At a time when core shooter fans were going nuts over Half-Life
fans drew defensive lines over the quality of Unreal
, and Starsiege: Tribes
showcased the potent mix of class-based combat with vehicular warfare, the tactical shooter was born. Okay, in fairness, the tactical shooter had existed before 1998, but this was the year that cemented the popularity of this once niche genre.
There were three new IPs that dropped that year: Delta Force
, Spec Ops
and, most popular of all, Rainbow Six
. Compare the original Rainbow Six to Rainbow Six Siege
and while the tactical-shooter DNA is there, there’s no denying a lot has changed. This year, Rainbow Six Siege turns 21 – old enough to legally drink in America
– and I sat down with a handful of developers in Montreal
at the recent Six Invitational
to talk about their first touches of the franchise.
Rainbow Six purists will be glad to know that some of the key voices on Siege fell in love with the series with the first, pre-Ubisoft game
. None of these people was giddier in his response to his first experience of Rainbow Six than Brand Director Alexander Remy
“[I played] the first Rainbow Six game on PC,” says Remy. “That was the game that made me want to, later, apply for a job at Ubisoft. That was my game. The rest [of the Ubisoft games] I was a lesser fan of, to be honest, when starting at the company, but Rainbow Six has always been super, super dear in my heart.”
"The first Rainbow Six has been one of my most important games" - Rainbow Six Siege Creative Director, Xavier Marquis
This passion might explain why Remy scored his job as brand director, before Siege was even a sparkle in Ubi’s eye. “Fast forward to 2009, I got a call from the Montreal studio, asking me if I was interested in taking Rainbow Six as a brand manager at the time. I was, like, ‘Of course!’”
Rainbow Six made a similar impression on Siege’s Creative Director Xavier Marquis
. “I remember I played the first Rainbow Six game and I also played the first Ghost Recon
game [in 2002],” Marquis recalls. “These two games influenced me a lot as a player. It was not at the beginning of my journey in terms of being a shooter player, but it was for my experience when I was to be successful. The first Rainbow Six has been one of my most important games.”
Rose-tinted nostalgia is one thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that both Marquis and I remember how the complicated systems sometimes got in the way of the fun in Rainbow Six. “It’s maybe not the best memory, but I remember that, ‘Oh, fuck, it’s complicated to open a door without starting an alert. Oh, fuck. Everyone knows! I’m dead.’
"This is my first memory.”
But that complexity also tied into an awesome part of the tension of what made the original Rainbow Six so compelling. “But I remember this tension of putting the rope of explosives around the lock. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so good. And it’s starting. The action is already engaging.’ And it was something different. Before, when I played Quake
, it was mainly roaming and shooting. Boom! Only reflexes.
"Rainbow Six has always been traditionally a tactical game, so that was my first game I played in the Rainbow Six universe" - Rainbow Six Siege Artwork Presentation Director, Alexander Karparzis
“With Rainbow Six you have time to make decisions. You’re already in the game, but you’re not in a fight, which was not common for a shooter. Shooters, in general, are just roam and shoot. And here you have the time to put a strategy in place. Start the strategy. That’s it.”
The original Rainbow Six was soon ported to PSOne
and even a vastly different Game Boy Colour
version. Siege’s Artwork Presentation Director Alexander Karparzis
’ first experience was this shooter-less, all tactical Game Boy version. “It was the Game Boy Advance tactical game. I love my tactics games. I mean, Rainbow Six has always been traditionally a tactical game, so that was my first game I played in the Rainbow Six universe.”
And it didn’t take long for its 1999 sequel Rogue Spear
to land on PC. My memories of the differences between Rogue Spear and the original Rainbow Six are a haphazard mix of terrible co-op rounds on LAN. Pistol-only rushes. And trying to put the most ridiculous optics on the most ill-fitting weapon.
Then there was the solo experience and how I all but ignored the planning phase in favour of a punishing shooter experience. I’m not alone. “I understood nothing at the time,” recalls Remy. “Like, I remember there was no other game like Rainbow Six at the time. Counter-Strike
wasn’t even there as far as I remember.
“There was nothing like this on PC at the time. Nothing in terms of the gameplay experience, and I remember my first games when, you remember, you had the whole planning phase that everyone was skipping because it was way too fucking complex. And you were spawning with your whole eight or 10 squad members and each one, one of them was dying, you were actually spawning in the other one.
"Console ports of the game completely ditched the planning stage and control of multiple characters..."
“So instead of really using each of the teammates with the planning, going and giving them a good vantage point or strategic advantage, you were using them as extra lives. That was my first contact with the game and I just loved it. It was perfect. No planning. They were extra lives.”
While developer Red Storm Entertainment
focused on expansions and a sequel, Rainbow Six received a South Korean
-exclusive spin-off in Rainbow Six: Take-Down – Missions in Korea
. Later, this spin-off experimentation would extend to mobile games – Broken Wing
, Urban Crisis
and, much later, Shadow Vanguard
– but the main focus would thankfully remain on the core experience.
infiltrated PCs in 2003, and there were some notable changes to proceedings. For starters, there were now weapon models, and the console ports of the game completely ditched the planning stage and control of multiple characters.
And this first game published by then “Ubi Soft
” would also have a much bigger emphasis on the all-important role of multiplayer. “My first experience with Rainbow Six was with Raven Shield,” says Siege’s Game Director Leroy Athanassoff
. “I will always remember this. I was in France
in the countryside, and that was the first time I had my own internet connection. I had a lot of friends who were living in Paris
talking about a LAN, Counter-Strike, going into a cybercafé, going into online games and stuff like that.
"I downloaded it and got my first online experience with Raven Shield. I instantly fell in love. I fell in love so much that we played the demo for three months. Every day..."
“At the time, I don’t know anything about this world, so I go to a site – Video Game Program
, it’s like the IGN
at that time in France – and they were talking about a demo. That was the day the multiplayer demo of Raven Shield was released. I downloaded it and got my first online experience with Raven Shield. I instantly fell in love. I fell in love so much that we played the demo for three months. Every day.
“We joined a clan. And we started to enter competitions. We had some LAN events. There were, for the launch of the game after the demo, a LAN – I think it was in 2002 or 2003 – so we attended the event. I was taking my computer in the trunk of my car, going to LAN because back then esports was super underground. It’s not what it is today. We tried hard and we tried to emerge, but we had the wrong game. At the time, there were only a few games that managed to be something on the esports scene in France: Warcraft III
, and StarCraft
“Even for those games, we are talking super underground, small room, do-it-yourself LAN events. At some point, I had to go back to my studies and find a real job to get money. But I always had this thing that is forever inside me. I remember my teammates. I’m still in contact with them. I remember the competition. The LAN. We did some finals on a small-scale event, so I remember the thrill of being on the stage, even if it’s a small stage and not what we have at the Six Invitational.
“I remember all of this. I enjoy all of this. Shit, it’s my golden image of gaming. And I always wanted to work in this industry on an esports game, so today being on Rainbow Six Siege is insane. Trust me. It’s insane because it’s really full circle.”
"Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, which was laser-focused on online, allowed Ubisoft to rectify some of the exploitable glitches of the preceding game..."
Despite the core games leading on PC, Rainbow Six proved popular on Xbox
thanks to its then new Xbox Live
service. This led to the confusingly titled Rainbow Six 3
sequel, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow
, which was laser-focused on online play and allowed Ubisoft to rectify some of the exploitable glitches of the preceding game.
Rainbow Six: Lockdown
was the fourth game in the series and, a decade before Siege, the first to controversially (for the purists, at least) remove the planning phase on PC. The PC community at the time, both critics and players, were against this move. But for Esports Director François-Xavier Dénièle
, this was his first touch of the franchise, and on PC, no less.
"It’s understandable why this type of tactical shooter is rarer today if Rainbow Six: Critical Hour is any indication..."
“I played Lockdown on the PC years ago” says Dénièle. What I love is you had the time when you played. You could press space and stop the action. I’m not sure I will be able to play this kind of game today.”
It’s understandable why this type of tactical shooter is rarer today if Rainbow Six: Critical Hour
is any indication. While this Xbox-only sequel was praised for returning to the roots of the series – most notably tactical planning and nonlinear levels – it was ultimately a critical and commercial failure. Something had to change, and it would be now that Ubisoft had its eyes on the then upcoming Xbox 360
and PlayStation 3
This was the point at which I returned to the franchise, having not played since Raven Shield. And while Rainbow Six: Vegas
felt different to what I’d played in 1998, the tactical DNA was intact and, more importantly, the action quotient was more up my alley.
“That’s why the evolution of Siege right now is the right approach for a new audience, which is faster with shorter sessions,” says Dénièle. “There is definitely a place that Rainbow Six finds right now in the videogame ecosystem. Look at the past of Rainbow Six, the evolution of the game with Vegas, Vegas 2
and Siege: you can see that the team is really good at reinventing the brand each time with each generation of players.”
"The cancellation of Patriots would prove upsetting with fans, me included, because it was one of those instances of a provocative pitch that sounded (and ultimately ended up being) too good to be true..."
Vegas and Vegas 2 sped up the pace, made tactical decision-making a real-time focus, and used a neat system of organically switching between first-person and third-person perspectives when you snapped to cover. The setting, operatives, rewards for tactical play and Clancyverse
sheen still felt like Rainbow Six, but it was clear that the gun-less shooting and planning-heavy slow pace of the original games was extinct.
Of course, before Ubisoft Montreal finally landed on Siege, there was Patriots
. The cancellation of Patriots would prove upsetting with fans, me included, because it was one of those instances of a provocative pitch that sounded (and ultimately ended up being) too good to be true. There were plans to have blurred lines between hero and terrorists, as well as switching roles that alternately put you in the shoes of counter-terrorist, terrorist and even not-long-for-this-world explosive-vest hostage.
“I played the earlier games on PC up until Raven Shield, and then I stopped, so I didn’t play Vegas or Vegas 2,” Remy reveals. “But I always had a special place in my heart for the brand. I was so happy in 2009 up until the end of 2012, I was on and off on it. So, a reboot and many aspect with Patriots and I was there all along the way through different and even difficult times.
“And then end of 2012, I remember a meeting with Christophe Derennes
, our VP of Production
, and he tells me, ‘Alex, we are going to have someone new and a whole new team take over Rainbow Six. We want you in. Can you wait until Christmas? Think about it and when you come back January first, let me know what you think.’ “I knew it was Xavier Marquis, the creative director, so I called him right away.”
"You need to have an agenda, an objective, and the idea was, ‘Okay, the defender has to prevent, to build the castle..."
The influence of the original Rainbow Six game looms large for Marquis, too. “I remember also when I started Rainbow Six Siege, I thought about my first experience, but I was looking for something [with a] multiplayer [focus],” says Marquis. “In multiplayer, something doesn’t work. On the first Rainbow Six, because you are an attacker, you’re doing your assault, but you also need a role for the defence.
“A defender cannot just walk around whistling. An AI, yes, but not a player. You need to have an agenda, an objective, and the idea was, ‘Okay, the defender has to prevent, to build the castle. That’s why we have all the reinforcements, the deployable equipment, the traps. It’s part of the story of this activity.”
That mention of having “to build the castle” was an original part of Marquis’ pitch. So the story goes, during his presentation pitch to his new team, Marquis’ distillation of Siege was encapsulated in a deceptively simple yet comparatively ancient piece of medieval art. It depicted a castle siege, with attackers using a battering ram against the door and already cracked walls, and defenders using weaponry to stop them. Despite its medieval flare, this static image still summarises Siege today: defined attacker and defender roles partaking in asymmetrical combat in a destructible environment.
Despite a shaky start, just over three years after launch, Siege has skyrocketed
to 45 million unique players, with and around 10 to 12 million of those who actively play every month (according to Remy). It’s an esports title that’s grown from a back-alley studio trial two years ago to the thousands of seats at Rio Olympic Arena
and on to the millions of dollars in shared prize pool money for its latest world cup.
"Would you rather be a game director on Rainbow Six Siege or someone playing at the Six Invitational? Man, I’d rather be the player at the Six Invitational..."
Even the devs are envious that they get to make the game instead of play it professionally, showing that this love of playing Rainbow Six, borne many decades ago, is still strong today, despite how different Siege might be to the original Rainbow Six.
“The only thing that I regret is I wish I was 18 today,” confesses Athanassoff. “Because I would be able to try and be on the stage with those guys. Every time people ask me, ‘Would you rather be a game director on Rainbow Six Siege or someone playing at the Six Invitational? Man, I’d rather be the player at the Six Invitational.”