After what feels like YEARS of making excuses, Pip is finally ready to try Playerunknown's Battlegrounds [official site] with Alice. She knows that there are "bants" and she knows that there's a "plane" but everything else is veiled in mystery. Alice, meanwhile, has consumed more chicken dinners than you've had... hot meals? Everything will be fine...
Alice: Pip, are you ready to drop spicy, hold Devil Walker, hug the circle, hit Good Houses, and take off your shoes?
Pip: Well, my intro to this piece was going to be that I'd decided to learn a language you understand: Plunkbat. But it seems that I do not know what you are talking about. Are we still talking about Plunkbat?
Alice: I'm never not talking about Plunkbat. It's a game I adore, one I play almost every day, and one you... had never tried until today?
Pip: That's partly your fault. Remember how I thought that Plunkbat was something different to Playerunknown's Battlegrounds? That's entirely on you. I thought you were shunning the hot game of the moment to potter about in an obscure mod and then I found out they were one and the same!
Alice: Oh, you mean PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS The Ultimate Life And Death Fight?
I'm still not sure I was right to side with 'Plunkbat' over 'Plunkbag'.
Pip: PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS: LIVE FAST OR DIE TRYING. STARRING BUSINESS JASON STATHAM.
Plunkbig or plunk home.
Alice: Oh yes, let's show everyone your serious murderer.
Pip: He works hard and plays hard, Alice. I think I saw him in the queue for Vodka Rev the other night. (I haven't been to Vodka Rev for 15 years.)
Alice: He's just got off a shift at Rumbelows and the commute by plane is hell.
My belief is that Plunkbat is a stag & hen holiday destination gone a bit apocalyptic. Everyone was expecting cheap drinks, dangerous boat rides and motorbike treks, a little paintball, and buckets of banter, and is dressed in tatty t-shirts and kewl paintballing gear. Each round starts the morning after, where you find yourself somehow waking up on the tarmac at an airstrip next to a plane that presumably will take you home?
Pip: I should stress that this is the RPS press account character. I was OUTRAGED that I couldn't design a kickass lady and I think it's Adam's fault somehow. Fault/folly, anyway. Although I did become fond of Business Statham, especially when we accumulated some extra clothes. That coat! Those goggles! Perfection.
Alice: One of my Plunkpals calls it the Cool Coat. It's cool, Pip. Black leather with buckles, laces, buckles, leather, armour plates, and buckles? Very cool.
I have STRONG opinions about the game's terrible fashion.
My own character is what I've managed to scrape together from the game's line of basic garments, simple t-shirts and tank tops and trousers that can make a passable casual look.
Pip: This is good fashion #content given London Fashion Week has just started!
Anyway, having borrowed Adam's business Statham avatar we plunged headlong into a game. Also headlong out of a plane. I think it was after we landed that I remembered I hadn't asked you what we actually do or how to play or where guns are. Also I parachuted in a different direction while trying to drop my graphics settings enough that the game would run. Was that bants enough for a start to a Plunkbat round?
Alice: My teaching style is very much 'encourage someone to jump into the pool, then tut when they splutter and drown'. But the Plunkbants were strong. After landing several hundred metres apart, I caught up with you and we found guns. Gun. A gun. We found one gun. More gals than guns. Which was fine as we ran down the road to loot somewhere more lucrative until....
Pip: Until the giant triangle fell from the sky.
Alice: OH. WELL THEN! That would explain why you asked if that giant triangle in the sky was a red zone. No, that is not, but I wish that glitch were the real deal. For thirty seconds, a portion of the map becomes a geometry hell.
Pip: I mean I suppose it WAS a danger zone because that was also when those people started shooting at us. I was very pleased by the dodging we did. Or at least, the dodging that I did. You had a gun so I suppose you might have been doing some defensive bullet stuff. I was leaping in a zigzag motion like a business Statham frog doing an Olympic slalom event. We made it all the way to the house where the giant triangle lived.
Alice: It was really good dodging! They had real guns yet barely hit us. I was impressed. Most people take ages to get the hang of that.
Not that it helped us, mind. Those bigger boys with their bigger guns stormed the house and we died, the end. I perhaps should have explained parachute controls, looting, and ammo before starting. But! After pausing to explain some of that and get Jason a new shirt (ugly, obvs), we were back in. That's the magic of Plunkbat. Play die repeat with no downtime.
Pip:It really was an ugly shirt. No need to thank me, Adam. YOU ARE WELCOME TO IT.
Also I learned so much in our first round! Crouching – that was a thing. Ammo. I learnt that in the second before I died in the first game, you know. AND I have some surprising common sense, it turns out! Which one of us was all "Alice, isn't running across the brow of a hill dangerous?" I'm a Plunkexpert.
Alice: Uh, the term is Plunkpert - the community takes that very seriously, Pip.
Where are these instincts from? I don't think I've played this sort of game with you before, ones where zig-zagging and avoiding being silhouetted are key.
Pip: I actually don't know. I think some of it is honestly common sense – you just don't want people to see you so you don't want to be conspicuously outlined against the sky while on a hill. It's the same principle as, uh, avoiding lightning? Plus I think I must have just done some ambient learning. I know a lot of theory. It's just the putting it into practice that leads to chaotic results.
Alice: It's never as simple as in your Andy McNab novels, Pip.
I'm glad we did get a moment to stop and admire the scenery. Those fields are lovely in the evening light - even with terrifying triangles apparently looming overhead. Though, in retrospect, making you stand beside me on that hilltop admiring the sunset was perhaps why those fellas spotted us.
Pip: Is that the reward when you do well? You get the whole map to yourself and can just wander round and have a nice time? That's a chicken dinner worth winning.
Alice: A little crate airdrops in with a lawn chair and a couple tinnies.
No, the real prize is plenty of Plunkpoints to open Plunkbags (ah, maybe that's why I sided with Plunkbat) and receive more terrible clothes. It's cruel. I've stopped even buying Plunkbags at this point. All I get for winning is the thrill of victory and the adulation of my friends. POINTLESS. EMPTY. HOLLOW.
Pip: I earned Adam 80 BattleBucks. Is that what they're called?
Alice: You did also spend 700 of his Plunkbucks on a Plunkbag containing a faded red t-shirt with a ghastly neckline.
Pip: I had forgotten that. ADAM, ALICE IS LYING THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN. There. Sorted.
Anyway, this time around we not only landed in relatively the same place/acre of land but we also both had guns! And some crossbow bolts?? But mostly the guns.
Alice: Yeah! We were serious warriors. There we were, not turning away then. And... then we had to run for a kilometre because we couldn't find a car. That's a lot of Plunkbat. Land, loot, move, loot, move. But we watched some folks scuttling across the horizon. You seemed not best pleased when I said not to shoot them.
Pip: It was more that I had that guilty feeling of being caught doing something I knew I shouldn't be doing. I knew I wouldn't hit them and I wasn't really going to shoot at them but I was definitely watching them through my scope and not e.g. paying attention to any other threats as a result. I wonder what happened to them. We left them to it and ended up in a garage or something, I think. You gifted me a red dot scope! I gifted myself a black smart shirt!
Alice: The joys of looting! It's hard to explain the appeal of this cycle. It's a fairly ambient activity, mostly moving across the land and looting, combined with a tension from constant vigilance and the chance that you could get into a fight at any second. All with Plunkbants with your Plunkpals.
Pip: It reminds me a bit of Spelunky - how you can't exactly predict your Spelunky loot and you just have to try and make good choices with what you do find. There are little things you can do to try and maximise the potential of what you do get and the two games aren't exactly the same but there's a similar thrill and a similar need to make the best of things via your own skill.
Alice: Yes! And with a huge island full of towns, villages, and huts, and random flight paths, and random weather conditions... there's always so much to adapt to but you build knowledge of how to bend circumstances to your advantage.
I like the roguelikelike comparison, especially as Plunkbat's settlements are largely built from repeated prefab buildings. A building is a mystery once, then a known element. And then different towns put different buildings together in different combinations, and that prefab becomes more important in this town because it sits at a dead-end, or this one then overlooks that and... small, easy-to-learn parts build into big complex scenarios with no one correct answer.
Pip: It has actually taken me a phenomenally long time to even try Plunkbat and I think that's because, despite you and Adam and pretty much everyone else we know who plays telling me this, I had fundamentally misunderstood how much combat there really is. I didn't think you were lying, exactly, I just thought that you were probably better at shooters than me and thus didn't think it was as combat-heavy as some SUPER EXTREME shooters or something. It turns out that duo queue is D of E plus hats plus maybe some mild shooter elements at the end (the end being the problem and why I died).
Alice: It CAN be super-mega-murder if you want, and I do enjoy playing that way sometimes. As we went a-wandering along the mountain track with knapsacks on our backs singing val-deri, val-dera, val-deri, val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, you'll remember I pointed out places that would be hot and we should steer clear of. It's also totally an option to drop into those brawls, fight to become the Prom Queen of the school, and emerge blood-drenched with enough loot to last an entire game.
But wandering is just as valid, and the skills there become carefully picking routes, spotting and scouting, using the contracting deathcircle wisely, and so on. Ultimately you'll find yourself shooting faces but I really like that means even the less deathmatchy players in my circle of Plunkpals can play along just fine in a squad, have a good time, and help the team to victory. I myself often benefit from someone telling me when I'm being foolish. As you did as I stood on hilltops admiring sunsets.
Pip: Question: Does the game have friendly fire?
Alice: Ohhh yes. For weapons and vehicles. Banter and antics can have tragic consequences.
Pip: Is this the point where you turn to everyone in the back of the jeep and put on your dad voice and shout "It'll all end in tears, you mark my words!"?
Alice: No, this is the point where I ramp the jeep off a hill and go flying over a house.
Pip: I feel like this is the start of a beautiful, montage-able Plunkfriendship. But I do have one last question. Do you think that the way we play has any chance in hell of meriting a chicken dinner?
Alice: You and me? Kid, we'll go places.
Pip: LET'S RIDE.