Writing a post-mortem about Rainbow Six Siege can very much be seen as an ironic exercise, since Ubisoft’s tactical shooter couldn’t be more alive and kicking. With ‘Year Two’ having launched just a few months ago, and with more content on the way, the game’s life is far from over.
“’Games as a service’ is a model that encourages extremely engaging games, rewarding the time that players put into it. It just keeps being such a good investment,” Ubisoft Montreal’s brand director for Rainbow Six Alexandre Remy tells Develop. “There are very few games that compare to Rainbow as a service model. What we think is amazing from a player’s point of view is the fact that the game is good enough that you want to keep playing and we make sure that you keep your investment. It is great for the community.”
The very idea of a large community congregating around Rainbow Six Siege at times seemed unlikely. Having been announced at E3 2014, and set to launch in October the following year, Siege missed its first release window and was pushed back to December 2015, based on players’ feedback.
“We felt there are adjustments and improvements we can make, including improving the co-op experience across all game modes, weapon and gadget balancing, as well as menu and interface navigation,” the dev team wrote in a blog post at the time.
And that’s not even the whole story, as the game was initially unveiled as Rainbow Six Patriots way back in November 2011, before being completely scrapped by Ubisoft to become Siege. The game just “wasn’t working”, Ubisoft’s Laurent Detoc said at the time, adding that “Rainbow had to be remade”. So that’s exactly what the developers did.
“Late 2012, a brand new team of 25 devs were mandated to reinvent Rainbow Six,” Remy explains. “All of us were fans of FPS games, and quickly came up with our main direction for the game: the siege. We wanted an asymmetrical confrontation between attackers and defenders featuring destruction as the main gameplay.”
In Rainbow Six Siege, procedural destruction plays a central role
Alexandre Remy, Ubisoft Montreal
THE PATH OF DESTRUCTION
Destructible scenery quickly became the core element of Rainbow Six Siege. “When we rebooted in January 2013, we had just made the breakthrough of the destruction engine,” Remy continues, hinting at Snowdrop, the proprietary engine Ubisoft unveiled at E3 that year.
“As soon as we saw that, we were iterating on where to take the franchise. We said ‘This needs to be in Rainbow Six. Rainbow Six Operators are destruction experts, they breach in through doors and walls. With the material-based destruction engine, it procedurally breaks everything down’. Then we decided to make this the centre of the game’s experience.”
Since interaction with the environment is one of the most important parts of the gameplay, that required a lot more work from the dev team to make sure the environment reacted appropriately. “In Rainbow Six Siege, procedural destruction plays a central role and is used to change the environment and influence the game’s outcome. It’s based on materials, which need to react logically and consistently to different stimuli,” Remy explains.
“While it is vastly more complex than simple pre-fragmented destruction, due to both tech and production challenges, it allows for a degree of uniqueness and flexibility that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We’re getting to the point where we can really allow players to remodel and interact with the world. It’s not something you see often in triple-A games, and in competitive shooters it’s a definite first.”
But getting to that point was not plain sailing for Ubisoft, and it influenced the team’s approach to level design. “It presented a lot of challenges. You’re not working with an environment that is static, you are working with an environment that can be destroyed,” he says. “The core feature of our gameplay is the destruction and opening up new sightlines. It presents a challenge in the form that the teams have to design this whole level, but also understand that the level is going to be opened up and has to make sense. So in terms of gameplay metrics, it was very tricky for the level design and art team.”
Despite Ubisoft's extensive work on getting the nitty-gritty development details on point, Rainbow Six Siege was not extrememly well received intitally, neither commercially nor critically. But the good thing with a live game is that the content keeps being updated, and eventually players kept coming back to it. As a result, two years after launch, Rainbow Six Siege is still part of the UK Top 40 almost every week. And that’s because Ubisoft managed to create a real community around it.
“The competitive aspects quickly grew to become key drivers throughout the development process of Rainbow Six Siege,” Remy says, adding that, as a result of creating a game with esports in mind, “every map and operator [went] through extensive internal testing.”
He continues: “Being live also gives us the opportunity to track our players’ raw data as well as gather their feedback. This is extremely helpful when balancing the operators and maps. With the development of our Pro League, we’ve also added a layer of testing with the help of our professional players. Ever since Operation Dust Line, we’ve progressively added more checkpoints with them, incorporating them in our production plan for some on-site and online playtest and feedback sessions. The Pro Players' level of gameplay resembles a microscope zooming in for potential issues and improvements. They can see within hours what regular players could notice days or weeks later. It's very impressive to watch them play and analyse our game."
This close relationship between Ubisoft and its community even allowed the developer to discover unexpected play styles and adapt development accordingly. "The best example would be Bandit tricks," Remy details. "It was discovered during the beta. The idea is that Bandit keeps on deployin/picking up his batteries, which fries thermite charges, without putting the batteries at risk of an EMP. We never had anyone doing that during production, we had no idea Bandit could do that before release. But we love it, it has become a full part of this operator and of the game in general – and on some maps it can have a big impact on how defence is organised."
Designing levels that fit Siege's competitive nature was also difficult. "Balance and fairness is essential," Remy continues. "Therefore, the objective locations and maps must be both balanced and interesting for our attackers and defenders. We’ve played a lot with the levels of destruction in our maps, as well as different map formats. We believe it’s important to keep this variety and freedom while developing our game. It is also crucial to keep following the metagame and to learn from our players behaviour in-game,” he concludes.