It was around the same time that I was switching my website over to WordPress with the express purpose of better integrating a blog that I heard about the death of Tom Clancy, on October 1st, 2013. He is best known for being the author of best-selling, and very detailed, military and spy novels, as well as for his involvement with a few video game series, which bore “Tom Clancy’s” in their titles. As writing and video games are my two biggest interests, I’ve always seen Tom Clancy as something of an important figure in spanning the gap between the mediums. However, I never dwelt too much on his existence, as important a figure as he was, I simply took his presence for granted, and now he is gone. The Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series is my favourite to bear his endorsement, and the original trilogy followed me through my youth in a way that I feel was quite important to me personally, and I would like to say some words about that to mark my own largely insignificant but personal stone to rest.
In 1996, along with Doug Littlejohns, Tom Clancy co-founded the video game development studio Red Storm Entertainment, which would later be renamed Ubisoft Red Storm in 2000, when Ubisoft purchased the studio. Some of the video games released by Red Storm were actually based on novels, such as Tom Clancy’s Politika (1997) Tom Clancy’s ruthless.com (1998), and Tom Clancy’s Shadow Watch (2000) – the first three novels in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series (which were actually written by Jerome Preisler). Some of Red Storm’s video games also tied into Tom Clancy novels, such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (1998), which was actually finished before the book, and as such doesn’t match up exactly with the plot of the novel. Another example of this happening in a different medium is the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which wrapped shooting before the final book in the Scott Pilgrim series was finished, and as such almost had a completely different ending.
The Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, which is still going strong today, wasn’t developed by Red Storm, but instead by Ubisoft Montreal. This was after Ubisoft’s acquisition of Red Storm, which explains the Tom Clancy endorsement. The game was originally released for the first Xbox, and seemed to be one of those games everyone with an Xbox would go on about. It was then ported to most of the other consoles at the time, including PS2, which is when I first played it on my uncle’s console. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002) introduced the world to the stereotypically grizzled Sam Fisher, the first Splinter Cell agent, who wore the game’s trademark tri-focal goggles, an idea Tom Clancy was allegedly initially unsure about due to the plausibility of such a device, but something that would eventually become an actual real life gadget. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was meant to be a more realistic take on a stealth game, and it was pretty tough because of it. As far as I was concerned Sam Fisher didn’t travel the world uncovering evil plots, but instead stayed in the training area forever messing around, as I couldn’t get past the tutorial. But cut me some slack, I was pretty young. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell was one of the first games in the “acceptable 3D graphics” era that I played, one of the first PS2 games I played, and one of the first games aimed at adults I played as, unlike my peers, my parents never really approved of letting me play Grand Theft Auto or anything else not aimed at my age group. Even though I only briefly ran around the tutorial area, struggling to make it past challenges I could now do with my eyes shut, the game struck some sort of chord with me. I liked the idea behind it, and I knew it was something I wanted to become better at, something that I wanted to explore more deeply. It represented something that I felt I wanted to experience, but something that I would have to strive towards.
Fast forward a few years from that point and my cousin was staying at my house for a week. It was during a fantastically aligned period of time where were we both just about old enough to have a sizeable amount of pocket money, and when there were hundreds of PS2 games available in high street shops for very reasonable prices. We picked some up to have a go on back at my house (for I had since come into a PlayStation 2 as a birthday present). I think I bought some sort of Dragonball Z game, and my cousin bought Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (2004). We played it obsessively, taking turns, pooling our skills to make it through the game, though we did not finish it in the time frame.
There’s a particularly stand-out moment in the game for me in the Jerusalem level. The goal of the mission is to infiltrate a secret base where some sort of evil virus is being manufactured, and to do so you receive help from Dahlia Tal, a member of the Israeli Secret Police. During the beginning of the level you spend a lot of time following her while she helps you out, and it really does feel like she’s genuinely helping. But then, as you head into the elevator that leads to the secret base Lambert, the commanding officer, radios Fisher and tells him he must immediately execute Tal, in the short space of time after the metal fence has closed before the elevator lowers. My cousin and I were torn. Why were we being asked to kill her? After all, she’d just helped us get through the tricky streets of Jerusalem. There was no static choice box. We had to decide then and there what we were going to do. We couldn’t do it. Not quickly enough anyway. Before we knew it the elevator was heading down and Lambert was berating us. That’s the first moral choice in a video game I remember encountering, and it really stuck with me. The results of whether or not you carry out your orders and execute Dahlia Tal actually matter fairly little. Killing her then simply allows you to avoid an encounter where you have to kill her and a couple of other agents when you leave the secret facility. But having the choice itself creates a massive impact. It created a real reaction with my cousin and I, and I found it fascinating that a video game could do that. It was around this time that more and more games would seek to push the player’s emotional buttons and make decisions that would shape the game into something more personal. Some games that have tried this have succeeded massively, and when well utilised can create some really fantastic gaming experiences, such as The Walking Dead (2012); others haven’t done quite so well, such as Shadow the Hedgehog (2005).
I then went on to purchase Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) for Nintendo DS shortly after acquiring the console. The less said about that the better, but at least the lock-picking mini game was one of the most fun lock-picking mini games I’ve played (and I’ve played a lot of lock-picking mini games). Lock-picking mini games. Also, as one of the only fun missions in the game, I could regularly complete the bank level with a perfect stealth score, something that I found very satisfying, and something that I took with me when I eventually ended up playing the proper Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory for PS2 in college. This game seemed a little easier than the previous two entries in the series, and as I was a little older we seemed to meet comfortably in the middle. It wasn’t too hard but adequately challenging in some places. I played through Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory by myself in a fairly short timeframe, so by the time I was trying to make my way around a North Korean missile battery and stop their air-strikes the tension felt very real. One of the hardest levels in a Japanese bathhouse ends in a tense stand-off with Shetland, a good character gone bad. Fisher and Shetland have a long conversation, and eventually you can aim at him and decide whether to kill him or not. Tensions were running high, and I personally felt Shetland’s betrayal, so I pulled the trigger. If you don’t, he attacks you anyway and Fisher kills him with a knife instead. The element of control in what some games might have done in a pre-rendered story cut-scene was very immersive, and made the scene carry a lot of weight with me that it otherwise might not have. As well as offering a fantastic single player experience that showed me how effective games could be at engaging the player and building a world for them, the co-operative campaign also offered a lot of fun, solidifying friendships with old friends, new friends, and family alike.
The games in the original Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell trilogy seem to have hounded me throughout my journey from boy to man, and during that time they helped shape my ideas of what the medium could offer from narrative to player experience. They weren’t even my favourite games, though. The only one I played to the end was Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. But even with that said, the series meant a lot to me, and seemed to have a pretty big impact on the way I’ve seen things. And it wouldn’t have been possible without Mr. Clancy.
Interestingly, as well as Tom Clancy’s work in the writing field being translated to the gaming medium, some of the gaming work he was associated with were also then translated back to writing. There is a pretty big Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell novel series, as well as novels based on Tom Clancy’s EndWar and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon. Sometimes it’s easy to look at different mediums in a narrow way, but Tom Clancy’s career is a remarkable example of how different mediumdwwds interconnect with each other, from books, to film, to games, and even back again. It’s all very cyclical, and in a way, quite soothing.