Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak interview - We talk to Ubisoft about mash-ups, multitasking, and sniping tactics

Q&A with Ubisoft's AJ Morales

Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak interview - We talk to Ubisoft about mash-ups, multitasking, and sniping tactics

For a game that belongs in the established Tom Clancy universe of militaristic action extravaganzas, Tom Clancy's ShadowBreak is full of surprises.

Not only is this the first mobile-focused addition to the franchise, it also mashes together two distinct gameplay elements in quite an interesting way. Think Clash Royale's lane-running strategising meets Hitman Sniper's, um, sniping.

We were interested to find out what the thinking was behind the game, so we threw some questions the way of AJ Morales, Creative Director at Ubisoft Halifax.

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How do you go about striking the balance between MOBA and FPS elements without overwhelming the player?

Very carefully - it's certainly a tough one. Throughout development, we have been working to strike that balance. We knew that we wanted the game to be very fast paced and high skill, so that we could create a healthy competitive environment in the top tier arenas. That said, we're very aware that our game has a lot going on. We've looked at various visual feedback, unit balance, and pace of play solutions so that our early players aren't overwhelmed.

I don't actually feel we're done here - we're going to be taking a look at the early player data, and, if we see that a lot of our early players are struggling, we will implement solutions that can ease them in without alienating our more hardcore players.

There's a clear Clash Royale vibe to the game, but are there any other games that have inspired your approach to ShadowBreak?

Our biggest inspiration has been some of the most recent entries in the Tom Clancy's gaming universe. In just two years, we've seen Rainbow Six Siege, The Division, and Ghost Recon Wildlands all do really interesting work in the design space of different genres.

Siege proved that Tom Clancy's works as an eSport. The Division proved that Tom Clancy's can work with RPG systems. Wildlands showed that multiplayer sessions can be as short or as long as you want. In that regard, we're standing on the shoulders of giants and asking ourselves, "how we can bring that inspiration to a new genre that fits on the mobile platform."

In my limited time with the game, those who spent more time sniping seemed to lose. Would you say the focus here is predominantly on strategy, or is there scope for multiple approaches?

Your deployment bar can't be ignored. The sniper shooting, whether it's eliminating enemy forces or hunting the other player, is a skill based countermeasure. Your sniper rifle can't take out bases, so if you're only shooting, you'll lose every time.

Once you start deploying your troops in a smart, effective way though, that's another story. Suddenly, you need to be providing overwatch - protecting their advance - hunting the other player so that they can't effectively react. I like to think of your troops as the tip of the spear, and your shooting skills as what pushes that spearhead through.

The biggest worry when combining 'freemium' with 'competitive online' is a pay-to-win scenario. How have you negotiated that with ShadowBreak?

I think there's a lot of games out there, on mobile and PC alike, that have proven that a healthy competitive environment and free to play elements aren't mutually exclusive. There's not a single item in ShadowBreak that has gameplay implications that can't be acquired for free.

In the future, we're exploring vanity and prestige items for events, but we're very cognisant of that line - where gameplay stops and cosmetic items start.

How will you be supporting the game after launch? Is there any fresh content in the pipeline?

We definitely have big plans for the future, and our intention is for ShadowBreak to be giving our player community regular updates. The big thing that we want to keep an eye on now is what our players are telling us - we're going to be combing through the match data, seeing how people are playing ShadowBreak, and then reacting in kind to bring them a continuously improving experience.

This is being touted as 'the first brand in the Tom Clancy video game series to be developed specifically for mobile devices'. Are there plans to take ShadowBreak further, perhaps into other genres?

We aren't ruling anything out for the future, but for right now our focus is making sure that we're delivering the best possible experience for our players. As far as our team is concerned, we're just getting started.

Thanks to AJ for talking to us.
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.