Interviews// Ghost Recon: Building the Future Soldier

Posted 26 Jan 2012 17:48 by
Ghost Recon is coming back in Future Soldier, and this time it's packing some serious squad-based heat. Ubisoft has gone back to the drawing board in terms of AI and attempted to create an experience that doesn't rely on an order system. Your squaddies act on their own volition, moving into position and taking cover as and when necessary.

The game isn't just more intelligent. All kinds of presentation tweaks have been made, and gameplay bolts tightened to make you feel like a real calculated badass every time you sneak into enemy territory or burst out of cover during a gunfight.

I was able to play a selection of stages from the campaign's opening levels - which will be published on SPOnG soon - and afterwards I had a chat with Ghost Recon's IP director, Adrian Lacey about keeping up with the Jones', how the PC market is being served and whether the Kinect-enabled Gunsmith mode is a sign of total motion control domination. Read on...

SPOnG: How interesting is it to see the series evolve from the very first Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter to Future Soldier today?

Adrian Lacey: It?s kinda cool - it?s my baby, my Recon! I know it sounds weird, but when the GRAW series first came out, we were the first true next-generation gaming title out there. We were one of the very first to push the technology in terms of visuals and stuff like that. And it was interesting to see how we?ve used and pushed the hardware back then - be it multi-threading or HDR - but most interesting was seeing how the technology we featured in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter kind of came true really quickly after the game?s release.

There was stuff in the game that people thought was a little bit sci-fi - we said that it was actually based on research and technology that?s going to be used on the battlefield of tomorrow. And it has been - the Cross-Com was real, and now you can buy miniature drones in a shop! So seeing the technology we were trying to give as a fantasy became a reality has been very interesting.

It?s kind of happening again, working on Future Soldier now when we start talking about optical camo and augmented reality - people wonder if it?s actually real. Well, with your mobile phone you can already get augmented reality. And as for optical camo - Cornell University actually announced the other day that they managed to curve light through fibre-optic cables, which allows them to be invisible.

SPOnG: It?s also been interesting to see the evolution of the war shooter since GRAW came out. Now, everyone talks about Modern Warfare and any shooter that comes out is compared to it. You must feel, as the first game to focus on this, that Future Soldier has something that distances itself from the rest of the crowd?

Adrian Lacey: You know, at the beginning, you?re dead right - when we first did GRAW and GRAW 2 and then Call of Duty: Modern Warfare came out and that set a trend - it?s easy to try and fall into that trend... but you?ve got to be very careful that you don?t forget who you are.

We?re not an FPS for starters, so we?re not comparable to what others do. We?re not a run-and-gun, fast-and-furious arcade-style shooter. We?re Ghost Recon, and Ghost Recon is a smart shooter. It?s a precision shooter. We have an over-the-shoulder camera so you can see what your character is doing, and that experience is where we put the emphasis - it?s that jumping in, fire a few calculated rounds, looking at where you?re going, civilians running at you... you?ve got a different rhythm.

And I think that is important for us to stay focused on. That Recon experience - because that?s how special forces operate. A lot of people talk about special forces, but those guys look at what they?re shooting at. They don?t just run around. And I think that was the visceral experience and movement we could provide. Especially with the animations and being able to see your character. So you see how you move when when you jump into cover. Every move is mo-capped by real special forces. So it gives that real vibe.

SPOnG: Does it bother you in a way that Ghost Recon introduces these tactical elements, while people look to Call of Duty get romanced by that Hollywood approach?

Adrian Lacey: I think again, one of the focuses of Ghost Recon is that we?re looking to see what?s behind the mask of a real military operation. For us, it?s the soldiers who are most important. When you talk to ex-Navy Seals or the guys that we work with, it?s like the man behind the mask, and I find that personally more unique. The whole team finds that element very interesting. And we?re getting to a point where we can take those experiences and give the player an insight into that. That?s what we?re learning how to do, and I think that?s how we?re trying to give a different experience to the player.

You can have both kinds of war shooters. I don?t think you have to have everyone go one direction or the other. It?s like watching movies - sometimes I like sitting back and just absorbing a Michael Bay movie. Shit?s blowing up everywhere, I don?t really have to think about it, it?s kind of cool... I love it. No problem with that. And there are war games that have that same effect, and that?s cool too.

But occasionally I want to take it all in, and I want to feel like a badass. I want to be the guy sharpshooting targets like a pro. It?s a different pacing and a different rhythm that Ghost Recon provides. Everyone going one way for CoD or another way for Ghost Recon is never a good thing. I think it?s about balance. And today, games cost a lot! I don?t want to be buying the same thing five times. I?d like a different experience with each different war game that I pick up. And having varying approaches for each brand helps that.

SPOnG: Throughout the months that Ubisoft has pushed Ghost Recon, there?s been a lot of focus on multiplayer co-op, as opposed to competitive modes. I?d assume that there are competitive modes in it?

Adrian Lacey: Yeah, there is. What we tried to do - and it goes back to the whole squad mentality, compared to previous Ghost Recon games where you had order systems and stuff like that, that four-player co-op has been built-in from the start. A lot of four-player co-op games - what we saw was that they were simply a small part of the campaign, or a separate mode tacked on. And the balancing?s not really focused. The only way you can get that feel and balanced vibe is by working on it from the very start.

Which means you have to build the co-op game before you even work on the single-player experience. That?s very important in terms of AI, how the AI reacts to you, how your squad reacts to you, and if another player jumps in, how the AI reacts with a new human character and rebalanced co-op AI... it?s fairly complex, and that?s what we?ve tried to tackle from the beginning so that it feels seamless. The overall single-player or co-op campaign is not diluted by including additional players.
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