From the deployment room to the writer’s room: Bringing systemic dialogue to life in Ghost Recon Breakpoint

A HUGE team of people are involved in putting together a modern AAA game – much like a Hollywood movie.  

Amongst all those people, someone – or several someones – has to write all the words the characters speak in the game – as well as the incidental dialogue – and the people at the writer’s desk have the opportunity to bring their own knowledge and experience to the screen as a result.

Emil Daubon is a writer and military technical advisor on Ubisoft’s latest game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and is well placed to be writing about the military, having spent nearly two decades as part of it.

Emil Daubon has nearly 20 years experience in the US military and a background in film and writing, so was well-placed to bring his talents to the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint team.

Mr Daubon’s experience is most definitely practical – he was in the US Military for more than 17 years, including serving in Special Forces, and has combined that with his background in writing and the film industry to bring his talents to Ubisoft’s latest military-themed shooter.

The linear narrative of Breakpoint has something like 400,000 words in it and the systemic dialogue – combat barks, the things people randomly say in the world while you’re wandering around, and so on – was about the same again, Mr Daubon said.

“My focus was on systemic writing; Holt in particular was one of my babies – I got to write a lot of his optional dialogue.”

One of the many challenges when writing system dialogue was mixing things up a bit – “writing the same thing 30 different ways so you’re not hearing the same thing all the time”, as he put it.

“It’s an exercise in patience sometimes,” he said, explaining there were only so many ways for someone to say they were reloading their weapon.

Drawing on his extensive military experience, Mr Daubon said it was necessary to strike a balance between reality and what people expected to see (or hear) in a military-themed computer game too.

“The challenge is blending vernacular (military slang and terminology) and everyday use,” he said.

“We (military personnel) are all still human beings and crack wise and tell jokes and have mundane trivial conversations, the same as anyone else – I find the authenticity (in game dialogue) comes from blending the two, to make it sound more genuine.”

The development team gave Mr Daubon a lot of creative freedom in his writing work on the game, and he said a starting point for some of the systemic dialogue was ‘what would I say in that scenario?’.

As any writer knows, it can be hard to be objective with your own work – especially if you’ve been at it for a while – so Mr Daubon made sure his process included hearing the lines spoken aloud too.

“I’d read lines out loud, and have other people read them – and if they sounded un-natural or forced, I’d re-write them,” he said.

“I was given a lot of freedom to re-write barks, if they didn’t fit the tone of the mission or feel of the mission.”

Mr Daubon said he found his time working on Breakpoint to be particularly rewarding, thanks to the talented people he was working with to bring the game to life.

“This whole experience has been fantastic,” he said.

“I was originally hired as an additional content creator, but once the team learned of my being ex-military, the role expanded quickly,” he said.

“So many teams came together for the overall product – over 1000 developers across eight studios all working collectively to create a piece of entertainment we’re all very proud of.”

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