A group of sinks to a large island. In the next 20 minutes, they must search buildings for useful weapons and equipment before they fight to the death. As the game progresses, the playable area contracts and forces the competitors closer together. The last person who still stands wins.
Of course this is Battle Royale, a novel online shooter game that is currently played by over 200 million people around the world. The current excitement began with Day Z: Battle Royale, a modification of the zombie survival game DayZ, developed by lonely designer Brendan Greene and later updated as Player Royale's Battle Royale. Its popularity caught the attention of Korean developer Bluehole, who commissioned Greene to oversee the development of a complete game. PUBG was launched in early 201
Seeing this success, Epic Games released a free Battle Royale version of its online co-op game Fortnite, which features a carton-type visual style and a Minecraft-style component. That was September 2017. The following year, the game earned $ 2.4 billion through the purchase of players. Last October, Activision added a Battle Royale mode under the title Blackout to Battle of Duty: Black Ops 4. Respawn Entertainment released Apex: Legends on February 4. Within a week, 10 million players had come together, which increased the share value of the publisher Electronic Arts enormously.
Although the visual styles and narratives of these games are very different, the four giants of the genre adhere to a strict set of conventions. The islands are scattered with cities, villages and industrial complexes, they all have rivers and bridges and offshore islands and they all have approximately the same shape. But what makes her so fascinating? Why is a generation of children probably more comfortable navigating from Tilted Towers to Paradise Palms than from home to the shops?
Dave Curd is the world art director at PUBG. He's been designing first-person shooter maps for years, and the first thing he says about the layout of Battle Royale landscapes is that there's never any accidental concern about the distribution of cities and other scenic features. Everything is determined by a combination of design and technical considerations. "If you put cities too close together, players have no incentive to leave, but they're too far apart, and the journey in between is boring," he says. "Plus, you do not want five or six cities crowded together, or you can load too many assets at once."
"There's a sweetspot that's fun and good for everyone, and we've gotten lots of on-site testing and data analysis," he explains. "With each card, you'll find that art gets a little better and resources are a little more distributed – we keep learning."
David Vonderhaar is the studio design director at Treyarch, the experienced Call of Duty developer behind the new blackout mode. When his team created a Battle Royale card, they first tried to use their experience with traditional first-person shooters, which turned out to be a mistake. "Many of these map rules that were suitable for multiplayer mode had to be rewritten or removed," he says. "Certain things like the definition of a structure, the entry and exit requirements need to be changed and updated. We had to invest a lot of time in early development to carefully describe the variety and location of the destinations on the map and with whom they had dealings. "
Battle Royale maps offer many borderlines between intense combat zones, and it is extremely important to know how players change their map, especially as they enter and exit key areas. "We wanted variety, so raiding or escape [an area] is something special," says Vonderhaar. "The topography has helped. Sometimes targets are uphill (asylum), in the midst of a dense forest (The Hind Clearing) or require crossing flat, exposed terrain (cargo). "In a game type where players create their own stories and arrive at one place – or quick evacuation – are important elements.
Some scenic elements crop up over and over again because they are useful for creating certain player experiences, which is generally difficult in a huge open space. "One of the biggest challenges in designing a Battle Royale card is that players can approach from any direction, including landing in the middle," says Curd. "We use areas such as small islands and long bridges to create bottlenecks and choke points and deliberately promote certain varieties. In these small areas, we have a very good idea of how people will interact with each other. It's fun for the players to camp on a bridge, to feel smart and to feel like mugger. "
Another important design element is the use of high architectural structures such as masts and towers. Part of it is to make the space vertical, which was the impetus for Blackout's towering construction site with its unfinished skyscraper. But it's also about helping players find out where they are.
"These maps are 90% natural and 10% artificial, so the latter has to stand out and break through the horizon," says Curd. "The use of vertical architecture as navigation points is central – we need to set a milestone so that players understand from the start where they are in relation to each other. You must see it from 2 km away to know where you are going. High or unique structures act as very natural markers. This means that players do not need to keep shouting, "He's over there in the trees."
It's fascinating how the developers of Battle Royale cards use subtle environmental lures to move and explore players. "We use cover pools as small security areas to seduce the players," says Curd. "Whether it's your typical box or barrel, an old upturned truck, a long wall, or a small shack – you'll be surprised how much you put the player through both intelligent loot placement and coverage placement can affect sprinkling distances. Players can perform this risk reward calculation: OK OK, I will be exposed for a few seconds, but then I have access to five new buildings, and buildings are the price because they have loot, but more importantly that they have windows from which I can see. "
Vondehaar agrees," We do not want the player to feel like he's not moving on the map because there's nothing to achieve. If you measured a scale between any two places in blackout, you would see what we think is our best point. "
Environmental stories are also important to arouse the interest of the players. Epic Games has excelled with Fortnite. He has created his own mythology through falling meteorites, mysterious hatchings, fascinating posters and television screens showing images that point to new game functions. The landscape is constantly evolving, and players like to speculate on what that means.
More subtly, Battle Royale games rely on scenic features to give an impression of history. "We use less valuable things, such as adding wear to objects, to indicate that these places are abandoned or that inmates are in a hurry," says Curt. "We can also be more open – there are training locations on the Sanhok map where you'll find evidence that this could be a training facility for real Battle Royale fighters. We do not want to whack the player over with a story, but we leave clues to gently mingle with them. "
All successful Battle Royale titles know the importance of subtlety. Whether exploring the crypts of Haunted Hills or the metallic corridors of the Hydro Dam in Apex Legends, you will not find complex multi-level floor plans and furniture masses – all buildings are rather square and the rooms rather empty. Partly to ensure that players can quickly recognize useful objects between purely decorative objects, but it is also about the gameplay. "They want relatively simple interiors, so players can use the hearing effectively," says Curd. "You have to know that the other player is up, they're down, they're just outside. If we make our structures too complex, it would be really difficult to play the game. The sound is such a big deal and our simple approach to interior design reflects this.
As with any "live" game played by thousands or millions, the iteration determines the design process. "We play strict tests," says Curd. "It's literally like designing a giant first person shooter card. We have the same design principles: fun makes decisions. If we try something, no matter how cool it looks, no matter what we have imagined, if the playtests do not prove it, it will get the boot.
Thinking about the studio's own ideas is only part of the process – a successful Battle Royale developer must also understand the diverse needs of potential players. An important element of this process is to categorize them – run fanatics, explorers, snipers – and then make sure that they have all the areas. "If you have a game that reaches as many as ours, you have to realize that they are not all a typical high conflict FPS player, especially in our Asian markets," says Curd. "We have a considerable number of players who like the survival aspect: looting, hiding, sneaking. Some players do not even go for weapons, they enjoy the tactics of hiding and outsmarting other players and reaching the next circle.
"I am a SMG and a gunner so I will always make sure this is something for people who like to get together. But we know that we have a lot of experienced snipers, so we want areas with less leaves and rough terrain so you can really see those characters against that glittering orange sun. If you go into a city and there is a large apartment building with many windows, we want players to feel that stress: "Has anyone been watching me?"
Curd follows the line of this design approach as an unexpected source. "With Dark Souls, people were excited about how difficult and opaque it was," he says. "It has been shown that there was an appetite for opacity in the design, the information not so directly to the players pass. The Battle Royale genre has proven that players can really tolerate stressful situations, make really opaque decisions and not always know the clearest playing style. "
The studios use maps not only as interesting combinations of rural and urban locations, but for storytelling, as props for the stories that players create while they play. Buildings are used to hide elements, but they are also navigation tools. Bridges provide access, as well as throttle points, to encourage shootings. The players are not told anything about this – they must learn to read and understand a Battle Royale environment, like a hiker who picks up subtle hints of the local vegetation, the river's river, or the direction of a hedge. The worlds are open and free to roam – nothing is addressed. And the unpredictable interactions between these systems of freedom and direction are as much fun as they are playing: a valuable asset in this time of Twitch streamers and YouTube superstars.
"Whenever you ask someone about their first win, I assure you that they have a little story about how they got there," says Curd. "These games are high stakes, high danger, high challenge and that is very satisfying … we want to be tested. We want to be pushed. "