Inside ‘Mavericks: Proving Grounds’, the 1,000-Player Battle Royale

Jeremy Ray
Games Indie Games
Games Indie Games PC Gaming

There are a lot of good ideas in Mavericks: Proving Grounds, but there’s one number that’ll get people in the door: 1,000 players. If it were a circus, that’s what the ringmaster would be shouting. Come for the 1,000 players, stay for the fire propagation or the weather or any number of other things.

Using the SpatialOS cloud networking platform, Mavericks: Proving Grounds can host a battle royale game starting at 200 players and going up to that seemingly unattainable full 1,000. It is, in itself, a feat of engineering. But 1,000 players in one match also creates its own web of design problems.

Although it wasn’t reasonable to gather 1,000 games writers into one session at E3, we were able to play a smaller version of the game with about six players. Mavericks: Proving Grounds will have a proving ground of its own when the August/September beta arrives and the world gets to see it fulfill some of its lofty technical promises.

But we were at least able to see some of the game systems in action. And while it’s fun to imagine the accomplishment that would come along with defeating 999 other players, we’re actually more excited about the unforeseen gameplay quirks brought on by this new scale.

The Mavericks of Battle Royale

To fit the ginormous amount of active players, the 200-1,000 player matches will be fought on a 10×10-kilometre slice of land. The larger, more persistent open world that the Mavericks team is proposing (to be released later, in 2019) will take place on a 16×16-kilometre map.

To provide perspective, PUBG‘s main map is 6×6 kilometres.

It’s not the type of game you’d play to be wowed by graphics, but what we played seemed like a step down from incumbents like PUBG. So much so that we don’t want to include official screenshots because they don’t even slightly resemble what we played.

That’s another item in a long list of things Mavericks will be wanting to prove in its upcoming beta, but in either case, graphics aren’t the sell here. Players are going to load up this game wanting to know just how this scale affects the experience. And maybe, just maybe, gain the bragging rights of being the best of 1,000.

As the battle royale craze becomes somewhat like the MMO craze of yore, we’re left with a few giants who can look at an upstart, assimilate its interesting features, and continue to monopolise (or in this case, duopolise). The 1,000 players of Mavericks: Proving Grounds, though, is something the behemoths can’t replicate.

No matter what, any battle royale like Mavericks is fighting an uphill battle when taking on Fortnite and PUBG, but at least this is one element that can’t be stolen.

How Does Mavericks: Proving Grounds Work With So Many Players?

Hosting 1,000 players on one server isn’t possible. Even if you could process that much data on a computer, sending the information to 1,000 players at the same time is infeasible. What the SpatialOS technology brings is a network of several connected servers acting as one — intelligently deciding which server needs to know which pieces of data.

It’s not a completely new idea, even for an FPS. Planetside 2 was an MMOFPS that achieved massive, world-altering battles. But Mavericks: Proving Grounds is aiming to achieve these battles while including world destruction, all at 60 frames per second.

We spoke to James Thompson, the CEO of Automaton Games, to understand how this is possible.

“It’s really smart about tying those strings together between different players,” Thompson told us. “You [or any server] aren’t literally receiving the updates from 999 other people. It’s able to send them at different rates, exclude them if not necessary…

“So say I had 10 players in front of me, some further back, you could slightly update that one in the distance a bit less, because it wouldn’t actually, visually make a difference compared to the one that’s right near you. If someone’s in the distance, moving in a certain way, the network can predict that dot update being sent. So it’s really that context-aware, distributed system that hasn’t been done before.”

James Thompson explains how SpatialOS cloud platform makes Mavericks possible
James Thompson, CEO of Automaton Games

A sniper in Mavericks: Proving Grounds might be able to see two kilometres away through the scope — a full 20 percent of the map. But players carrying weapons without scopes, or with lesser scopes, won’t need that redundant information. It’s one example of the network adapting to your situation.

“It’s all about the networking layer knowing at what fidelity you need to see information,” Thompson explained. “Whether you can group that information into a packet of rules so that if you know there’s a group landing over there, you’re actually going to send that in a more compressed way. So a mixture of compression techniques and filtering techniques are how we make the whole thing possible.”

In addition to lines of sight, there are other types of information for the servers to make distribution judgement calls on. As we snuck around our slice of the map, we heard distant explosions providing aural clues about enemy locations. Large-scale environmental events will make their way across the SpatialOS network much as they burn across the in-game landscape, and even more than the 1,000-player matches made possible by this technology, we’re excited about the effects of these world events.

Weathering the Circle in Mavericks

As the circle closed in on us during our play session, we headed further inward past houses, fields, and roads. Much of it is destructible. Houses can be demolished, and players can even strategically blow a hole in the wall or floor of a two storey building, much like in Rainbow Six Siege.

The team wants wildlife to respond to players, such as flocks of birds being startled into flight. Fires can also propagate across fields, which can also be used for information or strategy. We tried blowing up a gas tank to test the latter, but unfortunately, it had started raining. As we made our way towards other players, at least the rain washed away our footsteps quicker.

All of these things are part of Mavericks‘ philosophy of providing environmental clues in an area and letting players act as detectives to learn more about enemy whereabouts.

“We find that really empowers tactics as you enter an area,” said Thompson. “When you enter an area and see a history of what’s happened in that place. That can be really interesting.

“There’s slightly less RNG in Mavericks. In terms of loot spawning, it’ll be a little more deliberation and understanding as to where certain kinds of loot spawn. By reducing that randomness, it means that metas form, people are thinking about tactics, and that’s what’s really important to us.”

Also in the works is a day/night cycle. Getting the balance right with light levels will be crucial for nighttime play. Volumetric fog is in the game, also affecting visibility.

The True Hunger Games Fantasy

Just as with Planetside 2, you’ll get situations when players simply try to break the game. The SpatialOS intelligent data delegation might not mean much if 1,000 players somehow decided to converge on the middle for a massive firefight. But Thompson hopes that eventually, the Mavericks team can use environmental (or other) events to funnel players in fun and intelligent ways.

This sort of large-scale destruction could be randomised or triggered by players, such as blowing up a large bridge over a gorge. When enough of these systems are in the game, Thompson envisions maybe even scaling back on the circle as the be-all, end-all of endgame systems.

“We wouldn’t want to just randomly kill players,” he specifies. “but interestingly change the map each time. A flooded dam, things like that.”

One limitation of the battle royale genre has been its reliance on the circle as a reliable, self-balancing endgame finisher. It’s a great system — but to fully satisfy that Hunger Games fantasy, you need more than one hazard.

It’s something Darwin Project handles very well by giving the role of game designer to a player — which also happens to be very popular with Twitch streamers. The Mavericks: Proving Grounds team is open to that kind of player control as well. But even the idea of funnelling players towards each other via slightly randomised, or player-achieved, hazards is an exciting one.

There’s already a fair amount of strategy in predicting player movements into the circle. Imagine what you could do with impassable terrain like fields of fire, blown bridges, and a raging river.

Persistently Proving, Always Moving

Looking far forward, the battle royale portion of Mavericks is only meant to be one mode. There’s a wider island with a story and four factions in which the battle royale performs the function of earning you credits and gear.

While we’re expecting the battle royale mode, Proving Grounds, to be out sooner, the details of the “meta” mode will be ironed out as time goes on. For the time being, Thompson knows he wants it to be a high risk, high reward space with lots of emergent gameplay. You go in, you stay as long as you can and accumulate gear, and eventually extract when you feel like your run is over.

There’s a military faction, a mafia faction, and a techy faction, affecting your cosmetics and lore. All of these are rebels against the larger corporation that controls the tower in the middle. The story itself is something the Mavericks team will nut out as the players are creating their own stories in this world, ensuring the official canon responds accurately to in-game happenings.

There will be NPCs, things to discover and achieve, and it’s sounding not too dissimilar to the meta objectives of SCUM.

Thankfully, there won’t be any form of loot boxes in the game. Your character’s clothes will be how progression is shown, and you’ll be able to pay for cosmetic weapon “kits” — but crucially, you’ll always know exactly what you’re paying for.

With lots of lofty promises and a big beta around the corner, Mavericks itself will be entering its own proving ground soon. The prospect of 1,000 players is exciting, but we’re more jazzed about some of the other ideas the Mavericks team has. We’ll be watching with keen interest.

Mavericks: Proving Grounds will have a beta in August/September of this year before a late 2018 release on PC. Its persistent open world portion will release in 2019.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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