Grounded 'Pond Update' interview: What's next for Microsoft's little big adventure

Grounded Pond Update Koi
Grounded Pond Update Koi (Image credit: Obsidian Entertainment)

Grounded is an open-world adventure by Xbox Game Studio's Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian is renowned for games like Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, but now, the studio is finding success in the survival genre with its unique sandbox sim, set in a contemporary modern-day backyard. The twist? You're shrunk to the size of an ant.

Grounded has already found some real success on streaming platforms despite being in an early access state, and Obsidian isn't taking that early popularity lying down. The studio is hard at work on the game's biggest update so far. Grounded's Pond Update in early November will add a fully-featured biome in the Koi pond, adding new beasties, new crafting opportunities, and new areas to explore. We spoke to Adam Brenneke, Grounded's Game Director, to learn all about what the future holds for one of Microsoft's most promising new IPs to date.

You can check out the full interview in the video here, or the below transcript which has been edited for readability.

Grounded's big Pond Update

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

Miles Dompier, Windows Central: So Adam, first off thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. I'm a huge fan of Grounded and I'm a huge fan of survival games in general. I'm excited to have a chance to pick your brain a little bit.

Adam Brenneke, Obsidian Entertainment: Yeah, thanks for having me. It's my pleasure and I love talking about Grounded.

So it's looking like the pond update is going to be pretty much the biggest update that Grounded has seen. And really broad strokes: can you tell players sort of what to expect with this update?

It's definitely our our our biggest update to the yard so far and we spent a lot of time on this one. The skeleton of the koi pond is already there, so if you want to get a sense of how big it is, you can jump into the game and look at it. But it's a big chunk of the yard.

And not only is it big in square meters, but it's also deep, so there's a lot of stuff to explore, a lot of stuff to find. New creatures, a bunch new crafting. We're super stoked to finally unveil it and get it out there.

You said this is aiming to launch in November. Do you guys have a date? Are you trying to have this launch alongside the Xbox Series X/S, or...

We are looking at early November. W are putting up test servers already so starting very soon. You'll be able to get in and look at the content, even if it's a little bit early. And then we plan on unveiling everything and launching it in early November.

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

Looking forward to that for sure. So let's talk a little bit more about the star of this update. What your new trailer lovingly described as the "big ass fish." So we know the koi isn't friendly. The fish is mean, but can it be defeated? And more specifically, is this something that can swallow you whole as the player?

So right now. Yes, the koi fish is this big, gnarly... from your perspective in the game — it's a huge whale. It makes the koi pond its home and it's really gnarly looking. One of its eyes has been, you know, popped out and has a big scar over its face. And it does patrol the pond and you want to be careful because it's so big and you are just a little teeny speck of a morsel next to it.

It can swallow you up and eat you in just one gulp so you wanna watch out when you're swimming around. Wherever the koi fish is patrolling, you'll definitely want to stay away from it. And one awesome thing with Grounded is — we did this with the Bird Update a few months ago — is just the ability to add these giant creatures to the yard.

It's just a cool moment when you first encounter these. The bird is just so giant, and the same thing with the koi fish is just so big. And you're the size of an ant. When you think about it, what's an ant going to do to something the size of a bird or a fish? Not much right?

We are looking at ways, maybe in the future where you can overcome these creatures, but right now you just have to stay away because they're so big and so mighty and you're nothing compared to these creatures.

So... can it eat you whole though...

It can definitely eat you (laughing), and that's why you want to stay away from it.

Grounded events and weather effects

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

So, with the recent update, we got a taste of the kind of what holiday festivities can look like in Grounded with Jack 'O Lanterns and bits of candy corn. Will we be seeing more seasonal events or updates? And has there ever been talks of experimenting with different weather effects for these seasons?

Yes, that's a great question. It's something that we love doing as a team. Just saying like we love celebrating the holidays as well. We love putting our own little touch on the holiday content. That's something that we will continue to evaluate and look at like "hey, is there something cool that we could put in?" Something may be that you never really encountered before. Like, what game has towering candy corn in it that you can eat?

We do have some plans for future holiday content. And it's something that we're pretty excited to showcase.

We do have some plans for future holiday content. And it's something that we're pretty excited to showcase once those Holidays roll around.

Weather is a crazy one, so we definitely want to do the weather at some point. It's insane to think about like what happens if it actually rains in this world where the water drops are as big as your head, and it would be a violent, violent force down on you.

It's something that we really want to do eventually, and it's something we've definitely talked about, but I think it's a little bit further out on the schedule then something that we will see anytime soon.

The world of Grounded is gorgeous. I often spend a lot of time just looking at it. Have you guys talked about or experimented with a dedicated photo mode for the people who want to post it to the 'gram?

Yeah, I think a photo mode is something that we have discussed for doing as a feature. Yes, the game does look gorgeous and I think it even looks better like on the Xbox Series X like it looks, insane. Whenever I played on my dev kit it's just mind-blowing how good it looks.

We're also adding in HDR mode, so if you do have a monitor or TV that does HDR the light looks insane.

I think something like a photo mode would be definitely on the table so you can really capture those amazing vistas. And you know, if you build your base in a cool area, you can capture that moment and share it.

Grounded's story and community

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

Your team is actively working to deliver on what you have described as "Act 1" of Grounded. After the launch of the Pond Update, kind of roughly, what percentage would you say you are towards completing Act 1?

We're probably about 50 to 60 percent done with the content of Act 1, and we definitely wanna do passes over the existing content as well. Like the hedge area, we don't feel that's done yet. The haze area is definitely not done yet.

We're probably about 50 to 60 percent done with the content of Act 1, and we definitely wanna do passes over the existing content as well.

We want to go into those areas, amplify them, make them more beautiful. Add more content to explore, add a lot more story to those elements, and we want to continue to build out the yard as well. There's a lot of those undeveloped areas that we want to develop, even for Act 1.

And then once all these areas are in and developed, we want to have that storyline that goes through each of these labs. We want to have the player discover more little mysteries that will build-up to the end of Act 1. And we have a lot of cool ideas that we want to put into the game for that experience.

How important has player feedback been when it comes to shaping how Grounded looks like going forward?

That's something that's super important to us. Just getting all that feedback, even with a koi pond, we want to see like how people react to the swimming aspects, the combat underwater, and iterate and improve on all those aspects.

We can make massive changes to the game. We're OK with doing that. We are listening to everyone's feedback. Please please voice your opinion wherever you want, just shout it out there are. We have an amazing community team that is scouring the web for your feedback. Even if it's something that you don't like, we are taking all that to heart. We just want to make the best game that we possibly can, and we can't do that without your help.

Is there a place, in particular, that's best for a player to reach out to you guys?

I think our Discord server is probably the best. We have an awesome community. We have our forums, we have, we know we have Reddit, we have steam forums. We're pretty much looking everywhere.

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

Grounded has been pretty proactive when it comes to accessibility features. You have stuff like the spider slider. Are you guys looking to expand accessibility within Grounded right now?

That's something that's always important to us. Even with the koi pond, we've been discussing like, "hey are there things that we're we're not aware of with accessibility? With swimming for example?

So we are looking at how can we make this game available to everyone and accessible to everyone for gamers of all ages. And if you are struggling with something or if you think that we could be doing better in some aspect, please also share that with us. We're definitely listening and taking that feedback to heart.

I'm a huge survival game fan. Someone who's put hundreds of hours into stuff like Ark Survival Evolved. When your team was going into preproduction for Grounded were there any games you were looking at, or any formulas that you were kind of taking inspiration from and said, "hey, I like this, but this is something we can do better."

We definitely played similarly to you. We played a lot of Ark, we played a lot of Subnautica, that is an amazing game. The Forest has been a very big inspiration for us, and not only survival games. We look at games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on how they handle traversal and exploration of a big open world. We even looked at older games like Portal and Portal 2 for inspiration. Past Obsidian titles as well, so we definitely look at a lot of games.

We are gamers. We love playing games. Regardless of where the inspiration comes, I think we're just trying to have fun with it, and improve on the genre. We are also looking at ways where we can twist things up for the setting and make them into unique features for Grounded.

Grounded for Xbox Series X, Series S

Source: Obsidian Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Obsidian Entertainment)

What's your team's experience been developing with the Xbox Series X and S?

I think it's amazing, like when I got Grounded running on the Series X. I was blown away. It just feels like a completely different experience like it's just so silky smooth. The framerate is amazing. It looks amazing.

I just love playing on my Xbox Series X. Playing older titles with backward compatibility and I think I'm having a lot of fun with it. That's going to be my primary gaming device. And I think when players get their hands on with Grounded on it, I think people will be blown away, especially with the new HDR stuff. Grounded already looks really good, but with HDR it's just really mind-blowing to me.

I have an amazing team and they're really able to push the limits on what we can do with all these new bells and whistles

So outside of resolution, has there been any noticeable difference developing for the Xbox Series S?

No, I think, you know it's running silky-smooth there as well. I think that really resolution is the only big difference between the two platforms.

So before I let you go, is there anything we missed, with the Pond Update, with Grounded in general, that you just want to let fans know to be excited about?

We saw amazing initial success with Grounded. Everyone on the team, everyone at Xbox, everyone at Obsidian, we're so thrilled with how the initial few months have been.

We can just keep building the game and making it better and better. And if you haven't checked out the game for a few months, I recommend just popping in every once in a while and checking it out to see all the different changes.

I'm just excited that I have this opportunity to keep working on it, and I'm not gonna stop until it's amazing. So I just want to thank everyone for joining us in the backyard and the team just super excited just to keep it rolling.

Keep it Grounded

Grounded is quite easily one of the most promising new IPs to have hit Microsoft platforms exclusively in recent years, with a strong showing on Steam, streaming platforms, and beyond. The game is available now in early access on Xbox Game Pass for Xbox and PC, as well as Steam for Windows.



Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!