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At E3 2018, Automaton Games announced that their previous 400-player battle royale game, Mavericks: Proving Grounds, would be turning up the player count to 1000 so n3rdabl3’s Dale caught up with the team at the event to discuss the game and how the technology behind it will achieve such enormous numbers.

Mavericks: Proving Grounds is an upcoming massively multiplayer tactical shooter in which players will be battling it out against 399 other players in solo, or 995 other players in the five-player squads mode. And while the game could be lumped in the battle royale box which is dominated by game’s like Fortnite and PUBG, there’s way more to the game than just last-man-standing.

Speaking with Automaton Games’ CEO James Thompson at E3, Dale wanted to know what was truly different with Mavericks, that’ll set it apart from other, bigger battle royale games out there.

“you can call Battle Royale anything that perhaps involves last-man-standing”

“We don’t think about Mavericks just based on players we literally start by saying ‘we’ve seen battle royale be popular over the last couple of years’, but we very much see it as games that are first starting to touch on competitive massively multiplayer gameplay, and they’re only doing that in quite a limited way.

“When you add in all the extra systems we’re developing for Mavericks, which begins with a very different technical approach, it enables us to do a lot more interaction with the environment, that’s when a lot more players becomes really interesting because you aren’t just waiting to come across one of those players, you’re seeing what they’ve done to the world and making decisions based on that, and that means you literally have a game where all the stuff that players are doing is really affecting your choice throughout the game and not just when you happen upon one of them.

“That’s the very different sense in which the game mode of Mavericks, we think it’s Battle Royale – you can call Battle Royale anything that perhaps involves last-man-standing but there’s not really anything like the Battle Royale film it’s just a small section of the rule set from that. Whereas when you actually have a load of players doing stuff creating almost a narrative as they effect the world and then you’re making decisions well then that’s what you actually need to build a great Battle Royale game and that’s one of the things I think of that whole area as that evolves is something that’s exciting for many years to come, whereas I think you look at Battle Royale just in the sense of we’re having a bit of fun, last man standing, I think that’s just a mode, and that’s not necessarily quite as exciting.”

In Mavericks: Proving Grounds it seems very much like there’ll be much more involvement than just picking up loot, scavenging a couple of supplies, only to lose it all when you inevitably get shot dead. The game is perhaps an evolution of the Battle Royale trend that’s happening right now and one that the mode genre needs.

Sure, we all love a good shoot out every now and again, but there comes a time where the repetitive cycle of current battle royale games can become tedious. Fortunately Mavericks: Proving Grounds massive persistent world will allow players to do more than just loot and shoot. They can interact with the huge open world and make dramatic changes which can alter the game for everyone.

All of this is made achievable thanks to Spatial OS, a new technology which is making the ability for more players in one world, possible. Not only that, Automaton Games are working closely on the CryEngine to further develop its tech to make Mavericks the smooth persistent massively multiplayer game the developers want it to be.

Interview: Automaton on Mavericks: Proving Grounds and the Evolution of Battle Royale - n3rdabl3

“So there’s two key things here; first of all having a game engine that actually can support streaming this much data with a good fidelity. That’s what we’ve been working with the CryEngine team and it’s really really important. It’s certainly going to be a better fidelity game in terms of graphics than similar games that are out there in the Battle Royale space, but crucially when you have all this dynamic content being delivered while streaming it in and out, it’s something that requires some significant engine-work, so that’s what we’re working on, on the rendering side.

“The other massive component of this is the networking. Battle Royale games specifically are already struggling to use basic networking paradigms from many, many years ago but have just turned the number up to 100, it’s not quite working out, you can always improve it here and there and that’s what some of the more polished ones have done, but Mavericks is radically different. It’s based not on a client server model, but Spacial OS and what we do with that is have sort of a fabric layer between a lot of servers and it’s really intelligent about what information goes between different players and also different servers that simulate the world. And that’s a huge shift because you think that rather than it worrying about all the players all the time this whole cluster of servers is able to marshal that information.

It’s literally night and day difference, it’s almost stone-age tech verses what you actually need to build a massively multiplayer dynamic world, you think ‘I have a player here, the networking layer knows where they’re looking, what they’re doing, and what’s around them’ and it can make much stronger decisions about whether some guy all the way over there needs to be updated, and that’s incredibly important. You initially think, how is it even possible for so many more players and so much more dynamic behaviour but it’s just a huge shift in terms of how that’s dealt with and how the networking layer is dealt with.”

Automaton Games see Mavericks: Proving Grounds as an evolution of the games which have already paved a tremendous way for the Battle Royale genre, and while they applaud their efforts, they see that they’re held back by ageing rendering and networking tech which they hope to revolutionise with Proving Grounds.

“They’re taking an off-the-shelf game engine and turning the numbers up”

“[Mavericks is] very much is an evolution and we also see that, yes, these are the first games that are enabling that, it’s not a coincidence for the last couple of years Battle Royale has been popular because graphics cards and networking have become of a better, and even these older kind of games which are just built on last-decade engine technology and various bits of old networking, they’re okay, they’re achieving that for the first time, and that’s why it’s so exciting, the scale of the players. But it’s really doing very, very little when you actually think about how much all these devs could be contributing to that game reception, so there’s a massive, massive shift in technology and approach needed to do what Mavericks is doing, and that’s how we see it as an evolution.”

“It’s going to take a bit of time for people to adapt because people are used to using more off-the-shelf game engines and you look at these battle royale games, or games that are calling themselves battle royale games today, they’re just adding last-man-standing to what was a different game, every single one of them is like that.

“They’re taking an off-the-shelf game engine and turning the numbers up, or it’s something completely different game that’s like ‘look how cool it is when you have 100 players’, and that’s really just a short-term thing. In order to support true, great massive multiplayer gaming, as far as we’ve seen Mavericks is the first and currently only game that’s taking that seriously, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that within a ten year timeframe all of this kind of genre game will have shifted their approach, but I think it’ll take a while because they’ll have to delete what they have at the moment.”

Another area in which Automaton Games hopes to improve the genre is through progression. It’s all great finally getting the coveted “winner winner, chicken dinner” and placing higher on a leaderboard, but what about rewarding those who got the most kills, or those who travelled the farthest, or collected the most loot.

It’s about giving players that feeling of contributing to the game in some way, not just being the lucky person to survive until the very end. Because we all know that hiding in a corner for the entirety of the game only to win by luckily popping off the last man standing isn’t exactly an achievement, right?

Interview: Automaton on Mavericks: Proving Grounds and the Evolution of Battle Royale - n3rdabl3

“As we’ve come from an MMORPG background we think that what’s lacking in this kind of massively multiplayer competitive game, battle royale, and similar games right now, is strong progression, or progression that’s tailored enough to the fact that a lot of different stuff is happening between all these players and in this game, it’s not just a case of ‘oh, I’ve won’ or ‘I came out last’. That’s great, it’s a really compelling idea, and it’s carrying a lot of the games out there right now, but that’s only one way you can reward players.

“However in Mavericks, by having a persistent social part, you can show off your achievements, and the overall narrative is there too, but these all have to come together somewhere and that’s why we have a persistent world. It enables you to get into that game not necessarily immediately committing to going off into last-man-standing and considers perhaps you want a longer-play session, so we have persistent gameplay. But even when you do just want to play that last-man-standing, perhaps that is what your focus is, at least when you come out you’re rewarded in a broader, more interesting context than just, ‘oh cool, that table says that I’m now this’.

“That might be okay for simpler competitive games, like a 5v5 team game, or chess, or something where you can have ranking, and it makes sense, it can be very compelling, but Battle Royale isn’t really like that, there are a lot of players within that, a lot of things to reward, so we have way more depth, and that really has to come from a persistent open world.”

Mavericks: Proving Grounds has plenty of ground to break, especially as Fortnite, probably the biggest game in this space right now, has just hit 125 million players. But there’s definitely something more to offer in this game, and it’ll all be kicking off later this summer when the game holds its first closed beta phase. This is just the first of many milestones which run up to the game’s launch into Early Access this December.

Interview: Automaton on Mavericks: Proving Grounds and the Evolution of Battle Royale - n3rdabl3

“So the key milestone coming up next is at the end of August and most of the way through September: the closed beta. That’s where we’re really starting to show off that large scale networking to people online and to the initial community. That’s also going to be really key for us to analyse all these new systems we’re doing and how they balance against each other all the way from pro play to really casual play and in between.

“That then really ramps up towards the end of the end of October when the beta becomes open, that’s another key milestone, of course the game will have evolved a lot over that time. We’ve done a lot of technology and now all we can do is start to bring in content very quickly, that’s incredibly important, so the game will almost look like the evolution rate will seem very very rapid there because of course we’ve prepared a lot and now we’re really putting in and balancing that content.

“And that enables us to go to a launch, an Early Access launch in December which represent largely an awesome battle royale last-man-standing mode along with a capital and some sort of open-world gameplay that you can play. So that comes together towards the end of this year, and then we have a big annual update to the lore of the game which will be driven by what players do in the open world, and that in turn effects the landscape of the battle royale. On top of that we have consistent bi-weekly updates that we’re going to be doing post-launch and that’s incredibly important as we’re rapidly responding to player feedback.

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