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Brad Hendricks, Founder & CEO of Blind Squirrel Games – Interview Series

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Brad Hendricks is the Founder & CEO of Blind Squirrel Games,  an independent video game studio located in Orange County, CA with a second studio opening in Austin, TX.  Blind Squirrel Games combines small studio values, with big studio ambitions.

What initially attracted you to gaming?

I was first attracted to the coin-operated games in the later part of the 70’s. I’d get a pocket full of quarters and spend half a day at the local arcade with friends. That eventually led to the first home consoles: Atari, Intellivision and so on. My parents didn’t own one but I would go to my friend’s house where he had one, and would spend hours in a driving game trying to find the edges of the maps. I was always a tinkerer and problem solver. I took my parents TV apart to see how it worked. As you can imagine, that didn't go over well. Then in the mid 80’s I programmed my first game in science class using one of the first basic MACs (It was an ad libs game). I was hooked from there. Foolishly, I didn't take math as seriously as I should have and did not get a CSE degree from the college I went to, but I eventually found my way into the games industry in the late 90’s, first as a product manager for a peripherals company and eventually into production in various capacities. The rest is history.

In 2010, you launched Blind Squirrel Games. What inspired you at the time to launch your own gaming company?

I launched Blind Squirrel Games because I saw that the gaming industry sufficiently lacked in studios that focused on continued development for existing games. In the beginning, Blind Squirrel Games worked on small projects, but quickly established a solid reputation in engineering with some key publishers and developers. Because of this, we began to add Art, QA and Production to our portfolio of services, and now, over 40 projects later, I’m proud to say we’ve become one of the premier work-for-hire development studios in North America. We plan to continue to be a go-to work-for-hire game development company, while simultaneously continue to expand into original IP development. Also, it was really important to me when I established BSG to grow a diverse and invaluable team with people from all walks of life and differing backgrounds and experiences, and I believe we have accomplished just that with such an amazing and unique group of talented people.

What have been some of the most popular games that have been released?

We’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the most exciting titles in the industry including Borderlands 2, Bioshock, Sunset Overdrive, The Sims, Prey, Evolve, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Disney Infinity 1.0, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Disney Infinity 3.0, WWE 2K18, Mafia III, Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, Civilization VI and MANY more.

Blind Squirrel Games has released two Star Wars titles, are there plans for additional Star Wars or Disney games?

No current plans, but given our ongoing relationship with Disney, Lucas Arts, and other 3rd parties that publish Star Wars games, anything is possible! We could only hope to be so fortunate to continue to work with such an amazing franchise and IP holders.

Blind Squirrel Games was recently featured in VentureBeat for going the extra mile during COVID-19 to keep employees engaged. Can you discuss some of the cool ways that employees have kept in touch?

Absolutely! This has been a huge priority for us since the beginning of the COVID outbreak; ensuring our employees are happy, connected and thriving. We've rolled out a wide range of activities and internal community services to help move this priority forward, and below are just a handful of them:

  • Digital Clubs for Employees – Digital platform for employees to start clubs and discussion groups based on common interests like: Comics and Books, Pets, Cooking, Video Games, Coding, Board Games, Sci Fi, and more.
  • Digital Meetups – Prior to the WFH mandate, BSG held weekly Friday socials at the end of the workday, and we are committed to continuing to do that even while everyone is remote. Every Friday at the end of the day we hold our regular social digitally and conduct randomized raffles to give employees digital gift cards to their grocery market or store of choice. We’ve also started doing regular pub trivia with prizes and party games online.
  • Digital Space for Employee Tips, Advice and Tricks – BSG is using the online platform to provide employees with ongoing tips and advice on how to stay more connected outside of work.
  • Support & Endorsements for Employees – BSG is developing ongoing ways to support and endorse these social activities amongst employees. For example, our first supported club activity was a home cooking contest. This club focuses on how stay-at-home employees are having to cook more during the quarantine and asks people to share their home-cooking and recipes with each other. For the top voted recipe of the week, BSG gives a $20 digital gift card to the winner's restaurant or store of choice.
  • Small Steps that Make a Big Difference – BSG has enforced a rule that the management team must have their cameras on for all virtual meetings. Making sure all management has video on so everyone can see their faces is super important, adding a necessary personal layer to the circumstances. If a manager doesn’t have a camera setup for their computer, we’ll make sure they do, purchasing whatever home equipment that is necessary.

Blind Squirrel Games has been busy working on one of the most anticipated titles of the year “Drifters Loot the Galaxy”. Could you share with us the premise of this game?

I can’t even begin to describe how excited we all are to finally roll out our first ever original title!

Drifters Loot the Galaxy is a free to play 5v5 hero shooter that delivers a unique mixture of aerial and ground combat. Our first goal we had in mind when designing the game was that we wanted a hero shooter that delivers unprecedented freedom of movement. A key aspect to our game is that all characters have access to Driftpacs — our version of a high powered jetpack — and grappling hooks. This gives all players the ability to drift and swing around maps at breakneck speed from all angles. The result is an exhilarating shooter experience with battles taking place both in the air and on the ground.

Also, as our first original IP, it has been very exciting to develop our own universe and lore, and we’re thrilled to build that world out over time. Our foundational characters include the “god” of our universe, Bob, who’s kind of a crass, inept lush who created this botched universe in the middle of an intergalactic bender, and of course, there are the “Drifters” — aliens, androids, and humanoids with outlandish backstories and personalities all their own. Our imaginations set the stage for both a fun story and great gameplay and let us put our own twist on the timeless “intergalactic raiders in search of plunder” tale. Overall, it’s been a very fun universe to develop filled with some vibrant personalities, and as an ever-expanding game, we have the opportunity to create a diverse world that can go anywhere, and we are excited to see where the story leads us.

The game will be available in North America for free on PC via Steam starting with our Open Beta which is out now. This has been a long time in the making, and we’re thrilled to get the game in the hands of gamers and start collecting their feedback.

What type of gamers will be drawn to this game?

Drifters Loot the Galaxy will feel familiar to fans of hero shooters and multiplayer shooters. While these are highly competitive genres, we have also focused on making sure our matches are straight up fun and accessible. We’ve put a lot of hard work into our control scheme to make sure our sense of movement through drifting and grappling are intuitive, and that everything from combat to customization will be enjoyed by shooter fans who play at multiple skill levels.

Do you still have time to play games yourself? If yes, what games?

I do play games, in the minimal time I have left outside of work. Recently, I’ve been playing Fortnite with my son. I also just started playing Death Stranding, which is such a beautiful game. But naturally I’m finding myself playing Drifters more than any of those other games.

Blind Squirrel Games currently has offices in Orange County, CA, with a new office soon to open in Austin, Texas. What is the appeal behind Austin, TX?

In recent years, Austin has become a mecca for game developers and publishers. There are quite a few well-known publishers with headquarters there, so when we thought about the next best place for us to continue to expand outside of Southern California, Austin was it!  There are also a lot of people who are migrating from California to Austin to find a cheaper way of life and we wanted to take advantage of that trend. We are currently seeking people who live there and are working out plans for internal employees who want to relocate there as well.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Blind Squirrel Games?

It’s so surreal to finally be launching our own original title, so I guess I’ll top it off by pointing everyone to go check out our new game, Drifters Loot the Galaxy, which is available now for free in open beta on PC via Steam. We invite the community to provide feedback and help us evolve the game!

Head on over to  www.driftersthegame.com and download the game today!

Thank you for the interview, readers should visit Blind Squirrel Games to learn more or should check out Drifters the Game.

Antoine Tardif is the CEO of Gaming.net, and has always had a love affair for games, and has a special fondness for anything Nintendo related.