Chatting in the shade with Red Storm about Ghost Recon.
On the second day of E3 I had the pleasure to sit down and chat with Designers Christian Allen, Lead Designer on Ghost Recon 3 Xbox 360 and Jeff McGann, Lead Designer on Summit Strike, the expansion disc for
Ghost Recon 2 (GR2) Xbox. First off I’d like to say thanks again to them for taking their time to talk with me.
According to Jeff, Summit Strike (known in house by its code-name "Brewer"), was started towards the end of Stonewall’s (Ghost Recon 2) development, and went into full production shortly there after. Jeff and Christian (who worked as a Lead Designer on SS, but moved off the project to focus on Ghost Recon3) settled on Kazakhstan as the area of conflict for the title because it was a plausible conflict area, but not directly in any current conflict. They made a conscious effort to pick a locale that did not have US military operations currently underway (to the best of their knowledge).
The plot line brings the Ghosts through varying environments, from snowy mountains, woodland areas, some urban areas and finally badlands. For those looking for a bunch of different styles of maps, they should have a blast. For those who loved Embassy, Jeff and Christian told me about an urban map that just screamed “Embassy throwback”.
One of the most noticeable changes in Summit Strike, is the direction the gameplay has gone. The development team based that decision on a lot of fan feedback about how the fans wanted to play missions. That direction offers more open-ended mission and map design akin to Ghost Recon 1, and again just like in Ghost Recon 1, the players will have multiple objectives to complete from the start of the mission. For all the hardcore, purists out there, this should be right up your alley!
The demo'd mission at E3, ”Mountain Base”, definitely felt like it would fit right into Ghost Recon 1 on the PC. I definitely enjoyed playing it, but man did I feel the pressure of having developers standing around watching! The visuals were great, the mission and map design screamed Ghost Recon 1. If that’s just the start of the campaign, players should be happy!
Besides the game play changes, Summit Strike offers a number of changes “under the hood” and on the user-interface. The engine driving Summit Strike is the Ghost Recon 2 engine with tweaks to the AI, and some of the graphical features (normal mapping for one) implemented late in Ghost Recon 2 production, are more widely utilized.
In response to community feedback, the user interface has been improved for ease of use. Feedback has also led to a number of small changes in default settings. For example in MP you will now find the radar to be defaulted to “team only”, as opposed to “all”. For those who think fan feedback on forums is a waste of their time, positive postings have helped the development team make a number of changes, large and small, to Summit Strike that should make for a better experience this time around.
Summit Strike, to me, feels more like the true successor to the Ghost Recon name. The team at RSE brought back classical elements from Ghost Recon 1 for Summit Strike, elements that made Ghost Recon 1 so successful.
Ghost Recon 3: Advanced War Fighter
The next evolution of the franchise, as we all know, is “Ghost Recon: Advanced War Fighter”. The project has been in the works for about 18 months, and is a multi-studio project. The Xbox 360 version is being development at RSE, with Christian as the lead designer. The various studios, RSE, Ghost GRIN and Tiwak (another Ubisoft studio) have all been working very closely with each other to make sure the entire project comes off successfully.
One of the centerpiece features in Ghost Recon:AW is the “Integrated War Fighter System”, which first debuted in Ghost Recon 2. Unlike Ghost Recon 2 however, this advanced system is now used by the entire team, each soldier is outfitted with the latest gear making them that more lethal, and in tune to the communications channels. IWS has found its way to Ghost Recon through RSE’s good relationship with the “U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center” in Natick Massachusetts. Natick is responsible for developing, or working with, everything a solider in the US military wears, eats, or carries. RSE sure has a good source of information about future systems the Army will be using in the near future.
Red Storm Entertainment
In the past few months since E3, I’ve seen so many different groups of people in the community getting out there and expressing their opinions, it’s a great thing to see. In that time the different groups of people have clearly emerged. You have those people who are downright angry with the direction they see the franchise going and will not buy future Ubi published Ghost Recon titles, or Rainbow 6 as well. Then there are those people who will wait for a “worthy” demo, whatever that is, of a Ghost Recon/R6 title to make their purchase decisions. Finally there are those people who, no matter what, will be out there the first day an RSE game goes on sale, purchasing their copies. So where do I fall in all this? I’ll tell you the truth, I’m the latter, and I won’t hesitate to pick up Lockdown PC the day it's released, and I wouldn’t have hesitated to miss an important event (minus a funeral or wedding) to pickup a copy of Ghost Recon 2 PC. Some may call it blind faith, others may label me a “fan boy”, but that’s not the case.
In my time talking with RSE developers, I’ve come to understand what they are out to do, and that is to make a great game. Hey, that’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? But there is a lot more to it. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the development process, and what the people at RSE go through to create a big time game like Ghost Recon. I hope people realize how much work is really involved in producing such a game, one considered AAA status, the crème da le crème of games. You are talking at least two years of work, hard work, from start to finish. Being a developer is more than just playing games all day.
While we the fans, gamers, customers, whatever you like to be called, sit and wait for information about what the next game will be like, developers are putting in very long hours to meet hard deadlines. Jeff and Christian made the point that they don’t really have a 9am-5pm job, it’s more like 6am-3am, or similar. Christian and Jeff told me of a few instances during the development of Ghost Recon 2 where semi-major things were changed at the last minute, and at interesting times.
Imagine having to scrap and re-script an entire mission, the weekend before the mission had to go into final testing! Not fun. Or in another instance, when they scrapped the initial Ghost Recon 2 “Recon” game type, scripted a new version and had it to the test lab, at about 3 in the morning, for immediate testing. Sounds like that dream job of some, to be a game tester, may not be as fun as you thought, unless you like to stay up late of course.
The biggest thing I took away from my conversation with Christian and Jeff, along with various other Red Storm employees at E3, was that they are passionate about making a great game. With the dedicated team Red Storm has, their franchises are in great hands, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for us in the future!
Thanks again to Christian and Jeff, and all of the other people from Red Storm that I had the chance to talk with. I’ve come to understand a bit more about what they do, and how they do it. For that my whole trip to E3 2005 was worth it.