Interview With Raven Shield Lead Game Designer Michael McCoy
|Michael McCoy is a game industry veteran with a career that started with iF-22 and iF/A-18 flight sims. Mike worked on designing tactical action game Shadow Company, before starting with UbiSoft Montreal.
It was in Montreal that Mike worked on Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield and Rainbow Six 3: Xbox. which sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide earning “Best Game of Show” at Microsoft’s Europe X03.
McCoy: I remember the visit well, but unfortunately, not anyone I met on it. We went to Germany and France afterwards and I met many people.
Mike Grasso with Mike McCoy back in 2002. Remember CRT monitors?!
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you are currently active with?
When I left Ubisoft I joined Paradigm Entertainment and work on a number of unreleased titles including Stuntman Ignition 2, which brought me back to England to meet with the original design team. While I wasn’t there when it released I did do a significant amount of the systems design. After Paradigm I joined TKO and again worked on a number of unreleased titles, the most interesting of which was Heaven versus Hell, a RTS with Angels and Demons collecting souls during the apocalypse and humans struggling to survive. It was a great idea that drew from the apocalypse writings of all the world’s major religions. Finally, for the last 10 years I’ve been teaching game and level design at The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University. We have a Masters of Interactive Technology in Computer Game Development.
How did you come to be the lead game designer on Raven Shield in Montreal?
Former President of Sinister Games, Paul Meagan, having worked with me at Sinister Games, asked me to come up to Montreal and take the position. The amazing Montreal office had a team, but needed a lead who was passionate about the product. With experience as a police officer and being a known, reliable designer put me high on Meagan’s list of possible designers. Funny story, the designer that originally started the project, while not passionate about Rainbow, transferred to Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and created that franchise. He’s a very talented guy and we actually travelled to Australia to promote both products.
Did you have any prior relationship to the Rainbow Six franchise prior to joining the Montreal team?
Not really, however it was one of my favourite games. What drew me to it was the lack of forgiveness for mistakes, which is true to real life. Rainbow is not about first person shooter skills, but instead about aiming in the right direction when targets appear and simply pulling the trigger to eliminate the threat. Police and soldiers don’t get do-overs and that’s what makes this franchise brilliant.
What was your primary role and tasks as lead game designer and how did you influence the finished product?
As the Lead Design and Creative Director my role was to be the players advocate and focus on the players experience. I was also the senior designer and had other designers to mentor. While responsible for the entire experience, I designed a few things personally including the ballistics engine, Rainbow AI, cover system, and the User Interface. I was also a smoothing influence on the entire product as I ensured everything belonged to the same universe and did not want it to feel like numerous different designers created it and then slapped it together.
How did it feel taking over from Red Storm and delivering a game to anticipating fans with high demands?
It was an intense responsibility as Red Storm had created an amazing product with a highly loyal following. Letting either of them down was not an option and the entire team focused on making them proud and excited about the next incarnation of their baby. We listened to everything Red Storm and the fans had to say and took their comments to heart.
The team went for Unreal Engine 2, were there other engines considered at the time?
When I joined the team, they had already chosen the engine. Unreal is an incredible and flexible engine and I would have recommended the same choice.
Simply making it feel like Rainbow, which originally lived in a proprietary engine. Initially it was not a given that we could accomplish this task, however at an Alpha milestone playtest, when asked how the experienced felt a tester said, “It was a solid Rainbow experience,” letting us know we achieved this goal. Once we captured the Rainbow look and feel, we simply had to put our twist on it, create content, and finish the game.
Were there any specific features that were hard to implement?
The two biggest challenges were the ballistics system and user interface. Taking Rainbow into the Unreal Engine meant that we had to tailor the ballistics engine to it. When we approached Red Storm we discovered the original ballistics engine was a product of a couple of individuals and was not based solely on real world data. The design team decided to redesign it completely, a huge risk, and base it solely on realistic data as we did not want to depend on any one person, especially someone not in our office. The second biggest issue was the user interface, which most teams overlooked until the end of development. I’ve been responsible for many of the un-glamorous design elements of every game I’ve worked on including the user interface. We took major cues from other games and games companies including the elephant in the room, Blizzard who is a master at it. The goal was to make it completely intuitive and overlooked by gamers as they are too busy enjoying the game and not fighting the interface.
Were there any special features/prototypes you were sad didn’t make it in the final game?
In short, no. We were very efficient and proofed gameplay very early. Due to good scheduling, we knew what we could do and focused on items core to the franchise and those that were our major differentiators.
What are you most pleased with accomplishing in Raven Shield?
Two things really make me proud. First, we reinvented the ballistics engine, made it reliable, and fast to introduce and test new weapons quickly. Second, I’m extremely proud of the overall experience we achieved. For a game that had previously struggled on consoles, we won Xbox Live Game of the Year!
The MP demo was released November 2002, 4 months before the final product. How did the feedback from the fans help you shape the final product?
We monitored all the feedback from the demo and polished the final product accordingly. Luckily, there we no significant issues to redesign or fix. As every game project is an experiment, I feel we also got a healthy dose of good fortune and luck.
What does Raven Shield mean to you 12 years later?
It is my most successful game and one of my fondest projects. I worked with an incredible team at a fantastic studio in beautiful Montreal. I’m extremely proud of our accomplishment.
Do you use your work on Raven Shield as examples to your students?
I use it as an example of what I did in the past and how I learned from it. In my game design class where I discuss both the ballistics system and user interface in particular.
When was the last time you played Raven Shield? Did you see any obvious things you’d like to change or missed during development?
I last played Rainbow Six 3 almost 10 years ago. After putting so much time and effort into something, you need a break from it for a while. However, I couldn’t shake my addiction and played Vegas as soon as it released. Being a professional designer, I always find things I’d like to change/polish, but you also have to ship and sell your projects. Rainbow 3, however, was ready for release and was my only product I was happy to let go. I really can’t think of anything I would change or add.
People are still playing Raven Shield after 12 years; did you ever image people would still be enjoying your work after so many years?
I am so appreciative of the fans and am happy that I was part of something they love. Never did I imagine fans would still be playing Rainbow 3 after so long. Thank you for the amazing compliment!
Have you tried any mods for Raven Shield?
I played Vegas soon after release and enjoyed it thoroughly. Many of the original team were on this product and they did an amazing job. Unfortunately, that’s where I stopped following the franchise so closely. Like all designers I’m a bit OCD and begin putting all my focus on new projects and titles. Would I start playing Rainbow again, if time permitted? The answer is “Hell yes!”
What was your favourite feature/map/weapon/gadget in Raven Shield?
I love taking out someone through a door using thermal. Initially we allowed shooting through walls as well, but multiplayer testing showed this felt too random and ruined the experience. This is a great example of having to deviate from reality for the sake of gameplay, which is always king.
My favourite weapon by far is the G3A4: a short barrelled, highly manoeuvrable 30cal assault rifle. Unlike sub-machineguns of a similar size, when you hit a baddie they tend to go down fast. The only down side was the slower reticule and 20 round magazine, however my style is to always be pointing in the targets direction and fire on semi-auto only…neither was an issue for me.
What do you think of the current project from the Montreal team, Rainbow Six Siege?
It looks amazing, but I only know what you do. I so wish I was a fly on the wall and knew all the juicy details.
The R6: Siege team are drawing influences from Raven Shield, what is the best tip you could give them today?
Focus on the player experience and don’t be afraid of trying new things and taking risks. Being a franchise product, means you must keep your loyal following happy, but you also need to move the franchise forward by adding/trying new things and keep those loyal fans from getting board. However, from what I’ve seen Siege is definitely intriguing and the gameplay looks fantastic.
What games are you currently enjoying these days?
Honestly, I’m so busy with work, two side projects, and being a new grandfather, I mainly play short phone and Facebook games. When I find time, I play Crysis 2 and FarCry 3 as we teach using the Crytek engine. I can’t wait for Rainbow Siege and seeing if I can work it into our curriculum :).
Thanks so much for you loyalty and devotion! You guys are why we put so much of ourselves into our products…without you none of this is possible.
Thank you so to Michael McCoy for his time to talk to us and congratulations on becoming a grandfather! If you want to learn more about McCoy’s lectures, be sure to read more here.