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Veterans advise Ubisoft on new 'Ghost Recon' game

Eric Page

Eric Page — an owner of Grey Group Training, a former Army sniper, and an advisor for "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier" — is interviewed at the headquarters of Red Storm, a Ubisoft studio in North Carolina.

Hitting a target requires perfectly balancing human, technical and environmental elements. If one thing’s amiss, the bullet won’t find its mark.

The same concept applies to combat games, according to a panel of advisers for Ubisoft’s upcoming shooter “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.”

“Most of the time, when we look out there, we don’t see things done right,” said Eric Page, an Army combat veteran of Iraq who advised developers and did motion capture for the game.

Veterans have a keen eye for detail and can be very critical when they see something wrong. If characters don’t behave like trained soldiers or wear equipment incorrectly, “the whole game falls apart,” said Page, who is now one of the owners of Grey Group Training, a Fayetteville, N.C., company that provides training to the military and military contractors

Page was among the advisers and developers on hand for a preview of the latest “Ghost Recon” title at the North Carolina headquarters of Red Storm, one of the Ubisoft development teams working on the third-person shooter.

Inaccurate depictions of troops’ methods and gear are the biggest complaints, but little problems also dog many games.

Examples:

  • Video game soldiers often lack physical limitations. “I’d love to be able to run for 12 hours,” said “Jon,” a combat veteran of the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group who asked that his real name not be used.
  • Almost all games try to re-create situational awareness by putting colorful tags over the heads of enemies. “Until we can get the enemy to wear sensors, it will never happen,” said Dutch DeGay, a retired Army Ranger who works as a civilian contractor for the Army and has worked as an authenticity adviser on most of Ubisoft’s “Ghost Recon” games.
  • In most games, the fate of the world hangs on your actions alone. “You are not an ‘army of one’ — ever,” DeGay said. “ … I deal with young 18-year-olds who have played ‘Call of Duty,’ and they think they are the next Rambo.”

Despite the complaints, all the advisers — who also are avid gamers — acknowledge that a little fantasy is fine. Gamers don’t want to spend hours cleaning weapons and walking long patrols.

“If you made a game that was true to life, you would never sell one,” “Jon” said.

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Page, who served as an infantry scout, said an accurate depiction of his job would involve 18 hours to three weeks of living with another guy and just waiting to take a shot at an enemy. “It’s one of the worst things you would ever want to do,” he said.

In addition, it’s important to remember that war is hell.

“There are a lot of things that you can’t translate into a game that wouldn’t seem overly brutal,” Page said.

Plus, there’s always operational security to consider. Developers don’t want to reveal sensitive information and techniques.

“We think about: Bad guys are going to play this game,” said Travis Getz, Red Storm’s authenticity coordinator.

The consensus of the advisers was that Ubisoft has done well with “Ghost Recon.”

“I don’t think anyone has cracked the nut, but if anyone’s holding it tightly, it’s this franchise,” DeGay said.

As a result, gamers will play as special operations warriors who behave more like real troops, suffer physical limitations and fight as a team.

However, developers have bent the rules a bit when it comes to some of the gear. “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” is set a few years down the road, so developers decided to equip the Ghosts with technology currently in development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and others.

Some gamers were a little nervous about the direction “Future Soldier” seemed to be heading when early trailers showed the Ghosts turning invisible, firing missiles that popped up from their shoulder armor and controlling drones that looked like miniature tanks. None of that made it into the missions shown in North Carolina. The look into the future was moderated to deliver tweaked gear, robust sensors and active camouflage that wasn’t exactly an invisibility cloak. The results were a glimpse of the near future rather than science fiction.

“You can do most of this right now,” Page said

As far as gameplay is concerned, “Ghost Recon” seems to be heading in the right direction. Gaming journalists were able to test the multiplayer modes as well as part of the campaign.

The game — which is scheduled for a May 22 launch — offers cooperative play in the campaign for up to four players. If you play solo, you’ll discover that you don’t have quite as much control over your squad as you did in previous “Ghost Recon” titles. That’s because your teammates are much more intelligent and don’t require as much direction.

The multiplayer modes focus on team-based objectives in a variety of settings. You can choose from three classes: rifleman, who can withstand more punishment; engineer, who can fly drones; and scout, who can wear active camouflage. This last mode is where you’ll quickly discover that active camouflage is no substitute for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

The game also features a survival mode in which up to four players try to fight off waves of attackers. Once again, teamwork is absolutely essential. If you have a teammate who likes to chase enemies around the map, you won’t last long. If one character bleeds out, the game is over.

From what we saw in North Carolina, “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” looks like it will be very enjoyable — and very believable.

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