It's difficult to stand out in the battle-royale genre right now. Fortnite's bright and zany combat has attracted over 125 million players, while PUBG stands firm with its slower, military-inspired shooting. Blockbuster franchises such as Battlefield and Call of Duty are readying modes inspired by the pair's breakout success. If you're a newcomer like Automaton, a 40-person studio based in Cambridge, England, how do you differentiate and, more importantly, persuade people to switch from the competition? With larger maps and 1,000 player skirmishes, apparently.
Mavericks: Proving Grounds is a hugely ambitious game. Fortnite, PUBG and similar battle-royale titles currently cap out at 100-player deathmatches. Automaton is promising 200- to 400-player bloodbaths at launch later this year. Five-man teams will compete in 1,000-person gauntlets soon after, according to the company. The matches will supposedly take place on a 10-by-10 kilometer map, dwarfing those offered by its competitors. And as players creep around the world, they'll find destructible buildings similar to Rainbow Six: Siege and realistic fire that can quickly spread across fields.
But that's not all. Players will leave footprints and blood trails, according to the studio, which can be spotted by other competitors. Empty med kits, weapon magazines and bullet casings will also lie in the grass, waiting to be uncovered. As you hunt down other people, roaming wildlife will come into play, providing cover or, if you're not careful, giving away your position during crucial sneak attacks. Paired with a day and night cycle, these features, the team hopes, will provide more intense and strategic combat scenarios to give players more information and flexibility in how they approach each match.
Mavericks' battle-royale mode will sit inside a vaguely-defined MMORPG experience. The game will have a town called The Capital, which acts as a lobby for the last-man-standing matches. Here, the company says, you'll be able to customize your character and upgrade your weapons before heading into the fray. There will also be banks, shops, auction houses and a range of quest-giving NPCs. The Capital will be part of a "persistent open world" that launches in 2019. What you will do beyond battle-royale matches, though, is unclear right now.
The MMO element is important to contextualize the violence, according to Automaton CEO James Thompson. Books and movies that use the battle-royale format -- the original Battle Royale novel by Koshun Takami, for instance, and The Hunger Games -- often wrap the bloodshed around larger political stories. They give the hero a reason to survive and provide consequences for their actions outside the ring. "Mavericks: Proving Grounds provides that broader narrative," Thompson said. "It's more of a simulated world. One with narrative, and one that's more believable. That setting, we think, even if you're focused on session-based games, makes it a richer experience."
Automaton has some MMORPG experience. Many of its staff worked on Runescape, the popular but visually primitive browser game, and Eve: Online, the deep-space-economy simulator, before joining the company. Furthermore, Mavericks isn't the team's first game. The studio released Deceit, a multiplayer horror title, through Steam Early Access in 2016. That title, though, is based around a small group of players trying to escape a house or, if they're chosen to play a disguised monster, kill their fellow competitors. It's a far cry from a 1,000-player battle royale.