A History Of Tom Clancy Games: From Rainbow Six To The Division

The Division [official site] has ensnared at least two members of RPS in its deadly streets, and as we creep through cover toward a better understanding of the game, we’ve taken a moment to reflect on the games that came before. Specifically, the games that carry the name of author Tom Clancy. From Rainbow Six to Ghost Recon and HAWX, the Clancyverse contains some of the finest tactical shooters that the PC has ever seen – and a few duds as well. Jake Tucker investigated the triumphs, the failures, and the origins of the Clancy game.

If you want to talk about the Tom Clancy games, you have to start with the man himself. Sadly now deceased, in 1996 Clancy was one of the world’s best-selling novelists, the tsar of techno-thrillers, and he’d just co-founded a game studio called Red Storm Entertainment.

Authors don’t usually move into video game publishing – though who could forget Michael Crichton’s experiment with Timeline Computer Entertainment – and even though Clancy wasn’t an active part of development at Red Storm, his access to military experts and technical consultants proved invaluable.

For 20 years, games bearing the Clancy name have been nearly guaranteed to have a gritty feel all of their own. Whether going door to door with the modern day combat of Rainbow Six or dealing with drones and robotic sentries in Ghost Recon, there’s a sort of authenticity that many have fallen in love with. And considering every game with the Clancy name on the cover as a whole, they also have, in my opinion, one of the highest hit rates of any video game franchise in history.

Tom Clancy enjoyed his video games, and he had taken a liking to an early first-person shooter, The Colony, written by a programmer named David Smith. Clancy was so impressed with the game that he invested big money into Smith’s 3D tools company Virtus and they soon pushed out the first game with Tom Clancy’s name on the box, SSN.

SSN was a submarine game based on Clancy’s novel of the same name. Problem: Tom Clancy had never commanded a submarine before, so he contacted his friend, eventual best man, and retired submarine commander Doug Littlejohns.

“He’d signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish this SSN game, and I looked at the deal and said, ‘You’re never going to make a red cent out of this. This is the worst deal I’ve ever seen, from your end,’” said Littlejohn, recalling the first time he’d looked over the deal Clancy had signed “So I got up on the Sunday morning, about 5am, and I remember sitting in the picture window in his house in Chesapeake and wrote a two-pager saying, ‘This is what you need to do, you need to find people who are dedicated game writers, you need to set up a new company which is dedicated to games, and you need to put some money into it.'”

SSN did well, but as Littlejohns predicted, didn’t do much for Virtus thanks to the Simon & Schuster deal. Virtus and Tom Clancy went 50/50, Littlejohns took 15 people from Virtus and they made their own company, Red Storm Interactive.

“Red Storm started in the fall of 1996. We kicked off with a brainstorming retreat at colonial Williamsburg. Clancy was there, as well as the core group developers from SSN. We spent a couple of days in a big meeting room kicking around ideas for games,” said Brian Upton, the lead engineer on SSN. “We eventually had more than 100. The idea for Rainbow Six came out of that session. It was originally proposed by a programmer named Mustafa Thamer [most recently at Firaxis working on XCOM: Enemy Unknown]. He suggested making a game about FBI hostage negotiators.”

The game changed forms several times during development. At one point, it was known as “Jackbooted Thugs” and took a much darker approach. That fell by the wayside after Clancy decided he wanted to write a novel about the game, so Rainbow Six’s story was brought back in line with Clancy’s usual blend of high-tech military action.

“He took my basic storyline and weaved his own narrative around it,” says Upton. “I remember getting to read the finished manuscript fairly late in development and doing some quick design changes to bring the game more in line with his story, but a lot of what went into the book started out in the game.”

In 1998, the company released Rainbow Six – it wasn’t their first game, that honour goes to strategy title Tom Clancy’s Politika, but this was the one that made everyone take notice. It’s a brutal struggle of a game that emerged blinking into the middle of a crop of excellent shooters: Half Life, Unreal, and er, Trespasser. It proceeded to turn the industry upside down. Rather than presenting an abstract idea of combat, and building you up to almost superhuman levels of invulnerability, this was as close to the real deal as 1998 PCs had seen or could feasibly handle. There were real world locations, real weapons, and a single bullet was often enough to kill you.

The game partly stemmed from Upton’s frustration that the younger guys on the team kept beating him at Quake, due to their faster reflexes. You could say that too many rocket kills played a part in creating the tactical shooter genre.

On page two, Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell and experimentation, both successful and not-so-successful.


  1. SamfisherAnD says:

    Hey that’s me!

  2. Captain Joyless says:

    “sadly now deceased”? Why can’t we celebrate his death as an opportunity to score political points, like Clancy did himself with 9/11 (blaming it on the American left)?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Because that would be crass and unfunny.

    • Flatley says:

      Well clearly nothing’s stopping you.

    • GernauMorat says:

      I’m with you. He was nasty, unpleasant ultranationlist who traded in simplistic adventure stories which painted America as the perpetual victim. If you want thrillers, read something else. It is not wrong to point out the politics of someone whos entire career was based on dodgy jingoism.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Very true. However, there’s a difference between criticising someone’s politics and celebrating their death.

        • GernauMorat says:

          I think Captain Joyless’s point was more about Clancy and sept. 11 than it was about actually celebrating his death.

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            kfix says:

            Yeah, you’re right, silly me was confused by the bit where he said “Why can’t we celebrate his death…”.

          • Distec says:

            Don’t make excuses for that comment.

            Too often people use “It’s okay to criticize a deceased person’s politics” as an excuse to just say nasty shit.

  3. Slinkusss says:

    I think this article actually serves as a kind of dirge for the good ol’ days of gaming, and presents a reflection for how Ubisoft done fucked it all up…

    • Evil Pancakes says:

      I’d actually argue that the Tom Clancy games were at their best in the early days of the Ubisoft partnership. Rainbow Six 3, Ghost Recon Island Thunder, Splinter Cell 1-3. But yes, basically after Chaos Theory and Lockdown things kind of went into the toilet.

      • Slinkusss says:

        I agree completely, that’s what I was trying to say, the early days of Ubisoft were awesome. But just look what they did with the latest ‘Rainbow six’ (inverted commas because it is that in name only). That crap has been coming for a long time, and the article provides a timeline of how we got here…

      • KesMonkey says:

        “after Chaos Theory……..things kind of went into the toilet”

        And yet the most recent Splinter Cell, Blacklist, was a spectacular return to form. It’s a pity that a lot of die-hard SC fans avoided it due to the replacement of Ironside as Fisher, as they are missing out on what is easily the best game in the series.

        I’d highly recommend any SC fan that has avoided it for this reason to give it a go with an open mind.

        I say this as someone who adored Chaos Theory, and played through it about five times.

        • Unclepauly says:

          I wouldn’t put it above Chaos Theory but it is very damn close to it. Second best Splinter Cell game imo.

          • heretic says:

            Yep, Chaos Theory is still the best in my eyes but Blacklist was a rather decent entry.

        • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

          This article reminded me I have an unplaced copy sat in my steam folder. Shall give it a spin! Do love a good splinter cell game, but Phantom Pain missions are basically the splinter cell game I always wanted. Curious to see how Blacklist compares

      • vahnn says:

        Rogue Spear, Ravenshield, Ghost Recon, and Splintercell 1-3 for life.

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          keithzg says:

          If only Raven Shield actually worked reliably these days; tried to play it with friends a while back and even after having just bought the game on Steam, inside the game itself for some people it complained about an already-in-use key. We had to go hunting through past forum posts and such to find hacks to bypass the DRM for a game many of us had just purchased; it was pretty ridiculous.

          • vahnn says:

            That’s a bummer. Actually played it in years, but it remains one of my finest memories in gaming. The multi player, I mean.

    • haldolium says:

      Not Ubisoft as such, but Ubi in combination with the point when the “next gen” consoles took over and practically the Xbox started to ruin the PC franchise market. That wasn’t exclusive to the TC games.

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    Risingson says:

    SSN was nicely tense, if my memories do not betray me. Though at that time submarine games were starting to be too expensive to be that niche.

  5. Byrnghaer says:

    You say reinvigorated. I say turned to complete and utter shit.
    I long to go back to the days of Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, Raven Shield and the original Ghost Recon. While I also dearly love ArmA, it does not fill the gap left behind by those titles. Hell, I would settle for a remake of Rogue Spear with slightly better graphics and support for modern PC’s. I still prefer the gunplay of that game over Raven Shield’s, which often felt too floaty and unpredictable. Rogue Spear had some harsh penalties for moving too quickly and abruptly, but also had clear crosshair control when moving at a tactical pace. Even the animations of Rogue Spear still hold up to this very day, bar some awkward looking transitions here and there.

    But these modern trends of dumb action-focussed and far too lenient gameplay has nothing at all to do with what Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon used to be. Vegas 1 and 2 are abominations, and Siege is too. And every Ghost Recon game after the first one is complete and utter garbage too. I’m getting sick and tired of this retarded trend of every game having a four-man squad of a machinegunner, grenadier, marksman and medic. I want to go back to the glory days of when we had 12 and 8-man squads in R6 and GR, where you could split them up into different teams that would cover their own back when you sent them somewhere. Some actual tactical possibilities over the ‘let the player kill everyone and have some AI clean up what he misses and call it the epitomy of tacticool’ shit these modern games go for.

    If someone made a new SWAT game (and a proper one at that, otherwise don’t bother, create a new freaking franchise) I want to have bigger squads as well. Hell, give me trailers too. SWAT 4 references them in radio messages, but they never show up.
    Or imagine a remake of Hidden and Dangerous 2. I’d accept 4-man squads there because it’s always been that way, but even there I’d like to see more, and give them some autonomy as you send them on their way. But after ArmA 3, H&D2 still has the best set of movement options of any tactical shooter. 4 different movement speeds, leaning in all stances, the ability to climb over obstacles of various hight, cutting your way through chainlink fences, or swim under water. There is very little you cannot do.

    But those are the glory days. Anything after is not worthy of the name tactical shooter.

    • Ericusson says:

      Swat 4 felt like the last tactical shooter to me.
      In 3D. And you can still find online games 10 years after its release.

      Doorkickers is the only game that comes to mind with approaching ambitions and it is great albeit in 2d.

      If you have a tactical shooter itch and did not try Doorkickers, try it on steam within the 2 hours refund limit.

      • Byrnghaer says:

        I’ve played and actually created the SiC’s Sound Mod pack. It scratched that planning itch, but I want me some shooting in there too.

        SWAT 4 is awesome as well, especially when played with the Sheriff’s Special Forces mod which adds a ton of ‘new’ maps from SWAT 3 and sticks them in front of all the missions of the official missions in one long, long campaign. It added some good changes too, like automatically switching back to your primary weapon after throwing a grenade, ROE that were a bit more lenient with when you can fire without turning it into a straight-up manshoot, etc. AI is a joy to play with as well, but co-op was utterly magnificent.

    • TheSplund says:

      Vegas 1 & 2 Terrorist Hunt have been a staple of LAN fun for years for me and a good mate (mixed in with so many other co-op games inc SWAT3&4) – playing 2 players against 50 AI on hardest setting, and sticking only to pistols makes for a good laugh. Siege could have been SWAT5 but didn’t go in that direction (sadly? I’m not sure) but I am enjoying it unlike my experience with the Beta of The Division (beautifully realised but hateful to play). Each to their own I guess.

    • vahnn says:

      Arma 3 has 4 movement speeds! But all that other stuff sounds great. I don’t know why I never tried the H&D series.

      • Byrnghaer says:

        True. I love ArmA 3’s movement mechanics. I’m a huge fan of the adjustable stance system, and use it all the time.

        I miss Hidden and Dangerous. Do yourself a favor and try to find H&D2 and the expansion Sabre Squadron. It is one of the best tactical shooters ever made. The options it gives you, the movement mechanics, makes it highly tactical. Inventory management is important, with stuff carried in backpacks being unaccessible for quick use, and the combined weight of all your gear ways you down and tires you out quicker when sprinting. On top of that, characters can improve their statistics when performing actions in missions, but they are always minor increases of +0.5%, +1% etc.
        But what sets H&D apart even more is the sheer variety of mission locales and objectives. It throws a ton of cool locations at you, like Norway in winter, Italy, France, Africa, and even Burma where you fight the Japanese. No mission has the same set-up, and I remember one mission in particular where you are a diver team in Norway trying to get onto a battleship to steal a prototype code-breaking device. You have a little submersible vehicle, get to plant explosives on the ship hulls etc. before boarding and sneaking your way through the ship.

        In short, H&D 2 is absolute brilliance, and the epitome of what a sequel should be. The only complaint I could level at it was that multiplayer netcode seemed shit, and people ended up circle-strafing eachother rather than firing at eachother from cover. But if you try that in SP, you’re going to get cut down in a hurry.

      • Byrnghaer says:

        Oooh, and you could sometimes capture enemy soldiers. If you managed to do that, you could take their clothes and almost turn the game into a Hitman game. If you shoot someone, or cut their throat, the uniform is worthless. But get a clean uniform, you still have to be careful with other gear, because it is all represented on your character. Carry a British combat knife, or an ammo pouch for a Sten gun, and the Germans will see through the disguise. But once you’re dressed up, it’s important to remember where you walked that character because you can ‘soul-switch’ between squad members, and you might kill your own dude on accident.

  6. Crazy_Gweilo says:

    Splinter cell conviction and blacklist are underwhelming? Heresy! I adored both and plowed dozens of hours into both the campaigns and the single missions, which is unusual for me. I loved the stealth combined with the capability to salvage things when you stuffed up. You really felt like Jason Bourne, silently knocking out guards as you prowled towards the objective.

  7. WeeMadAndo says:

    No mention of Ruthless.com makes me sad. That was a game which, if released today, would probably have been much better received. It would in fact, be a just about perfect game for tablets.

    And no Force 21 either. Another interesting omission, because if you wanted to talk about interesting real time strategy games from Red Storm, that’s where I’d go.

  8. thebigJ_A says:


    • thebigJ_A says:

      Clancy. yuck.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        I was into his early books as a kid. I’m just only barely old enough to remember Soviet Russia as ‘the enemy’ so stuff like “Hunt For Red October” and “Red Storm Rising” I thought were good fun. Maybe up to “Sum of All Fears”.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          As I got older I started noticing really icky stuff in there.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            The bad guys being “eco-terrorists”

          • thebigJ_A says:

            and this ultra-military jingoism that made me more and more uncomfortable.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            **Alright, what gives?

            That all, as one comment, was getting auto blocked. I just had to chop it into pieces. Apparently it’s those last two comments as one sentence that triggered the security. Weird.

            i said more after but screw it, now.

          • GernauMorat says:

            Agree entirely. He was a propagandist for the military industrial complex.

          • TWChristine says:

            Huh, I completely forgot about all that.. What finally put me off was when I tried to read Rainbow Six (loved the game, so the book must be good right?). It felt like a mix between him trying to show off how much he knew, and over-eager military porn (granted, all his books were kind of like that, but this one just seemed above and beyond).

          • Blastaz says:

            I recommend you read some Sapper or riddle of the sands. Some properly classy jingoistic military porn.

            That mix of snobbery and violence that runs like a vein of good tweed through the annals of twentieth century English literature…

  9. Avus says:

    The title of this thread can also read as “A History of Ubisuck raped their Tom Clancy games”
    Games like Rainbow 6 and Ghost Recon had been raped beyond recognition.

  10. wombat191 says:

    for me his games reached the high point with the first ghost recon and rogue spear. none of the games since then have grabbed me at all

  11. kwyjibo says:

    The most important part of Clancy games history is when Ubisoft bought his name in 2008 for an 8 figure sum so they can use his name on anything they want.

    link to gamasutra.com

    It’s just a branding exercise and has been for a long time. You can stick his name on lots of other games and it would do nothing to the content. Tom Clancy’s Modern Warfare, Tom Clancy’s Battlefield, Tom Clancy’s Homefront.

    I’m not sure it even means anything to players now. Does Ubisoft think it reduces the risk of launching new IPs if they stick his name on the box?

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      DuncUK says:

      Am I the only one that thinks its insane that you can buy someone’s name and use it on your product even though they’re no longer associated with a project? Let alone dead?

      To me, this seems like the point where branding crosses over into deception and arguably flat-out fraud. It’s one thing for a celebrity to put their name to a product they’ve barely interacted with and had no creative input on, but its quite another when the name and person become entirely detached by the product still retains a possessive sounding “Tom Clancy’s”.

      I must admit I had naively assumed that Clancy was somehow still creatively attached to these games – albeit in a very vague way, such as signing off on a 100 word synopsis of what the game was going to be and maybe seeing the odd screenshot every other month. At least that way he’d be giving tacit agreement that yes, this product was something he was willing to endorse and it was in keeping with all other such products. But the man is dead now, what the hell does it mean to put his name on a product that he cannot possibly have had anything to do with? How is this not fraudulent?

      • TWChristine says:

        I get your point and rather agree. I guess the way it’s seen is something along the lines of say, JC Penny’s. You’re using the name as a sign of a particular form of quality you can expect. With that said, for me personally, having the Clancy name attached now means nothing..the games are pretty much the same as anything else that gets released these days; there was a time though that seeing Clancy or at least Rainbow Six was a sure buy.

      • C0llic says:

        If you think that’s in bad taste, what about the Citreon ‘Picasso’? His family sold the rights to his signature, so now to some people, the identifying mark of one of the 20th century’s most important and influential artists is now nothing more than the badge on a small town car. Something the man never consented to during his lifetime. At least Clancy willingly signed his name away (also, screw Clancy and his very questionable politics).

        Capitalism, isn’t it just great?

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Yeah, must admit it was news to me he had died. I assumed all these series with his name in had some vague connection to his books, how else would you explain the Division having his name on?! Weird. You can picture the corporate Ubisoft decision makers dishing out these names to anything that doesn’t have enough marketing weight. Caveman FPS? Far Cry it. Real world shooter? Tom Clancy. Pirate game? Hmm, better make it Assassins creed.

  12. Fnord73 says:

    Does this mean Clancy was not involved in 1988s Red Storm Rising?

  13. Unsheep says:

    To me the only uninteresting Clancy game was ‘Siege’, but only because it has no single-player campaign. I have played every other Clancy game and have really enjoyed all of them, from early Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon to HawX, EndWar and Division. Sure, Future Soldier was disappointing as a Ghost Recon game, but as a shooter I still thought it was great. As far a franchise or brand goes they have consistently delivered high quality games, at least as far as my personal taste in games is concerned. Nice article.

  14. Rob_Heinlein says:

    For me personally the franchise was dead after Rainbow Six 3 and the original Ghost Recon.
    Everything after that either just watered down the original concept or just became another twitchy-hit point type shooter – which other franchises did a lot better.

    RS: Siege is an interesting game but does not live up to the original concept in my book.
    The same with The Division: I enjoyed the Beta but I could never play that for longer. If you add realistic weapons to a game then I simply will never get over the fact that you might have to put 2 full magazines into someone to kill them…

  15. marlowespade says:

    Wasn’t Shadow Watch a Tom Clancy joint? I played the hell out of that, and really enjoyed the branching story, comic book art, and turn based tactics. I wish it still worked today. :/

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    Waltorious says:

    “torsos made of Teflon.” I think you may have meant Kevlar. Teflon would be completely ineffective at stopping bullets.

    In fact, Teflon coating is used on some bullets to give them better penetration through glass and metal (specifically for shooting at people inside cars, apparently). I just learned this detail by googling it right now.