Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Interview - Going Back in Time
Written Saturday, February 04, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s journey has not been an easy one. Thanks to a dramatic change of creative direction, only now is the shooter nearing completion, two years later than intended.
No longer the futuristic vision it once was, GRFS is a far more grounded, contemporary experience. In making that shift, months and years of progress was discarded and delays were inevitable.
We spoke to the game’s director Eric Couzian and production manager Yann Suquet to discuss the change of direction, that slippery release date, Future Soldier’s sci-fi origins and the pain of starting over again.
How long has Future Soldier been in development now?
Yann Suquet: It's been a while. Obviously we presented the game at E3 2010 and it's taken us a while to bring it to the market. The thing is, Ghost Recon has always been about the spec ops experience, so it was quite clear from the beginning where we wanted to go.
The E3 build of 2010 was good, but didn't allow us to go as far into the experience as we wanted. So we needed to work on some stuff and the thing is when you develop a game, it's not easy. You don't just tweak it here and there. If the design doesn't allow you to go as far as you want to, you need to question many things. So it took us a while to take a step back, look at it and rework it.
So this is why there's a difference between the builds of E3 2010 and E3 2011. There's a huge gap in quality. What we have now is pretty awesome. This also explains why it has taken us a while to ship the game.
Eric Couzian: Right after the success of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, we wanted to renew the franchise while keeping faithful to what is Ghost Recon. To do that you need time to iterate and sometimes you follow the lead of some mistakes. Sometimes it can take six months or a year to work out that a feature doesn't work or doesn't fit. So yes, it takes time.
So how does the initial vision of the game match what you have now?
EC: We wanted to go into the future but be as credible as possible, we wanted to offer the spec ops game experience, we wanted to tell the story about the Ghosts and who these guys are, and we wanted to give freedom of choice to the player...
Mixing all these things together, it's not easy. When we first started the game we knew what we wanted to be in there. Two or three years ago we were going in a more futuristic direction, but it was too much. Ghost Recon is tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow.
How far in the future was it?
EC: We were going in a direction that was far more futuristic. But today, if you see the game, it's like everything that you can watch on CNN or on YouTube in current conflicts, but it's the technology that you can have in five years. The tools you have in the game already exist, or will exist, based on current US army research.
YS: You can imagine like, ‘yeah in the future we'll be ten feet high and... y'know.’ It's great but it has to work from a gameplay perspective and it's hard to anticipate the future and take what you think would be cool and translate it into an interesting gameplay feature.
So the approach we settled on is to have that short-term anticipation and it's relevant in every situation we encounter in the game.
What I'm trying to say is that if you go far into the future, you have to provide relevant gameplay. You always have to do that when making any videogame, but it's hard if it is set 50 years from now, 100 years from now. Our game is close and it anticipates, it's not science fiction.
EC: When you think about optical camouflage, one year ago many guys told us that it was too futuristic. Two weeks ago there was an article published by a university that showed that this tech is being researched right now. So when we use a technology, it's because we know it's solid.
Does the E3 2010 demo still exist? Does it appear in the game?
EC: No no. Everything has changed in terms of our direction. All the futuristic tools we were talking about doesn't exist any more. We are back to the roots of Ghost Recon.
Are there many missions that you designed and just had to throw out? That must be a difficult process.
EC: You cannot imagine how hard it is, because there is so much personal involvement, emotional involvement. And as I said, you can work for one year on a feature and realise, even if it is hard to realise, that people won't like it. The day you decide to drop it, it's like a divorce.
You know, you might have 28 people that have worked for one year on something, but you have to make that decision for the good of the game.
It takes a long time to make a game – even without delays. How do you know when to draw the line? Presumably there's a man standing over you with a calculator saying, “Ok, you gotta stop now.”
YS: That's a question for me actually, I’m that guy. Project management rests on three things: you've got quality, time and budget. So if you work on one, it will have an impact on the other. So sometimes you have a budget and you have a time constraint and you say, 'Ok, we're going to ship everything we can, within that time constraint.'
Of course, the great thing with creative people is that there's always ideas. It's awesome because it never stops, it literally never stops. But the reality is that you have a limited budget, so at some point you have to go 'Ok, this is where we're going to cut it' and it sucks because I like making games with people and they hate you for it.
You have to make that horrible decision. So what you do is you don't implement every idea in this game and you keep it for the sequel. So if there's ever a GRFS 2, some of the awesome ideas we passed over this time might make it next time.
EC: Yes. That is why we hate you.
Presumably on Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Jann, you've had to give far more leeway than you normally would?
YS: Yeah, again it comes back to that triangle of quality, budget and time. The quality wasn't there, so it depends on what you wanna do, but if you wanna remain a credible company with a good image, if you want to provide good content and a good experience, then quality needs to be your primary focus.
So it may cost more, but if you're investing in the future of this brand, if you ship this thing that's mediocre, people will say, 'Ok, Ghost Recon has gone down, I'm not going to buy the next one.' It would cost a huge amount of time and budget and man hours to get it back up.
But if you spend a little more in development to ensure that you're shipping a good thing, then it's worth it. So it was a good call. Delaying was a good call.
So you’ve got an extra few months. What’s left to do?
EC: Everything is done now. It’s just a question to make tweaks and optimise and make improvements. The code you played today is around a week old, it’s pretty much the code we’re working on now. There’s so many bugs, we showed what we have. That’s why we need the time.
So what we want to say to people is that even if they are frustrated by the delays, it’s out of respect to them. Five months is a long time. You will see many improvements to the graphics, the animation... at the end of the process you will have a very, very good game. As good as the others.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is currently set for release on May 22nd in the US and May 25th in Europe.