Automaton Games is prepping something special for release sometime during 2019, taking on Fortnite and PUBG with a fight to the death much grander in scope.
Surely it is already too late to release another Battle Royale clone. Mercifully, this does not appear to be what Automaton Games intends to do next year. Mavericks: Proving Grounds is somewhat stealthily scouting the Battle Royale landscape, identifying numerous ways that a massively-multiplayer FPS experience can be improved, and in time greatly expanded.
By way of an innovative development platform, in the guise of Improbable’s SpatialOS, and forward thinking approach to tactical shooting, Mavericks is already showing signs of how it could sneak under the radar with an MMORPG-like End Game. This is more than just a jolly new game mode; the aptly named Mavericks seem intent on reinventing the humble FPS.
Look around you
The crux of what Automaton seems to be saying about Mavericks, is that the competition – PUBG, Fortnite – are not entirely built for purpose. There are limitations suggested, inherent in the Unreal technology used by both games, that Mavericks aims to avoid by going its own way. Locations and the objects found within the 12 km2 diameter map are simulated in such a rich way that this is expected to direct gameplay in a more believable, immersive fashion.
Reports from GDC 2018 recently, where an abridged hands-on demo of Mavericks was available, have enthused about the opportunity to track opponents using muddy footprints and other signs of environmental disturbance. This is only scratching the surface, however, as Automaton has previously also mentioned the presence of wildlife in the game world, with unpredictable behavior, raising false flags or leading to unexpected confrontations.
There will be day and night, rain and puddle formation, foliage displacement. The world will feel so much more alive, and it is hoped that such elements as changing visibility and fires burning out of control will add to the drama, and fuel dynamic tales from the battlefield.
The appeal of current high-flying Battle Royale lies in bare-bones structure, leaving players to create their own drama, depending on luck-of-the-draw to a large extent, and gradually being pushed together to force a last ‘man’ standing scenario. With Mavericks, Automaton intends to meddle considerably more with the game flow, using complex AI to shepherd players in new ways, mostly to enhance what the developer sees as a lacklustre mid-game.
Essentially, there will be more rewards and reasons to stick around, for everyone taking part, other than bragging rights linked to leader-board standings.
There’s talk of more advanced siege-based gameplay, based on the destructibility of objects, and larger team sizes, forcing more collaborative efforts on both sides. The game will be accessed via a social hub, from which it might be possible to explore areas of the world without entering PvP scenarios, and find other ways to acquire desirable weapons.
At all times, Automaton will be monitoring outcomes, and considering new ways to make the world of Mavericks compelling, while its AI tech assists by identifying emerging trends.
It is hoped that a more focused ‘intelligent’ mission system can greatly improve upon, without jarring horribly against, the outcomes of that all-important player-driven narrative.
400 players now, 1000 next year
The Closed Beta planned for summer will support 400 players, which is already humongous by contemporary standards. The Beta will have familiar Battle Royale access points, but as mentioned earlier, this isn’t the product that Automaton is aiming for full release in 2019. Lighting fires and blowing up bridges in the Beta is simply testing the sandbox, with limited player progression amid a photorealistic/photogrammetric, world.
The fully-fledged Proving Grounds will be all about that player progression, with risk-reward systems linked to Vendors and other RPG structures in evidence. There’s talk of clan battles raging over extended periods of time. Perhaps the weather system may lead to seasons in a persistent world. Some structures will prove hardier than others; larger ones worth invading and protecting. It is likely that the Proving Grounds will be one, mammoth location, rather than planet-hopping as with Destiny and Mass Effect, but there’s a hint of the shared-world shooting of Trion Worlds’ Defiance from 2013 (and reboot dubbed Defiance 2050 inbound), in that co-op objectives could be one way of enticing players to check back regularly.
A revealing heritage
For more clues as to where Mavericks: Proving Grounds could be headed, you only need to look at the staff at Automaton. CEO James Thompson wrote AI for MMORPG RuneScape, and worked at Jagex. He is joined by Chairman Mark Gerhard, former CEO and CTO of Jagex, who is also founder and CEO of AI, robotics and games company PlayFusion.
There is a former Design Director and Senior Producer of EVE Online, Craig Scott, with other MMO projects that include Warhammer Online and Dust 541 among his portfolio. Finally, former art director at Sony, Stuart Bugg, put his name to Wipeout and Killzone, and has VR systems listed in his credentials. No way does this add up to a miserly me-too BR clone.
Further proof, while we still need it
As summer approaches, Automaton says it will be showing more of Mavericks: Proving Grounds at E3 2018, which runs from June 2-14. Meanwhile, the sign-up for Closed Beta has already started, and you can put your name forward here. The Beta is restricted to PC gamers, but those of you on console can also look forward to playing the game “sometime after the PC release,” according to Automaton’s Twitter, which states “We're happy to confirm consoles are part of our roadmap, and we don't mean a broken and low fps release for them either.” Good to know, and way to twist the knife…