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October 16, 2004


Joe Booth Talks About Ghost Recon 2 Online

Without a doubt one of the biggest titles this Christmas will be Ubisoft's Ghost Recon 2 (check out our preview at that link!). Online gamers will want to keep this game near the top of the lists as Ubisoft have been putting much effort into that aspect, in fact this is shaping up as possibly the best online game to date. Future Gamez was fortunate to recently interview Joe Booth, the Creative Director of Ghost Recon 2 at the Paris Studio where the online component has been developed.

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Joe Booth... Creative Director.
Firstly Joe, can you tell us a little about your background. Where have you worked and on which games?
I started in the industry 17 years ago as a programmer on old systems like the Commodore 64, NES, Amiga SNES etc. Over the years titles which I’ve worked on have sold over 16,000,000 units – the most successful of these was Rollercoaster Tycoon for the PC. Before joining Ubisoft I ran product development for BAM Entertainment a small independent publisher where my group developed 25+ titles in 3 years.

What is your current role at Ubisoft?
My current role is Creative Director here in our Paris studio – I’m focusing on online games for consoles. The Creative Director role is a new role for Ubisoft, to have someone with a lot of experience just focus on the overall vision for the game, similar to the Director role on a film.

Ghost Recon 2 is being developed both at Ubisoft Shanghai (single player) and Ubisoft France (online gameplay). Can you tell us how this works. How closely do you collaborate with the Shanghai studio?
We use the same engine and share a lot of code and some art assets with the Shanghai team – they are world leaders in cooking the metal of the PS2 using the Unreal engine and they have done most of the graphic enhancements to the engine. But all the maps and game modes are new and exclusive to Ghost Recon 2 for Playstation 2 and I have the mind set that what’s right for online does not have to follow offline etc.

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That tank is toast!
Obviously Ghost Recon 2 is one of the biggest title for Ubisoft this year can you tell us how the game is progressing? Is it finished?
We’re pretty much done now.

The studio in France is focusing on the online gameplay, can you tell us how many people have been working on that aspect of the game?
We’ve had a core team of 30+ people and brought in some additional man power when we needed it. We’ve got some of the best talent at Ubisoft working on this game.

Do you see the online gameplay as a crucial aspect to the entire package?
Absolutely – This is our biggest investment today on a PS2 online title. In $$$ terms we’re spending as much on online development as we are on offline. Ubisoft are committed to being No 1 on PS2 for online.

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Around the railroads...
What are some of the features and game modes for online gameplay?
We are 16 players with voice chat on a mass market broadband of 128k download 64k upload. We are 100% focused on team play, that means that all our game modes and maps are only playable in team based games.

We have two new games modes, Assault - where one team attacks and one defends, but not just one base, there are a number of defensive positions the attackers must take first. The second new game is Supremacy where both teams attack and defend and have to find a path between each others bases to take their base. The thing with both these new modes is that they really focus the gameplay through the map and you have to use strategy and team work to win.

Our ranking system has being redesigned to motivate team play, it also motivates team balancing by calculating the relative skill / experience of each team and adapting the score for winning based on that. An other cool feature is that it attaches a weight to new players – so there is an advantage to having newbies on your team.

How many multi-player maps will be included?
We have 10 maps in total, 9 are new and exclusive maps, and then we have the fan favorite maps ‘Docks’ from Ghost Recon Jungle Storm.

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Better get those enemies!
We’ve heard that you will be able to call in airstrikes during the single-player game. Will these be possible in the online gameplay and how will you be able to control overuse?
Sorry but air-strikes are only available for the single player game.

How hard has it been to develop the online modes for Playstation 2? Is there a graphical hit when running the game online?
I think the first generation of online Playstation 2 titles suffered when compared to the Xbox’s first generation of titles because many of the Xbox developers had a history of online game development from the PC. But the Playstation 2 developers are catching up and I like to think we’re leading the pack. And I think this is the only thing holding the PS2 online back as at the end of the day it’s the same old internet connection plugged in the back.

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Get him quick...
The graphic hit is more about having 16 human players who can all stand in the same position. But each generation of titles deals with this better. I think we have some of the best looking maps online on ps2 – the guys here have really learnt how to work within the restraints.

When you’re a true mass market console developer you want to address some really big issues – so far the experience of online gaming has reflected what network bandwidth you have and that of the server you’re logged into – and this just kind of sucks – so we said to our selves so long as these dudes have the minimum broadband (128kbit download, 64kbit upload – which lets face it is a pretty shitty connection) then everyone should be able to play 16 players with voice chat. So we end up with a 100% dedicated server solution and with this crazy distributed bittorent style voice system. Now for the first time on any console I think we can say we are mass market.

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Some of the great lighting.
As the only military game this year what do you see as the advantages or differences to the current flagship online game, SOCOM II?
Hey, we’re not the only military game this year, but make no doubt we want to be number 1.

SOCOM I & SOCOM II are great titles and they did a good job of giving Playstation 2 owners an online military experience. But I haven’t dwelled much on those games as I still think a lot of the cutting edge game design for online is still on PC and to some extent Xbox – as I stated earlier PS2 online had a little bit of a slow start. So my approach has being to study the best experience online and make that mass market. The sense of team play is so much stronger than that of an individual deathmatch. And this is where we have focused, specifically on how to motivate and reword players who’ve never met before to form strategies and work together, to get experienced players to mentor newbies, and how to keep the action focused.

But I would say our biggest advantage is our level design. A lot of military games use military advisors to help with weapons and animation, but we’ve been using them to help with our level design, to help us motivate players to use real world elite forces strategies. So I think we have the best art, the best audio, the best tech of any PS2 online game this year, but I’m most proud of the achievement of the level design team.

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Battle outside...
After you finish work on Ghost Recon 2 what are you moving onto next?
I’m going to stick to online. I think with Ghost Recon 2 we’ve created the best team based game for the Playstation 2, I’ve pushed so hard to create an experience that rewords and motivates players to work together. I had this vision that single player death match was the 1st generation of online play (I killed you) and that team play was the 2nd generation (we killed them) – so next I’m focusing on what I hope to be the 3rd generation of online play – that’s all I’m going to say until we get something to show. (Sounds pretty interesting to me - Dave)

What is your favourite food?
All the little restaurants by the studio do this cuscus, vegetable and meat dish on Thursday’s and Friday’s – I’m kind of into that at the moment. But hey its Paris, what I’ve found is that place’s that look like their going to do great food are total tourist traps, but these little shitty looking places do fantastic food.

Finally, what games are you currently playing?
Burnout 3 on PS2, and Counter Strike Source on PC.

Thanks so much for taking some time out from your very busy schedule Joe...

Ubisoft's web site can be found at:
You can see the Future Gamez preview of Ghost Recon 2 at that link.

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