Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s Emil Daubon on realism, motiviations & more

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We sit down for a heart-to-heart with Breakpoint's Writer and Technical Advisor.

Ahead of Ghost Recon Breakpoint‘s launch later this week, Stevivor sat down with Emil Daubon, a Writer and Technical Advisor on the game, to discuss in-game realism, villany, the dangers of technology and depictions of violence in video games. Read on for the full discussion.

Steve Wright, Stevivor: You’re serving double duty as Writer and Military Advisor; with the latter, I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff you’ve noticed Ubisoft get VERY right and VERY wrong when it comes to Ghost Recon — I don’t suppose you could could give me an example of each?

Emil Daubon, Writer & Technical Advisor on Ghost Recon: Breakpoint: Truthfully, I don’t think it’s quite so black and white. I don’t think it’s the issue so much as things that are really right versus really wrong. I think it’s where Ghost Recon has found the balance between authenticity and immersion in the fantasy, which ties in directly of course in my role as a technical advisor consultant. A Lot of consultants approach the job sort of from this very rigid perspective with, they will lay down parameters like this is real, this is not, and that’s it. I have a background in film. I’ve worked in entertainment for a long time. I understand the importance of constraints, whether they’re sort of visual viability or programming or coding. So, bearing all that in mind, I work with all the developing teams as an advisor to help heighten the sense, the feeling of authenticity by immersing or engaging more authentic details.

And within the game there’s tonnes of examples of very authentic, very real details about specific pieces of equipment, character work and vernacular. I mean, there’s tonnes of them. I don’t think there’s anything really that I will say that is done really, really wrong. What I can say is often times very realistic tactics might not fit within the constraints of the coding or it might not be sort of cinematically viable. So my job as a consultant, as an advisor is not to say this is wrong, you can’t do it. It’s to take the director and the development team’s vision and make that work within the realm of authenticity. Whether it’s tweaking some detail a tiny bit or adding some other detail. That’s really the core of what I do as an advisor. And I honestly think that you achieve a more authentic feel by balancing those two things than you do by being really, really rigidly strict to the details of realism.

Stevivor: And your experience as a Green Beret surely helps with that balancing?

Daubon: It seems to help. Well, so you know that line is sort of from a dissidence faction on the Island that is upset about the direction that the technology is going. What’s great about this game is it explores a very plausible and real contingency based on real technology. It’s not saying this is what’s going to happen with the drones and autonomous AI, but it is exploring one possible contingency and that’s at the essence of Tom Clancy. It’s sensationalised fantastic contingencies based on what if something happened to a very real practical application of technologies and situations. I mean, personally for me it doesn’t necessarily mean one thing or another. It’s part of the story.

Stevivor: Straight from the game’s announce livestream, the idea that powerful technology is like “summoning the devil” has been floated by Ubisoft. I’ve even seen in-game references to that spray painted on rubble in Auroa. Can you explain that notion to me in more detail?

Daubon: Being a writer, I’m biassed and very sort of connected to the narrative aspect of this game and I think the exploration of that theme is really interesting because technology has the tendency to move forward and progress in ways that we don’t always anticipate. This game isn’t saying, “be careful, this is what drones are going to be doing”. This game is saying, “wow, what would happen if this happened?”, presented in a near future and it’s a plausible future just based on existing technologies and it’s an exciting exploration of that contingency, and that’s all it is. It’s the one possible what if and that’s what really makes it a Tom Clancy story. It’s an exciting contingency based on technology we could recognise now.

I don’t want to give too much away about either the narrative or the gameplay. Technology, it’s one of the overarching themes of the game, and it’s obvious. It’s been publicly announced, this is one of the themes of the game. There is technology throughout that both the protagonist and antagonist will use in various ways. The fun thing about this fantasy is you actually have a choice on how you engage with it, and that’s part of the immersive experience that Ghost Recon provides. It’s the fantasy of being the ghost, of being the best soldier with the best equipment and in this hostile world unsure of what’s happening and trying to figure things out.

Stevivor: I was going to say that Breakpoint isn’t a sequel to Wildlands, but on second thought it really is — we’re seeing the return (and quick departures) of characters. How has Ubisoft Toronto written Breakpoint to inform new players but to service returning fans?

Daubon: I don’t know if it qualifies directly as a sequel. That was actually something that was talked about early on. It is its own piece of entertainment and there will be enough backstory provided that the characters can sort of be supported. If you’re new to the franchise, you don’t have to replay previous iterations to appreciate the backstories and to engage with and identify with these characters and immerse yourself in the fantasy.

You will see enough throughout the game as you play more of the history of Jon Bernthal’s character, and you’ll learn why that conflict is so affecting and why it matters, and that was an important part of the development of that character. It was one thing to imagine early in development what is the most prevalent threat? What is the most dangerous adversary ghosts can face, that’d be another ghost. It’s another thing to create a character that makes you care about why you’re fighting him. And that’s where Cole Walker in this whole history came from. That’s creating a backstory that makes you care about why you’re fighting. It’s easy to create a dangerous adversary in a game and it becomes a boss fight and you go fight him and it’s over, it’s great, who cares?

There really is compelling back story to illustrate sort of what has happened, like why are you fighting the Ghosts? This guy was a Ghost; he was a member of your unit and you operated with those. We introduced him in Operation Kingslayer — the opportunity to play alongside him in the Wildlands; to experience this person so that when we reveal that he’s your adversary, you’re already invested in. Whether you played Kingslayer and Wildlands or not, as you learn the story of why Cole Walker feels the way he does, you’re going to care about fighting. That’s the point. It was one thing to explore brother versus brother. It’s a whole nother to really create the parameters so that you are that deeply immersed in the fantasy.

Stevivor: I’ve been talking to Ubisoft a lot about villains lately — Far Cry‘s are exaggerated, larger than life; Watch Dogs’ are like turning a mirror back towards ourselves; what are Ghost Recon‘s, or Breakpoint‘s in particular?

Daubon: The two overarching themes of the game of course are this autonomous sort of technology, what happens if it goes out of our control, and then what happens if the most dangerous adversary for you is your brother, is someone who is basically like you? And that’s where the character Cole Walker evolved from. It’s much like the technology question. It’s an exploration, the one possible contingency of what happens when a person is driven to the point where they completely change their allegiance, their perspective. Where their loyalty shifts and yet their moral core remains the same.

Walker believes in what he’s doing, he believes that his cause is just and right. Again, it’s an exploration of one possible contingency. The character had to be that compelling because otherwise, like I said earlier, it’s just a boss fight. And who cares? And the point of this particular iteration of Ghost Recon is to provide a more immersive experience. We honestly, in the core teams, all the dads, we firmly believe that a deeper, more immersive narrative experience was one of the keys to achieving that. And so in order to explore this narrative that could conflict between Nomad and Walker is essential.

Both the bond that existed between them and that elution of the split. Walker’s a great character. From a game play perspective, Walker and the worlds offer a variety of enemy archetypes to engage with so that it’s not the same fight every time. Even the regular PMCs, the military contractors, your standard MV archetypes have varying degrees of skill level and ability. But to create an entirely separate visually recognised entity like the wolves and like Walker adds a heightened element to the game play. I think that more deeply immersive players are my fantasy, but the emotion of the enemy is at the heart. There is an enemy that you have to fight. What’s great about Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is who and or what that enemy is may not be as clearly defined as you’d hoped.

I mean, again, not wanting to reveal too much — he firmly believes that he is on the path to righteousness.

Stevivor: During Inside Xbox today, Jon Bernthal said he hopes he’s doing veterans justice through his portrayal. Was that something he worked on himself or something Ubisoft helped with?

Daubon: Honestly, both. I worked on the motion capture with John when he came on board and I got to work with him pretty sensibly for about a week for doing a lot of the video capture and that’s how I got to know him a little bit, also, we were sort of chatting. While all of us who worked with him helped him to achieve that, the truth is that he comes into every project that is military themed with that underlying goal of properly serving for the veteran community. He wants to portray real characters and show real conflict to illustrate the the real situations that both combat soldiers currently operating and veterans might have to face. He is tremendously and deeply, profoundly respectful of the veteran experience and goes out of his way to make sure that everyone he works with sort of understands that he wants to be respectful to their experiences at every turn and happily welcomes all suggestions to ensure that he’s doing that. So while we’ve worked with him to achieve that, John inherently and unconsciously honestly is always considering that.

Stevivor: So there’s some speculation you yourself are a multiplayer operator in Activision & Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? What do you think?

Daubon: [Coyly] I’m not really sure I know anything about that.

Stevivor: I think it looks like you. That’s okay though. Don’t suppose you guys are preparing any homages back towards Modern Warfare?

Daubon: Yeah, I can’t really speak for that. I don’t think I have an answer, I’m sorry.

Stevivor: No problems; had to try.

You’re a great example of someone with a host of military training excelling in business and the creative arts. There’s a lot of mainstream attention towards video games as tools to incite violence, but what’s the flipside? I’d imagine you could cite things like attention to detail and discipline as positive traits. What, to you, has your military background provided you to better yourself and others?

Daubon: I mean, bearing in mind that I am a content creator, I’m a writer first and foremost. I’m still in the military and I still serve, but I consider myself a writer ahead of everything else. I love the opportunity to create content. Even oftentimes it’s military statements. What’s important for me to remember is that, like with a project like Ghost Recon, we’re creating a fantasy and it’s a fantasy that affords players the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the shoes of an elite special operations soldier. And I recognise that fantasy has tremendous appeal for a variety of reasons. I mean, I obviously indulge that fantasy to the extent that I joined the military and have been operating for almost 15 years. I wanted to live some of that life, to have some of those experiences.

I get to a degree why that is so appealing, and having the opportunity to create content that is lasting and enjoyable and they’re oftentimes quite beautiful, is an exciting aspect for me. I think there’s a lot of elements of military life and these sort of tactical shooters. They did very positive, the game itself and a lot of the new mechanics and the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint support the need for more precise tactical planning strategies. It’s not just running an objective and there’s the bad guy, shoot him. You really have to plan and think. There is a lot of tactical strategy that goes into how you’re going to operate in this game, and that’s really cool.

It’s not often seen where you really have to put that kind of time and consideration in the planning, the missions. Added features like the injury systems and the bivouac where you can perform activities to get buff, whether it’s eating food or drinking water. Terrain affects your gameplay, you can get injured. There’s so many considerations and I think that helps to not only immerse full in the fantasy, but there’s a lot to learn from that. There’s a lot to learn from taking the time to plan things, taking the time to consider all the contingencies and the factors, there’s a lot. Ultimately, it’s a fun fantasy. I think we’ve really achieved a good balance between feeling of authenticity. A real soldier in a stressful combat situation and a very fast paced, moveable, playable fantasy. That’s at the heart of why we do this, why I do this. I love the opportunity to create these great immersive stories that shine light on some of the experiences that I’ve had and create really interesting questions for people to engage with and play with.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 on Friday, 4 October. A special thanks to Mr. Daubon for his time.