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Waiting game: Ghost Recon heads on slips and creativity

Thursday, 26 January 2012 17:00 GMT By Stace Harman

As Ghost Recon: Future Soldier readies its assault on consoles, Stace Harman tracks down director Eric Couzian and production manager Yann Suquet to talk delays and the on-off PC version.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

The 12th release for Ghost Recon, Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy stealth shooter.

Takes places in the near future in Norway, the Middle East, and Asia.

First announced in January 2009.

Out May for PS3 and 360. A PC version will follow later in the year.

Wikipedia page.

Official site.

Protracted gestation periods and frequent delays are not novel concepts in video game development. But while the circumstances surrounding postponements do much to inform generalised pre-conceptions of a title, they rarely have a predictable impact on its eventual quality.

Consider the myriad differences between the oft pushed-back but eventually sublime Team Fortress 2 – shown at E3 1999 and released eight years later – and Duke Nukem Forever, which was awarded numerous vapourware titles during its 14 year birthing and received a tepid critical reception upon release.

By comparison, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s development period seems entirely reasonable: announced early in 2009 and now due to land on PS3 and 360 in May of 2012. Indeed, little might have been said had its arrival not been repeatedly forecast and delayed without satisfactory explanation throughout that three-year period.

Sitting down with director Eric Couzian and production manager Yann Suquet, I push them for more information regarding the finally-dated console version as well as the PC version that has, by turn, been announced, delayed, cancelled-due to-piracy-concerns, “never existed”, announced again and now slapped with an ominous release date of “later this year”.

“When you begin development, you try out various mechanics and, naturally, some of them work but some don’t,” begins Couzian. “Sometimes, because you are emotionally involved in the process, it can take a long time to admit that it’s not working. You can spend a year making things, not all of them you keep, but you learn from that process.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that it’s an experience you’re creating,” adds Suquet. “While you might know what you want the overall experience to be, it can take time to work out how to achieve that. It’s why the development process is based on iteration”

“Iterative design” is a go-to phrase for many a developer. It describes a basic and well-established work process without revealing any details and is, beyond anything else, blindingly obvious: rarely does a creative work come together all at once in a brilliant flash of inspiration; rarely is the initial execution of an idea considered the best it can be. It’s why writers edit, directors re-shoot, artists erase and architects re-design.

The challenges of iterative design become more apparent the greater the number of people involved in a project. For an individual, or even the most tightly-focused of teams, the temptation to iterate ad infinitum can prove too great and the constant revisiting and refinement of an individual element can jeopardise or delay the process of incorporating it with the overall design.

“Working with stress can be good; it forces you to make decisions. If you know that you’re releasing the game in three years you can procrastinate, you light all of the fires just to see what will work and what won’t. Ultimately, you have to take the decision, even if it turns out to be a wrong one. The worst thing that can happen is to not make a decision.”

“So, at some stage, you have a puzzle of individual elements that work but you must blend those together and do so consistently,” explains Couzian. “You don’t just fit them together mechanically and have it all work.”

“You must always remember that you’re creating an experience, not assembling a car,” agrees Suquet.

I am not a number

At the height of its development, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has seen upwards of 300 people involved. Numbers like this tend to raise eyebrows, leading the more cynical respondent to question how truly integrated the key features can be and, drawing on Suquet’s own car analogy, conjure images of a huge production plant in which anonymous employees hammer boilerplate features into a generic framework.

For Suquet, it’s imperative that smaller teams with a headcount of around 20 constitute that headline 300, in order to maintain a feeling of individualism and identity.

“Creative people need room to create,” he posits. “If you have a number of smaller teams, each person within that smaller team feels ownership for something, and that motivates them.

“You need them to feel responsible and proud of what they are doing,” Couzian adds.

“Definitely,” Suquet nods. “A creative person that is not proud of what they are doing makes what they are doing worthless, and that harms the project and those around them.”

It sounds like a nourishing environment in which to work, doesn’t it? Time to establish a clear vision, to make mistakes, to learn and adapt during the process – so, why mention release windows at all? Why not let the creative minds run riot and slap on a label that reads “ready when it’s ready”?

Surely, the repeated delay of an announced project can only serve to frustrate your intended audience, building expectation that cannot possibly be met and causing that all-important rich vein of potential customers to become increasingly disenfranchised.

You can look at other high profile Ubisoft titles such as I Am Alive and Beyond Good and Evil 2 for examples of how hungry anticipation can turn to confusion and frustration, but Couzian believes announcing a release date works in favour of development teams overall, even if it can sometimes mean delays are as visible as they are unwelcome.

Last year’s E3 trailer.

“Working with stress can be good; it forces you to make decisions,” Couzian insists. “If you know that you’re releasing the game in three years you can procrastinate, you light all of the fires just to see what will work and what won’t. Ultimately, you have to take the decision, even if it turns out to be a wrong one. The worst thing that can happen is to not make a decision.”

PC or not PC?

“We never cancelled it. It was a misunderstanding, genuinely,” Suguet adamantly insists of the PC version of Future Soldier. “Sebastien [Arnoult], the producer of GR: Online, said something in an interview – I don’t remember exactly what it was – and it was misinterpreted, taken out of context and turned in to this scenario where people were not only saying that we weren’t doing Future Soldier on PC but that Ubisoft was going to stop making PC games altogether.

“It just wouldn’t make any sense,” agrees Couzian “Ghost Recon is a great fit for PC and we have many fans on PC, it just wouldn’t make any sense to not do it.”

Ubisoft’s PC misadventures could fill their own article (and thanks to Nathan, they did back in November). Suffice to say, following Sebastien Arnoult’s comments concerning Ghost Recon Online, various media outlets reported the cancellation of the PC version of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Ubisoft itself did not refute the dire news, reportedly stating that it had never confirmed a PC SKU.

Regardless of what has gone before, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will launch on PC, albeit “at a later date.”

Wrapping up the conversation with Couzian and Suquet, I ask them about balancing Ghost Recon’s gung-ho antics with its stealth-soldiering. Lobbing intel grenades to gather enemy intelligence, hiding in plain sight with optical camouflage and deploying covert remote-control drones is a joy for budding strategists. It also provides a more sedate pace than missions involving close-combat fire-fights in busy Pakistan streets that come with the contrived fail-condition of harming more than a handful of civilians.

“I strongly believe that, as with any movie, you need pacing and contrasts in a videogame,” explains Couzian. “The core of the game is to offer the player this freedom of expression so if they want to be intel-focused, they can. But, if I offer the whole game like this the player doesn’t always know what’s best for their own experience, so it’s our job to sometimes encourage a change of pace. It’s a question of contrast.

“The objective is to bring new people into the game, accessibility is very important to me and was an underlying factor when creating the game. Accessibility doesn’t have to mean less difficult or less challenging, just providing more comfort for the player so that they don’t have to press eight buttons for one function, also to provide more feedback and make the character more reactive.”

The game is finished, Couzian insists, so any time spent on it between now and its May release for 360 and PS3 will be to add those all-important layers of polish. Based on this preview build, the areas in most immediate need of buffing are the optimisation of textures and squishing of bugs.

After three years and numerous delays it seems that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will finally emerge from the wilderness, packing near-future weaponry and cloaked by optical camouflage; it will be interesting to see if it’s able to creep up on gamers and surprise them or if it passes them by without being noticed.

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4 Comments

  1. loki

    PC port it is not creativity.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. YoungZer0

    Is the russian part completely gone? I remember that one demo back in 2000-something that showed really well done gameplay. I wonder if that’s still in the game.

    Edit:

    Scratch that, one of the screenshots clearly shows russian signs.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. DSB

    I’m kinda surprised that Ubisoft isn’t sharing the same fate as THQ. they do make better games on the whole, but I couldn’t imagine them being any better at making themselves look like complete twats.

    The right hand obviously doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    @4 – They’ve got some proper cash-cows. Assassin’s Creed is the obvious one. THQ’s turned Saints Row around, but only with the third game.

    #4 3 years ago

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  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]