John Sonedecker is the owner and art director of BlackFoot Studios LLC. He has history with classic franchises that we all know and love as one of the original members of Red Storm Entertainment creating the highly coveted Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Many years have passed and he recently tried to fund his new game, Ground Branch, through a kickstarter campaign that was unsuccessful. He has graciously allowed us an interview to get some insight into Ground Branch, find out where it’s future lies, and get an idea of what BlackFoot Studios LLC is all about.
Damnitslam: Thanks for taking some time to chat with us, we are mostly all PC gamers, and love the old school tactical games. More importantly… Glad to see them come back through kickstarters.
John: You are welcome! We enjoy old school tactical games as well and love that they are trying to make a comeback.
Damnitslam: As mentioned, these games have been missing for an extremely long time. Things like Arma, Operation Flashpoint, and others seem to be “realistic” simulations, but they don’t really have the tactics required in the way things are designed. Is Ground Branch dedicated to bringing the strategy of something like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, or SWAT back?
John: Yes. We are aiming for the classic gameplay style of R6, Ghost Recon and even SWAT to some extent. The realistic “simulator” type games are fun and people enjoy them, but they bring a much different overall experience with them.
Damnitslam: What specifics is anything from Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon will return? I understand Ground Branch isn’t RS/GR, but it is extremely apparent that is an influence from the way some of the gameplay looks, weapon customizations, map names, etc… Would something like the Rainbow Six map layout planning ever return?
John: As you mentioned, Ground Branch isn’t an extension of the old Red Storm games. However, the overall gameplay is based on how those titles played. There is the requirement of planning out your approach and attack, as well as the need to properly outfit yourself and your team. Gameplay is more calculated and methodical. You can’t simply run around guns blazing and hope to be successful.
John: There will not be a detailed pre-planning phase like Rainbow Six, but a Single Player component of Ground Branch will have planning ability in it.
Damnitslam: What makes Ground Branch unique, apart from being tactical, in order to stand out in the plethora of shooters we have now?
John: Ground Branch is a thinking person’s shooter. It requires a calculated and well thought out plan and execution to be successful. The player’s ability to understand sound tactics and use of their weapons/environment will lead to victory, not the ability to master the some developer’s idea of “balanced” weapons and enhanced abilities. Play spaces will give players choices on how to approach a mission space and execute a plan. It’s up to the player to decide how THEY want to do things.
John: Proper weapon handling and a sense of “self” in the world are also major components of Ground Branch. We have a true first person system with full body awareness so you are truly part of the world and not just a floating set of arms overlayed on top of everything. This means weapons collide with the environment so choosing the right weapon for the mission is critical. Big heavy machine guns would not be the best option for a tight close quarter’s situation.
Damnitslam: Can you talk a little about how you plan to “build the game around the community”? Do you see it as something that shouldn’t be done, sort of attempting to force the community into your game, or forcing the game to be something that the community likes?
John: We have been doing this since the beginning and it has had mixed results. However, the pros far outweigh the cons to this point. There is no forcing one side to do what the other wants, so that isn’t an issue. We have a plan in place for the game and we share things along the way with the community. That sparks discussion about planned features where we listen, discuss and even learn along with the community. It gives us different perspectives and allows those that really like the idea of what we are doing a voice into how things get done. Ultimately though, BlackFoot Studios is the one making the final decisions about Ground Branch.
John: One of the downsides to being so open and engaging with the community is that if development slows or stalls out its noticed. Developers like us still do contract work to pay the bills so there are times when development on GB slows to a painfully slow pace. So there are times where there is no development and no progress being shown to the community. This creates frustration and, in some case, resentment and misunderstanding about the time it’s taken to make the game.
Damnitslam: What do you imagine the gameplay will feel like? Is it going to be CQC based, open environments like GR, or will it be something else? How does NORG work into all of it?
John: Gameplay will be centered around both close quarters and open environments. A typical map size will be between 400-600 sq meters. Some may go a bit larger and some a bit smaller, but that is the average. For a comparison, the original Ghost Recon maps were all 400×400 meters in size.
John: There will be some CQC focused maps and open environment focused maps, but most will be a good combination of both. Your choice of gear and how you outfit your squad will have a big impact on how well you do. Take the right tool for the job and use tactics that fit the environment/situation so to speak….. that is what NORG is all about.
Damnitslam: RS/GR and these types of games have had amazing soundtracks, something nearly as compelling as Mario would be for platformers. Is Ground Branch dedicated to making a wonderful soundtrack to set the mood of each portion of the game or will you take a more subtle approach?
John: Absolutely! Personally I love soundtracks and Ground Branch will have one that you will want to play over and over again. We have a wonderful composer on board name Jeff Hayat.
Here is his site: http://www.jeffreyhayat.com/
Damnitslam: How much customization do you see in the game? Will the scoped shotgun make a return!?
John: There is a lot of customization in Ground Branch. In fact it’s one of the main features. For your character you will be able to choose your uniform type, vest and gear. The vest type will have a direct relationship to how much gear you can carry, whether there is any ballistic advantage (body armor) and have a direct effect on encumbrance in game. What you equip yourself with is what you take in game and you could take ammo to share with others. There are no class restrictions. It’s up to the player/squad to determine the best way to equip themselves.
John: For weapons, each weapon can be customized with various attachments and there will be plenty of optics and other things to choose from. The system is setup so that if a weapon has a rail system on it then logical accessories can be attached. So if a shotgun includes a top rail for optics then someone could attach a scope to it if they wanted to. However…. Ground Branch models weapons and accessories as they work in the real world. So doing something like that doesn’t automatically make a shotgun into a sniper weapon. Since all the pros/cons of a weapon system/attachment exist, a setup like that would actually make the use of a shotgun worse. We don’t allow things like optics to be attached to a underside attachment point though. We don’t put a lot of restrictions of what you can do, but do try to keep things logical.
Damnitslam: As far as graphics go, is Ground Branch going to try and push PCs?
John: Not really. We are a small team and don’t have the resources to put behind pushing the graphics boundaries. Specific gameplay is what Ground Branch is all about. That being said, we believe that good graphics are all part of the immersion we are aiming for. So we will strive to have realistic graphics that are on par with modern games.
Damnitslam: I’ll be honest, the entire reason I wanted to interview you was to ask this question. As I said, I have been a fan of this genre for a VERY long time and want to see your game make it. Since the kickstarter campaign unfortunately did not meet its goal, what does the future hold for Ground Branch?
John: We are not exactly sure what our plans are for funding Ground Branch right now. At this point we are fully committed to getting the game into playable shape so that we can better show off the experience. Doing another Kickstarter with a smaller goal is a possibility, but so is going the “pay for early access” route with a service like Desura. Regardless of what future funding option we go with, we want to make sure we have a fully playable build in place before we embark on that particular journey… and that is what we are focusing on now.
Damnitslam: Everything from the level design, art, music, and gameplay seems to be exactly what the fans of tactical FPS games wants. Best of luck, and thank you very much for talking the time to chat with us.
John: You are very welcome. We have worked very hard on Ground Branch and will continue to do so until we can finally deliver the tactical FPS experience that many gamers, and we ourselves, have wanted to play for a long time.