Rainbow Six Siege team talks Operation Grim Sky, balancing, future plans

Rainbow Six Siege Clash
Rainbow Six Siege Clash (Image credit: Ubisoft)

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege is about to receive its next major update, with the arrival of Operation Grim Sky. Ubisoft's hit tactical shooter will soon introduce a variety of new content for players, including two new playable Operators, a heavily reworked map, and other welcome changes.

Rainbow Six Siege has undergone praiseworthy evolution in its three years on the market, emerging as one of today's top shooters. Despite its troubled origins in 2015, Ubisoft's commitment to reinvigorate its player base has proved successful, with its population reaching an all-time high in 2018. Now midway through its third year of post-launch content, Ubisoft isn't slowing down, promising a roster of 100 Operators in the years ahead.

While Operation Grim Sky is expected to make its public debut next month, we sat down with Ubisoft community developer on Rainbow Six Siege, Craig Robinson, to discuss its contents, and what lies ahead for the game.

Rainbow Six Siege Operation Grim Sky: Hands-on with Clash and Maverick

Setting the stage for Operation Grim Sky

Matt Brown, Windows Central games editor: Between back in 2015 and today, what has changed about the Rainbow Six Siege development process? The general perception of Rainbow Six Siege, and what players expect, has clearly changed.

Craig Robinson, Ubisoft community developer: We've made a very firm commitment to supporting the game long-term. I think we've more than just talked about it, we've shown that with Operation Health, with the addition of BattlEye in [Operation] Skull Rain, things like that. So players, more than ever, will recognize that we're going to continue supporting Rainbow Six Siege for quite some time. The goal of 100 operators is something our players point out quite often. Again, we're supporting Rainbow Six for a long time.

The overall quality of the game has improved as well. Operation Health was a turning point for Rainbow Six Siege and it was a time where we took a step back from the constant tempo of releasing content and took some time to [sort] the infrastructure and foundation of the game, in order to make sure that it's a game that could last for years to come. And we're still reaping the benefits of Operation Health today, with the server improvements we've implemented, the new processes we implemented on the development side. So overall, I think that, combined with the fact we're talking with our players more, all comes together, and players are trusting us to not bail on Rainbow Six Siege.

The promise of 100 playable Operators is a big claim. Do you feel like it will become overwhelming as you continue balancing the growing roster? Even now, when you introduce a new Operator, there are balancing changes being made across the board.

We actually recently created a balancing team, so their sole focus is the balancing of Operators. This was kind of created in response to Lion being released. It's made up of a game designer, a data scientist, and a user researcher, and these three guys, they work together to identify which operators need some adjustments. Whether they need a buff, a nerf, where that change needs to be implemented, to make sure that we get the desired outcome and don't impact how fun the operator is to play – and that's their mandate.

So by having a dedicated team that marries both qualitative and quantitative feedback with game design, it allows us to balance our game in a that we're going to be able to continue doing it, even with 100 operators. Right now, we're at about 42, with Operation Grim Sky, and our meta is in a pretty good place. So I think that right there is a testament to their commitment and the work that they've been doing, to make sure that our game remains balanced, but also fun to play.

There was a lot of controversy shrouding Lion and Finka, due to their "global" abilities that affected all players simultaneously. Is that something you're still looking into for future Operators? Or are you focusing on those smaller scale abilities?

We learn a lot from all Operators that we release. And it's one of those things where sometimes, we learn things that we've done that are great and we apply those to other Operators. And sometimes we learn things that aren't so great, and we figure out how to apply those learnings to future Operators as well.

[...] You'll never hear any of our balancing team say, "Oh yeah, we got it all perfect." You'll never hear us say that. But we are learning and we're constantly improving. And being able to take learnings from things we've done in the past and apply that knowledge to future Operators is something that all of our game designers are really adept at doing and it's something we're putting a focus on moving forward.

What Clash and Maverick mean for Rainbow Six Siege

You say you want to refresh the meta and keep Rainbow Six Siege fresh every season. How do you see Clash and Maverick shaking up gameplay?

Well, Maverick... I think he's going to have a very interesting dynamic at a few different levels of play. At a higher level, more coordinated playstyles, you're going to be able to pair him with other Operators and use them together in order to take the objective. Whereas lower skill players who might not be as coordinated, or playing on their own, will be able to use him a little more selfishly, and create their own murder holes, and use those effectively.

Clash can be used in a couple different ways. She can be used to push out and meet the attackers when they're breaching the building and slow down from there, and gather some intel, and communicate with her team, and talk about what she's seen. And then, she can also sit back at site with the anchors and prepare for that last-minute attacker push onto site.

So, are there any notable counters to Clash and Maverick? For example, does Clash's shield show on IQ's electronics detector?

I think that for Maverick, he doesn't necessarily have a direct Operator counter per se, but because he is so close, he has to be laid so close to the wall, and his gadget, the blowtorch, is so slow to break down that reinforced wall, it's a very high-risk manoeuvre essentially. His counter is communication – the defenders communicating and rotating. So I wouldn't necessarily say he has a specific operator that's a counter… maybe a Pulse, but in the same way pulse counters every other operator.

Whereas Clash, I'm not sure if she shows up on IQ's electronics detector. But it's the same as the attackers with shields, those can be countered with teamwork and being patient and flanking, and things like that. I think we're going to see a lot more fake pushes from teams coming into play with Clash, and try and get Clash to go to one part of the map and then come in from a different angle.

So in the current Operator lineup, are there any holes or roles you'd like to see filled?

Well, we have a lot of ideas for future Operators. We have a lot of ideas for different takes on different gadgets and different ways they're able to exist. Don't really have anything to talk about on that front now, but we've got lots of ideas for things we want to see existing in Rainbow Six Siege.

Preparing Rainbow Six Siege for the future

Moving onto your recent rework of Hereford, and buffs to Consulate and Clubhouse. As you're looking back at your previous maps, are there mistakes or design choices that you're considering, seeing how Rainbow Six Siege has evolved?

Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it a mistake. Hereford was one of the first maps we ever built, it was the first map we ever had our internal competitive matches on. So Hereford was built to be played in a very different game than what we have today. And the idea of what we had and how Rainbow Six Siege is going to play pre-launch, and then the way Rainbow Six is played by our players and what they've taught us – very different games.

So the reworking of Hereford base, it was a really great opportunity to take that iconic map that had some issues that prevented it from being competitively viable and giving it a facelift. But really, if you're familiar with the old Hereford, and you've played on the new Hereford, it's really more of a new map than a facelift. We were able to take a lot of the things our level design has learned over the past few years from our players, and apply that to Hereford, with like vertical gameplay, and rotations, and roaming and all those things. So we're able to improve upon these older maps in ways that we didn't realize they needed to be improved upon when they were first released.

What were the thoughts behind implementing rain for the Hereford Base rework? With changes to visibility and sound, how does this affect gameplay?

Making sure that our environments are enticing and exciting for players is important, and that drove a lot of the artistic direction for the new Hereford Base. But you will notice that there's no night time, for Hereford, only a day map. We recognize that night maps are not as competitively viable as day maps, so that's why we're leaning towards the day map variety for these kinds of maps.

So finally wrapping up, what are the core pillars of Rainbow Six Siege development are going forward? What's your focus as a team going forward?

Well, it's a couple different things. One part of our team is working on anti-cheat and anti-toxicity efforts, our balancing team is working on ensuring we have stable, balanced meta. We have level designers that are possibly tweaking maps and coming out with new maps that incorporate our learnings and things like that. Focusing on the overall player experience is something that we're really, really working hard towards, and making sure that every time someone logs into Rainbow Six, they have a great experience is critical.

Your thoughts on Operation Grim Sky

While Rainbow Six Siege just came off an all-time high, Ubisoft seemingly isn't slowing down going forward. With a strong following and firm roadmap for the future, the game may still be topping the charts in the months, or years to come. In the meantime, be sure to check out our hands-on with Operation Grim Sky, diving deeper into the new Operators and gadgets.

Rainbow Six Siege Operation Grim Sky: Hands-on with Clash and Maverick

Check out Windows Central's Rainbow Six Siege hub for in-depth coverage of upcoming content, latest updates, and tips to improve your gameplay.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.