Rainbow Six and Red Storm Entertainment both came into being during the same week. When the company was formed in the fall of 1996, the first thing that we did was to spend a weekend brainstorming game ideas. That initial design session generated over a hundred possibilities that we then winnowed down to a handful that we thought had star potential. The only one that we unanimously agreed we had to build was HRT — a game based on the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
It was a long road from HRT to Rainbow Six, but along the way, the basic outline of the title changed very little. We knew from the start that we wanted to capture the excitement of movies such as Mission: Impossible and The Dirty Dozen — the thrill of watching a team of skilled specialists pull off an operation with clockwork precision. We also knew that we wanted it to be an action game with a strong strategic component — a realistic shooter that would be fun to play even without a Quake player’s twitch reflexes.
From that starting point, the title seemed to design itself. By the time we’d finished the first treatment a few weeks later, all the central game-play features were in place. We expanded the scope of game (rechristened Black Ops) beyond hostage rescue to encompass a variety of covert missions. Play would revolve around a planning phase followed by an action phase, and players would have to pick their teams from a pool of operatives with different strengths and weaknesses. Combat would be quick and deadly, but realistic. One shot would kill, but the targeting model would favor cautious aiming over the running-and-gunning that was typical of first-person shooters.
Ironically, the only major element that we hadn’t developed during those first few weeks was the tie-in to Tom Clancy’s book. Clancy was part of the original brainstorming session and had responded as enthusiastically as the rest of us to the HRT concept, but he hadn’t yet decided to make it the subject of his next novel. Because we had moved away from doing a strict hostage rescue game, we batted around a lot of different Black Ops back stories in our design meetings, ranging in time from the World War II era to the near future. For a while, we considered setting the game in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, giving it a very Austin Powers/Avengers feel. We eventually converged on the Rainbow Six back story in early 1997, but we didn’t find out that we would be paralleling Clancy’s novel until almost April. Fortunately, we’d been sharing information back and forth the whole time, so bringing the game in line with the book didn’t involve too much extra work. (If you compare the game to the novel, however, you’ll notice that they have different endings. Due to scheduling constraints, we had to lock down the final missions several months before Clancy finished writing. One of the pitfalls of parallel development…)