Red Storm, the developers behind Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, knew they’d stumbled on something special at the prototype stage: They’d just produced a one hit/one kill Mod for popular arcade shooter Quake to prove their newest concept. This was a far cry from the frenetic slaughter contained in the base game, adding a little more thought to
What they couldn’t have realised back in 1996, as they were working on the earliest iterations of the game, was that Rainbow Six would go on to rework first-person-shooters and define most of the conventions of the tactical shooter sub-genre that it spawned.
The game changed shape several times during creation, with the seed for the idea coming from a brainstorming retreat at colonial Williamsburg. Red Storm was founded by author Tom Clancy in the fall of 1996, lead designer Brian Upton was at the retreat and went on to help bring the game to life: “We kicked off with a brainstorming retreat at colonial Williamsburg. We spent a couple of days in a big meeting room kicking around ideas for games – 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. He suggested making a game about FBI hostage negotiators.”
The concept was solid, but the team kicked around a few different ideas until Clancy decided he wanted to write a novel about one of the ideas Upton was working with: a multinational anti-terrorist organisation.
The team were learning as they went without even a design document, something Upton said was “a stupid way to make a game, and a mistake that we never repeated.”
Clancy’s involvement in the company gave the team access to technical experts on it all, from weapons to counter-terrorism. This led to a number of small changes: Jumping was removed because the experts would prefer to walk around a sofa than to jump over it, the team learnt how accurate sub-machine guns were while moving by going out and firing them while moving.
Bringing in experts is standard practice now, but the level of research gave other shooters design cues to follow. It also helped to popularise gadgets now common in shooters: Flashbangs, motion tracker, breaching charges. It wasn’t enough to pop open a door and get to work with a super-shotgun anymore.
So many of these design choices caught on: It was an annoyance with twitch skills exhibited in office Quake deathmatches that lead the team to put in the “crosshair” now standard in most shooters. This means movement and firing position causes your reticule to widen which can make you wildly inaccurate. Every time you drop into a crouch to squeeze off a more accurate burst in a Battlefield you’re feeling the game's influence, years later.
The weapon handling back in the early days of the series marked a complete departure. Delta Force released the same year and also had minimal damage required for a kill, but where Delta Force played out over long spaces, Rainbow Six had you picking your way through jungles and embassies where danger was never more than 4 feet away. Firefights had to be controlled or they’d quickly get out of hand and end with the armed assailant and most of your team dead. It’s something I’ve talked about previously, but for someone that had grown up playing Doom, the change was immediate and exciting.
The levels stood out at the time for being based on real locations. The level designers adhered to real architectural practices to ensure they felt like a realistic location. When they had a place that felt like it had a purpose, the mission was built around the space. They came up against a lot of technological barriers here, with many of the rooms being largely empty, but it still marked a steep departure from the accepted practice of building levels for the purpose of being digital killing fields.
The team’s fondest memories were of the level Mint. “it’s a funny story” Thomas Devries said, giggling as we discuss the levels. He was one of the level designers working on the original game. “There’s a local newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer, and they very famously have big windows that you can see all of their mechanisms in. Back then, your resources on the Internet were very limited, and you couldn’t get a look at the inside of a real US Mint, so the best that we could figure was I got in touch with the local newspaper, went there, and we took photos and all this stuff of all the machinery, and that was Mint”.
“That building is still there, with all the presses and stuff, and every time I go past it I think very fondly of my time in there. We didn’t exactly tell them what we were doing so as not to scare them off, but I still have schematics for all their machinery.”
This introduction to “realism” created a divergent path in shooters, an alternate route for designers to pursue. For a game released in the same year as the Half Life and Unreal, the close quarters combat is a million miles from Half Life’s chaotic brawls, and the design is in stark contrast with Unreal’s strange alien geography.
The ideas have flowed both ways with varying successes: the franchise has been reactive to trends in gaming as it evolved, even after Red Storm got acquired by UbiSoft Over time it lost the planning screen and ultra hardcore stylings that made it so beloved of early fans and instead it took on a lot of the concepts that were popular in shooters at the time and put its own unique spin on them.
Looking past mobile title Rainbow Six: Ghost Vanguard, there hasn’t been an entry in the series since 2008’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and in the 7 years since we breached & cleared in Rainbow’s shoes there’s been a lot of changes.
A small disclaimer of course, while I’ve played the alpha-build it’s still months away from release and a lot could change.
The change is clear from the games entire selling point: It’s a 5 on 5 multiplayer shooter now, primarily. Something that wouldn’t have been possible back in 1998. The original nearly had the co-op mode cut in the run up to release, 18 years later and the core experience of the game is centred on multiplayer.
At first this really rubbed me up the wrong way: I’ve always played the game as a co-operative experience first and foremost, but it seems to capture the essence of the series while transplanting it into new settings. I was leary of details like class based multiplayer, but it seems like they’re recapturing what made the original game special.
It only really clicks for your first game. Several of us barricaded the cargo area ofa plane with barbed wire and steel shutters, with C4 doors. What followed was a game of cat and mouse as both teams tried to outthink and outflank each other with our bags of tools. It turns out that hunting down terrorists is much more tense when they’re humans that are invariably smarter than you.
It looks like it’s going to be doubling down on the things I’ll always associate with the series: brutal firefights in realistic environments against intelligent enemies. What I’m most excited though, is seeing the legacy that Siege will leave behind.