Playerunknown's Battlegrounds could have a bright future in the battle royale genre he created

The closed beta looks great and splits the difference between Arma's intimidating sim and King of the Kill's accessible romp.

In a way, Brendan "Playerunknown" Greene is preparing to compete with several games in a genre he essentially spawned. Greene is the creator of Arma 2 and 3's Battle Royale mod, and he later worked with Sony Online Entertainment (now Daybreak Games) to develop a battle royale mode for their zombie survival sandbox H1Z1, which became the standalone Early Access shooter King of the Kill. Now, Greene and Korean developer Bluehole are preparing their own entry in the battle royale arena with Battlegrounds, which is currently in closed beta after roughly a year in development.

I spoke with Greene in January about how Battlegrounds differs from the mod he made, the mode he helped develop, and his thoughts on joining a marketplace alongside his own past creations.

"I kind of like to think of it as, you know, I helped kickstart the genre, especially with [H1Z1]," Greene said. "Now I get a chance to kind of make my version. Not to define the genre, but kind of to go, well listen, this is what I always envisioned battle royale to be, and this is my version of the game, basically."

Greene's Battlegrounds is an attempt aim down the center and find a sweet spot somewhere between the realistic and somewhat intimidating military simulation of Arma 3 and the extremely accessible, almost arcade-like action of King of the Kill.

"[In H1Z1], they took the battle royale and they simplified it a lot, and you know, they call it King of the Kill because it is all about just the kills you get. Whereas Arma 3 is everything simulated, like everything. You know, internal organs and shit like that. That's too complicated for what I wanted to do."

Still, Greene would like Battlegrounds to feature a bit more complexity than King of the Kill, without going completely overboard into the hardcore simulation Arma provides.

"So, we've got 17 weapons, 35 attachments, I think, so you can constantly build up your character through the game. So, it's not just about running, finding a gun, and going and killing people," he said. "For example you move slightly faster with like an SMG and a lighter rifle than with an LMG. Little details that. Everything you add to the weapon will make it better for you to shoot.

"It's not trying to copy either [Arma or King of the Kill] because they exist already, so it's making it what I wanted to do, which is, it has that arcadey element where the damage model is really simple, but having [some of] that depth that Arma 3 has."

I played some of the Battlegrounds closed beta this weekend, and my general feeling is that Greene's aim is looking pretty spot on. If you've played or watched any battle royale matches, you know the drill: players, after a brief and violent wait in the lobby (a small island littered with weapons, in this case) board one of several planes that then fly over a much larger island.

Pick your moment to jump out, parachute to the ground along with dozens of other players, then start scrounging through buildings for weapons, gear, and supplies. A circle drawn around the island will begin to shrink—in this case, it marks the perimeter of what appears to be a blue force field—and players must remain inside the circle or die (from force field related injuries). Remaining in the shrinking circle, naturally, means being pushed to its eventual center with the other players. As the circle shrinks, everyone proceeds to shoot each other, and the last player alive wins.

Battlegrounds does lean a bit closer to King of the Kill than Arma 3's Battle Royale mod, in that it is incredibly easy to jump in without having to first watch hours of it being streamed just to know how it works. The houses and shacks on the island are overstuffed with guns, melee weapons, ammo, first-aid, backpacks, and the always startling number of motorcycle helmets you tend to find in the post-apocalyptic future. Equipping yourself for combat can be done, with a little luck, in a matter of minutes. I never tried out a melee weapon—though I found a scythe and a frying pan—simply because there were so many ranged weapons to use, including crossbows. I was pretty happy when I killed a guy with a crossbow. I never managed a grenade kill, typically because I always seemed to have plenty of bullets. 

There are cosmetic items littered everywhere, too. In one match, my character's look became what I'd describe as 'Jon Hamm As A Supporting Character In One Of Those Shitty Matrix Sequels.' It's not functioning in the beta, but it appears players will earn coins during the match which can be spent on customization options like clothing, tattoos, and weapon skins. I haven't heard whether or not you'll be able to buy in-game currency with real money, but Battlegrounds will be a pay-to-play title, not a free one, when it is released (we haven't yet been told what it will cost).

I love the map, which looks outstanding (Battlegrounds is built in Unreal 4, much easier on the eyes than King of the Kill's Forgelight MMO engine). It's highly detailed, and features a range of farmland, small towns, and a military base, and really makes me wish I could play a standalone, no-time limit version just so I could explore it at my leisure rather than be hurried through it by encroaching forcefields and gun-happy players. 

The mini-map, too, is excellent, crystal clear and easy to read. Dare I say it? Battlegrounds has the best minimap I've ever used. Plus, there are vehicles, good for getting around quickly and for use, in a pinch, as a deadly weapon.

One thing I'm not completely sold on are the red zones. During the match, a red circle will appear on the map, and soon after that zone will be carpeted with artillery fire. I imagine this is an attempt to get players moving rather than camping and stockpiling, but with players gunning for you and the forcefield closing in, I never found much time to camp unless I randomly wound up in the direct center of the BR circle just by happenstance.

I had a lot of fun with Battlegrounds. Though I never won a round, I got close, coming in third out of 92 opponents. That was the exception rather than the rule, as typically my rounds ended early after being a bit reckless or impatient, or by initially landing in a too-crowded area. I'd say veering closer in feel to King of the Kill is a good idea, seeing as KotK is a regular fixture in Steam's top ten games by player count, and is routinely one of the top viewed games on Twitch (though Arma 3 is no slouch on Twitch, either).

Greene, with his roots in modding, is also aiming to encourage players of Battlegrounds to come up with their own game modes and pick up the torch he lit for the original Battle Royale mod for Arma 2.

"We're not providing just battle royale," Greene said. "It's going to be a fully moddable platform. So we have other game modes planned, and another map planned, but really to give a platform to find the next me. So, you know, I want to find the next Playerunknown. Battle royale has been great for me and I want to give that opportunity to someone else because it doesn't happen all that often. A modder doesn't get a chance to make a game."