Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Tom Clancy: Red Storm Rises

Robert Rath | 28 Mar 2014 12:01
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Despite not being a game developer or even a player, Tom Clancy changed games. In the first part of our two-part series, we examined how Clancy and former naval officer Larry Bond used the tabletop game Harpoon to in his novel Red Storm Rising. But a decade later it was another red storm that would establish Clancy's legacy in the videogame world - Red Storm Entertainment. And once again, Clancy would partner with a Cold War-era naval officer to bring his books to life.

Doug Littlejohns met Clancy in the mid-1980s when he was still an officer in the British Navy. They admired each other, Littlejohns because The Hunt for Red October fascinated him, and Clancy because Littlejohns was a Clancy character made flesh - a life-long submarine officer whose exploits are as legendary as they are classified. For example, if you cross-reference British Navy documents with the book Blind Man's Bluff you can deduce Littlejohns was probably commanding the nuclear attack sub HMS Sceptre when it collided with a Soviet sub on a shadowing operation. If true, it wouldn't have been his first crisis at sea. Earlier in his career, he served on a diesel sub that sprang a leak at maximum depth while chasing a Russian across the Mediterranean. In another incident, his nuclear boat rammed a whale carcass deep beneath the ocean - the shock was so great his sonar operator had a panic attack in the control room. Commodore Littlejohns served 30 years in the Royal Navy, participating in both the Falklands War and the Persian Gulf War, and twice received decorations from Queen Elizabeth II. Most of what he did to deserve them is classified.

When Littlejohns first met Clancy at a Naval officers' dinner in Virginia, he said of Red October: "You've put stuff in your book that if I talked about it would see me locked up in the Tower of London." To Clancy's grateful amusement, Littlejohns then listed the book's technical errors. The two became friends and golf partners, even though the Commodore refused to give up any details Clancy could use in his books.

Their friendship turned professional after Littlejohns left the Navy and Clancy recruited him as an advisor to the submarine videogame SSN, a companion piece to his novel of the same name. The professional synthesis worked so well that when Clancy decided to found a videogame studio, he called Littlejohns. A former naval commander might seem an odd choice for that role, but the Commodore had a degree in computer science and an aggressive personality Clancy admired. "Doug is a leader, not a manager," said Clancy in a 1999 interview with Forbes ASAP. "He was my only real choice."

"Tom was very happy having Doug Littlejohns heading up the company," recalls Larry Bond, the game developer and former naval officer who co-authored Red Storm Rising. "His love of submariners was satisfied by having a British submariner running the show."

That was Clancy's whole point. Rather than the absentee boss that the gaming community has sometimes painted him as, Clancy exerted his influence over Red Storm not through being involved in every decision, but by handpicking the man who'd lead the company. The British Navy, Bond explains, trains their officers differently than the U.S. does. While American submarine officers are generalists who serve in many departments on their way to command, the British sub officers are subject experts. "Everything aft of the reactor bulkhead is propulsion specialty," says Bond. "Everything forward of the reactor bulkhead is tactics." That means that British submarine commanders have experience leading diverse teams of specialists - perfect, in other words, for running a game company full of artists, programmers and designers.

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