Communicate. Coordinate. Conquer. That’s what the new online first-person tactical combat shooter ‘Squad’ by the creators of the award winning Battlefield 2 Project Reality mod is all about!
Squad features integrated positional voice communication on large scale, 1.5 square kilometres maps on servers which are ready to host up to a 72 players for massive 36vs36 PVP battles.
To introduce our ‘Squad’ streaming weekend which is kicking off this Saturday at 18:00 EST over at hitbox.tv/hitboxlive concluding in a Hitbox vs. Developer show match on Sunday, we took a closer look at the game, how it developed and what the future will hold for ‘Squad’ and the tactical shooter community in general in our interview with Will Stahl, Dustin Ross and Keith Weisglas, the Offworld Industries developers for the game!
Jason Atkins: First of all would you like to introduce yourselves?
Will Stahl: Yes! I am Will Merlin, I am the founder of the project and right now serving as the Project Manager. I have been doing modding for about six or seven years. I started out working on Project Reality on the Battlefield 2 Engine and got a degree in Computer Science while I was working on it. After that, Chris and I started Squad about two and a half years ago. Since then we’ve been plugging away, had our Greenlight, had our Kickstarter and launched in September!
Keith Weisglas: I’m the Community Manager, also working in Marketing, especially through the pre-alpha phase, Kickstarter and release on Steam. I manage the outreach to the existing FPS and MilSim communities around the world. Basically huddling up with as many of the Project Reality veterans that have moved into the industry, be it as streamer or working through a media company, trying to get us some publicity as we ramped up. I got hooked on Project Reality the third day I had a gaming PC back in Christmas 2009 and I have been around since. It’s a hobby that became a career by accident, that’s my story! [laughs]
We also hope to include our Game Designer Dustin Ross (aka Sergeant Ross) a bit later.
Jason Atkins: Squad is now based on the Unreal engine, was there a specific reason for that change?
Will Stahl: Yeah we actually tried a few different things when we first started out, the big two being Unity vs. Unreal. Unity was just not well suited for the things we needed to do. We honestly did give it a legitimate try, but the biggest problem with it was the networking. Unreal on the other hand, is completely designed from the ground up to be first person shooter based essentially. Very very solid networking engine and I think overall it’s just built a little bit tougher for bigger, industrial strength games. So it definitely suited our needs a lot better. So that’s what we opted to go with.
Obviously for our whole team, when we started out, we had a lot of Project Reality developers. We were all based on the Battlefield 2 Engine before that, it was a big change for us! Working with the entire engine, having the whole source code to work with and just having all these tools at our disposal it was a lot to swallow at once and we definitely had to learn a lot about game development while going through that process.
Jason Atkins: What would be the biggest lesson that you have learned so far from the developing process on the Unreal Engine as opposed to being on the old Battlefield 2 Engine?
Will Stahl: I think the big thing that we have done and gotten quite good at recently is just being careful about what we work on and planning out exactly what features we are promising and features we are working on. A big part of doing the whole development process that we didn’t have to worry about as much with Project Reality was really thinking about game design and production. Back then we could more or less just kind of wing it and do stuff for fun, people worked on whatever they wanted to work on.
But working on Squad, obviously we have a budget now, we actually have to pay people and have to think about what things we have time to do, as opposed to what things do we want to do. And obviously it’s good to get as much as we reasonable can done, but we also have to think about that we have a business to run and we can do it properly.
Jason Atkins: So balancing basically what was once a passion as opposed to what is now a fully fledged business at the end of the day that is responsible to it.
Will Stahl: We’ve got mouths to feed. [laughs]
Jason Atkins: How did you find that transition, was that a shock to the system?
Will Stahl: It was tough, there were definitely a lot of stumbling blocks along the way, a lot of hard lessons that we had to learn, but I think overall, especially in the past six months to a year, we have been really learning and getting good at it, and obviously there is tons of room for improvement and there is a lot that we still have left to cross. I mean at this point I would consider the game more or less about half done.
Keith Weisglas: Yeah the first group of us that started the game mostly were modders, but we all had other careers. So we came in with cross pollinating ideas between us and some business skills, and after knocking heads we were able to bring it together! We have heard the stories of developers that didn’t have support on the business and marketing side before they started and we did our best to ramp ourselves up and get up to speed before we went to Kickstarter. We have been learning on the fly every since, getting better at it.
Will Stahl: That is definitely one thing that we have noticed about the video game industry by the way: business sense and financial sense is by far an exception, not a norm. [laughs]
There are plenty of studios out there which have development talent and a good idea for a game but they do not have any concept of business plan or creating a budget or thinking about things like ‘Where are we going to be in a year?’ ‘How can we actually keep things operating?’ That is something that we have been very careful about as a group.
Jason Atkins: That’s definitely a smart strategy going forward! So the Kickstarter started May 26th of 2015, basically you guys raised almost half a million dollars, so the community support for the game is most definitely there, because you have the fanbase from PR (Project Reality). What did it mean to you guys to get that support from pretty much from the get-go?
Will Stahl: That was a big process for us early on. It was actually one of the main focus points of the first six months after we announced it to the Project Reality community. There was a whole Project Reality 2 project back then and a lot of people were skeptical about the idea of having a commercial version of Project Reality. So we really had to pitch it to people as ‘We really just want to take all the progress that we made with Battlefield 2’s version of Project Reality and build on that to see what it could turn into.’
We definitely had to sell people on the idea of Squad. One of the big things that we decided to do, very early on in the process, was to completely rebrand things. Project Reality had a focus almost entirely on realism, especially when it first came out, and it evolved in many ways into what ended up being with all the VoIP communications and the teamwork and people moving as units. Obviously a lot of that was born of realism but one thing that we opted to do with Squad was obviously as you can tell by the name ‘Squad’, that it’s a game focused on teamwork and communication and all the great things that had evolved over the course of Project Reality.
Jason Atkins: What does it mean to have a community that is pulling for your product the way that they do? Unlike most communities where new players get pushed to one side until they have taken their training wheels off, they are actually embraced and brought into a squad and are told ‘Okay just stay in the back and follow the medic or whatever and see what he does, and you will learn’. Is there anything that you do to promote that?
Will Stahl: That was another thing that we to be very careful about, especially when we were first starting out. We live and die by our community. If we didn’t have that sort of culture in-game, many aspects of the game and aspects of what makes it fun just would not work. There were definitely things that we did early on to try and affect that change, certainly the branding was one of the bigger ones, having the game called ‘Squad’ and the description mentioning ‘Teamwork and communication is the primary focus’. Going into anytime we talk with people, or we ended up in articles and things like that, we made sure we really really emphasized that focus. Beyond that, the game design is another very important aspect. A lot of the rules in-game focus on getting people to work together and talk to each other. Certainly things like having, say three people, four people, whatever, as it evolved required to place a rally point or place a firebase.
Our point system is actually designed to give people more points when they stay near each other and work together. And there are other things that are coming in the future with vehicles, like a vehicle claiming system where a group of people will be having an easier time getting access to vehicles, just all sorts of little things like that in-game add up to really promote teamwork as the norm. And then beyond that, I think when we first started out having the community seeded from the PR community, having all those Project Reality players come in who had been used to years of working together in PR, I think really helped to provide a nice, solid foundation to work with as our community grew. We also tried to be careful about not bringing on too many people at once. If you diluted the player base too much you’d almost run into issues where you’ve got too many new people with too few experienced people. So until today that’s been something we tried to be careful of.
Jason Atkins: Will, if there was one thing you would want to see from the game in the near future when it gets close to release, what would that be?
Will Stahl: Oh that’s a tough question. I mean for me, I’ve always been a big fan of just seeing the game complete and really functional. Seeing 100 players, seeing the polished game in general is going to be nice but I really think there are certainly some things that I miss from PR that we still haven’t gotten to yet essentially. Having the fully fleshed out marker system is something that should be coming in soon. Having the commander there to engage with the squad leaders and just making sure the squad leader has all the tools that he needs to indicate things to his squad. There’s even going to be things that we’ve planned in the future like fire teams that are going to make that easier and sort of build that dynamic.
But in general, I’m mostly just focusing on the next release now, I just really want to make sure these vehicles get in and get done right.
Jason Atkins: Ok and finally, if there’s one thing you don’t want to see what would that be?
I think my worst fear is always the culture dying. It’s always that sort of flame going on for PR since it started. One of the big reasons, at least for me personally, to start Squad was not to let that flame die. To not let PR sort of fade out as it went on as the Battlefield 2 Engine aged.
One of the big priorities that I wanted to make sure the team was focused on was making sure the culture stayed proper to that idea of teamwork and communication and I’d absolutely hate to see that go away.
Make sure to follow Squad and Hitbox on Facebook and Twitter for live updates about Squad and the Streaming Weekend and don’t forget to tune into the hitbox.tv/hitboxlive channel starting this Saturday a 18:00 EST. Rumor has it that there might be a Squad game key giveaway live on stream!