Rainbow Six Siege interview: how destruction works, moddability, hostage design

Evan Lahti


Rainbow Six Siege was our favorite game at E3 . The promise of a Rainbow reboot centered around competitive multiplayer and high-fidelity destruction captured our tactical imaginations, but Ubisoft's narrow, one-level demo left us with a ton of unanswered questions. How does destruction work? Would it be moddable ? Can hostages move on their own? What form will co-op take?

During E3 I chatted with Andrew Witts, a game designer, and Olivier Couture, a technical artist.

PCG: Do you guys have a sense of how many maps you're going to have at launch?

Andrew Witts, Game Designer: We can't really say how many maps we're going to have, but it will be diverse environments. There won't be the same type of environment as the house example and too many domestic places. We're really going to try to stretch it as far as the Rainbow counter-terrorism fantasy allows.

PCG: Was the destruction technology we played built from scratch for Siege?

Witts: When we rebooted in January 2013, the real blast team and Ubisoft Montreal just made the breakthrough of the destruction engine and as soon as we saw that, we were iterating on where to take the franchise. We said this needs to be a Rainbow Six. Rainbow Six, they are destruction experts, they breach in through doors and things, assumes a material-based destruction engine, it procedurally breaks everything down. We were like, "Yes! This belongs in Rainbow Six. We're going to make this the center of the experience of our game." We saw that and we just grabbed it and we are pushing it as far as we can.

PCG: How do you guys plan to balance the tactical freedom that the destruction system provides against the chaos and unpredictability it also creates?

Witts: Yeah, we want to support the player creativity especially with the destruction and the gameplay. When you play the defender and you plan out your defense around the objective, in this case as a hostage, we are going to put the objective in the dining room and we are going to reinforce the entire dining room and really kind of bunker down in there. Some teams will say we are going to go on the top floor and we're going to reinforce the entire downstairs and make the attackers rappel up to us and we're just going to get the drop on them in the windows, right? Defenders are pretty much all about making the attackers make difficult decisions to when they are breaching and stuff.

Then there's the crazy destruction tools that the attackers have where they are going to maybe want to go through floors and destruction allows the attackers to have that full analog creativity to counter those movement and maneuvering inhibitions. This is really what we are playing with and nailing that down is mostly a challenge in level design and also with gameplay. We think we have a good recipe with the map we have and we're using this and pushing it forward with the rest of the decisions. It's all about the creativity on both sides and this is where the core battle happens.

PCG: Are there going to be objectives other than hostage extraction?

Witts: It's not going to be our only game mode. That's not to say there won't be different hostages. Right now we have a feature called the “living hostage,” so she reacts to the environment around her. As an explosion goes off, she shields herself a bit. Then a gunfight happens around her and she shields herself and stuff. She really reacts to the environment and we want to stress that further in further iterations. If we have any other type of hostages, we can call her [the hostage NPC shown at E3] Olivia, maybe we have a hostage named Bob or something, and Bob reacts maybe a little differently than her, but the gameplay's overall the same. The hostage rescue, we can have some creativity there, but any other game modes we're going to have, we are going to revisit previous game modes people love about the series and stress them and bring them to the forefront.

PCG: So there may be different hostage personalities, potentially?

Witts: There could be. We are iterating on this living hostage feature so we are showing Olivia today, so to speak, that's what we call her internally. That's not to say she is going to be the only hostage in that hostage game mode. We are extending the idea. We really want to dive into the Rainbow Six fantasy of the hostage rescue mode and offer possibly different flavors of the game mode through the hostages, as example, maybe with a few other things involved.

PCG: Another thing I'm curious about—while I was defending, one of my teammates peeked out the window at the beginning as the Rainbows were moving forward. Can you shoot out the window out at them? So much of the focus is on indoor combat, but could I engage them while they're still on the front lawn?

Witts: The attackers are the master of long range right? You have the attackers of the G36C, the guys in pre-alpha building have a G36C so if you want to engage in a firefight with a shotgun versus a G36C, that's maybe not the best option for you. We are iterating on the game mode, and if the defendants want to stay inside so we're going to be iterating on the game mode in the future to make sure that we emphasize the dynamic of the gameplay and the spectrum. The defense really is all about the defense, the attack is really all about the attack.

Yeah, right now you can shoot outside, but you kind of really don't really want to you because you're super exposed and the defender gameplay is all about getting the drop on somebody. It's really all about taking that shotgun and looking in a camera and say, "All right, he's right by the bathroom door," blow a hole and then get the drop on them on that stairway. This is the strength of defenders. The attackers are mostly about, "All right we have control on the outside, no one is really going to try and come and attack us. We have a guy with a shield, the rifles and were going to try and breach in through the ceiling or the side of the building," and stuff like that. This is where that dynamic in our pre-alpha build comes into play.

PCG: Understood. So Siege is focused on multiplayer, but you're going to have a co-op as well as a campaign. Is the campaign itself co-op or is there a separate co-op mode or experience?

Witts: We can't really go into too much detail about that. We want fans to know that their single player co-op are extremely important to the series and we totally know this and we have a lot of surprises to give the, in the next coming months. We're saying that yes there will be a single-player component as well as co-op. The multiplayer is where we're focusing all of our attention for this E3. We'll have a lot of really cool things to show in the next coming months.

PCG: Have you determined whether PC players will be able to host their own servers? Will we be able to tweak settings, like change the match timer?

Witts: Oh, custom match settings are really interesting to us. They are kind of becoming a big thing and players want to kind of customize their gameplay. With all of our games modes and in our offerings, we want to make sure they have these options. We don't know exactly what those options are going to be or how they're going to be able to customize their experience, but we definitely want to make sure that you will have the experience you want whenever you're playing the game, whether your private matches or public matches and things like that so. We're exploring it, but we don't want to divulge into too many details now. It certainly important to us and it's important to fans. We're really working on making these things available.

PCG: As a PC player I'm curious if I'll be able to mod Siege ; it seems like it would be a great fit for people to make their own maps and scenarios and things like that. Is this something you have talked about?

Witts: We haven't really gone too much into detail on custom or user-generated content. Again, we are pre-alpha, right, so we want to make sure that we are iterating on the gameplay first. We don't want to get too ambitious too early or go in all these different directions. We're here pretty much just showing off the base gameplay and if the community really opens up and they really want the series to go in any certain direction, we are going to listen to them. This is a very iterative game. We've gone through iterations of the game. That's why we're [at E3] with our pre-alpha build showing exactly how far we've come and what we have. We think it's really special. We are going to keep our ear to the ground and make sure we listen to the community and what they want, especially the fans. It's been a while. We've heard a lot of things and so being back, we're making sure we are going to listen to the community and what they want.

PCG: The destruction modeling is terrific, but I'm curious how it interacts with the bullet damage. Does shooting through a wall deal less damage? Does bullet caliber come into play versus wall material?

Witts: Yeah so the destruction system is a really cool thing because it's at the center of the gameplay. How the destruction system works is based on material, so whatever you're shooting, or exploding the material, it reacts the way material should react. If you are placing a breaching charge on a wooden floor, as you saw in the game you just played, the wood breaks and splinters and is cut based on how it would be with the explosion. The same thing with the shotgun blast on the gypsum wall [aka drywall], the wall is cut and explodes the way gypsum would. We also have layers inside our wall too, so right now if you notice, there's wooden planks in there, so gypsum, wood, gypsum is the layered wall. If you shoot actually though the wall the bullet will hit every material and the bullet will react based on how it hits certain materials. We do have a bullet penetration system that's part of the destruction system. That does come into play, gameplay-wise right now.

PCG: So, with the understanding that it could change, but is it safe to say that shooting through a wall with a pistol will deal less damage as opposed to something more powerful, like a sniper rifle.

Witts: Yeah, as of right now, we have a caliber is part of the penetration system so it's like the match of caliber in the material, too. We want to make it as realistic and fun as possible and we don't want any super bullets flying through the map.

PCG: You got to find that balance between expectation, balance, and realism, I'd imagine.

Andrew Witt: Also, it's part the fantasy too. Just because there are these huge Barrett .50-cals that the military has. When you have a hostage situation, are you going to want a bullet that goes through everything? It's all about matching up what makes sense in the gameplay and what Rainbow Six is all about and the bullet penetration system is an aspect of that. We want that hint of realism, but also we want it to be fun. We want our players to have that really kind of tactical aspect of decision making, even when it comes to shooting through walls and using the destruction system.

PCG: Andrew, thanks for your time.

Later, I talked to Olivier Couture, a Technical Artist on Siege who's worked at Ubisoft for eight years.

PCG: So at the beginning of each round, the attackers use tiny drones to scout the defenders' positions. This wasn't necessarily my experience, but some people might say like being able to see what your opponent is doing seems like imbalanced or something or kind of unfair. How do you design around that to still make it a tough thing to execute?

Olivier Couture, Technical Artist: Well the drones are used for attackers but the defenders also have the security cameras. So, on each side they have observation tools. As for balancing, I mean, we've been doing a lot of playtests but we're still pre-alpha and we have a lot of iteration to do in the future. We're working very hard doing a lot of playtests and for sure, and every time we make an addition to the game like these gadgets, we really have to test it out and see how it goes.

PCG: What other types of environments are interesting to you other than the suburban house you're showing at E3?

Couture: We are thinking about other maps but nothing is set in stone so far. We want to make sure that the maps we are going to deliver really embrace the siege aspect. So, you're never going to see like super large maps and stuff like that. We're really into close-quarters combat but it's not to say that it's always going to be a house or suburban stuff. It's pretty cool because we all, like, we can relate to a house setting when you see an explosion. In the kids room, you see the toys fly and stuff like that. It's pretty cool.

PCG: Have you talked all about bringing back any classic Rainbow Six environments in this game?

Couture: There's discussion about it. I cannot really go into further details. But we've seen some people showing interest into bringing back classic maps, yes.

PCG: A specific question: can the defending team's static cameras be destroyed in that level?

Couture: As of now, no, but it's not to say that we're not thinking about that kind of stuff.

PCG: Got it. I'm also curious about how sound will operate in the game? Will I be able to hear footsteps through walls? Or will I be able to hear someone on the ceiling above me; is that something you are thinking about as well?

Couture: We have a dynamic implementation so like you can... If you create a hole, you are going to receive more sound from that room. So, it's fully dynamic. Myself, as a gamer, I really like to hear... I base my strategy around what I hear. So, we have a strong aspect in this. Like, also the destruction reflects the material that wall is made of and stuff like that. But we're really proud of that propagation system but I cannot really talk more about it.

PCG: Thanks, Olivier.

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