outside the box', as the box of big publishing and its puppy mill approach was only getting started, not as limiting and restricting a factor of what a developer could accomplish as it has become today -- and market saturation was not yet a thing. Limitations were more a function of time, money, and what you could do with technology, game feature concepts, and art assets on a particular budget -- and RSE delivered a lot.

Realism fans were hungry for more realistic games with higher fidelity, that (importantly) allowed for or even required more realistic tactics than the typical run-&-gun FPS, games that were thematically realistic, offered scenarios that were germane and convincing, and design approaches that were successful in actually accomplishing these things. With Ghost Recon, like Tom Clancy, RSE did them all, and did them in spades. Ghost Recon also light a fire under genre fans with mod support, game fan and mod development sites were going gangbusters as well -- fueling the fire.

Without deep-diving Ghost Recon's game design, and features -- the entire heft of GRN should clue as how much is there, and to that end does a fantastic job, but to the uninitiated the Original Ghost Recon offers a tactical realism gaming experience with features, concepts, design, game modes, fidelity, net-code, military professionalism and even art assets that remain unsurpassed. This last is sure to bewilder some; how can generations old, low poly, low texture resolution assets possibly be 'unsurpassed'? And the answer I believe is key to Ghost Recon's greatness.

'Uncanny Valley' and 'Theater Of The Mind' are two concepts in game development and literature respectively that don't get enough attention, aren't appreciated for what they accomplish or obviate. In literature some of the best writers only describe their characters and settings in terms of concepts, piquing and allowing the reader's imagination or 'Theater Of Mind' to paint a vastly more detailed and immersive picture. Raymond Chandler, Ayn Rand, and to some extent even Tom Clancy are examples of modern authors that use this technique that's highly regarded for immersive writing when done right. 

Writers that over amplify and laboriously describe detail and aren't exceptionally good at it can create the disconnect, cognitive dissonance, or 'Uncanny Valley' of how you think something should look, and what's being described and can wreck otherwise good storytelling and immersion. The same applies to games. While modern high-resolution 3D game art assets may allow for more immersiveness, they certainly don't guarantee it, many create the same Uncanny Valley bump in dissonance that while it looks great for ad copy just doesn't draw you into a game or even distracts from it, more so if the game design just isn't there or an over articulated ridiculously stupid narrative underpins everything as is all to common now.

Ghost Recon, perhaps by some dint of luck and talent offers just the right amount or at least a compelling level of presentation, narrative and continuity in art assets that like good literature and radio theater allows for an experience that's actually more immersive that many games that offer higher resolution art assets. Minimal narrative, the soundtrack, military professionalism conveyed in the narrative, foley and character interactions just takes this to higher level, and the game design itself takes everything to a higher level.

Ghost Recon's approach to mods and art assets have also made for a, while not easy, I would say more approachable game to mod and add content to, and that's easy to see from the profound amount of content here on GRN, with many of these mods even surpassing the original game in regards that keep Ghost Recon current and engaging.  Add more game modes than all the other Ghost Recon games combined, solid net code that will work on even the rattiest connection, a game engine that runs on anything (even Linux on WINE), and people steadily discovering or rediscovering how great Ghost Recon is and you have a recipe for at the very least -- longevity.

But when I consider all that is the original Ghost Recon; I think it will never be surpassed, and is not merely a 'Classic' but Evergreen!

Edited by 101459
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