PC with post release consideration given to a possible console release. If any console version were to be made, it would be exactly like the PC version. We firmly believe that you can have the same experience on any platform regardless of control scheme. For the PC release, we are targeting 32bit DirectX9 and 32/64bit DirectX11 systems. Minimum requirements will be released closer to project completion.
If our Kickstarter can generate a bit more than our target goal then we will also be doing a Mac version. Linux has been looked at and unless funding far exceeds our goal it would just be too much of a burden for our small team to support.
We are a full licensee of EPIC’s Unreal Engine 3.
To be determined.
This is somewhat dependent on how the Kickstarter turns out. Ground Branch will eventually have Singleplayer, Multiplayer and a Co-op component to it. Although, we are currently only working on the Multiplayer component (SP campaign is designed), but if a specific secondary funding goal is met then we will be able to include Co-op and/or a full SP experience.
If those secondary goals are not met then the plan is to release just the adversarial MP portion first as it is the most cost effective solution for a small independently funded team. There will then be a follow on release of a Singleplayer/Co-op campaign with revenue generated from sales of the first release. The MP release will include a preview of the Co-op experience though.
John is the Founder and Creative Director of BlackFoot Studios and has been in game development for over 15 years. His career started out as one of 3 level designers/level artists on the original Rainbow Six, moving to Lead Artist on Ghost Recon PC (the original one) then after leaving Red Storm Entertainment, onto working with various startups and industry veteran studios, including Tripwire Interactive, to create some truly unique gaming experiences. John’s gaming credits cover over 20 titles and include Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, Ghost Recon and all of their respective add-on mission packs. Along the way, he has spent time working for the US Special Operations Command at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Ft. Bragg. There, John was an integral part of a cell created to utilize cutting edge gaming technology for Special Operations training and mission rehearsal applications. This experience, along with the many friendships forged while there, bring a truly unique perspective and insight into developing the resurgence of the original Tactical Squad Based Shooter.
I, John Sonedecker, have been a key player in the development of the truly tactical squad based shooter genre and, personally, I miss not having this type of game to play anymore. I was part of the group that helped create and define the genre and we at BlackFoot Studios feel that we have our finger on the pulse of a legion of fans that feel the same way. We didn’t design this game trying to find an audience or a sale. We are building the game we want to play ourselves and are fortunate to have an entire gaming population that wants it as well.
It is a mantra that was developed during the early days of Ground Branch while flying back from yet another meeting with a Publisher that just “didn’t get it. It means that with open, one on one interaction with the Studio’s developers, never before has a gaming community been so involved with the early development of both a new game, and a new development studio. Staying true to this mantra, we have created an open forum where gamer’s ideas and opinions are not only welcomed, but invited. A new and refreshing concept for gamers who are used to knowing little about a game until its release, then left on their own to find solutions to their problems. And never before has a game been designed around its players, with their input, right from the beginning.
BlackFoot Studios has set its sights on a very particular aspect of the gaming world, and has brought something to the table that should make other developers sit up and take notice.
Shoot. Move. Communicate. These three things will make or break a game. Having the proper moving and shooting mechanics are essential for players to have a good gaming experience. If you have clunky controls/firing mechanics or poor ability to communicate with your team mates then the rest of the experience will not matter. Those are the means by which the player interacts with the game itself. Without them we might as well just jump on the bandwagon with all the other standard FPS titles.
NORG stands for Natural Order of Realistic Gameplay. Titles are constructed from the ground up rather than the traditional inside‐out method utilizing a design methodology that maintains immersive gaming while promoting a shorter build cycle with reduced back track development or a need to artificially balance the game. In its simplest form, NORG takes a realistic in game action and provides a realistic response.
Jumping is one of the most common mechanics in a FPS title. Most developers have opted to remove this feature from games because of the issues it induces (like “bunny hopping”). By removing jumping developers had to design every level in the game around the fact that players are not allowed to do something that soldiers do every day in combat. Not bunny hops, but rather the act of jumping. Are there no low courtyard walls as are found in many homes in the Mideast? Not ditches to jump, any debris, or fallen material unless it was large enough to provide cover? A very sterile and unrealistic solution that was not required.
Removing something as basic as jumping means now the gamer must examine what he is allowed to do and learn to act inside an unrealistic world. This inevitably always leads to gamers throwing up their hands in frustration and saying, “That is total BS. In the real world I could have jumped over that wall or ditch and been safe. I could have got that guy! Arrrrhhhh!”
Gaming should be an experience, not an exercise in mental toughness and tolerance. NORG takes a different approach. It asks, “If bunny hopping and shooting is so effective in a game why don’t real soldiers bunny hop and shoot?” Simple…. The game design that allows such is deeply flawed but removing jumping IS NOT THE SOLUTION. NORG takes a realistic action and provides a realistic response. People do not bunny hop in the real world because they would be shot. If they try to shoot while doing this then they will hit 2 things…. The ground and the sky! And the second time a player tries to do that in Ground Branch they will realize it won’t work and change to a more realistic movement and technique. This still allows those moments of speedy desperation hopping a low fence to assault a building or jumping debris and bodies to get to cover in the nick of time.
NORG design allows a title to be built that thrusts players into an immersive environment that they can immediately comprehend. There is no lengthy phase of learning what the developers allow so they can beat the design rather than beating the game.
Gritty. Heavy. Without the consequence of death and loss there is no depth to the game. But players will experience those moments. Most games have people running around shooting this and that and loss means reloading the level. Here the loss will be personal and unavoidable. We are not taking the moral high ground but players will sense the impact. Players will have the freedom of choice in the weapons and gear they equip, how they approach a mission as well as how they chose to approach a building or even a situation. Every action will have a reaction and players will have difficult choices to make that have actual consequences.
Gameplay will be deliberate and calculated. Your gear choices, route choices, team plan and actions against the enemy will all play into your success or failure. Multiplayer games will be methodical with pockets of quick but intense firefights all the way to long drawn out engagements against an equally matched team. There is no artificial balancing, but the individual’s skill and decision making will be what allows them to succeed.
First and foremost is our NORG doctrine. This gives the player freedom of choice from choosing exact gear and weapons to equip on each mission to how to approach a mission from almost any direction, including objectives all the way down to freedom of choice in how best to enter a building or room. Player’s actions have consequences and hard choices must be continually made to survive. The choices players make in what gear and weapons to equip will have a big impact on their success in both SP and MP.
We have a few key core mechanics that very few others do not. One prime example is our True First Person system.
In contrast to most FPS games you are not just a floating set of arms and weapon, but your first person view is exactly as others see you. It is a 1 to 1 relationship so if you see yourself in cover then you are in cover. In other games you might be able to shoot off of a corner without others being able to hit you because in their view you are completely obscured. With True First Person, if you are looking to the left then others will see you looking to your left. When you reload, people will see you reloading. You will see your shadow and legs and have a much better situational awareness to the environment around you.
What and who is Ground Branch in real life? Why did you choose Ground Branch for the player instead of the US Army?
Ground Branch is a real subsection of the Special Activities Division of the CIA and serves as it’s paramilitary wing. The Special Activities Division typically carries out deniable covert operations on foreign soil. They typically operate in 6 man or fewer teams, with some operations being carried out by one operative is not unheard of. Ground Branch operatives will often work on joint operations alongside CAG, DevGru and Army Special Forces.
SAD Ground Branch operatives are mainly recruited from Army Special Forces or CAG units and are experts in field craft, surveillance, small arms, hostage rescue and Close Quarters Battle.
The book Jawbreaker by Gary Berntsen is a good read about a combined SAD/Army SF unit entering Afghanistan before the war started there. This particular account is very dear to us here at BFS.
So Ground Branch is composed of the best Special Forces troops from around the world. This gives the game a more international feel as well as an appeal to gamers outside the United States. I love the Rainbow Six idea but many of our fans are realism aficionados and we are able to provide a true international appeal without having to make something up.
Also Ground Branch often goes into a situation before anyone else. Before Special Forces, before the SEALs, before anyone, Ground Branch goes in covertly. They are not a direct combat unit but instead rely on stealth and hit and run tactics. They also utilize the latest weapons, equipment and gadgets along with assets not seen in other games. We are able to model a real experience for the player that possesses game play elements other games either do not have or at best try to mirror small portions of in an unrealistic manner. In turn they may work closely with those same Special Operations Forces.
Finally, it must be understood that Ground Branch has a free hand to get the job done and as such will take measures which military units cannot. There are laws in war and Ground Branch tears out those pages of the book and ignores them when necessary. They are the gunslingers of modern day warfare. This means their operational manners may be deemed questionable by some. Ground Branch isn’t sent in to be an ambassador of good will. They are sent in to get results. Some of the team members in Ground Branch could just have easily been criminals were it not for the fact their loyalty to one another binds them all. They are the Dirty Dozen of black ops.
Currently, the Singleplayer portion of Ground Branch takes place on and around the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Our game is being built using a proprietary design methodology called NORG – Natural Order of Realistic Game play. NORG drives everything and understanding NORG is essential to understanding why Ground Branch is different. Most developers design games backwards and then they encounter massive issues and a lengthy balancing process that occurs later in development. Outside of ruining the game play this also means longer development times and costlier funding. In general developers decide what game play elements they want the player to have, to experience and then they try to build a game around that. It never works right and it always shows. We start with a real world situation. Then we ask, “Would Ground Branch be sent in here?” If yes then we proceed with how they would go in, what would happen, etc. We then look at real world abilities and say “Those are our game mechanics.”
We will have natural difficulty settings for the game. We don’t use the “On hard the enemies can take twice as many bullets” method of difficulty ramping. The game will be a challenge for the player. There is a reason a highly trained Ground Branch team can wind up in lengthy operations against ill trained 3rd world rebels. We will mirror that conflict as training, equipment, and daring faces thuggery, suicidal tendencies, desperation, and rage.
Our game balances itself realistically. Players universally yell at their screen because submachine guns were more effective at long range shots than sniper rifles. Trust me, that won’t be the case here. Players are going to love this game. We design our game from the ground up rather than using the common method going from the middle outwards in reverse. The previous “jumping” explanation is a prime example of this way of thinking.
Weapons function as expected in the real world. Rounds originate from the muzzle and follow a robust but not overly complex ballistics model. It will take skill to hit targets at distance. Weapons collide with the environment and are not simply “rendered on top of the world view” as in most games. Longer heavier weapons will be a bit more cumbersome to use in close quarters so choosing the right weapon lead-out for the job at hand will be crucial.
Players have a finite number of magazines you chose to carry and each of those magazines holds a set number of rounds. There is no “magic” inventory system that lumps everything together. If you reload before your magazine is empty then it is put back into a pouch to be used again. But when that magazine gets loaded the next time it will still have the same number of rounds you left it with.
Yes, absolutely. Materials in game will behave as expected with respect to the rounds fired.
The play spaces will be mixed with lots of outdoor areas and lots of indoor as well. The aim is to provide outdoor spaces that are not channelized and just cliff walls that make you feel like you are outside. On the flip side, we are also not going for the great open expanses that some “sandbox” games give you. So basically we will have both outdoor as well as indoor CQB missions. Some maps will have a combination of both. Of course there will be plenty of buildings to explore.
We will have some destruction in game, but not on a large scale. Mainly things like low cover, vehicles etc… We will not be including large scale destruction.
Are the missions based on a series of different stories or is it a sequence of related stories that lead to one big ending?
The mission structure is based upon a single storyline that unfolds over the course of the game. Missions and objectives will not be presented in a linear fashion.
We would REALLY like to get full day/night cycles in, but honestly I don’t believe it will happen on this first version. There are many other things that define Ground Branch and we choose to focus on those. However, there will be varying weather situations throughout the Singleplayer game, as well during the Multiplayer experience.
Ground Branch will be First Person only on any platform it would come out on. There will be no cover system. However, you will be able to lean/peak and step in/out from cover fluidly.
Yes, of course.
Yes. For characters, you will be able to customize gear and uniform type. What you chose to take with you will have a direct result in game. For instance, if you do not take grenades with you then you will not have them with you in game. Weapons will allow you to choose various attachments. Things like vertical grips will provide a direct influence in game. You will be able to save these configurations for reuse later as well.
Yes. You will be able to pick up weapons left behind in game. You will also be able to exchange gear with other team members by tossing selected items to them. This allows a person to carry extra ammo for other team members for instance.
We do not have specific roles/classes in Ground Branch. All players have the choice of what equipment/weapons to carry and what each persons role will be on a team. There are no artificial restrictions on choice.
The player will have the choice of varying levels of body armor and that choice will have a direct result in the game. The damage model will feature immediate effects and punishments when wounded, but also more diverse long-lasting effects depending on the severity and type of injury. The primary example would be a limp or semi functional arm. We are also looking into bleeding out and the possible effects that might have.
In water-based missions, how many ideas that came from BlackFoot Studios development team were corrected or rejected by your resident Army Special Forces Combat Diver?
Very few, since he was one of the ones that helped develop them! The design to this point has been a very focused effort, so the communication is excellent. Besides, those that are working on the design aspects of the project so far have a really good background in military and the world of SOF, so generally the initial ideas are very close to being correct.
To have really good AI! Really. AI is one of those things that I could spout off all kinds of industry buzz words, as everyone else does, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same. We want fully proactive, dynamic and reactive AI. There are also plans to include civilians where ever possible.
Weapons and Vehicles
Ground Branch will provide a strong set of weapons that would be used by real world units today. We are not aiming to have the “uber” arsenal with walls of weapons, but will provide a solid assortment with various attachments that allow the player to make unique and effective load outs. There will be no usage of “future technology” in the game. Other games strive to set themselves apart by introducing “super new” tech or obscure weapons. They do that well and we’ll leave it to them. We are going for a gritty realistic approach and are concentrating on a focused team that uses tried and true weapons that would be used in the real world today in these types of situations.
There is an encumbrance system based on weight of weapons and gear, but it does not cause drastic discrepancies between players. Every piece of gear or weapon choice has a small effect in game. Minor, yet important enough to give a slight edge, deviations in movement quickness and aiming speed are some examples. After all, you are playing as a highly trained Special Operations Soldier and are expected to keep up with your team no matter the circumstance.
Yes, we are aiming to have base weapons and various attachments to customize as you see fit. Each attachment will have tradeoffs and will have real effects in the game. Nothing is just for show.
Not in the normal gameplay sense where you control them. There will be vehicles that the team rides in and interacts with, but you as a player will not be piloting/driving them.
No. There will not be a hud. There will be items to look at and screens to pull up in game, such as a compass or radio, but the player must explicitly chose to view them.
No. We are giving serious thought to allowing the player to pull out a map to look at in game though. But again, it would be something that the player explicitly chose to view.
No. There will be NO floating info above or around players in game. Skill will win the day!
We have an active Singleplayer campaign under design, but for this first release we are concentrating on a solid MP experience with the unique core gameplay elements in place. A second release will bring with it the SP campaign as well as a Co-op experience.
To be determined.
That is the current thinking, yes.
Yes! We will release full Dedicated Server support at launch. Players will be allowed to host and run servers any way they see fit. We will not restrict them to certain “partner hosts” and will give them the tools necessary for proper administration.
We are going to have a full server browser and lobby system including pre-game chatting and After Action Report post match.
Will there be support for MP coop modes other than terrorist hunt and missions? I.E. Protect hostages while terrorists come for you…
Yes. We have lots of ideas for game types along those lines. There will be at least 1 major new game type that is strictly co-op and we are putting a lot of effort into getting it just right. Currently we are targeting up to 6 players but that may change.
We do not want to go into specific game types at this time, but the standard adversarial PvP and TvT types as well as co-op only MP modes will be there. We do have more than a few unique types in the design stage, but need to do extensive game play testing to determine if they will make the cut or not.
We do not have specific roles/classes in Ground Branch. All players have the choice of what equipment/weapons to carry and what each persons role will be on a team. There are no artificial restrictions on choice.
Will ladder and cheat detection features be included in an initial release and sustained by BlackFoot Studios or modders?
We feel very strongly about the need to support the multiplayer community and will do so as much as and as early in the process as possible. While some of the laddering systems may be done by modders, we will be sure to involve that segment of the community as much as we can while setting up the foundation of such systems. Likewise, we aim to provide as much support post release to them as we can.
If ladder support is from BlackFoot Studios, to what extent will it be supported, is BFS open to partnerships with large ladder sites?
Yes. It is our intent to involve some of these sites to make sure we are adequately serving this segment of the community. Will we do actual partnerships with some of them? We’re not sure, it’s too early for that. Rest assured, we will give the community what they want, or at least make it easy to be added by 3rd parties.
Absolutely! We will release full modding tools and SDK shortly after launch. We will also actively encourage and support the modding community as long as we are able. All of the content used to develop the game should be available as well.
Do you have a couple of hours? Ha ha. Seriously, it doesn’t get any more immersive. Our game is being built using a proprietary design methodology called NORG – Natural Order of Realistic Game play. NORG drives everything and understanding NORG is essential to understanding why Ground Branch is different. Most developers design games backwards and then they encounter massive issues and a lengthy balancing process that occurs later in development.
Outside of ruining the game play this also means longer development times and costlier funding. In general developers decide what game play elements they want the player to have, to experience and then they try to build a game around that. It never works right and it always shows. We start with a real world situation. Then we ask, “Would Ground Branch be sent in here?” If yes then we proceed with how they would go in, what would happen, etc. We then look at real world abilities and say “Those are our game mechanics.”
We have a somewhat free thinking “renegade” approach to things. I firmly believe that a High Speed Low Drag team that isn’t bogged down in too much business theory and administration can achieve incredible results.
How many actual Active/ Inactive member of DOD are officially/unofficially participating in the development of this game?
We have 2 actively participating at the moment and 4 more available as needed. Some of their past assignments include:
- Former Captain and Team Commander, 7th Special Forces Group
- Master Sergeant, 5th Special Forces Group
- Sergeant First Class, 5th Special Forces Group
- Master Sergeant, 3rd Special Forces Group
- Former Pilot, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Helicopter Pilot
One unique aspect of our development is that we don’t simply ask our advisor’s questions. They are active participants in our development process. Our core advisors are really contributors as they are very avid gamers. This gives them a unique perspective on how to help make design decisions that are both highly accurate to the real world but also take the nuances of gaming into account.
We are going with an orchestral “soundtrack” style for the music. I would like to spice it up a little and try some new sounds intermixed with the traditional movie soundtrack style.
Absolutely! We aim to make Ground Branch a franchise with a long future with both pay and free content. I really like the idea of mission packs even though, for most games, it has fallen out of favor to smaller DLC packages. So we will support the community with free updates as well as actively support and encourage the mod community.
If you have a “to-do” or “have to get in the game”-list, will you release the game only if you finished implementing all those things?
That is a really good question. In general, we do not buy into the “when it’s done” mentality. I do believe in having a core set of features that define the game/franchise you set out to make and if those core features or values are not present then the game is not done. So there are a core set of features and values that define Ground Branch and if those are not present then we will not ship the game. However, that core is really only about 30% of the game….. But it’s the most important 30%. The other 70% is mainly the content that utilizes and directly relies upon that core 30%. So there is a lot more that sits on top of that core that can be pared down as necessary if time and/or resources becomes an issue.
Yes, that is the plan.
After developing Ground Branch for a period of time now, do you think “Building a game around a community” was the right choice?
My answer is an overwhelming yes. However, it does bring with it some downsides that are worth it in my opinion. If I wanted to just make another “realistic shooter” and do it all for a corporate entity then I would go get a well-paying job at an established company and tow the line. But that isn’t what I wanted so I decided to make my own path and take all the arrows shot at me along the way. It isn’t easy, but nothing worth having is. So the pros FAR outweigh the cons of opening things up this early in the process.
Yes, absolutely. We are very protective of this IP because we realize the potential. Here you have a real world organization, the potential for team members from around the world, and they are handed a playbook that says “Go make the impossible possible.” They have the coolest gear and they have the sanction to act in the most desperate situations. It screams co-op and the environments could range from the arctic, to the sea, to the jungles with areas inside structures and buildings as well as outside. Unlike other “split” franchises which are partitioned into outdoor/indoor, Ground Branch teams operate across the spectrum from open terrain combat to hostage rescue indoors. Combat doesn’t stop at the front door.
Since Ground Branch is steeped in realism how will the average player adapt to these required techniques?
They will be shown! In most games you have a training level. You will have that feature in Ground Branch, but you will also have a digital field manual. Our SOF Contributor team is building a detailed manual that will show the player basic methods of staying alive and winning in combat. It’s a great feature.
Right now we are focusing 100% on a PC release. We would like to look into a console release once that is done, but that is not something we are looking into at the moment… simply because we cannot publish a title on a console without signing on with a publisher. It’s just the way the business works. We can self-publish a PC title with few issues, but both Sony and MS have many hoops to jump through to achieve concept approval let alone certification. It is time consuming and expensive. If we did do a console version, the game itself would be no different between consoles and PCs. The only difference will be some minor changes to the control scheme to accommodate the controller as well as some memory reduction via reduced texture fidelity and things like that. So the project itself will easily transition over to the console with VERY little change with respect to design. I think a PS Vita version would be cool though.
Completely intentional. We have a motto. Don’t build your community around a game; build your game around a community. There is a reason people are playing 10 year old games today rather than some of their newer incarnations. We knew what the community wanted when I was at Red Storm. We still know. The community, which is vast, has wanted their game. It hasn’t arrived. Other titles came and went on the PC without as much as a whimper. The fans want this game desperately and we want to give it to them.