Since its first big reveal at E3 two years ago, Ghost Recon Wildlands has banked its appeal on being a truly open-ended shooter.
While most games in this genre shove players into a corridor, giving them only one way of progressing, Wildlands offers players myriad choices in how they go about their death-dealing. Wildlands aims to deliver an open-world, free-for-all experience where players need to take on the bad guys in Bolivia; you and three friends can tackle missions with all-out customisation.
At this year’s rAge expo we had the chance to sit down and have a short chat with Tom Isaksen, Senior Character Artist on Wildlands. about the game and what players can expect.
Before production even started, some of the Ubosoft crew took a trip down to Bolivia to scope things out. Wildlands takes place in the South American country, so it is only natural for the crew to want to see what they are working with. Isaksen wasn’t on the fact-finding mission, but explained that a lot of resource came from there.
“We had a big team there every early in production to go and do some research and meet with local specialists, like botanists and geologists, and taking pictures from everything,” he said.
All things being equal, at the end of the day it is still just a game, so the team was allowed to make a couple of ‘adjustments’ during the development process in order to give players the best possible experience.
“We have some creative freedom, but we get a lot of concept art that we try to follow. In the end, it is an authentic experience and an authentic game, although we do a lot of our own research. But for things like the tactical gear, we try to keep it current,” Isaksen said.
This is the first Ubisoft title that Isaksen has worked on, and naturally he was really excited when he got the call from the developer to be on the project. He started his animation journey by doing some television work and creating characters in his spare time. IO Interactive put out a call for animators a very long time ago, and Isaksen decided to send off his CV. Eventually he was hired
He was after something a little more mature than kid’s TV characters, and IO Interactive’s Hitman series fit the bill perfectly.
“After that, I moved to Brazil to do some freelance work and work on smaller games. Ubisoft called me one day and asked if I wanted to work on a new project – which turned out to be Wildlands. Of course you don’t say no to that.”
As a Senior Character Artist, one of the things that Isaksen enjoys about Wildlands, is the huge amount of customisations that he he has to work with.
“It is hugely exciting. We get to create so many different types and characters with different personalities, gear, and equipment. I’m quiet focused on realistic artwork, so for me it almost can’t get any better,” he said.
Isaksen was hesitant to give away too many details about the game as it’s only seeing release in March next (and a lot can change between now and then). But he did say that you can create any Ghost that you want.
“We have, most importantly, the player characters, and here the focus is basically that you create the Ghost that you want to be,” he said. “There are a lot of customisation options, and you will be able to create the look (with gender, race), the type of tactical gear you wear, right up to face paint and a crazy beard – lots of different options.”
Isaksen also worked on the non-playable characters in the game as well.
“Then there is the civilian population of course, where we tried to go for a very native Bolivian look, with also a lot of variation. Its almost like dress-up, where you have the base character and lots of different outfits and colour combinations.”
Speaking of creating the perfect-looking Ghost, missions in Wildlands can also be approached in any way the players wish.
“Its really about putting the choice in your hands as the player. We just create the world and the missions are there, but you can approach them in any way you want and in any order. You can choose the time of day, you can do as much recon as you want. We are not pushing the player in any direction. We put the elements in place, and you do whatever you want. If you all want to jump into a helicopter, fill it with C4 and detonate it in the middle – you can do that.”
If you look closely, almost every game today has a couple of Easter eggs hidden somewhere. Developers usually do this as an inside-joke, or to secretly pay homage to others. Wildlands is no different, although Isaksen was quick to distance himself from any that may or may not be in the game.
We asked him if he has designed some Easter eggs for himself, and chuckled when he said “I have not – but I might be aware of a few Easter eggs that exist (in the game). But for me, if I ever have time, maybe, sure I would consider it, but at this point I have not had a moment yet to fool around like that.”
We asked him if he had any advice for aspiring artists who want to work in the video game industry, and he simply said that it comes down to one thing – passion.
“You need to be passionate about it, because you need to be able to spend a lot of time on it. You need a lot of patience and put in the hours. It is not enough to just draw a bit, study and love video games. You really have to love creating it.”