I remember my second kill in Battle Royale. The first one, like many first things in life, was somewhat sloppy and forgettable. The second one was different. It was at night and I was hiding in a ruined building in Agios Dionysios. The blue circle had just popped up and I was looking at the map when I heard the footsteps. A man ran past my building and stopped under a tree some 15 metres away, most likely to do the same thing I was doing – look at his map. All I had was a revolver. I peaked over the crumbled wall, aimed at his back and fired three times. Razmon – that was his name – flopped to the ground.
On a surface level Battle Royale is simply free-for-all deathmatch, but unlike most public multiplayer mods available for Arma 3 today, it’s based on skill and a tiny bit of luck. You can’t buy anything or grind to unlock anything. How well you do is down to your map reading skills, planning, situational awareness and gun handling. In this way, it’s the cleanest deliver of what makes Arma multiplayer great – and it’s playable against strangers, without the need to clear hurdles and join a community.
Battle Royale matches begin with players gathering in the in-game lobby. The patrons here range from screaming children who are probably too young to be sitting at a table, to people playing instruments live over VoIP (including but not limited to recorders, acoustic guitars and once even a tuba) with a healthy dash of the worst racists and homophobes you’ve ever encountered. When playing with my friends, we often race to see who can mute everyone the fastest (‘mute all’ button is still a faraway dream for Arma 3 players). Having said that, I think the lobby is perhaps the most ingenious part of the BR mod; nothing puts you in the mood for murder better than listening to a bunch of idiots.
When the minimum player limit is reached (usually around 40), the game starts. You are thrown out of an airplane from a height of 1600 metres and after you land you need to find gear. You start the game with nothing but the clothes on your back, you see. Gear spawns in buildings. Military buildings offer better gear but they are consequently some of the more dangerous places to visit. Care packages, which offer the best gear, are dropped from an airplane throughout the match at random locations (where exactly the match is taking place on the island is also random). The catch is that the packages are highly visible and approaching one for looting is extremely dangerous. You can also completely ignore all the hotspots and win the game through stealth, cunning and a 9mm pistol alone.
About 10-15 minutes into the match a blue circle appears and you have to stay within it until the very end or risk death. If you’re caught outside the blue for more than a few seconds, your life starts to drain. The smaller the blue, the faster it drains. The blue circle shrinks from roughly 2-3km to about 100m within one hour. This imitates the collars that Battle Royale participants in the eponymous 2000 film wear and forces everyone to get closer and closer together.
It also means that planning is most important. Broadly, there are two ways to approach the blue shrink: move with the edge or move with the centre. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Your character’s value to you is directly proportional to the time spent in match. Dying 5 minutes in is annoying. Dying 50 minutes in really hurts. The game ends when there’s either only one person left alive or the match time has run out. You start the next match from zero again. All you have gained is actual human experience, shaking hands and a racing heartbeat.
This obviously isn’t the first time an Arma 3 mod has found broad success. Bohemia’s military simulator isn’t just a game, it’s a platform – a set of tools with which to craft games. It comes with a very capable (and constantly improved) engine, beautiful vanilla and user-made maps, editing tools, scripting tools and some mind-blowing free mods. But one component of the Arma formula that doesn’t really get explicitly mentioned that much is the people who play it. You can’t enjoy Arma without other people, preferably a large group of them. Sure you can boot up Arma 3 and play with AI, but that’s like playing Hearthstone with the Inkeeper. You need a community.
Getting into a great Arma community, like for example ShackTac, can be notoriously difficult and even though there are scores of other communities out there that would love to have you as a new recruit, they all have the same downside – it’s a hassle. Finding and choosing a community is a hassle, joining it is a hassle, dedicating one day a week to playing with them is a hassle and convincing yourself that the number of good people in the group outweighs the inevitable knobs is probably the biggest hassle of them all.
Metaphorically speaking, BR mod puts concrete walls around the Arma 3 sandbox and forces you to be creative or die. It’s all the tactical gameplay you could hope for from Arma 3 engine but with random people and that is extraordinary.
It shouldn’t be possible but yet here we are. The mod shines the most when you’re playing with one or two friends. Many participants come with small teams, usually of two players. That extra team coordination takes the experience to a truly sublime level. I have not played a more stressful and more rewarding multiplayer game.
Brendan Greene, the man behind the mod, better known to BR players as PLAYERUNKOWN or PU, says that his mod is almost feature complete. There are things to fix and bugs to iron out but the experience you’ll have today is very similar to the one you’d get in v1.0. According to his calculations Battle Royale has been downloaded almost 500,000 times since it first appeared a year ago. As far as Arma 3 mods go, that’s not bad at all. The mod has been successful enough to land Brendan a position as consultant with Daybreak (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) where he oversees the creation of Battle Royale game mode within H1Z1. I asked him how feels about his success and internet fame.
“For me success is when Battle Royale is a new esport,” says Greene. “That’s my measure of success. It’s great that people play it and I love that we have captured people’s imagination with Battle Royale. But for me, until we have Battle Royale tournaments running, Battle Royale hasn’t been a success. That has been my goal from day one – to create a new esport.”