Gunning for fun: The making of Breach & Clear
Producer Ben Strauss on running with Rainbow Six
The creation of Breach & Clear isn't a typical game development story.
A turn-based military strategy title from Gun Media, the game is remarkable for a number of reasons - not least that it wasn't actually made by Gun Media.
In fact, up until development started on Breach & Clear, Gun wasn't even in the business of making its own games at all, it was a Kentucky-based think tank.
Yet one year, one collaboration with developer Mighty Rabbit, one ex-Call of Duty developer and thousands of downloads later, Gun Media has made its mark.
In our latest Making Of, assistant producer and community manager Ben Strauss describes Breach & Clear's journey from an idea to a first person shooter, while reacting to some of the flack the game has received from critics.
Gun Media started out as Gun Consulting, a game industry think tank comprised of development, publishing, media, and journalism veterans from around the world. It focused on helping devs and publishers improve their titles.
But then in early 2012, studio head Wes Keitner began discussing ideas for Gun's own game, a tactical strategy title with a concept based on a beloved series that has strayed from its roots.
"The true inspiration came from the old Rainbow Six titles, Rogue Spear specifically," explains Stauss. "As that franchise had to evolve to console requirements, it slowly lost what truly defined it, which was the meticulous planning stages of the game.
"Since that got stripped away and it was fairly obvious it wasn't coming back, we decided to make our own game instead."
As a result, the think tank started to transform itself into development studio.
Six of the best
To handle this evolution, Gun began snapping up industry veterans like Red Storm Entertainment creative director Randy Greenback, whose experience on the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series would help the studio realise its vision.
But it was ex-Infinity Ward and Call of Duty community director Robert Bowling's addition to the team that made the most headlines. Strauss explains how it all started at a hamburger joint.
"It was an interesting evening in the middle of Kentucky over some White Castle, actually," he says. "Before development even began, Wes contacted Robert shortly after his departure from Infinity Ward.
"Several hours sitting in a White Castle led to talks on how the industry is growing among other subjects. Wes pitched to Robert what Gun was about and how the team looked to work with industry vets as mentors and creatives on projects that they can enjoy."
Bowling was sold, and despite the fact that he had already begun building Robotoki, his own studio, he signed on.
It takes two
With an idea and some high profile advisers in place, pre-production began. Yet, as we've already explained, it was actually Mighty Rabbit that developed the game.
Strauss describes the unusual set-up by explaining, "Gun Media is the publisher, creator, and owner of the IP, while Mighty Rabbit Studios handled the development cycle.
"Mighty Rabbit was picked from a large group of developers due to their passion regarding Breach & Clear's initial concept, and the success of their previous title, Saturday Morning RPG.
"So despite the obvious publisher developer roles, our two teams really did work together effectively, with each side having valuable input on all aspects of the game. It was not a typical publisher developer relationship."
With the pieces in place, Gun and Mighty Rabbit began creating Breach & Clear in earnest. But the initial idea and the finished game are completely different beats.
Moving on mobile
Initially Breach & Clear wasn't even a mobile title, with Gun instead targeting a PC release.
"We most certainly considered PC," says Strauss, "but it was settled fairly early on that mobile, with the tactile responsiveness that it provides, was the best fit for the game.
"Tablets provide an interesting interface that gives users complete control of their environment. Given the touchpoints, the need to set waypoints and all the planning inherent in the game, there is a lot you can do with the device."
Yet there are also limitations with touch devices, limitations that lead to a couple of complete overhauls of the game.
"We experimented with and prototyped several features that eventually got scrapped because they weren't fun or simply weren't intuitive on the touch screen," says Strauss.
"At one point Breach & Clear was an on-rails FPS, and at another point in the dev cycle it was a single-squad based RTS, instead of the four-man hybrid strategy game you see today."
In total development took around a year, with a big chunk of that time spent on pre-production.
Struggling against the obstacle of inexperience and distance - Gun is based in Kentucky while Mighty Rabbit's studio is in North Carolina - eventually it was decided that the team should focus on finishing and releasing the core of the game.
"One of the biggest goals was to answer ‘is the game fun?'" says Strauss by way of explanation. "It seems like a simple thing to answer, but Gun's philosophy is that fun has to come from the core design of the game.
"The frills and extras can definitely add to the title, but when you strip away the themes, social features and everything not inherent to how the game plays, it has to be something people will enjoy.
"So when you're trying to fine-tune gameplay and make sure it's solid, you have to sacrifice other features, and that includes content unfortunately. We found a balance we were comfortable with, so we made the call to ship the game. "
The decision to launch in this state lead to problems, especially among the press.
Although many reviewers responded to the game warmly - it currently carries a 7.4 Quality Index rating - some pointed to the lack of content, identifying Breach & Clear as "unfinished."
Reflecting on that reception Strauss says, "The launch from a professional standpoint was where we expected it to be. A lot of content is listed as coming soon, and we need adjust and refine gameplay a bit, but overall the reception was positive and everything was within expectation.
"Our main goal right now is to evolve Breach & Clear, and add content that didn't make it in for launch. Priorities are the two new game modes, additional environments, and non American-based equipment.
"We're working hard to roll this content out as fast as possible. We'll have more specifics very soon.
Meanwhile, the public response to Breach & Clear has been overwhelmingly positive.
"What blew us out of the water was watching various markets from around the world instantly embrace Breach & Clear," says Strauss.
"Users from South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, and other countries with early access were jumping on the game immediately. Then we saw US numbers and could hardly believe it.
"We did not expect to hit the top 10 that quickly, let alone number two in Top Paid and number six overall within 24 hours. We're currently hovering at 1,266 user reviews with an average score of 4.5/5 stars. That's just crazy."
"It's hard to take a step back and fully digest everything," says Strauss reflecting on Breach & Clear's birth. "Game development is a long, arduous journey, but it's also extremely satisfying to see an idea go from concept to completion."
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