At PAX East 2022, the Grounded team showed off the latest 0.13 update for the game, otherwise known as The Bugs Strike Back, which introduces a number of new things to help keep players on their toes, including jumping spiders. That’s right, you can’t find high ground to safely take out foes from anymore as they can now reach you and even the odds.
Of course, the 0.13 update isn’t solely focused on improving battles with bugs by removing the ability to cheese your way to victory. It also focuses on giving players even more to do, while providing a number of much-needed quality of life features.
Curious about these features, and why the team decided to strike fear into my poor arachnophobic heart with the introduction of jumping spiders, I sat down with Grounded Game Director, Adam Brennecke, Lead Animator, Zach Spurlock, and Community Manager, Shyla Schofield, to learn more about everything on offer in the 0.13 update!
To start, I wanted to ask you a bit more about the 0.13 update for Grounded and some of the things players can expect?
Adam Brennecke: Our update (0.13) begins its Public Test on April 25 and it’s called The Bugs Strike Back. I think the big feature for us in this update is introducing base defense, that’s something we’ve been working on for quite a while now and we’re finally able to unleash it to the public and get testing and feedback, so we’re pretty excited to see how this feature is received.
We have three modes for the base defense — or three different kinds of game modes, game types, or different scenarios, if you will. The first one, the one we showed off on the panel, is our MIX.R Point Defense. There’s several of these science containment units — the MIX.R’s — placed throughout the Yard, and you’ll have to go to these, activate them, they make a lot of noise, and that noise attracts a horde of insects that you’ll have to defend against. And there’s different compositions of the creatures at the different MIX.R points.
The one that we’re showing off has Black Ants and Mosquitoes, so there’s flying creatures and ground creatures depending on where you go. There’s one in the Hedge that we also showed off that has Larva and Spiders. You’ll have to probably play those a few times to figure out how to configure your base and your defenses before you can win. We have rewards, you immediately get a big chunk of Raw Science, and you also get a new mutation called Guard Dog that helps you with base defense. So that’s our big feature, we also have a bunch of quality of life improvements to combat. The one feature that we did show off is improvements to our creature AI.
Zach Spurlock: We gave creatures the ability to jump between different surface points. Before, you’d be able to get on a rock, they couldn’t reach you, and you could just shoot them down. But now, they have the ability to just jump up onto that rock, so it gives them a bit of an edge on you that they didn’t have before.
Adam Brennecke: Yeah, and along with the update, we have more defense options for base building. The one that we’re showing off is the Burr Weed Bomb, and that is something with pretty big explosive damage, you can place it around your base. To set them off, you have to shoot them with Spicy Damage, so Spicy Arrows, or you can hack a Coaltana at it.
Along with the update, we have a couple of new items, including the Charcoal Torch and Canteen, and a lot of small quality of life things. One of the fan favorites it seemed at the panel is renaming containers, or naming containers. You can give a name to your containers for organizational purposes. We have saved game naming now so you can name your world and a host of other things, and just general bug fixing too.
Can MIX.R be tackled in both single-player and multiplayer?
Adam Brennecke: Yeah, you know, it’s a lot more fun with friends with everything in Grounded. But yeah, you can play single-player or multiplayer with your friends. And we do have some scaling, so if you’re playing a four-player game, the wave is slightly more challenging than when you’re playing by yourself. That’s something that we would like player feedback on too, if the difficulty is too challenging or not challenging enough. We have a bunch of knobs that we can tune, so we’re going to be making those adjustments during our Public Test and probably even after our 0.13 patch goes live, we’ll probably be making more adjustments based on player feedback on those systems.
What’s the best way for players to give you guys feedback?
Shyla Schofield: That would be on our Discord server. We have a whole suggestions channel where players can go and make suggestions, and the community votes on it. Once it reaches a certain threshold, it makes it onto a master document that’s shared with Adam and our Community Manager, Eric, and they go in-depth and see what the players want and what can and cannot be feasible.
Can MIX.R areas be replayed?
Adam Brennecke: You can’t replay them right now. You get the reward, and then you can go to the next one, but they’re all different, so they’re in different locations. There’s also kind of an environmental challenge depending where the MIX.R is. For example, there’s one in the Sandbox and the Sandbox is already a fairly challenging environment to survive because you have to work against the hot sand and the sizzle mechanic. There’s not a lot of stuff to build a base out of, so you have to figure out how to build a base and build defenses. And then you probably have to do it at night just because of the sizzle mechanic, or be creative on how you face that challenge.
Similarly, there’s one in the Haze that offers a unique challenge as well with the Haze gas, and that will change depending on if you plugged the Haze canister or not with gum. But yeah, they can only be played once. We plan on adding more as we get feedback too. Right now in the upper part of the Yard, we haven’t placed any of the MIX.Rs because we want to make adjustments to the system and see how they’re being played before we add more to the game.
With the quality of life improvements in the 0.13 update, the enemy AI in particular has been improved. Can you talk a bit more about that, and why you’ve made these changes to the enemy AI?
Adam Brennecke: A couple of the AI changes that we’ve made, they’re a lot smarter in how they attack the base, and I think that was the big thing for us in making the base defenses really shine is adjusting aggro and how creatures gain or lose aggro and how they prioritize different buildings. If they attack the player versus attacking your base.
We’ve also made changes to strafing behaviors and making sure that we had some cool ideas on the team. And then jumping is like one of those things where players were cheesing the AI a lot by like, “I’m going to stand up here on this rock and shoot arrows down.” That’s how you could face most of the creatures in the Yard, especially if they didn’t have projectile attacks. And so that was one of those things where we’re like, “Hey, we need to fix this. How are we going to fix this?”
Zach Spurlock: Yeah, we figured jumping was the elegant solution to closing the gap between you and some creatures and [we’re] always looking for ways to make the bugs more scary.
Adam Brennecke: Yeah, creatures can jump into your base which is also pretty darn cool when it happens, or scary. But yeah, that’s something that we’re pretty proud of, and I think it will just add that extra layer of challenge, but also excitement to the game.
Can you talk a bit more about the new items in the update like the Charcoal Canteen and Torch, and the ideas behind those?
Adam Brennecke: One of those things about survival games is you have old challenges that become so redundant that you don’t want to deal with them anymore, and you want to progress to that next level of technology. We’re introducing the Charcoal-based items and Charcoal. You have to progress pretty far into the game to be able to harvest Charcoal. We wanted to add a couple more quality of life features for mid to end-game for those players that don’t want to deal with crafting more and more torches.
The Charcoal Torch has a greater range, it illuminates more of your surroundings during darkness either at night or in a cave and you can repair it which is a different kind of mode for Torches. Similarly to the Torches, the Canteen upgrade is the Charcoal Canteen and that one purifies water because it has a charcoal filter.
It purifies Dirty Water, which is pretty awesome. I think that’s an interesting game changer once you get it. You could drink Dirty Water, but there’s a big trade-off and it’s used as a last resort, but now all that basically becomes Clean Water. So if you do see a Dirty Water pool in a dungeon or cave somewhere, now you can drink it and refill your Thirst Meter. I think that’s a big shift in how you deal with that resource, and I think once you reach that point, it definitely changes how you think about some of the survival mechanics, and we’re thinking of more things like that for the future.
I noticed in some of what you showed there are other quality of life improvements as well, like Science Stations where you can drop stuff off?
Zack Spurlock: The Science Stations have this interface you can interact with called ASL, which is Advanced System Library. Before, if you wanted to purchase upgrades or new blueprints for building you’d have to run all the way back to BURG.L, which is one location in the Oak Lab, and that’s time-consuming.
So we have this terminal you can interact with where you can get all those upgrades in their place all over, and the Science Stations are all over the Yard so you don’t have to travel as far to get those upgrades if your base happens to be far away from the Oak Lab, you can just go to a Science Station to purchase upgrades.
Adam Brennecke: I think that’s one of those small changes that no one asked for, but I think is one of those things that as developers, we see how people are playing and we’re like, “Hey, this is not desired behavior. Let’s see if we can fix this.” So it’s not something the community asked for, but it’s something that we noticed while watching people play. I think that’s another cool thing about Early Access and game previews, being able to see how people interact with the game and the game developer wheels start turning and me being like yeah, let’s see if we can do something about this to make the game better.
I think you mentioned in the panel, but there are still reasons to return to BURG.L though, right?
Adam Brennecke: You still have to go back to BURG.L for some stuff, especially if you have BURG.L Chips. You still can’t upload those through the Terminals, you have to actually bring them back to BURG.L so you can plug them into his head.
I’m curious, with the enemy AI changes and jumping, does it work the same way when something like Arachnophobia Mode is turned on and the spider is turned into a little marshmallow thing?
Zach Spurlock: It works the exact same way. The only thing that Arachnophobia Mode does is remove parts of the model, but all the behavior animations are the same and what parts of the animation you can see are still there and everything. It’s just a visual change, so no behavior or functional changes.
Adam Brennecke: That’s one of the challenges with that mode and developing that mode, making sure combat and gameplay still work and you can still see the combat tells and still be able to fight them appropriately. That was one of the many challenges with the mode, but I think that was something that was important to us, like hey, we still want combat with spiders.
I noticed as well with the update that custom game settings can be changed while you’re in the game now. What sort of settings can people adjust like this?
Adam Brennecke: When you’re playing in a normal game, you can adjust the difficulty, so that was kind of a big thing, especially for players that find the game too hard. You can set it to a more mild mode. And then in a custom game, pretty much every option is adjustable except for more permanent options like the “unlock all recipes” one and questing. So if you go into a game with or without the story and quests, you can’t enable that midway or disable that, those are really, really difficult to adjust on the fly. Pretty much everything else that is more combat or system driven, you can change those in a custom game at any point.
The game has a new “catch em’ all” style Peeping system as well now, right?
Adam Brennecke: Yeah, one thing that was a big community ask is our new Peeping system where you can Peep creatures now, and that will allow you to see weaknesses, strengths, and weak points of creatures, and you kind of have to collect them all. There’s a nice little organizer for you, and you can see which ones you have and which ones you don’t have. It’s pretty easy, you just have to pull up your PEEP.R Goggles and peep away, and there’s also a kind of advanced feature where you can get Gold Cards.
Those are super rare collectible cards you can pick up after you kill a creature. That’s one of those features we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but it’s also a big community ask too because we have all these different weapons and weapon types and damage types to expose to the player so they have a better understanding of how they’re supposed to fight different creatures. I think that’s going to add a cool layer to the game that will definitely help players succeed, especially when you get further into the game where creatures get that much harder. Being able to understand like, “Oh, I should use Salty versus Fresh on this creature…” and get that advantage in combat.
Are there gold cards for every creature?
Adam Brennecke: Yes.
And if you don’t get one, you have to kill more of that creature?
Adam Brennecke: Yes, you have to kill some more to get them, except for bosses. Bosses are the exception, you always get a gold card for the bosses, and the card design is super cool. I’m super happy with the little drawings that you get for people and creatures. We have a unique little drawing for every creature in the game.
My final question is about the future... What can fans expect from Grounded moving forward?
Adam Brennecke: We’re on our runway to our 1.0 release. This is one of our updates that we’re doing a lot of behind the scenes maintenance and making progress towards that 1.0 release, so there’s a lot of stuff in the Yard that you might see change. There’s a lot of stuff with the story, we’re trying to push to a final storyline so we’re making a lot of adjustments. And there’s quite a few little things that you’ll be like "oh, this is new, this is placed differently," and that is because we’re working towards our 1.0 release later this year.
A lot of the upper Yard is going to get fully fleshed out with new content and new biomes and a lot of other cool, fun things that we have in store for the player as well as the complete storyline so you can play the game from beginning to end and figure out who placed you here in the Yard. Like, why are you here? And, how are you going to get home? A lot of those questions will be answered with our final release later this year.
Zach Spurlock: We’re also polishing it constantly, so you’ll see improvements across the board of existing assets and things that are already there. I can speak for animation, I’ve been polishing up third-person animations slowly over time, but sometimes I have to put that aside to focus on other features, but it’s an ongoing process to polish the game.
Adam Brennecke: Our 0.13 update, The Bugs Strike Back, will be in Public Test on April 25. Pretty soon following that, we’ll have the full 0.13 release, and there’s a bunch of other little surprises in store. We didn’t talk about everything today, but we’re looking forward to how the community reacts to our new base defense system. And as always, we’re listening, so be sure to communicate with us. We’re taking all that feedback in and making those adjustments.
I want to send out a huge "thank you!" to Obsidian's Adam Brennecke, Zach Spurlock, and Shyla Schofield for sitting down with me at PAX East 2022 and answering all of my burning questions about Grounded's 0.13 update.
The 0.13 update will be available in the game's Public Test server starting April 25, and the full 1.0 release for Grounded is expected to drop sometime later this year. To keep track of future updates including ones on the 1.0 release, be sure to follow Grounded on Twitter, and keep an eye on Grounded's official website!