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IG@FG: Ground Shatter’s James Parker and how Schwarzenegger inspired RICO.

We speak to James Parker from Ground Shatter all about their upcoming buddy co-op shooter RICO, Arnold Schwarzenegger and shirtless Russians.

RICO is a buddy-cop breaching shooter from Ground Shatter, an indie development team based in Bristol. Here at Finger Guns we got to know them a couple of years ago thanks to their terrific vertical beat-em-up SkyScrappers, which was a huge hit with us and left us excited to see what they would come up with next. Ergo, RICO is that game. Radically different from Scrappers, RICO puts you in the shoes of specialists agents tasked with taking down drug mules and infiltrating bases, defusing bombs and leaving no enemies standing, all whilst sliding across the floor in slow motion and taking out their kneecaps with a shotgun.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have had access to the game for a couple of weeks and we’ve been having a blast in the online co-op, taking down rotters and generally causing mayhem in construction sites and mansions, but all for the greater good.

So much so that we wanted to talk to Ground Shatter all about it. The full interview is below with studio head James Parker, along with screenshots, the latest trailer and some gameplay we’ve recorded;

FG: I’m pretty blown away by the leap from SkyScrappers to RICO. It seems like there was a huge shift in terms of the style, presentation and polish of the final product. I guess the question is how did Ground Shatter get from SkyScrappers to RICO? 

James: Well, it’s probably a combination of things. Firstly I think the market has changed a lot, it would be very difficult to get away with making a game like SkyScrappers now and have it do as well as it did. I mean, it didn’t do amazing but it did enough to keep Ground Shatter going which was nice. So when I was thinking about what was going to happen next, I wanted something where I was more likely to find a publisher and more likely to find a slightly bigger audience and something to justify growing the company a little bit. So moving from a 2D indie-looking game to something that a higher budget, 3D, had all the bells and whistles.

And in a funny way my career started at the PS2-era, so when I started making games I was making 3D games, making shooters. So in a funny way RICO is going back to ways I’m more familiar with instead of making a 2D fighting game which is not something I’d done before but something I was keen to do.

FG: You talk about the PS2-era, is that were the inspiration for the art style came from? I remember seeing the game a whilst back and telling you I thought it looked very ‘XIII’-esque. Is RICO then paying homage to that era of shooters? 

J: I think a little bit. It fits in well with the overall style of the game, it’s not a particularly realistic depiction of police life so the art style adds to that heightened depiction I suppose. When we started making the game it was a lot more, not realistic but more used to what we’re familiar seeing in this genre. We were in a meeting and someone went ‘if this game is going to stand out above everything else, you’re never going to compete with them on photo-realism so compete by making it look more stylish’, and that was a really good bit of advice that we got.

FG: One thing I did want to mention was the music, particularly in the menus. There were moments where I found myself just not moving from the menu and just enjoying the intro! It seems to fit the style of the game very well, was the licensed or created unique for the game? 

J: Well it’s effectively a piece of library music from an enormous resource used for movies, TV and games a things and we spent quite a long time looking for something that had that feel of ‘urban edge’ but also big and bold and had that feel of a classic TV cop show. I’m glad you enjoyed it, I think if I had my time again on the project I would have spend more time on the music and got some music of similar style but written ourselves, something more in-game as well as just in the menus. I had some rather lofty ideals in the early days of production that the gun shots would provide a kind of rhythm of their own and that would be music enough but I think that was a bit highfalutin and actually players just prefer traditional music when they’re playing.

‘There’s a rhythm in the game, there to make it feel more like Time Crisis or Virtua Cop rather than Call of Duty’. 

FG: I was talking to Sean about that moment in RICO where you finish off a room and it’s all silent and suddenly out of nowhere you hear *GRUNTS* and I do find myself laughing damn near every time it happens. I keep forgetting that it might happen, so I’ll clear a room and then reinforcements will appear and it’s a guy with no shirt grunting at me. 

J: You’ll be able to hear enemies as they come through the doors too if there are reinforcements, they’ll just knock the doors as they go through. You can hear that happening and that means they’re getting closer. So even if you don’t have the full bezerkers with machine guns you still have that foreboding that they’re coming for you.

FG: In terms of the key mechanic of the game, the slow-motion breaching. My history with it goes back to probably the original Modern Warfare? Setting a charge on the door and then tearing through enemies in slow motion was always a highlight of the series. Where did the idea of building an entire game around that single concept come from? 

J: I watched a film, I think it might have been Sabotage. It’s an Arnie film about a group of DEA Agents who are a bit outside the law and it’s not a great film but there were moments in it where I thought ‘actually this would be quite fun to do as a player’, to go into quite tight environments with a couple of guys and just shoot the place up. So I don’t think I consciously took it from the likes of Modern Warfare, though I played that a game a huge amount. That film imposed the sort of rhythm to have in this game so it feels more like Time Crisis or Virtual Cop but in a slightly more expansive way so you had periods of intense shootout, then a little break and then straight back into it and to feel like you have that rhythm.

FG: Was that thinking on how to make the game not feel overly familiar as it continues by making each level procedural? So it does feel different every time you tear through a door.

J: Yes. The idea behind the combination of breaching and the slow motion is that you’re given a little bit of time to assess that situation, the figure out what you’re going to do and then act it. And the fact that when slow motion runs out you are extremely exposed so you have to even up those odds in the period of time you’re given to do that.

FG: Can I just say thanks for adding the sliding? That’s a mechanic I didn’t know as even there until I saw a ‘kill enemies whilst sliding’ task objective in the corner. It’s so much fun. I’ve found myself taking people out even after the slow motion by sliding just because I can. Being able to take out enemies whilst kicking them with your foot is especially handy. 

J: Yeah! A lot of the time where you slide into the room and you’ll possibly end up in the middle of the room but if anyone is standing by the door they’ll just get totally wiped out and the other reward is that it feels really cool! Even if sometimes it’s not the most prudent of things to do.

FG: Yeah, I’ve discovered that on a number of occasions. 

J: That’s the sort of game mechanic you like as a designer. Something that people enjoy doing, even if it may not be the best thing to do in the circumstance. It’s kind of a genuine choice at that point, rather than a choice you make just because it’s going to be successful. You can use it when or if you want to.

FG: A really exciting aspect of the game is the online component. I’m really glad that we have that option. Was that a ‘day one’ plan to ensure online co-op was included?

J: Yeah definitely. From the standpoint of production it’s always best to always have it from the very beginning if you’re going to, adding it in later is far more challenging. It was always designed to be a co-op game. I always wanted split-screen and having it online was going to increase the audience massively. I think these days, I mean, it’s a ton of extra work, in terms of audiences it captures a lot more people rather than just doing one or the other.

Because it’s so immediate a game, it’s quite nice that it doesn’t change so dramatically the more you play it. All that really changes is that you as a player gets more skilled, which means it’s accessible for someone who is experienced and someone who is not so experienced to take it on together as a team. The better one can carry the weaker one and they can learn from playing. Whereas there are some games if you’ve been playing for three hours and then someone joins you they’re always going to be three hours behind but in RICO you can support one another through it.

FG: Yeah, Sean definitely carried me in those first couple hours. RICO is coming to Switch alongside the console and PC release. How did you find the system to develop on?

J: It’s been interesting. It’s such a nice of hardware to have as a player. The screen is so good, the controls are nice and it feels good. You don’t feel weird using a Switch when you’re out and about. Developing on there is nice in a similar way. It’s just really good to have a game to put on the Switch. It’s definitely a nice system to develop for and you can get a game up and running very quickly. Obviously there are differences because the system doesn’t have the specs of the other two systems so there’s plenty to do to get it to run. It’s definitely worth it though, the response has been really good. There aren’t all the many shooter on Switch, it’s been a slightly underserved market so the community was really excited so I’m glad we’ve been able to please those guys.

FG: The Trophy/Achievement list seems to be primarily based around advancing through the game organically rather than moving ofF course to complete certain tasks, despite the odd one here and there. How much consideration is taken when thinking about Trophy lists?

J: Because it’s such an important part of a game to trophy and achievement hunters, you have to be careful to balance the needs of regular players against people who are competing to have all the Platinums or get the highest Gamerscore or whatever. Because of the structure of the game, there’s lots of ways to play, so we try to reward all of those, plus a bunch that you’re likely to get organically, plus a couple of tricky ones that people have to work for.

FG: Regarding the Switch release, when the system launched it was praised as an indie darling, which saw a tidal wave of releases from smaller developers. Now the eShop has become somewhat difficult to navigate, what do you think is the key to standing out and following on from what you said to RICO being able to reach an audience who are wanting a new shooter on the system, do you think that puts you in a good position ahead of the release?

J: Obviously I hope that that is the case, that being a slightly unique prospect helps us stand out. The Switch has definitely demonstrated how quickly a sort-of Gold Rush of indies can occur. And there’s so much good content on all platforms now that it’s really just the case of getting your game out there and working hard to make sure people know about it.

FG: Each case features multiple routes you can navigate in order to complete, is this to encourage replayability or is there a specific route that the player should be taking?

The only way to fail a case is to be killed in the line of duty, so it’s possible to leave a level before completing your objectives and live to fight another day – but if you fail an operation you have to go back to the case screen and choose a new route towards the boss. There’s also Lieutenant operations, which appear on the case screen which are extra hard, but the rewards are commensurately higher, so it’s possible to plot your route through a case in order to maximise or minimise your exposure to those operations.

FG: I’ve gotta talk about that launch trailer. It’s just fantastic and makes the game look like Bad Boys 3. Now, knowing you and following you on Twitter for years, I’m almost certain that wasn’t coincidental. 

J: Thank you! The footage was obviously originally done by my team. The brief was essentially ‘make it look like a Hollywood trailer’. Fair to say, that’s what they did.

FG: It seems to have gone down really well, RICO appears to be building a lot of momentum at the moment. 

J: That’s what we’re hoping. We’ve been lucky in the sense that a lot of streamers have been interested in playing the game and we’re getting the press involved now. You never really know until it comes out whether people are going to like it or buy it and both of those things are important. Everyone has been really positive, which is great.

We watched a video yesterday of two guys who have cut together their funniest moments playing the game and it’s just two guys playing the game, laughing and having fun and that is so amazing to watch as a developer and creator that people get hold of your stuff and make their own fun with it. That’s amazing.

FG: Sean and I really enjoyed the ‘breach countdown’ on the doors. It’s such a great addition and makes you feel really powerful, making you feel like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It seems like RICO’s goal of paying homage to classic cop shows and movies is paying off with players and streamers. 

J: We spent quite a long time trying to work out how to force the players to stick together. Then we took it to shows, and we needn’t had spent time doing that work, as people naturally stay together. The game is such that players can wonder off and do their own thing, whether it be searching for evidence or defusing bombs you do have that choice but actually, most players prefer to move through and work together and it’s nice that people seem to be playing the game in the way they would want them to, but they’ve done it through their own choice without us having to force them to.

FG: That’s one of the aspects I really enjoy was going through the mansions in particular that it’s mostly destructible. Sean and I found that once we had cleared all of the rooms we would just run around and break everything. It’s a fun game to be ‘in’, if you know what I mean. 

J: Yeah, I think that was one of the gameplay pillars which were the key mechanics and we had a secondary set of things which were why people would come back the game again and again and one of those things were that like, everything blows up. So you can kind of create your own chaos that you’re a part of.

FG: Do you have a favourite villain? Any of the bad guys that you particularly like? 

J: There’s a tall bald Russian guy that I quite like, when I see him. He also looks good when he’s wearing a mask too. Not the topless Russian guy but the later, more smartly dressed guy. I think he’s probably my favourite and one of the Triads is quite fun, also. The one who’s doing finger guns in the loading screen.

FG: Ah yes, that’s obviously a reference to us isn’t it? 

J: Ha yes, obviously.

FG: Is there a narrative driven reason as to why the melee weaponised enemies are all shirtless? 

J: Uh…not intrinsically? I guess if they were too busy to put their shirts on they were too busy to pick up a gun.

FG: Finally, is there a plan to support RICO over the course of its life for the community that’s building up?

J: I certainly hope so. There’s a big list of stuff which we’d like to do, a lot of it is going to be from watching the game build up and see what the audience wants us to incorporate. We can add features fairy easily so it’s about seeing what the audience is after. And then of course there’s big plans for a sequel but of course that’ll very much depend on how well it does and if people are interested in it.

RICO is available this week on PS4 (March 12th), Xbox One (March 13th) and Switch/PC (March 14th)

Dislaimer: We have been provided with promotional codes to capture content for this article.
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IG@FG (or ‘Indie Games @ Finger Guns’) is a an irregular feature exploring the world of indie games. Head here for all of the articles in this series so far.

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