PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS Takes Aim at the Battle Royale Crown

By Brian Rowe

To call PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS a "hit" might be something of an understatement. Since its Early Access release two months ago, the battle royale shooter from Bluehole has been a consistent chart-topper on Steam and Twitch.

The concept is a simple one; players are dropped on an island where they must scavenge for weapons and supplies as shrinking boundaries move them ever closer to a final showdown. The last person or team standing wins.

If the idea sounds familiar, that's because Brendan Greene (aka PLAYERUNKNOWN) was the creator of Battle Royale, a popular mod for the Arma series inspired by the Japanese book, manga, and movie of the same name.

Through his Arma mod and consultation on H1Z1: King of the Kill, Greene had given birth to a game genre. He was approached by other companies about making a full-fledged game of his own, but it wasn't until he met the team at Bluehole that he felt he had found the right studio for the job.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS has become a tremendous hit and is one of the fastest-selling UE4-based titles on Steam. What was your reaction to this sudden success?

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

To be honest, I was a little shocked by the success we have seen. I had a level of confidence that my game-mode would see some success when given a great platform to run on, but not at the level we have seen! As for our reaction, it has made us even more committed to improving and finishing the game and leaving early access within approximately months. Having success means we now have resources to expand the team, and look at other ways to improve the experience for all players.

Tell us about the inspiration behind PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS and how the project came to be.

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

I started making the Battle Royale game-mode as a mod for the Arma series four years ago, because I wanted to make something that I wanted to play. I loved the looting, PvP, and non-linear progression found in the DayZ mod, and wanted to create something that took the parts I loved from that mod and create something new. I had seen the Survivor GameZ event and loved the concept, but felt I could improve several of the mechanics, and thus the Battle Royale game-mode was born.

After working on my game-mode for a few years, I was approached first by SOE (now Daybreak Games) to license my idea for inclusion in their upcoming title H1Z1. Then, about a year ago I was contacted by Chang-han Kim, our Executive Producer, about the possibility of working together to create a standalone version of my mod. I was very impressed by his concept and plan for a game, and it synced up with what I wanted from a standalone version of the game. He himself had wanted to make a Battle Royale type of game for 10 years, so for me it was a great match, and I moved to Korea shortly after to start work on BATTLEGROUNDS.


Why do you think the battle royale style of game has seen such a huge explosion in popularity?

Chang-han Kim – Executive Producer

Battle royale is ultimately about being the last survivor. It is much more hardcore than more conventional games and the win rate is at one percent, as only one player out of 100 can win the round. While it is extremely difficult to win the round, players can be truly immersed in the game and feel a sense of achievement when they win. With each round being a different experience for the players, the sense of tension felt from game to game does not diminish quickly.

PC gaming continues to grow and many of these players are craving the type of hardcore experience that you don't often see on other platforms. Additionally, the audience for gaming videos and livestreams is bigger than ever and I think one of the main reasons behind our game's success is that it's so fun to watch.


What are some of the strengths that PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS brings to the genre?

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

From my point of view, I feel that our depth of loot and other character systems are some of the strengths we bring to the genre. We have a wide selection of weapons and attachments, and alongside our character health and boost systems, this gives our players a skill tree to climb. While we aim to have quite realistic weapon physics, we also want to create a game that is fun to play, so from a design point of view, we have been careful about not punishing the player too severely for some unrealistic actions, such as jumping from the roof of a building. Ultimately, I think our major strength is that we are offering a more tactical version of the battle royale game-mode, while still allowing players to have fun.

Unlike the smaller, static maps of traditional shooters, PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS has an expansive landscape with a constantly shifting play area. How did this impact your approach to level design?

Junhyuk  Choi – Lead Game Designer

The Battle Royale game-mode that PLAYERUNKNOWN created makes sure that each round provides a different experience to players. A large-scale, open-world map and dynamically shifting play zone are the core characteristics of our game.

Since the endgame zone can be created anywhere in the vast and expansive world, we focused on creating a realistic world with only minimum standards required for player actions instead of pursuing tight or elaborate level design. We have gone through numerous tests and made a lot of modifications, and our world artists played a huge part in getting our level design to have a realistic feel.

We divided the world into different units such as buildings, towns, regions, and the entire world for faster iteration, and worked on these units in parallel. We also carefully adjusted the distance between those units, considering engagement and travel distances.  


Brendan, you certainly didn't follow a traditional path into game development. How do you think this has affected your approach to game design?

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

It has allowed me to dream bigger, I guess. Since I am not restricted by my knowledge of the engine, or the basic rules of game design, I can suggest ideas that others may not have thought about. Ultimately though, I have learned a lot over the last year at Bluehole thanks to having a great team that was willing to help me understand why some of those rules exist!

Did you have prior experience with Unreal Engine, and why did you choose it for this project?

Chang-han Kim – Executive Producer

When I started my first game, an MMO called Sephiroth, I used Unreal Engine 2.5. It was my first 3D MMO project, and it was one of the first two Korean games to use the Unreal Engine. I believe that Unreal Engine is practically the only option for producing a serious PC or console game. We chose to use Unreal Engine as you can start using it without any cost, and having a fully open source engine is hugely advantageous for developers.


Were there any features of Unreal Engine 4 that proved to be particularly useful or even surprising, and how did they aid in development?

Chang-han Kim – Executive Producer

One of the biggest benefits of using UE4 is that fast iteration is possible during development. For example: we worked remotely with engineers and artists around the world to create the 8km x 8km map. Fast iteration using UE4 was a big help, because although UE4 provides level streaming for the creation of open-world maps, this becomes a new challenge when combined with large-scale multiplayer.

Tae-seok Jang – Art Director

We pursued a realistic art style to maximize engagement and immersion in-game. To do so, we found some features like Atmospheric Fog and Exponential Height Fog particularly useful in creating realistic lighting and atmosphere. We could create outdoor lighting quickly and efficiently as we could modify different values and check the results right away in the editor.


Bluehole has often expressed the importance of building alongside the community. In what ways have they helped to shape the game?

Sammie Kang – Lead Community Manager

Since Pre-Alpha, our tester community has provided feedback on important changes we made to the build. We had a creative vision about how we wanted BATTLEGROUNDS to be, but it was our tester community that helped us refine the experience. Some would send multi-page documents with thoughts about certain mechanics, and some provided such great feedback that we hopped on calls with them to discuss core gameplay mechanics last year. We wanted to hear feedback from our community after every major iteration, which was why we have been as transparent as possible. And, by being open with the community, we generated more feedback and gained more confidence in our core directions.

You have also expressed strong support for modding. Why is this important to you and what sort of tools will modders have available?

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

This is important for me as I want to give others the chance to take a similar path as I did into game development. I have been incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to create my own game, and I have always wanted to provide the same opportunity for others.

As for what tools will be available, we already have a very basic level of modding available via our custom game feature, which allows content creators and our partners to create their own spin on the battle royale game-mode. We will continue to expand the range of options available in our custom games all through Early Access, and when we feel the game is stable, we will look at adding a more complete modding solution.


What's next for PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS and where should people go to stay updated on the game?

Brendan Greene – Creative Director

For the immediate future of the game, we are focused on improving stability and performance of both our servers and for clients. We have some exciting new features we want to add to the game over the course of Early Access such as our 3D replay system.

To stay up to date, follow our Twitter, join the conversation on our forums and follow our Twitch channel to be alerted when we next do a dev stream.

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