Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Interview: Aziz Khater Talks Ghosts, Gadgetry & Betas
Written Thursday, July 15, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Not only did the latest in the Ghost Recon franchise rear its head at this year's E3, but the title had a pretty stunning debut showing, as Ubisoft were keen to show off the title's new gadgetry and impressive co-op gameplay.
We caught up with Aziz Khater, the Product Manager on the title, at Ubisoft's recent Summer Showcase in the UK to talk all things Future Soldier. As always, we ask the difficult questions that so many of you ask in our comments, week in, week out, and seek to find out a little more about the title.
Are the Ubisoft really turning their backs on the franchise's realistic roots? What lessons did they learn from GRAW? And of course, are there really going to be shoulder cannons in the title!?
First things first, what was the reason to take Advanced Warfighter one step further into the future with Future Soldier?
Well, the fantasy of Ghost Recon was to offer the consumer and the player the experience of living the true life experience of spec-ops and an elite soldier. We think that lots of good games already do that and there are already good products on the modern warfare theme, so we wanted to go further and try to reconstruct what the conflicts would be like in the next 20 years.
With the same attention to authenticity that all the Tom Clancy products have, and based on a lot of real research and collaborations with real military consultants and weapon manufacturers for example, we tried to imagine what the future of war will be in the next 10, or 20, or 30 years.
Were you ever worried of the backlash that this move from realistic shooter to futuristic shooter would have with the fans of the original games?
We tried to address them with the product that you see here. We kept the basics of the first game which is the tactics, the squad based stuff and reflective thinking before acting – not like some other shooters: running everywhere and shooting everything. We tried to keep that in mind, but we also wanted to revamp the map and not just give you a GRAW 2.1 game, so we tried to keep the basics and add to them some more glamour elements, just like a pure screen, trying to have closer distances in the fight, trying to keep pressure during the combat and not just like our Creative Director likes to say, doing your homework before fighting and watching your troops make it happen. No, we really wanted to offer the experience to the player of being in the heart of the fight – shooting everywhere and telling your friends, “you go there, you go there, okay fine” – so just like a real experience. It’s not just about planning everything, but also about acting and we wanted this version to be in this model.
How do you respond to accusations that say the franchise has abandoned its roots and gone from this really realistic military shooter to this over-the-top futuristic shooter? You know, the more commercial and accessible Ghost Recon that we can expect next year?
First of all I’d like to say that accessible doesn’t mean simplistic. Accessible means easy to handle and clear to see, so that’s the first thing I’d like to say. Then, the Tom Clancy brand has always been about anticipation; it’s not only about the actual theatre of war, but also what may happen in the next few years and I think in this version, we are pretty authentic and loyal to this vision.
I think you’re mostly talking about the optical camo that most of the guys have talked about – about being something fake. Obviously if you think about Predator and other movies like that, it may sound like that, but it’s not sci-fi. It’s something that already exists, not in this advanced form though, but if you look at YouTube and Daily Motion and other sources, you will discover that lots of universities have already started studying and looking into all those meta-materials which are trying to reproduce the reality and act just like this kind of optical camouflage. So this is not fake things, it’s things that are not actually developed, but prototyped.
We are just pushing these prototypes into what they may be in the next 10 or 20 years and what may happen in this period. Take for example, the drones. The drones that you see in the game are pretty advanced, but actually, they are already used in the form of little drones that may be sent to avoid human casualties. I think that we’re not inventing things, but we are just pushing things that already exist a little bit.
So is all the gadgetry based on prototypes then?
For now, everything that we have in the game are things that have real roots. The only thing that is completely original is the gun that the Ghosts hold, which is called the MRB – the Modular Rifle Bullpup – which is a mix of several parts of existing weapons. We’d like to have the signature specifics of a gun that you could use with several attachments that you can obtain in the game and this is the only thing that has been 100% invented and even if it’s invented, it does has real roots. Everything present has some kind of existence, even if it’s not exactly 100% like it is in the game.
Even the shoulder cannon that we saw in the live-action movie? What was that based on?
Well, there is some difference between the live-action and the game. The live-action has taken more liberties than the game. It was for the purpose of being very cinematic, very immersive, you know? This is more a glimpse of the game than really a loyal prediction of the game, so we took some more liberties with the trailer.
So there’s no shoulder cannon in the game that fires missiles?
Yes, kind of.
Ha ha, okay... Well, we’ve seen the optical camo, the MRB, etc. Have you got anymore gadgetry up your sleeves that we haven’t seen yet? Is that a main focus of yours?
This is a kind of key feature to us: the weapons, the gadgetry and electronic warfare. It’s something that we really want to push. This for us is the main kind of difference between regular troops and spec-ops, which are granted these very expensive and advanced military prototypes, so you can have dozens of these weapons, like EMP grenades, lots of recon devices, obviously drones that you will be able to fight, but also to control – not only for recon as well, but also to fight. So tons of cool tools and cool toys.
What was the main lesson you learnt from Advanced Warfighter that you brought forward into Future Soldier? Maybe something that needed fixing? A key focus for you? Did you learn from your mistakes in that leg of the franchise?
I think that the good thing to keep in mind is that the players are asking for tactics and asking for – I told you before – reflection more than action. Lots of games are doing a great job in this action path, but we don’t have so many products that are fighting in our territory, you know, the tactical thing. So, we think that the main thing to keep in mind is this.
Players are asking for tactics, for it to be squad based, and acting before shooting, and the thing that we wanted to push is trying to avoid overwhelming you with info – to give info only when needed. This is the purpose of the new cross-com, which is a layer of the reality that appears only when you need it. You will be able to scan everything with it, from vehicles to people, giving you info on weak points, danger, etc, even the topography of the battlefield. If you scan, for example a position, you will be able to see, this is a good spot for sniping, etc, so this is the kind of info we wanted to give to the player and not overwhelm him with useless and disturbing info.
The E3 demo and the demo you have here [Ubisoft Summer Showcase], towards the end seems to get a bit more action-orientated than Ghost Recon fans may be used to. Is that a conscious move from your perspective? Or is that just a by-product of the new futuristic gadgetry?
Well, it’s actually something that we wanted to give to the player. We were very tactical and some players told us that they wanted this kind of action orientated gameplay. This is also something that we learnt from the competition. We are now in a kind of blockbuster market, so we need to have some big production values just like this action phase that you saw, but it will not only be about this type of action. For the purpose of the demo, we had to split the demo in three parts to showcase every type of gameplay that you will have, but I think there will be a good balance between recon, more tactical phases and some “blow some shit up” phases.
Do you think that Ubisoft as a company is moving towards making these more action-orientated and accessible titles these days? Take Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell for instance, moving away from the niche to cater to a more mainstream audience...
I think this is a logical evolution of the market, you know? We are more and more trying to learn from movies. Movies are trying to learn from us. So we’re taking the best from it and obviously, some sources of inspiration may lead to this kind of changes. We really like the first Ghost Recons, people liked it, but we thought it was kind of niche, and in order to extend the brand and rejuvenate it, we really needed to incorporate these kind of elements.
It’s not a total revamping of the game, it’s just about injecting some kind of things that people are looking into, like you said, action phases, production values, explosions, but not in a bad way. It’s not about becoming more casual, it’s about becoming more accessible and accessible doesn’t always mean simplistic.
Obviously you have the multiplayer beta coming, which was scheduled for this summer, but with the game being pushed back, ultimately the beta did. Do you have a new time frame for that?
As the game is planned for release in Q1 of next year, it will be a couple of months before, but it’s still on. The guys who have bought Splinter Cell for the demo of Ghost Recon are going to have it for sure.
Is there a PlayStation version planned?
I can’t tell you right now. It’s for sure on the Xbox 360, we are looking if it’s possible to have it on the PS3, but not sure right now.
What sort of things can we expect from the beta? A vertical slice? A sample of maps, setups, modes?
It’s still something that we’re looking at. Obviously lots of our competitors are offering the multiplayer betas; we are offering the real deal. New things that we’re offering in the game is the full campaign playable in four player co-op, jump in/jump out, so this is something that we really want to push. We still don’t know yet if it’s going to be available on beta, we’re still discussing the content. Now that I’m talking about the four player co-op, it’s something that we really want to push. We would like people to experience the real feeling of playing as a team of four players and this is something we’re really pushing.
Ghost Recon for a lot of people is all about the campaign missions, story and set-pieces, what are you trying to do to entice people into the competitive side of things and strengthen that aspect?
Well I can’t talk to you right now about that. What I can say is that we’re going to have a pretty solid experience in solo, and we were very well known and recognised for our multiplayer, so this is, for us, mandatory to have at least the same multiplayer as Ghost Recon, if it’s not our best one.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is scheduled for a Q1 2011 release.