These days, tactical shooters are becoming a rare breed of video game — overpowered by Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo due to their accessibility and relatively easy learning curves. But despite the changes in popularity, dedicated modding teams have continued to support the tactical shooting community with projects like Wasteland for ARMA 3 and Project Reality for Battlefield 2 — working to keep the genre alive with fresh ideas and new releases.

Nicholas Bashore from Inverse had a chance to sit down with Keith to talk about the origins of Squad, the process of getting through development, and his thoughts on tactical shooters place in the video game industry.

The Wasteland Mod for 'ARMA 3', a large standalone expansion created by a team of modders. 

As a dedicated fan of tactical shooters and supporter of Project Reality, Keith “Litoralis” Weisglas was invited to join Offworld Industries when they first set out to create Squad back in 2013 — a standalone spiritual successor to Reality. Since then he’s been working diligently as a member of a team of around 30 to get the game out to the public and assist with development as needed.

When did you guys decide that Squad was the next idea? Did you just decide it was time to make your own thing?

Keith: Project Reality always had this unique gameplay perspective that we always thought would have a wider audience if we could have control of the engine. Several people, including the people on our team, had tried to make projects before this in various states on different engines within different countries. It just never actually worked out because the best people on those teams were always pulled away by job offers within the video game industry. So then we decided we needed to do this as a proper startup company. So it was actually Chris Kreig, Will, and Justin who got together and started conversations around November of 2013 and they switched between a couple engines. They learned about how Unreal Engine 4 became more accessible when they changed their policy and payment system for licensing the engine — when they did that? That was when we took off, which was like March or April of 2014.

What was the timetable for working on the game like?

Keith: Development, in earnest, started in March of 2014. We publicly revealed the game later that year on November 16. The following May we started our Kickstarter campaign and went on to release our pre-alpha for backers in July. After that we moved to PAX Prime and went into early access on Steam this past December.

So the game did well at PAX?

Keith: It was interesting. So you run a mod for 10 years that still has an active community and has almost a hundred thousand downloads a year, at least for the last six years — so there’s a lot of people in the industry who have touched the product or at least know what we’re about. So at PAX Prime, it was absolutely wild. We had dozens of people who had played the mod, including people we had been playing with for years come up and say, “Hey, I am SCREEN NAME, what’s up?” And then a whole bunch of guys that decided video games were their career would come back to us and ask, “Hey, I’ve been playing PR for years. What do you guys got here?” It was the first time a lot of people got to touch it besides the videos we put up before then. Absolutely great reception. We’re pretty new to this, so we forgot to actually enter the game into any competitions, we didn’t get any prizes. But it was all good man — growing pains.

Absolutely! It’s awesome that reception has been well. I think that’s the one thing that’s huge with games like this as well. Did that carry over into Squad’s Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight programs? What was that like?

Keith: Steam Greenlight was interesting. We had launched that on Easter. We had pretty much decided that we had been building the game in the background for long enough and that anything that we did over the next three months wouldn’t make it substantially better than what you’d see that day. We leaned heavily on our old contacts from the Project Reality community to get us started and there’s a bunch of people from the industry that had been our gaming buddies for years, so we tapped them on the shoulder too. It was wild. We could not get number 1 on Steam Greenlight because that Gaben Simulator game was keeping the top slot. Which still hasn’t been released. Granted, it was one of the funniest viral memes of Steam in the last year, so we were cool with that. But we finally did break through and now we can say we hit number 1 on Steam Greenlight in under seven days. And we got greenlit in 11 days — so that went really well.

The Kickstarter was wild. We had basically not prepared — to anyone who wants to do a Kickstarter? Do three times more preparation than you are expecting because if you actually have a successful Kickstarter its going to be much, much more work than you were ever expecting. No matter what some industry analyst or some guy who has gone through it tells you, there’s no way to keep up with the number of people demanding your time and information during that month. It was absolutely crazy. All of us that were on the team were working on 4-5 hours of sleep that entire 30 day period. It was crazy.

I know the whole 4 hours of sleep gig, fun times.

Keith: Startup hustle. It’s all about it. I’ve seen really good game concepts that were put on Kickstarter but they didn’t put the follow through in. It’s all about that hustle. You’ve got to get your product in front of as many people as you can.

So tactical shooters are considered something of the past at this point for the market, with more ‘arcady’ shooters like Call of Duty and Halo at the top. Do you feel that tactical shooters still have a place on the market? And where does Squad fit into that?

Keith: There are some decent tactical shooters still being produced — but it’s an exception to the rule at this point. Where we sit? We’re going to provide a 45 to 90 minute experience for each round that’s going to be like a movie, where there’s a buildup in the plot and a buildup in the tension. You’re going to die a couple times, but you get to rebuild from there and it starts to smooth out towards the end.

The market is interesting though. We don’t know what’s going to happen with hardware in the next couple years. They’ve been predicting the end of the desktop for years and that’s not going to happen. We expect tactical shooters to expand outward as the game engines allow modding. All you need now is a base game and the communities can build what they want. You can see it inside the ARMA communities, you have people building massive, massive libraries of private mods — but nobody has been able to convert it to a standalone game. That’s one of our hopes — where you can jump on and be in-game within a minute or two, making it accessible again.

The future is bright because Unreal Engine, Crytek, and other studios are going to be putting out software development kits. So, there’s going to be ways to make realism mods that used to take years to produce and it’s going to be very accessible — and we’re going to see a lot of people making it into the niche market that it’s always going to be. We’re never going to be a majority game, and we’re cool with that because this is our first project and we weren’t trying to take on the big boys. We’re trying to make a spiritual successor to what made us want to play the same game on an engine that’s now 10 years old. We’ve updated it and I hope people enjoy what they see.

So Keith, for those interested in Squad, where can people find you guys and help contribute to the development?

Keith: Please check us out at joinsquad.com and on social media — we’re joinsquad across the board. Check out Twitch and YouTube as well, so you can experience what the game is before purchasing a copy.

Squad is currently available on PC via Steam Early Access for $39.99

Photos via steamcommunity.com, Nicholas Bashore, joinsquad.com