Ghost Recon Commander: Behind the headshots [Interview]

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Ghost Recon Commander Interview
"John Romero and I are ferocious Ghost Recon players," Loot Drop COO and Ghost Recon Commander designer Brenda Brathwaite admits. "John has over 200 hours and I'm probably not far behind him--certainly the 180's -190's in terms of hours played." A long story short, Ubisoft noticed this when it sought to make a Ghost Recon social game, and about six months later, Ghost Recon Commander (GRC) was born on Facebook.

Brenda BrathwaiteNow, GRC is available for all to play. While we didn't particularly enjoy the experience, about 50,000 players monthly might. But how does Brathwaite feel about the reactions? "I've been overall really happy with the press that it has gotten, especially in the hardcore space. Because the hardcore players tend to just go, 'Facebook? No!' and that's about the end of their thoughts on it," Brathwaite tells us. "And I've also been simultaneously excited that it seems people who traditionally review Facebook games are looking at it not as a Facebook game, but as a more hardcore game."

"Facebook games basically ship in beta. Not everything is all baked in yet. You want to see how people react, how people feel about things," Brathwaite says. "So it's a crazy, wild and busy time. Overall, the response to the game has been super-positive, which is great. As is to be expected, when your game gets out there on thousands of machines, you're going to find some bugs that you just didn't catch. And for that we're grateful--all of our engineers are on fire fixing those."

Technical issues aside, the fact that GRC focused more on a slower-paced, perhaps tactical approach to the Ghost Recon series took us aback, especially when stacked up against what the series has grown into on consoles and PCs. Brathwaite has her reasons for taking GRC in the direction that she did, namely out of respect of both the source material and the Facebook platform.

"If someone wanted a Ghost Recon first person experience there is Ghost Recon Online, Future Soldier--it already exists. It already exists, in fact, at a phenomenally high level of fidelity," Brathwaite points out. "So, there is no reason to recreate that in Flash on the Facebook ecosystem. I wanted to make it turned-based. I knew really early on what I wanted it to be like, and I guess if Ghost Recon could somehow meet Jagged Alliance and X-Com, it would be something similar to that. Especially technology wise, there is a fair comparison there."

"That's how 100 million people play on Facebook. If I'm playing an asynchronous, turn-based game, I don't want to come back to Facebook and discover that just because you put five hours into the game, and I only had 20 minutes, that you've now won. That's not fair."
Ghost Recon Commander on Facebook
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Ghost Recon Commander: Behind the headshots [Interview]
Ultimately, it boils down to that Loot Drop wanted to craft a Facebook that somehow appealed to fans of the series (i.e. "hardcore" gamers) and folks that have been playing social games for a while. The result is a game that's far slower-paced than, say, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, but one that attempts to be a "gamer's game" in ways that are more behind the scenes. Take the ways in which GRC takes gunfire into consideration, for example:

"Each one of the guns has its own statistics. What things does that bullet go through," Brathwaite says. "Like, is there a possibility? What is the accuracy? What is the possibility that it could hit the tree? So it's really calculating all those things."
Ghost Recon Commander Facebook
If there's one thing we truly admired about GRC, it was how Loot Drop handled social play in the game. GRC respects the fact that, regardless of whether most Facebook games feature asynchronous multiplayer, those are real people behind those Facebook profiles. Attaching values to friends based on their personal performance helps it feel more as if, when you hire those friends asynchronously, that they're on the battlefield with you. Even Brathwaite admits that sometimes these features are an afterthought, but not in GRC.

"In developing these games, for the most part, it's an afterthought," Brathwaite concedes. "Like, 'How are we going to reward them?' 'I don't know, just give them ten coins ... sounds good to me.' 'OK, all right, let's do it.' And, and it sort of becomes what I refer to as a form of bribery. It just to me seemed like, 'What, I'm going to go click and collect five bullets, right?' And it was just like, 'I'm not putting this in this game. This is a horrible idea.'"
Ghost Recon Commander screens
Now that GRC is out in the wild, Brathwaite's job has turned into somewhat of a quality assurance guru ... with work on the game's upcoming features--like, say, player versus player--squeezing its way in there somehow. "We are reading all the feedback," Brathwaite assures. "One of the junior designers right now has the task of going through every single forum message, crawling through it. And I read every single review of the game."

As for the future, planning in the Facebook game world isn't that simple, we're told. Regardless, this veteran designer still revels in the fact that she was able to be a part of her favorite game series.

"I still can't believe that I got an opportunity to work on my favorite franchise. I'm not exaggerating if there's at least a dozen things I feel a desperate need to do, whether or not I'll get to do them," Brathwaite gushes. "Especially in the Facebook stage, you don't plan for years, you literally have to plan for the very short term because the platform itself and games on the platform change so much that if you look out too far, you're just fooling yourself."

Do you dig Ghost Recon Commander on Facebook? What about Brathwaite's approach to the game or her reactions to its critics? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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