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Mike Grasso of 911

Interview - we talk to Rainbow Six technical consultant Mike Grasso

One of the aims of the latest installment in the Rainbow Six series has been to maintain the sense of realism, as lead designer Mike McCoy told us in our interview with him last week. It's not just a case of using the Unreal engine to produce more immersive environments, but also fine tuning the gameplay and making sure that the weaponry and the actions of both your own men and the enemy are believable.

As part of this effort, Ubi Soft Montreal have brought back Rainbow Six technical consultants 911. We caught up with one of the company's team of advisors, Mike Grasso, at a recent press event in exotic Slough.

Amazing, a Rainbow Six game where your cunning plan isn't foiled by a closed door.

Rap Sheet

While many developers talk about realism, Ubi Soft have gone straight to the source for Raven Shield. 911 was founded way back in 1984 by a group of law enforcement veterans who have worked in a wide range of roles for everyone from the LAPD to the US Navy SEALs. Since then they have provided weapons training, tactical advice and other services for dozens of movies and TV series.

"We've worked on several Schwarzenegger films and several Sean Connery films. We've done some genre films, some westerns; we did all the weapons for Unforgiven, American Outlaws (which recently came out), and Young Guns, if you remember that. We did some period pieces, like The Untouchables with Sean Connery. And we've got a couple of new films coming out later this year, one of them being National Security."

Mike himself has over two decades of law enforcement experience, "which really helps" in his work on Rainbow Six. When he's not working on videogames and flying around Europe talking to journalists, he serves as a senior tactical instructor for the LAPD, as well as moonlighting for a US Marshalls task force. "In 22 years I've worked everything from undercover narcotics to warrant entry teams to bicycle details to homicide investigator and crash officer. I have a very well rounded education when it comes to the street, but specialising in tactics."

Rainbow in action

LA Takedown

Although 911 have worked on everything from the cult Vietnam war series Tour Of Duty to blockbuster movies like The Rock and Total Recall, perhaps the single most impressive credit on their list is Michael Mann's heist thriller Heat. As anyone who's seen the movie knows, Heat includes one of the most spectacular gun battles ever committed to film, as Robert De Niro's team of criminals takes on Al Pacino and the LAPD, automatic weapons blazing in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Mike isn't joking when he tells us that "it really shows what damage and devestation can occur".

As he had explained earlier in the day, the idea in this scene was to get the two sides to act differently, something which has carried over into their work on AI behaviour for Raven Shield. In Heat, the criminals may be skilled at what they do, but they have no weapons training. Because of this the police are smoother and more precise, firing off a few rounds and then ducking behind cover, while the criminals fire wildly in an attempt to cause panic to let them escape into the crowd, and make mistakes like standing out in the open reloading. "If all you did is watch films and play videogames and you don't have the training, when you come up against people who don't play videogames but do it for a living every day... that's an eye-opener for most people".

This was demonstrated in spectacular form when, just two years after the release of Heat, a real bank robbery went terribly wrong in another district of Los Angeles, leading to an eerily similar shoot-out between a pair of masked men with assault rifles and the LAPD. The first cops on the scene had only their sidearms to defend themselves with, and yet, although several police officers and civilians were wounded in the ensuing chaos, none were killed. The robbers were less lucky - both suspects were shot dead on the scene.

That'll be the bad guy then

Moral Connection

As Mike admitted, "life has a tendency to imitate art sometimes", but is there a wider link between violence in videogames or movies and real life? "I think that there probably is some kind of connection between the two", Mike told us. "[But] I think it's the moral connection that should be looked at more than anything else."

"That's why we bought into the Tom Clancy universe, because in [Rainbow Six] you only get to be the moral person. You can't be the bad guy. You're bound by a certain set of rules and you have to operate within them so that everybody goes home safe. There are other games out there that'll let you do everything and anything under the sun, and it actually gets boring playing those games. If you're limited to what you can do, you have to be really good at it."

It's no surprise then that the Rainbow Six games are the only ones that Mike plays regularly. "I've got a lot of things going on, I don't really have the time [to play games], and my wife would kill me! I do play Rainbow Six games, [but] I don't play them single player, I play multiplayer with a bunch of my friends. And now we're playing multiplayer with the programmers up in Montreal and having a grand time."

I've run out of witty captions, so just add your own.

Is This Real

Obviously 911 are doing more for their money than deathmatching with the developers, and this time round they've been more closely involved in the design process than in previous games in the series. "The first two Rainbow Six games we helped out and did some work on, and now that we've come back we've really come back in force. We've been here from the beginning of this third title, and we actually helped design most of the stuff that you can see."

"Ubi Soft has given us a lot of input. Basically they run things by us, we run things by them, and then we're allowed to pull things out if we bring a strong enough argument, and if there's a strong enough argument of why it needs to be in then we'll work it out. But they really want to go into a realistic mode, and that's why they've brought us in."

"The Tom Clancy franchise is such a grand franchise in itself, that when you go ahead and add more realism to it, it just gets better. You can play other games, but there's no basis in fact, and it's written by a bunch of people that have seen other games. It's different if you're playing a game where the programmers actually went to a school and practiced some of these things, so they got a feel for what it was really like."

To Be Continued...

So how is the latest game in the Rainbow Six series shaping up, and has the input of Mike Grasso and his colleagues at 911 made a difference? Have Mike McCoy and his team in Montreal managed to achieve their aim of producing a true Rainbow Six : Version Three, while making the game a little less intimidating for newcomers? Come back tomorrow, when we'll be bringing you a full hands-on preview of the game.

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