The battle royale of Mavericks is stalking a big game

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A man in black scrambles through the overgrowth, looking lost. So I shoot him. Puffs of bloody air erupt from his body, but he runs on. Behind him something explodes from a stray bullet – my bulet or somebody else’s? I don’t know. But the man in black keeps moving, dodging behind some trees, over a ridge. Behind me, a wall of wobbly energy closes in. I give chase to the man in black, and we come face to face in a dirt glade with a tall, odd structure that might be a radio tower. I lift my MP5 submachine gun and mow him down. Soon afterwards, the game ends. I’ve won. I won’t claim my performance in the upcoming 400-person battle royale game Mavericks: Proving Grounds was a heroic victory. Because there were only 5 people playing. It also lasted less than 5 minutes, and the man in black was the lead devleoper. He definitely let me win.

We were playing a tiny slice of the game-in-progress. There was five of us, boxed into a shrinking area of 125m squared, with boxes of guns neatly placed close to our starting points. In the full game, Thompson tells me, you’ll drop in from above, thrown into a much larger map via drone. Like in other Battle Royales, you’ll see a lot of the map as you arrive. The technology they’re using to run the game – SpatialOS – has been bandied about as a way of making big worlds even bigger. World’s Adrift uses it to accommodate its sky pirates and grappling hook physics, for example. Here, it will theoretically allow the developer to render the map in greater detail as it rises to meet the feet of each slowly falling royale rumbler – adding to that strategic mid-air decision-making. Do I land near that wooded area? Or over by that large building?

That’s the promise, anyway. Mavericks is far from completion, and as functional and good-looking as my forest feud was, it was all too brief to get a fleshed-out impression beyond “it’s a lot like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds”. But the developers are keen to stress the features that will make it more exciting than Brendan Greene’s bullet scavenging sim – and it isn’t just the 300 extra people.

“More players doesn’t necessarily mean more fun,” says James Thompson, CEO of Atuomaton. “It’s not about your twitch shooting skills. It’s about how you inspect the environment.”

To this end, players will leave footprints in certain areas (for example, a muddy road). Grass and plantlife will also stay parted if you’ve tramped through it, and weather will affect how much these things make an impact. A rain storm will cause players to leave more wet footprints behind, for instance. I didn’t see any of this in action because I am too stupid to look down, but some journo colleagues have confirmed it was in there.

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There are also plans for buildings and props that can be easily destroyed, which would mean wreckage and debris left behind after a fight but also more significant changes to your surroundings. They’re aiming for “Rainbow Six Siege levels of destruction”.

“You can go so far as blowing up a bridge,” says Thompson, hinting at a world that can change in drastic and permanent ways. Imagine trying to escape from that encroaching wall of death, only to have your quickest escape route destroyed by another player. Again, this is the promise – the most impressive thing I destroyed in my mayfly playthrough, aside from some explosive barrels, was a single empty water bottle sitting on a rusty oil drum. Still, this potential for “tracking” your enemies or simply noting their presence will appeal to players of Battlegrounds, for whom the closest thing to a footprint is a door left ajar.

There is a sense of competition between Battle Royale games. Fortnite’s battle royale mode upset Plunkbat developers Bluehole so much so they publicly complained about it. I ask Thompson if he sees Mavericks poaching players from Plunkbat, since it seems to be boasting a very similar set-up.

“I feel like if you look at Playerunknown’s … [it] is a very limited game. I think Mavericks is a much richer game than Playerunknown’s.

“We believe that a back drop of a fictional world leads to a better experience… We also see the world as an evolving world.”

By this he means the larger world outside of the battle royale. After all, this 400-person countryside arena is just a game mode within a 1000-person MMO-style open world. This will have a social hub, which they describe as “similar to a town in World of Warcraft” rather than the smaller, tight-knit hubs of Destiny 2 or Call of Duty: WWII. Here there will be player-to-player trading and other activities. There aren’t plans to add lots of game modes, however, as they’re wary of splitting the players. As far as loot and in-game rewards go, Thomspon answers my question about loot boxes in a way that is both cautious and non-committal.

“We’re generally avoiding loot boxes,” he says. “We’re currently looking at alternatives…”

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That sense of a game still under construction extends to the rest of the battle royale mode too. They hope to invigorate the “mid game” of these massive deathmatches, says Thompson, by throwing in objectives. Players will be challenged to capture a particular point on the map, for example. And success will mean rewards at the end of the match, even if they should die far from the final circle of death. The idea is that this will liven up those too-quiet moments from Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, and give folks another reason to play, besides the all-or-nothing pursuit of a hot chicken dinner. However, like everything else, they’re still experimenting with these ideas. We still don’t know exactly what these mid-game objectives will involve.

It’s much too early to say if Mavericks will beat Playerunknown to death with its own frying pan. But it is certainly taking a brave run at it. Although Automaton say they’re confident about their capability to host so many players at once, the real test will only arrive when it comes to early access. To besmirch this cautious preview with a colourful metaphor – we can see some of the footprints, yes, but we still don’t know where they lead.

15 Comments

  1. Antongranis says:

    Honestly, i see very little point in huge player counts in these battle-royale games. Out of the 100 people in plunkbat, how many are you actually going to see on the ground? 15? A smaller map with fewer players would work just as well, unless huge terrain is considered very important.

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      Lo says:

      A very interesting point! I wonder what they foresee being able to do that lower-population games can’t.

    • TerminatorJones says:

      I think huge terrain IS important though. Sometimes in Plunkbat, you find yourself on the wrong side of the map, over and over, which puts you at a huge disadvantage, but not an insurmountable one. Sometimes the biggest enemy is the amount of distance you need to cover. Overcoming that disadvantage adds to the excitement.

      • Nelyeth says:

        Then again, Plunkbat’s currently losing a ton of players to Fortnite, mostly because every round has this long, drawn-out phase in which you run, run, run (or drive, drive, drive, or swim, swim, swim), then get shot. When it does work out, it feels good, but the bore/reward ratio is skewed to the wrong side. Too much distance is often, well, too much.

        On top of that, you have to consider that more players results in longer waiting times, which is crucial when you might die in a handful of seconds.

        The tracking aspect of it, along with destructible environment, seems nice, but I fear bigger isn’t better in that case. Either you end up with a very slow pace (which means more frustration when you die after painfully trudging through the map), or you make vehicles feel mandatory, which makes interaction with other players feel sub-optimal.

        In fact, I’d say the whole tracking shtick would be much more engaging in a smaller map, with fewer players (50, or maybe even fewer). If the map is huge, scanning the terrain for footsteps could feel like too much work (especially if you have to haul ass because the map’s shrinking), while on a smaller map and a tenser setting, tracking would mean the difference between life and death. It’d also be a smarter move looking at loading/matchmaking times, seeing how this game will end up late to the battle royale party.

        • Tomo says:

          Absolutely agree with this post. Spot on in basically everything.

        • fish99 says:

          Yeah PUBG badly needs some smaller maps with faster circles and shorter games. Honestly I think they should cut Miramar down to 5×5 as they initially planned, in addition to the new 5×5 maps that’s coming. Keep Erangel at 10×10 for people who want the long tactical game.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          The whole reason I play plunkbat is because I enjoy the slow paced setup phase, it adds to the tension of the late game. If I wanted a small-scale arena shooter, I’d be playing something different…

          • Nelyeth says:

            Oh, but I never said it was wrong to enjoy it, just that the balance they struck is, to a lot players, not quite right. Fortnite solves this with both a smaller map, and “active” movement (since you have to build things as you run to avoid obstacles), but it does so at the cost of psychological tension: for example, a 1v1 in PUBG is a whole lot of mindgames, while in Fortnite, the psychological aspect is undermined by the wall-building fiesta.

            After playing both games for a while, I’m sick of battle royale as a genre, and the only thing that might draw me back in is a game that has both this need to be always on your toes and one step ahead, and manages to make the post-looting/pre-shooting phase engaging. Both The tracking system and destructible environments mentioned in the article sound like neat ways to do this, but the 400-players on a huge map part really isn’t appealing.

          • strych9 says:

            I like the idea of bigger maps, most of my “a.d.d.” issues with games is mapathy. having a huge map means less dropping into the same area over and over. as for more players, I have no issues there either. I think they would be raising the bar for other developers to fall inline. think arma/battlefield had a baby(drool). no ones to say that they cant just make 1/4 of the map available for the quicker 40 player matches. but for me and the squad I usually play with on pubg. we like the larger areas, aggressive start, slow mid game, tense endings. adding tracking via footprints would also add another element to the mid game. not only will the doors be left open, but you will be able to tell which direction your loot goblins ran of too, or use your own prints to set up a trap. My issue with pubg is the circle, id like to see where the next “2” circles are going to be. so you can plan ahead a bit more, that would also help with everyone trying to just run the edge, or a circle that never stops moving, slower but always shrinking. but, im getting off topic now. Ill be trying mavericks. just for the 400 player rainbow 6 pubg.

    • anon459 says:

      The Culling was the perfect size for me. Too bad it doesn’t exist anymore.

  2. Stevostin says:

    More player = more chances of cheater and more difficult to catch them.

    Progress would be an 8 player battle royale.

  3. FordTruck says:

    you know what would be cool making a epic scenario like the scene in saving private ryan, it’ll determine how much players go into the battle royal stage…so you all work together like a band of brothers against a whole group of other players…try to wipe the other side out the remaining few get to go to battle royal lol

    the sound effects would have to be on point though

  4. Red_Fox says:

    Keep an eye on the up coming game ‘SCUM’.

  5. Cocoarico says:

    While this sounds fantastic and all, imagine that tech applied to a MAG successor. I miss MAG.

  6. VisprenLovac says:

    125m squared is a square of around 11.18m x 11.18m. You were probably playing on a map sized 125m x 125m, which is 15,625m squared.

    Sorry, I just had to notice. :-(