We’ve gathered some Red Storm developer responses to a few of the hot topics on the forums. These responses mostly address the overall design intentions of Ghost Recon Future Soldier’s multiplayer, rather than specific technical issues.
One of the topic trends we’ve seen is people claiming “This isn’t Ghost Recon!” followed by passionate posts for and against Future Soldier. How does this latest entry in the series fit in the lineage of Ghost Recon games? What makes it a Ghost Recon game?
First and foremost, Ghost Recon is a military shooter that emphasizes team tactics with near-future weapons and equipment. The series has always provided that Special Forces fantasy, but each game has accomplished it in different ways. Future Soldier is a Ghost Recon game through and through. In fact, we think it emphasizes the teamwork aspect better now than ever before. We added features like the Coordination System, Confidence System, and spawning on teammates to encourage players to work together and reward them for doing so.
The intel game play is another key element for encouraging teamwork. Providing intel is certainly not the only way for players to work as a team, but it’s a great way for players with different play styles to enjoy the game and still feel like they are contributing to the fight.
Some veterans of Ghost Recon believe that voice communication is the best way to promote team work. How are any of the new intel features better than simply talking to your teammates?
Many of us on the development team like to set up a party, join matches together and communicate while we play. It’s a lot of fun and obviously great for team work. Not everyone has a full set of friends online to form a party. Some players prefer to play without headsets, or they don’t enjoy talking to strangers online. Many Ghost Recon fans are playing in regions where several languages are spoken making verbal communication very difficult. The Coordination System, intel game play and other systems offer new ways for players to communicate and support each other. We feel like these are major innovations for Ghost Recon that stay true to the spirit of the series.
What do you say to fans who are concerned about the intel equipment, like the UAV and sensor grenades?
The decision to include the new equipment wasn’t taken lightly. We knew equipment had to add game play value and be more than just x-ray vision. When we talk about intel game play, we’re talking about gathering intelligence to benefit your team. It’s a communication tool, but it’s also another resource to protect. It’s something to attack and defend. Controlling the availability of intel, controlling the flow of information brings another dimension to the game. It takes players beyond just shooting. Again, we feel like it’s really a significant advancement in the shooter genre.
Yes, it’s a drag to get data mugged and give up your whole team’s position. Players can work together to make sure that doesn’t happen! It’s worth repeating that the intel gathering devices have counter measures of some kind. Players can manage their intel creatively and intelligently to counter an intel attack.
What is your response to the critics who claim Ghost Recon is imitating other games?
The modern tactical shooter as we know it was basically invented at Red Storm with the original Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games on PC. Online multiplayer on consoles was hardly a blip on most people’s radar until Ghost Recon exploded on the original Xbox Live service. Ubisoft also delivered innovative online multiplayer experiences for Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell. The Tom Clancy brand is synonymous with tactical shooter. We introduced authentic modern military weapons to gamers when most shooters were still all about fantasy ray guns and World War II carbines.
We blazed a trail that plenty of others eventually followed. Players who are new to Ghost Recon might look for similarities with other games and never realize how many genre-defining features began with Red Storm’s games, and with Ghost Recon in particular. Cooperative missions, defend modes, realistic weapons and customizable load outs, the list goes on. We’ve been inventing features like these for over a decade.
To many fans, Future Soldier does seem very different from previous games in the series. What was driving all of this change for Ghost Recon?
For Future Soldier, it was essential that we maintain focus on the core values for this game. Combat, Intel and Teamwork. All design ideas and feature proposals were measured by how well they supported these three pillars of the game. There were many things we discussed in development that could have been “fun” but were not a strong fit for the experience. With each new version of Ghost Recon, the series evolves and its audience grows. Whether it’s new technical features or bold design choices, Red Storm and Ubisoft have never shied away from change. For Future Soldier, we embraced new ideas and, in some cases, let go of old ideas to make the best game we could for today’s audience. The current video game market is very different from the market of ten years ago. Innovation is essential to making great games and keeping a franchise fresh and exciting. For Red Storm to keep making high quality tactical shooters, we must continue to innovate and embrace change. We hope players enjoy the innovations as much as we do. For any skeptics, we invite you to play Future Soldier and experience the game for what it is.
What are some features that were considered, but not included?
One example of an interesting idea that didn’t make it is vehicle insertions. There were some early discussions about having a helicopter, plane or boat sequence to begin each match and possibly for respawns. We had a passionate group that pitched the idea and was interested in prototyping it, but ultimately it didn’t fit the overall vision for the game. There were many other feature ideas too. Trust us when we say our features wish list was just as long as that of the fans, if not longer. There is a very real cost for everything that goes into a game. Time, one of the most precious resources in game development, must be spent to design, implement and test every feature. Sometimes a feature could be really, really cool, but it would take so much time away from other more important things that it just has to be left out.
You mentioned the Confidence feature earlier. That is one of the new features that did make it into the game. There seems to be some confusion about how that works. Can you give a little more detail about that?
When players are interacting with an objective, they will complete the interaction faster when their teammates are nearby providing protection. This happens automatically when a teammate is within range. You don’t have to be right beside each other for Confidence to work and you can see how many teammates are providing Confidence by the bars next to the progress meter for that objective. In addition, the objective icon will pin to the player’s HUD when they are within range and providing confidence. If you’re seeing other teams taking objectives REALLY fast then you know they are providing Confidence for each other.
Doesn’t the Confidence system, and objectives in general, cause players to sit in clusters for easy multi-kills?
That can happen if you’re not careful, but it’s a risk versus reward mechanic of the game. If you want to put four guys on the objective at once, then you’d better be sure you have control of that part of the map. It’s a tactical choice to either go in together or send one guy in while others hold the enemies back.
Confidence is exactly the kind of system that is essential to Ghost Recon game play. Players make meaningful choices about how to use their resources and plan their movements. You can gamble on a high risk maneuver or patiently stalk the enemy from the shadows. It’s up to you.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier has been in development for a while. Why are there still bugs and other issues in the beta version?
Every game has bugs during development. Our QA department is REALLY good at finding and documenting those bugs. In fact, some of the testers are scary good at finding exploits that developers never could have imagined. The problem is that with a complex online game, like Future Soldier, some bugs don’t reveal themselves until you have literally thousands of people playing at the same time. An issue might only appear once in 10,000 tries. You can imagine how difficult that is to reproduce in a testing environment. When you have thousands of players in the beta together, rare issues pop up more often and we get more information that will help us fix them. The entire purpose of the beta is to identify as many of these issues as possible.
We’re thrilled that so many people are playing every day because the data and feedback is incredibly valuable. We also appreciate the creativity of gamers. They try different approaches and experiment with the game in unexpected ways. Having said that, we don’t condone cheating or anything else that intentionally interferes with the intended game play. We encourage anyone who finds exploits to report them to the beta feedback forum.
With the release date approaching fast, how can you possibly fix the issues identified in the beta?
The beta build is quite a bit older than the final release build will be. We’ve already fixed a lot of the issues that people might see in the beta. By now, players have seen how we can respond with changes to things like equipment balance and server settings. There are many other things we can tune remotely to respond to issues that appear, and we plan to keep doing that. Red Storm and Ubisoft are committed to supporting the game after it launches.
We do want to be clear on a few points. We will make adjustments where they are needed to align the game play experience with the core design philosophies that we have already set for this game. Other big changes like map size, or the choice to have cover mode in the game, are not going to change. Sweeping changes like that are outside the scope of post-beta updates, not just because of the logistical or technical challenges. If you start picking apart these core systems and reversing major design decisions at the last minute, you break down the whole experience of the game. We know some people feel like the game would be better if you just did this one thing. Sometimes that one thing has a cascading effect through twenty other things that would all suddenly feel broken or incomplete. It’s a delicate balance.
We’ve had a few fans on the forum post some lengthy, and articulate, statements about map size and map design. Can you give some insight into the map design process?
Map designs at Red Storm are the result of an iterative process. We prototyped and tested many layouts before the maps went into production. Big, small, wide, narrow, sandbox, corridor – we tried a lot of different approaches. Again and again, we found the most satisfying blend of team tactics and straight up gun play happened in maps with strong directionality. We’re not talking about linearity. A strictly linear corridor fight gets old fast because the only viable tactic is to just do more damage than the enemy. Directionality means the PRIMARY fight happens along one axis in most areas of the maps, with alternate routes that allow players to exit the fight and flank or regroup. Intersections and some objective areas might become hubs of activity and result in more chaotic fights, but the core game play revolves around this directional fight.
Why is this directionality more satisfying? Cover is a major feature for Future Soldier. Cover had been part of the campaign game play since GRAW and GRAW 2. It was logical to bring it over to multiplayer for Future Soldier and unify the game experience. A lot of development effort went into making this the best cover system available. In a continuous 360 degree fight (like most sandbox style maps would offer) cover has very little value because everyone will be running and strafing in every direction. We didn’t want players to get gunned down from some random direction every time they were in cover. In that scenario, no one will use cover mode at all.
The heart of Ghost Recon tactics is and always has been OBSERVE, PLAN, EXECUTE. This sequence can happen in seconds when a player reacts to sudden changes in the battle, or it can happen over several minutes as players stealthily coordinate and move in on a target. What we found is that cover not only provided protection, it also provided those much needed moments for players to OBSERVE the action and PLAN their next move before they EXECUTE. Not all players need or want this, and the game certainly supports teams of players who run and gun to swarm objectives. However, the coordinated team will always have the advantage.
A great side effect of these directional battles is this feeling of teammates standing the line together and holding back the enemy. When we first got it all working in a map prototype, we knew we were on to something big. Of course, the directional fight is more apparent in some maps than others. We obviously didn’t want to clone the same layout ideas across all of the maps. Players will see how this directionality varies between the ten maps when they play the full game.
And about the size of the maps, what drove those decisions?
The size of the map really drives the pacing of the game play. We didn’t want all maps to have the same pace, so there is a range of sizes. Keep in mind there will be four game modes and each mode brings different dynamics that also change up that pace.
There is a misconception that Ghost Recon was always about big maps. It’s not true. Only some of the maps were big, and they were VERY big. Those huge maps were big because they were also used for campaign missions. Huge sandbox spaces offered a certain kind of multiplayer experience that wasn’t common then or now. The fact that people are so upset about any change in map style is sort of flattering. It tells us how much the fans love the games we made in the past. Still, that big map experience isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste. Even within the studio, you’ll find people are divided on that issue.
The truth is that we’ve had many small maps in past games. We had some linear maps too. The very mention of Quarry from GR2 will send some players into a rage and others to start talking about the good old days. We have some stats from the first month of GRAW2’s release that show Headquarters as being the most played map by a wide margin. The second place map isn’t even close. Headquarters was our smallest map for that game. It was much smaller than Pipeline and its central choke point was brutal. We were as surprised as anyone that it was so popular.
We’re confident that we’ve created the right size maps for Future Soldier. We also have map voting so players can vote for a different map if they want. There are maps with more verticality. There are maps with more indoor spaces that make it challenging to pilot the UAV. We have a sand storm map where the visibility changes dynamically during the match, affecting sightlines for all players. We think fans will be very happy with the variety of experiences available in the full game.
Thanks to the devs for giving some insight on the design of the game and responding to a few of the hot topics. Keep posting your feedback to the forum. We do try to read them all and we are out there playing the beta with you. See you online!