Ghost Recon Commander: Brenda Brathwaite gets serious about Facebook
Ghost Recon Commander is the first Facebook game games™ has felt compelled to review. As such, we though it fitting to interview the game’s creator, Loot Drop’s Brenda Brathwaite
Established in late 2012, Loot Drop is the new studio from id Software founder John Romero and longtime collaborator Brenda Garno Brathwaite. Loot Drop’s debut title is somewhat unexpected for the veteran developer, a social interpretation of Ghost Recon, exclusive to Facebook. Here, Brathwaite explains the process of making a hardcore game for a casual platform…
Your background in game design ranges from deep RPGs to intellectual board games and more mainstream videogames. Do you adopt a different frame of mind for each sort of game you develop?
Absolutely, each game requires a different mindset and sometimes different skills. In a very real sense, I am creating a game to create a feeling, and depending on what that feeling is, my head is in a very different space. When I make commercial video games, be they on consoles, iOS, PCs or Facebook, I’m in the mind of the player – well, I am the player – and I’m very aware of what the average player on that platform wants, the level of their game literacy (Facebook players generally aren’t familiar with the concept of line of sight, for instance), game expectations and also that “feeling” I mentioned earlier.
To what extent does the perceived audience of a Ghost Recon game influence your design decisions?
I am aware of what GR players want because I am a long-time Ghost Recon fan. I have literally logged hundreds of hours of play in those games. Knowing that Ghost Recon fans were expecting a more hard-core and extensible experience, I wanted to deliver that. There’s a sign in our team area that reads, “I don’t want to visit my friends. I want to kill them.” Out of context, pretty concerning, but in a Facebook space, a friend visit is often little more than bribery. My board games have a very, very different design process, though the same fundamentals of how one can create a specific feeling through game rules applies.
What sacrifices do you have to make when working with someone else’s IP and is the design process made easier in any way?
With Ghost Recon, because I am such a huge fan of the series, I’d not really considered this to be any kind of sacrifice at all. It feels like a huge honor, in fact, that I was able to make a Ghost Recon game. The benefit of working with someone else’s IP, particularly in the Facebook space, is that it helps you cut through the incredible cloud of games out there. From a design standpoint, I do think it makes the process both easier and challenging, simultaneously. It was easier because the brand was very well defined and many of the things you’d think about for months as a designer had already been determined. At the same time, it was a tremendous challenge – determining which mechanics to use and creating a game that was both familiar and fun for hardcore and casual players.
The adverts for Ghost Recon Commander market its USP as a hardcore game for Facebook. Was this the main goal during development and, if so, how did you go about meeting those goals?
It was one of the goals, certainly. Ultimately, I wanted to create a game that both hardcore and Facebook players would immediately get. That meant putting a hardcore game inside what players have come to recognize as the Facebook game interface. Even though there is not a formal standard for what a game must look like, over the last couple of years, a consistent interface has developed emergently. I made some changes to the expected functionality – for instance, you’re not visiting your friends for coins – but the look and feel is comfortable. I think it’s also useful to point out that when I use the term “hardcore”, I mean a title that would traditionally appear in the console or PC gaming space.
What opportunities does a social network offer a game that’s not possible in other web-based platforms and how did you take advantage of this in GRC?
Quantity. Strictly speaking, you could make the same game off a network, but a social network allows players to enjoy a game with their friends who are already on the social network. It’s not just limited to networks like Facebook or Google+ either. Consoles, companies and digital game services also have their own networks where players are connected through their gamer tag.
What’s your opinion on the role of micro transactions? How do you avoid alienating the hardcore while also turning a profit? Is there interesting potential for game mechanics with these or are they just business?
That’s a tricky question. It’s something we’re still exploring as an industry overall. For instance, microtrans worked wonders back in the arcade days. Want to play more? Drop a quarter in. We also see microtrans occurring both inside and outside many hardcore games. Gold farming is just a form of microtrans where you’re paying your real cash to someone in order to save time. All that said, some hardcore players do take issue with the microtrans model. I’ve often wondered how these games would do if instead of giving them away for free (literally, you can play all of Ghost Recon Commander without paying a dime), we had a big button with a price tag on it which unlocked the whole game instead. My hunch is that they wouldn’t do as well. My own thoughts on it, both as a designer and a player, are still evolving.
There’s something undeniably satisfying about scooping up experience points and cash with the mouse pointer in GRC. How did you arrive at such a simple yet effective mechanic?
I’d love to claim credit for that, but other Facebook games beat me to the punch. It’s modeled on the popularity of the iOS touch screen interfaces.
You’re arguably most famous for your The Mechanic Is The Message series. If there’s one mechanic that’s a message in GRC then what is it? Is it even possible/desirable to link game mechanics to a message in a game of this kind?
Thank you for mentioning it. That’s kind of you to say so. It’s still surprising to me that those singular board games are well known. I think about my board games and their mechanics very differently than I do about commercial games, though. There is some commonality – the mechanics are the rules, the thing that is unique to games, the thing that makes games what they are at their core and separates them from all other forms of art. Everything else – the graphics, the UI, the code, the board, the pieces, whatever – it is all there to be in service to the rules. What happens when those rules are put in motion is something entirely different. In my board games, I am creating some dynamics that haven’t been seen in video games because I can, because that’s the “message”, the lasting artifact, I want the mechanics to give. In Ghost Recon, the message is hopefully fun.
Do you intend to create more Facebook games in the future? If so, what would you like to do with the format next?
Absolutely, and more analog games, too. I have one second from being done (I just need to type the rules up) called “PreConception: A pregame notgame.” Now that Ghost Recon Commander is out, I should be able to finish it. As for Facebook games, Ghost Recon Commander will have my attention for a while.
Ghost Recon Commander is reviewed in issue 124 of games™, on sale 5th of July. It is the first Facebook game games™ has reviewed.