Interview With Lead Level Designer on Raven Shield Carl Lavoie
|Carl Lavoie has been working on game design for over 15 years.
Currently working as a Senior Game Designer at Amazon, Carl started out on a number of Ubisoft titles including Raven Shield, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
Until last year Carl worked on Diablo III for Blizzard, before launching his own HF antenna business.
In 2004 I moved in Southern California from Montreal. I’ve worked for Blizzard on Diablo III for several years (almost a decade) and I’m now working at Amazon Games on an undisclosed project, which is going to be totally awesome!
How did you end up as the lead level designer for Raven Shield?
At the time I was already a HUGE fan of the franchise as I already played the original Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear numerous of times. I knew the FPS genre very well and was very familiar with the tools used at the time, which was Unreal 2 and 3DSMax.
Did you have any prior relationship to the Rainbow Six franchise prior to joining the Montreal team?
When I was at Ubisoft Montreal and before we knew that one-day we would make the next Rainbow Six, a lot of people were already playing Rainbow Six at lunchtime and I was one of them. Rogue spear multiplayer was the best!
What were your responsibilities and tasks on Raven Shield as lead level designer?
I was responsible to design, approve and integrate all levels into the game. I had to make sure that each selected locations and levels was following the story script and that everyone in the level design team was sharing the same vision and project goals, which was not always easy. Thought design decisions had to be made.
Raven Shield only featured one classic map, City Streets Large. Where there any other classic R6 maps considered?
If I remember correctly we were originally planning to add the 3 or 4 most popular classic maps. But due to the lack of time and tight schedule, only one was added. The level design team was really disappointed about it.
City Streets Large is a classic R6 map, how was it adapting this to Raven Shield on Unreal Engine 2?
City Streets Large was one of the first multiplayer map that we did for internal testing and gameplay tuning. The idea was to replicate the fun and pacing of the original map into Unreal 2 while integrating the new RS gameplay elements/features. It was an easy map to do because everyone knew and played that level dozen of times. That map offered just about any possibilities that the player would face throughout the game. It was a perfect benchmark test map.
Designing Rainbow Six maps is a challenge since they will play in both SP and MP. What is the key philosophy behind a RvS map? How was your workflow on a Raven Shield map?
The levels needed to be long enough for tension building, which is required for single player but short enough to be playable in multiplayer. Each level had to offer different gameplay situations and tactical options for the player. Some maps had to be tight for close quarter battle and some others had to be more open to offer long-range fight. They had to have their own “flavour”.
Raven Shield featured many exotic locations, where did you draw inspirations for the maps?
The script/story writer mostly chose the different exotic locations.
There were several MP focused maps in RvS and they were quite popular, like City Streets, Peaks, Warehouse, Prison, Presidio and Training. Are these easier to design since they cater mostly to MP?
Yes MP maps are easier to design than SP. A good MP map required great balance and pacing for both teams, as you want the map to be fun and fair for both sides. This is something very hard to control when you’ve to include story and complicated AI into the mix. Something that is great to play in SP can be a total fail in MP. It’s easier to convert a MP into a SP than the opposite.
Presidio was based on a real location in San Francisco; can you tell us why this particular map was included?
At the time Presidio location was chose because some people in the team went to San Francisco to meet with Mike Grasso and they thought that it would make a great MP map
The Shipyard and Warehouse map were based in Norway, however some of the signs were in Swedish. How do you research and portray the maps in a realistic way with so many locations in Raven Shield?
At the time Internet researches weren’t as good and precise as they’re today and mistakes as been done. When we were unable to find enough information about something we had to make something up to compensate.
Raven Shield had functional fluid doors, did this feature influence any design choices in terms of designing a map?
Yes. We had to choose locations and building configurations that would take advantage of that feature which wasn’t easy. Sometime that feature was helping the player and other time the feature was a nuisance for him. The fluid door was especially hard to implement with our AI.
What was the biggest challenge in designing non-linear maps for Raven Shield?
The non-linear maps are hard to design and implement because they need to be fun, fair, challenging and “AI friendly” from every sides. They’re hard to tune because something that is great in one side might impact the level of difficulty and the fun from the other side. Just changing the weapon used by the AI will completely change the dynamic and the player progression flow.
Were there any maps that didn’t make it to the final product?
Yes but it’s been so long that I can’t remember any….sorry!
There were many fan made maps for Raven Shield did you try any? Did you have a favourite?
No I never had the chance to try any fan made maps.
When was the last time you played Raven Shield? Did you find anything you’d do different?
The last time I played RS was probably 3 years ago. I was cleaning my closet and found a copy of the game. I decided to install it and try it out. It was a pretty interesting experience as I found myself playing it the whole weekend!!!
What does Raven Shield mean to you 12 years later?
That’s a good question! From where I’m standing now and after all those years I think that RV was probably my best game design experience that I had I my career. I was really new at the time but it was a nice project to do! I think that it’s still a very good game for what it is. All the new stuff isn’t the same anymore. They do not share the same gameplay experience that we had in RV. I think that RV was the last of the kind.
How does it feel when fans 12 years later still enjoy your work and remember the maps better than their own house?
It’s pretty insane but great to see! I never thought that after 12 years people would still remember RV or even play it! It’s nice to see that we contributed to a game that is now considered as classic in the community. Not all games turn out that way over time.
What did you learn from working on Raven Shield that helped you later on in projects such as Splinter Cell, Star Wars and Diablo III?
I’ve learned to think ahead (long time ahead). While designing a game, thinking ahead helped me at the time on RV, on other projects and its still greatly helping me today. When you put, change or remove something from a game you’ve to think beyond the regular time frame that most designers/producers do. You’ve to layout a “mini” production schedule in your head and foresee problems and issues before they show up and avoid them. You’ve to know that everything designers do in a game will open or close different doors for future improvements, expansions or level design ideas. It’s a domino effect. Thinking ahead will save you production time, $$$ and useless crunch time!! It’s a pro-active way of designing game instead of being simply reactive.
What do you think of the current project from the Montreal team, Rainbow Six Siege?
I think that Rainbow Six Siege team decided to go back to what made Rainbow Six popular more than a decade ago. It seems less “arcade” oriented that whatever they did during the last 8 or 9 years, which I think is great for the franchise and the community.
Which map(s) from Raven Shield would fit the RealBlast destruction design in R6 Siege?
To be honest I think that none of those RV maps were designed to be attacked by so many different angles. R6 Siege offers a full 360º approach to the player which is great but it had to be entirely designed accordingly.
The Siege team are drawing influences from Raven Shield, what is the best tip you could give them today?
Staying realistic and less arcade oriented as possible. Staying closer to the “one shot, one kill” principal and they’ll win back the Rainbow Six fans they lost during the past years. They need to bring back the Rainbow Six flavour that we all know from RV and Rogue Spear.
What games are you currently enjoying these days?
I really enjoy Planet Side, H1Z1, Rust and Reign of Kings lately.
Do you have a message for our readers and fans of Raven Shield?
I’m very glad to see people still playing RV after all those years!! It simply validates the design choices that we had to make more than a decade ago!