Wednesday, 19 September 2018


I've gotten comfortable with Ground Branch's 'unique' player controls and my play is starting to get a lot smoother and instinctive - though I'll still probably mess around with certain keys.

My next bit of training has been on the rather large Oil Tanker map and I thought it might be quite good to start doing some pre-planning regarding my solo strategy. Obviously, it's nothing complicated as I can't exactly do anything too cunning on my own! :)

Once again, I am using the HK416 with a magnified ACOG scope with a small Holographic sight piggy-backed on top.

A Norwegian soldier in Afghanistan, armed with the HK416N (Wikipedia).
This mid-sized AR variant in 5.56mm seem to me to be a nice balance between range and power and compactness. That said, I have opted to extend the length by opting for a suppressor. This weapon should allow me to do some crafty sniping on the large main deck of the ship, while still being reasonably manoeuvrable once I enter the tanker's interior corridors.

The Debrief
My overall thought is that I'm still being a little too careful and need to be a little bit more aggressive. Even before my unexpected and meandering game of hide and seek - with that last, frustratingly evasive, terrorist - this game was going on a bit. There again, it is a big ship with a lot of rooms!

The reason that I am concerned about my pace is that I eventually hope to take part in multiplayer co-op Ground Branch and in that situation I will not be able to dictate the speed of play...I will have to keep up with my teammates. So, my next goal is to speed things up a *a bit*, while at that same time staying methodical and careful.

Note: On the issue of the 'missing' terrorist. I did think at the time that maybe there was something of a glitch at work as my laborious search of the ship was pretty extensive. Sure enough, one of the viewers of my video responded informing me that: "On that last tango, we've had a few instances where the AI get spawned in between rooms (the hollow cavities). You can never see them, but if you move over their position, they can nail you through the walls (invisible for them). Hopefully a glitch that will be resolved in time." Thank you, PapaReach for that info.

The other thing I will tinker with is my weapon choice. While many special forces are moving away from the legendary MP5 smg to weapons equivalent to the AR M4 carbine platform, I still think the compactness and rate of fire of a pure smg still might be the right tool for close-in engagements. We shall see. That will mean I will have to drop my reliance on mid-range sniping to thin out the enemy, but is that a bad thing?

Finally, I think I am ready to dial up the difficult so my next outing will see an increase in enemy to make my mission more challenging and exciting.

Next: Ground Branch's Small Town map.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

New Game Controller - Footswitch

You can never have enough buttons for games! Ground Branch - my current tactical shooter - is a particular case in point, it has a *lot* of key bindings.

Having said that, I like to use a compact side gaming keypad - the Orbweaver - instead of my full sized keyboard. I like everything just a fingertip away and don't like to lift my hands from my controllers to activate an obscure key-press. The down-side of this arrangement is that I always seem to be just one key short of what I need!

To remedy this I have just bought a Footswitch controller, which is exactly what you might think it is...

Essentially, it's a one button USB switch which is programable via an associated piece of software. Simple.

The key I am (always) short of is my voice chat button, I have been using my mouse's side buttons to activate the in-game comms or my Teamspeak but I now what to use these buttons for some game actions. So I resorted to a foot switch for comms and it seems to be a excellent choice and I wonder why I haven't tried one before.

As I said, it comes with it's own software so you can map a button or macro to the switch...

You can get two or three switch versions of this foot switch, but I stuck with a single one as I don't want to get my foot confused - jabbing at the right button under my desk! After I have got used to this one I *may* upgrade, we'll see.

One thing to note is the tension of the switch, I did worry I would activate this switch accidentally with my foot resting on the switch, but it is sprung so that you have to exert a certain amount of deliberate pressure to click it. You can actually rest your foot on the switch without clicking the button.

All in all, a simple but very useful addition to my gaming setup!

> Docooler PCsensor USB Single Foot Switch Control One Key Customized Computer Keyboard Action Pedal - £17.99 from

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Ground Branch - First Successful Mission

I can't believe it's been a week since I decided to give Ground Branch a try and yet I only started playing it properly a couple of days ago. Most of my time has been taken up with setting up the game controls along with my Razor Orbweaver controller and sorting out some other PC issues.

Still, I'm basically set up now and I have my audio and video recording sorted too. But, before I get into my first successful solo mission play through I'd like to recommend the following video to anyone who is considering playing Ground Branch, it has some very helpful tips...

Now, onto my first 'mission'...

The solo training - or what GB calls 'offline play' - map I started with is called the 'Power Station'. I didn't pick it for any reason other than it seemed a good open map with exterior and interior areas.

Default setting for the AI 'bots' is 15 in number, though I am not sure if you can adjust 'difficulty' (will have to look into that). They seem to be reasonably good shots at short to medium range, but don't seem to attempt to snipe you at longer ranges. In fact, at longer ranges you seem to be pretty safe, which is a shame.

Their actions - once contact is made - is also pretty limited. They will try and close but don't seem to want to flank widely and definitely do not seem to want to move back to make use of better cover. On occasion they will stand out in the open rather than make use of available cover. However, these are still early days and the Dev are up front about certain things not being 'finished' (and I know from the Dev's Blog that the AI and how they are effected by contact is something they are working on...

Note: Apologies for the constant 'clicking' of my mechanical keyboard!

Conclusion Debriefing

Phew! Well, first off...I really enjoyed that! This really brought back memories of playing the classic Ghost Recon. I love the slower, more methodical tactical format, maybe it's because I'm getting old but I believe there is room enough in the game market for a game of this pace.

Here's a few observations...

Randomisation of Bot Locations?
Now I've attempted the Power Station map a few times I began to notice that the bots seemed to be showing up in the same location or patrolling along the same routes. I mention this in my video but am still unclear as to whether there will eventually be some sort of randomisation of where the bots are likely to appear.

Obviously, if the bots do appear in the same locations, again and again, the replayability of the training (offline) maps is somewhat limited except for time trial runs.

Bullet Penetration and Materials?
One of the things I was unsure about - but then struck me as I rewatched my play-through video - is whether bullets can go through materials.

Ground Brand doesn't include a comprehensive 'destructible' system - like Battlefield does - but does seem to have a few things you can blow up (the game includes a breaching charge for doors). But quite what materials in the maps are penetrable by fire is a mystery as yet. I have seen someone's video that shows them making a kill through a chip wood door, but that's as far as my knowledge goes.

So, when I engaged an enemy through a very tight doorway I did later wonder whether I could have just fired through the intervening plasterboard wall (what Americans call drywall)?

So...On my list of things to practise when I am 'training' is to find out what other materials I can shoot through.

Controls Usability
Er, well I'm still finding the controls a little fiddly at times, but then I haven't built up enough muscle memory for them yet and that's what efficient FPS gaming is all about.

There again, there are a lot of the controls that are just placeholders that have not been implemented properly yet. You cannot go prone and there are a few other things that are frustrating but are temporary frustrations.

Grenades are another source of annoyance as I find the controls for selecting them a little clunky, but then that's compared to the instantaneous system used in Battlefield of CoD. This is another one of those things that Ground Branch does 'more realistically' that may just confuse or frustrate new players.

Realistically, using a grenade is NOT an instantaneous action. A soldier would have to use two hands (none of that Hollywood pulling the pin out with his teeth nonsense) and also have to expend some time taking the 'nade from a pouch on his webbing. This is kinda the sequence in Ground Branch...So if you are a fan of 'nade spamming you are out of luck!

I'll get used to the controls, I'm already happier with the basic movement options and however 'clunky' they may appear at times I do appreciate the reason for this and the immersion factor that they are intended to create.

Bottom Line...
I love this game. It's like it was made for me. It's great to be able to take your time and have other players who are willing to slow down and take their time too. If you watch a few of the GB videos on YouTube you will soon notice that a bunch of players who are taking the whole tactical element of this game very seriously indeed and are trying to recreate tactical techniques and practises (like entry stacking, etc).

Next, I hope to try out some online games.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

I'm Back! Playing Ground Branch.

Funny how the gaming mojo can come back as quickly as it goes!

I've been in a bit of a gaming malaise over the past year or so and a lot of that has to do with the break-up of my old PC gaming clan - BIG. But, recently a game I had had my eye (I backed it on Kickstarter ages ago) has moved into a playable pre-release version and this really piqued my interest.

Anyway, after watching a couple of videos on YouTube showing some of the current gameplay I really got stoked and wanted to try it out (I had to dust my PC off first, mind you). Here's a nice appetiser...

In actual fact, and just to show that interesting PC games are like buses, it so happens there are TWO hardcore tactical games in 'near release' that I'm interested in; Insurgency Sandstorm and Ground Branch. Unlike Ground Brand, Insurgency Sandstorm give a slightly more Counterstrike-esque game format to the whole hardcore tactical game.

Sandstorm is amore immediate, adrenaline fuelled 'rush', while Ground Branch is a more methodical and tense ordeal. (But both have a lot going for them.)

Sandstorm has a little more graphical pizzaz and polish, but Ground Branch
is more about getting the immersive gameplay right.
Anyway, as a GB backer I thought it was about time I rolled up my sleeves and had a go. I must admit, the generally positive feedback from players who have tried the 'pre access release' (is that a Beta or pre-Beta) had me pretty excited. So I cranked up my much neglected PC and installed the game from STEAM (non-backers can buy the game for £15.49)...

My initial thoughts were - it turns out - completely inline with many other players, and the word 'clunky' to describe the controls seems to come up *a lot*. But, I persevered and there is a point to the  pernickety nature of the game's controls, more than any other game Blackfoot Studios is trying to create and level of detail in the players actions that simulates real world SpecOps movements and drills.

However, if you give the game a chance you will see that there is method in Blackfoot's apparent 'madness' and everything is done for a reason and you can get to grips with the controls. In fact, after a while things seem to become very immersive and you soon become convinced that this is the right way to do things.

The game isn't perfect, but would you expect it to be at the 'pre early access' phase? There are lots to work on, but the game has a very devoted following and is very community based, with a very active forum giving constructive feedback to the Devs (who do listen).

I'm still learning, but already I feel a certain vibe that I haven't felt since I played Classic Ghost Recon. They game rewards your willingness to take it seriously by a feeling of real tension that is missing from a lot of games these days...

Yes, one well placed bullet loses you the game (when you're dead, you're dead - no respawn) but the swing side of this is the huge feeling of achievement when you successfully complete a mission. Along the way, just accept that there'll be a lot of this...