An interview with Tommy Jacob, Creative Director MP on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the latest installment in the Ghost Recon franchise from Red Storm Entertainment and Ubisoft. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier tries to set itself apart from other titles in the franchise and from other third-person shooters by focusing on getting players to tactically work together by using near-future technologies (such as using a drone to pinpoint enemy locations) and special combat tactics (such as suppressing fire) to defeat one’s foes.
We had a chance to talk with Tommy Jacob, Creative Director on Ghost Recon: FS’s multiplayer, while at the game’s launch event in Toronto. Most of our discussion revolved around Red Storm’s relationship with Special Forces soldiers, how those relationships influenced the game, and the contrasts between a video game and real-world Special Forces tactics.
Dork Shelf: How important and influential are your relationships with Special Forces soldiers in relation to creating a game like Ghost Recon?
Tommy Jacob: Red Storm, just based on our entire history, has had a close relationship with Special Forces. We have several advisors that we have long term relationships with that help us understand everything that we need to know in terms of combat, tactics, technology, and how that influences what the soldiers are doing in the field today and how that’s gonna be influencing how we are going to be fighting wars in the future. So those relationships are extremely important to us, and not just within the Special Forces but with the military in general, and is something we take a lot of pride in.
DS: Were there any conflicts or tensions when trying to remain faithful to the lived experiences of the soldiers while still keeping the game fun and enjoyable to play?
TJ: I can’t say really that there was. I mean we know that authenticity is something that we regard as very significant to the brand but we also recognize that it’s a game. So I don’t know that there was a point where it became any type of a challenge where we felt like something needed to be too authentic. Now certainly, as a Creative Director, that’s one of my goals: to ensure that we don’t push authenticity so far that the game is no longer fun or that we don’t pull back on authenticity to the point where it’s no longer Ghost Recon because that is a core component of what Ghost Recon is. That balancing act is part of identifying what experience we want the player to have but I don’t think that it ever became an issue where it created any problems.
DS: You mentioned earlier how combat is one of the key pillars of this game. Was there ever any incentive to try and include more non-combative elements in the game or was it always just focused on the battlefield?
TJ: Because it’s in the shooter genre obviously combat is something that, just from a mechanics standpoint, you need to work out early, early on in the experience: How is it gonna feel when the player is moving around and shooting? But for us very, very early on in the game we put an emphasis on teamwork. We wanted to see if we could take a game that’s going to be listed within the shooter genre and make shooting secondary. Can we make shooting of the gun something people could choose to go into a match and completely ignore and still be an effective teammate? And I feel like through what we’ve seen through the fresh eyes of testers what we’ve done up to this point and then through the beta we’ve definitely seen that. Where people will go in they’ll fly the drone, they’ll collect intel, they’ll focus on taking objectives, and they’ll shoot when they need to but their focus getting into the match is not how many kills can I get. And that was something that we felt from the very beginning was gonna be critical for us to do. To fill a void. And it was something we acknowledged very early on that we wanted to do: to fill a void within the shooter genre.
DS: Often in military shooters the main characters feel like afterthoughts next to the guns they hold in their hands. Was there any focus on having the player connect with the main characters and in turn the Special Forces guys you worked with?
TJ: Well, that all comes down to the quality of the writing throughout the campaign. And, from an authenticity stand point, something we learned with the relationship we have with some of the Special Forces is that Special Forces guys are not just highly trained soldiers in terms of their combat skills, they’re some of the most intelligent people that I’ve ever met. And we wanted that to be reflected. The character of the Ghosts needs to reflect the authenticity within Special Forces and how controlled and intelligent these guys really are. They’re not just run and gun with a goal to just be in combat all the time. In reality with Special Forces they’re goal is to avoid combat. When they go on a mission they would love to go in and achieve their target without having to get into large combat. But for gameplay, as you can imagine, that would not necessarily make for a very compelling experience. So we wanted to replicate the focus they put on who they select for the Special Forces programs based on, not just their abilities in combat, but based on their intelligence. So that all comes down to just good writing and good dialogue for the characters in the campaign.
DS: On a similar note: action games often use very clear distinctions between good and bad (or evil) actions in order to facilitate fast-paced gameplay. Does Ghost Recon engage with the concept that right and wrong are not always necessarily clear when in a battlefield situation?
TJ: That’s a good question. I guess I would say that because of the fact that you’re on a mission where, even though it’s a game, you are killing. So if anything, as I mentioned earlier with the Special Forces, when they go on a mission their goal isn’t to drop every human being that they encounter from the time that they get there to the time that they leave. So in that regard, from an authenticity standpoint, I can say that there may be a component of that where you’ve got this mission that because gameplay requires that we give the player somebody to engage, there is some contrast between how true Special Forces would handle a situation like that: They may choose to take the more tactical route around to avoid combat but that may not translate well into gameplay. So we put the player in situations where they have to engage and they have to take virtual life in the game and in the story to make combat fun. So I would say in that regard: in contrast to the amount of a causalities that take place in the game versus what the goals would be of an actual Special Forces soldier, it might kinda create that contrast.
DS: The game features an incredibly robust weapons customization system. Did your relationship with Special Forces influence that system and is it possible to customize a weapon to the point where you are unable to complete a mission or where you just can’t compete online?
TJ: The weapon customization, the idea of that was certainly inspired by Special Forces. Special Forces guys don’t take a gun off the shelf and then go into combat. They set-up the weapon and they work with armorers to modify the gun to perform the way that best suites their combat style. So the idea of providing an element of that to the player through the Gun Smith feature was kinda a no brainer for us. We wanted to see how robust could we make it? The idea of the inner parts was a big deal for us: being able to modify your trigger system and being able to modify the gas system to where the gun you are using, based on the role that you play, it might have more recoil than what suites your play style. So you can actually go in there and modify that. You can under gas the systems so it may not actually have as much stopping power; cause there is an impact on these changes. They’re not just cosmetic and they’re not all buffs. If I go in there and I under gas the weapon its not gonna be as powerful, its not gonna do as much damage. But it’s gonna be more controllable. So it was important to us to take that part of the reality of how Special Forces modify their equipment and provide that to the player.
As far as you being able to modify a weapon to the point where you wouldn’t be effective in combat, because of the way the system balances the gun based upon the modifications you make you wouldn’t necessarily create a weapon that would make you ineffective in combat. But it could make you less effective in certain types of combat. If you take a sniper rifle and you modify it to where it’s all about long range, you’ve got the most powerful scope, you’ve got the longest barrel, and you get into a close-quarters combat scenario and you’ve got a sniper rifle; you may not come out on top. But you’re not gonna modify the weapon to the point where the modification is going to cause you to lose a mission.