Interview: Ghost Recon Breakpoint Writer and Military Advisor Emil Daubon on story, realism and Jon Bernthal

With co-op shooter Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint right around the corner, we sat down with the game’s writer and military consultant Emil Daubon for a quick chat about narrative, authenticity, and the great Jon Bernthal.


Emil, so nice to be talking to you today! I am so excited for Ghost Recon Breakpoint, but before that, let me ask you a little bit about yourself, your experience, and how you got to working on the Ghost Recon series.

I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for a long time. I’ve been in the military for about 17 and a half years, and almost 15 with the US Army Special Forces. I was full time military for about 10 years, and I then transitioned to the National Guard because I had decided I had other pursuits that interested me. During my time in the military I also used to work on film crews as a lighting technician, and I went back to that as I had a passion for storytelling and just film in general. I had decided I just wanted the opportunity to tell my own story, so I enrolled in university. I was really fortunate, I actually got to attend Columbia University in New York, where I studied theatre. My intent was to pursue writing for entertainment, for film, television and while I love theatre, it’s hard to make a living as a theatre professional, and as I was getting ready to graduate in the Spring of 2018, which was very recent, I was presented with this unique opportunity to come on board with Ghost Recon Breakpoint. I was hired initially as a content writer, but with my background in special forces, my role within the project very quickly evolved into military technical advisor as well as a writer.

The story seems to be bringing a more cinematic approach to the franchise. How prominent will the story be in guiding the overall experience?

One of the questions that the core team had at the conceptual stages of development was how can they improve on the experience of immersing players in the fantasy of being a Ghost? Ghost Recon gameplay mechanics have been the core of the franchise for many years now, it’s gameplay that the fans have come to expect and love, and it is an immersive experience, and the team really wanted to expand on that. What they arrived at was to improve the experience and to provide a more deeply immersive narrative experience. That’s where the improved and heightened cinematic approach came from, along with additional optional dialogue. The opportunity to tell a deeper story, heightens the immersion and the fantasy, even for players that are just concerned more with the gameplay mechanics, you still can’t avoid the story. The story is still going to drive your progress forward, wether you’re playing in PvP, co-op or solo, the story always drives the progression forward. As a narrative team we were given tremendous license to expand that narrative, we were basically told that the team wanted to be told a deeper story, so we did, and that is where a lot of the heightened immersion comes from. You can’t help but feel more invested because you are going to know these characters, whether you want to or not, you’re going to learn about their backstory, their history, you’re going to understand why you’re on this island and why these events are taking place.

How was it working with a high profile actor such as Jon Bernthal, and what do you believe he brings to this experience?

So much, the decision was made pretty early on, that the character had been conceived, and had evolved from the question of what’s the most dangerous adversary a Ghost could face,  with the answer being another Ghost. In order to make that a more compelling conflict, you have to be invested in the enemy arc, you have to understand the motivations of the antagonist, otherwise it’s just a boss fight, and nobody wanted it to just be a boss fight. So the idea for the character was pretty fleshed out, and one of the core teams saw Jon Bernthal in another one of his performances and said “that’s the guy, that’s the character, that’s who we want”, and once Jon was decided on, his character evolved organically. The reality is that Jon being such an experienced an exceptional artist brings so much, it’s not just another iteration of one of his characters, everything he does he approaches with a direct and distinct process that creates compelling characters. He has such a talent for conveying conflict with subtle nuance that you don’t often see. You’re talking about an actor that brings an intensity to a character that already requires that, and already had it inherently. Now you have a conflicted antagonist that believes in his cause, so fighting him now is not just a boss fight, now you’re talking about a person that you’ve operated with. We introduced the character in Ghost Recon Wildlands DLC in Operation Kingslayer, where you work with him and fight alongside Cole Walker, you understand there’s a history. In Breakpoint, you’re going to learn more about that backstory that had led him down that darker path. He was who everybody wanted, and even before he was secured, I think everyone was driving forward as if he was the guy, because it just made the character grow, and helped push the entire narrative along. He brought a tremendous amount to the project as an actor, as a character, and as a presence on set, along with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and excitement, and drive to make this a great experience.

How much real life experience and military training carries across to a game like Ghost Recon Breakpoint?

There’s a fair amount of influence that myself and number of other military consultants were able to bring into this project. Bear in mind that at the heart of this entire endeavour is the idea that we’re creating a fantasy. We’re creating a fantasy based on the world of the Ghosts and Tom Clancy, and the fantasy has always been to put players in the boots of one of the most elite special operations soldiers in the world. In order to do that of course, the gameplay and context have to support that fantasy, and in order to gain a level of realism, a project will employ the use of trained  experts. But the trick is not about creating the most authentic product, it’s about finding the balance between the authenticity and the immersion of the fantasy, because often times real tactics or real details may not fit within the constraints for whatever reason. There were a tremendous team of consultants that worked on this project, myself as an army green beret, Navy seals, French SAS, military intelligence, great consultants that brought a wealth of knowledge and experience and all of us had a significant hand in a lot of different aspects. What I found is that where we achieved that balance was really in the small details, whether it’s how a gun or a weapon system functions, or how a reload looks or how a character looks while carrying a heavy backpack or traversing difficult terrain. That’s really where all of our experience came into play, when it came down to fine tuning details of specific animations or character vernacular, how they speak, what they’re saying, it really came to those details within the fantasy so that you remain within the world of Ghost Recon. It’s not about making Ghost Recon real, it’s about making Ghost Recon feel genuine, and that’s really what we’ve achieved.

How natural did the introduction of survival mechanics feel, and how will they impact the gameplay?

That’s definitely one of the ways the core team had first imagined heightening the experience, was to add additional mechanics that force the player to take into consideration the additional tactical factors. The survival element is definitely one, the premise of the game begins as your crew has been attacked, your helicopter has been shot down on a hostile island with no idea of what is happening, so you have to survive not only in a hostile environment, but without any supplies or equipment. The challenge of course is to not turn the game into a survival simulator, so as a player you’re not going to get bogged down for 5 hours to figure out how to make a sandwich in the jungle because you’re starving, it’s just about adding the element of ensuring you craft rations and drink water to prepare for missions so that you have the necessary stamina to achieve your objective or maintain your weapons so you can improve your accuracy. The survival aspect is more about immersion and forcing you as a player to take into account natural considerations like fatigue and weather, use your planning cycles so that you can properly advance on an objective.

Although there will most definitely be many, what is one of your favourite things about Ghost Recon Breakpoint that we should be excited for?

You know, that’s an amazing question that I’ve gotten quite often to be honest, and I’m somewhat biased being a writer by trade, and I’m particularly attached to the narrative in this game. I think the story itself is very deep, nuanced and complex and offers a lot of interesting twists and turns, it’s going to be super engaging. But the reality is I’ve had the chance to work with almost every department, I was a consultant and technical advisor, I was working with pre visualisation and animation with realisation, progression, audio recording, I mean I was working with everybody. But you’re talking a project that encompasses over 1000 developers across each studio, a huge collaboration, and it’s a beautiful piece of entertainment. The reality is, and what I’m most proud of, is Ghost Recon Breakpoint. The game itself is such a tremendous feat created by so many talented people, all of us coming together, often at times through challenges, you talk about a big group of creatives, all interfacing with a bunch of different departments across numerous time zones and despite all those challenges, we came together and created something really really exciting and enjoyable and I think players are going to have a lot of fun engaging with.

Our thanks to Emil for taking the time to speak with us. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint releases October 4, 2019 on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.


Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.