by Chuck “Magnum” Ankenbauer
John Sonedecker, owner and operator of BlackFoot Studios has announced that his company, while still working on the much anticipated Ground Branch tactical shooter, has taken some of that information and code, and begun work on a smaller component of the game, to make a game based on HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachute operations. The purpose of this game is twofold, because there is a need for a simulation type parachute game/simulation not just for hardcore tactical gamers, but a possible military interest in using the game as a training tool. It is also being developed to raise revenue for the Ground Branch project.
John says, “And that is how Sky Gods was born! While no official communication has been undertaken to make SG a training application for the military, we are designing it as such and will present it to the appropriate persons once we have completed the required demo and pitch materials in the coming months. That’s great… a training sim, but what about a game?”
John continued, “Well, Sky Gods will also be a retail game offering as well. SG will focus on SOF HALO operations and will incorporate our exclusive NORG design doctrine and be built on the very foundation that Ground Branch is. Everything that we have done so far for GB will be incorporated into SG and likewise, everything that we do for SG will go back into GB. Sky Gods is NOT just a stripped down part of GB that we sliced off to make money. It is important to note, that this isn’t something that is directly related to GB, outside of the tech and principals used to build it. However, since GB will also include HALO in its design, everything built can be used in GB. The product will be distributed via Digital Download service(s) and we will make a run of hard copies available as well by way of a pre-order program directly from us. Rest assured that we will make every effort to make the Digital Download experience as painless as possible, even though I think the services we are looking at are great as is.”
You will be conducting various HALO operations. You will be in full control of your player during freefall as well as while under canopy, will be required to watch your altimeter for the required chute opening time and will be required to properly steer yourself to a landing zone and land without killing yourself. No pre scripted “along for the ride” events here. While on the ground, you will engage targets and be presented with various missions. A full training system will also be included to familiarize you with both the parachuting and ground movement/firing mechanics. The training areas will be fully open to co-op play so training is way more than just an afterthought for new players. It will be a place that experienced players and organized squads can hone their skills as individuals or as teams. So playing Sky Gods will feel like playing Ground Branch. Those are the mechanics that all of our games will be built upon.
There are a few key design differences from GB though and they were necessary to be able to finish the project within our resources. You will be a lone character or with a squad of human co-op friends, and there will not be a detailed story line. The missions will all be singular and not be strung together in a campaign format. There will be a few possible landing zones in each mission and it will end for you if you miss one of those zones. The game play will revolve around the landing zones and you will not be required to traverse across super large levels as in a typical “open world” FPS. That means that when you land, you will be able to move around the area, but will be fairly close to the action, but the targets you engage could be anywhere. There will be missions with lots of civilians as well as multiple hostile targets so you will need to make your shots count.
If there had to be a comparison made for size of levels and mission scope, the original Ghost Recon Mission Packs (Red Storm Entertainment) and the somewhat recent Medal of Honor: Airborne (Electronic Arts) are good comparisons.
John addressed the console question saying, “We are in the process of submitting our package to become a certified Sony PS3 developer and plan to release Sky Gods on the PS3 as a Playstation Network downloadable title. However, due to the certification process required for the game, it will be released a bit later than the PC version… in the range of 2-3 months. Using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 provides us with unprecedented ability for cross platform releases for a small self funded studio. We will also try to support user generated content for the PS3 as well, but that is an unknown at this point simply because we can’t look into it until we are certified. Unfortunately there will most likely not be a XBox360 version. The reason is simple… MS does not offer the ability for independent developers to distribute titles such as Sony does, outside of Live. The issue with Live is they impose a 300mb limit on downloads and we cannot fit within that budget. Sony imposes no limit. If that changes then we will look at it.”
This is not the end of Ground Branch, nor is Sky Gods a stripped down version, or simply a demo of Ground Branch. Sky Gods is truly a game in its own right. But the game concentrates its energy and focus on the drop location, the drop in, the quick but not always easy small team mission, and extraction. Sky Gods is projected to be released in the Spring of 2009.
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