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.