Hyper Scape has a big task ahead of it. Standing out as a free-to-play battle royale game in 2020 means offering something totally different, and while Ubisoft Montreal’s upcoming multiplayer shooter certainly owes a lot to the genre’s forebears, the triple-A studio isn’t shy about innovating either.
Ubisoft wants Hyper Scape to be the fastest and most action-packed battle royale around. The urban 1×1 km map is packed with jump pads to make getting around as easy as possible; downed players can be revived by simply finding the body of another downed player; and a number of special abilities, which can be looted from the map, allow everything from short-range teleports and temporary invisibility to turning yourself into a giant bouncing orb.
In-game events like low gravity and infinite ammo turn the wackiness dial up to 11, and Twitch integration will even allow viewers to vote on which flavour of chaos they want to watch streamers battle through. After launch, players will be able to progress their battle pass simply by watching Hyper Scape streams, and even join a streamer’s squad via Twitch.
We spoke to Hyper Scape’s senior producer, Graeme Jennings, about ‘gaming as spectacle’, the studio’s first large-scale multiplayer game, and the challenge of satisfying both competitive and casual audiences.
PCGN: The genre feels a bit saturated right now. Why is this the right time for another huge publisher to enter the fray?
Graeme Jennings: When we started we focused on the concept of ‘gaming as a spectacle’, so we wanted to look at how we can bring viewers and streamers closer together, which then transgressed into building a battle royale.
We wanted to make a battle royale that was different and based around these three key pillars. First, there’s the map, which is all urban and with a lot of verticality, which changes the minute-to-minute gameplay so it’s a lot faster than anything else on the market. The second part is the abilities, or hacks as we call them, and the game-changers there. They change the way you play and how you navigate the map, so Hyper Scape doesn’t feel like anything else. Thirdly, it’s that ‘game as spectacle’ concept. Viewers can have a direct impact on streamers’ games and they’re able to advance their battle pass by watching. We really wanted to build something that was different, so while Hyper Scape is a battle royale, it’s a completely different flavour from anything that’s on the market today.
Rainbow Six Siege is Ubisoft’s biggest game with abilities right now. Was this something you drew inspiration from?
We started from the Siege technology base. They obviously have very strong and solid infrastructure, which gave us something to build on, and then we scaled that tech to accommodate 100 players on a 1×1 km map.
In terms of the abilities that we designed, that really comes from the core prototype phase, where we looked at things that could be cool and that worked together, and would be fun within a multiplayer environment. We’re close to the Rainbow team in terms of tech, but less so in terms of content and design.
Ubisoft don’t have much of a legacy with large-scale multiplayer games compared to some publishers. How has that been as a learning experience?
Rainbow Six Siege is smaller in terms of multiplayer because it’s ten players – and there’s For Honor as well – they’ve set the table for what games as a service looks like. So we were able to get plenty of lessons from them in terms of how to run the servers well, how to run patch deployment, which has really helped us build the foundation. The rest is the work this team has done on top, and we’ve got some veterans from various places who have years and years of experience working on challenges like this.
Encouraging cooperation is crucial in battle royale games. How are you going to bed that into the community from an early stage?
We have a few different mechanics in place for that – there’s obvious ones like voice chat and the ping system. Weapons and hacks enable very different playing styles and allow your squad to be more dynamic, so you can have a sniper who can turn invisible, another player with a shotgun and the teleport hack. You can really build those combinations into your teams so you can have the play style your whole squad wants. If you’re into rushing the enemy then you’ll probably take a minigun, shotgun, and armour, whereas if you prefer the sneaky style then you’ll probably take sniper rifles and invisibility, and spend the match cruising around on the rooftops. You’re really able to adjust the way your team wants to play based on the hacks you pick up.
Do you want every skill to feel equally viable, or do you want there to be some levity as well?
I think you’ll find something that suits your play style. You don’t have to be the best shooter: you can heal for your team using the Heal hack or you can build big walls to protect your squad. If you are a highly skilled shooter then there’s a role there for you too, you may use fewer hacks and be better with the sniper rifle. There are different roles based on the way you want to play.
I particularly enjoyed coming across a squad who all transformed into bouncing balls…
As the number of players lowers in accordance to the shrinking map, there are more and more hacks to be found on the floor, so you can easily adjust your play style as you go.
This being a new IP, you also get a fresh start in terms of creating a community. What kinds of measures are you taking to combat abuse and toxicity?
We have a few things in place already. For chat you can only talk to your own squad, and there are various filters within that, such as squad-only and invite-only, and of course you can turn voice chat off altogether. There is no ability to talk to players or have players talk to you outside of your squad. In terms of offensive names, that will all go through the platform filter, and then the Uplay layer on top of that. There’s also no teamkilling as such, so nobody in your team can do toxic behaviour to you.
We’re very, very cognisant of this and we want to make sure we handle it well. We’re engaging with the community early and tech testing is part of this. We start with the tech test where we make sure the game functions as we expect, and then we engage with players to ensure we have a friendly and safe place for everyone to play.
Cheat prevention is obviously a big deal with free-to-play games, especially competitive ones like battle royales. What’s your anti-cheat approach for Hyper Scape?
Luckily, because Rainbow Six Siege has spent a significant amount of time with the software BattlEye, we started from there. So anti-cheat is really important for us. As friendly as we want the game to be from a community point of view, anti-cheat is just as important for us. We have an extensive BattlEye implementation right now and we will continue to enforce and upgrade this as we go. This is key for us as we prepare for the full launch and go from season to season. The initial implementation is very, very solid already.
Could you tell us more about the Twitch partnership and how that will work?
When we started with that ‘games as a spectacle’ concept in mind, we wanted to formulate and turn that into something strong. We put together some prototypes like the ability for players to affect the game and the ability for streamers to directly engage with their viewers. We really wanted to transform viewing from being a passive experience to more of an active one.
So we built some prototypes a few years ago and we started to engage with Twitch on this. We did various workshops with streamers and viewers to see what was interesting for them – so we had both sides – and then we put together a feature set that we wanted to build with Twitch, and we built that hand-in-hand with them. It’s an awesome experience to take big streamers and their viewers and bring them together easily with things like squad invites. Say, for example, I was a super streamer and you wanted to play with me. I’d pop that up on Twitch, then you guys can choose to come and play with me, I’ll choose who I want, and then you’re instantly in the game. There’s no messy friend invites, there’s none of that.
For me, in terms of screen time, I want players who are involved with Hyper Scape to be learning things from streamers so you can improve at the game, but at the same time you will be advancing your battle pass. You can also stay engaged with that community by voting on in-game events that will affect the streamer as they play. It really changes the flow for how viewers and streamers interact.
Do you see this integration as something that’s just for bigger streamers or will small communities benefit from this, too?
I think it’s just positive for the community overall. For sure, it will help small streamers bring things together. The Twitch extension is something we’re going to develop as we go seasonal, and we will be adding more and more features to this extension, so you can expect new things all the time, some of which will be targeted at smaller streamers.
What is your approach to balancing?
I’ll give you a little bit of insight into what we’ve done and then how we’ll take it forward. We’ve run tests within Ubi, both within the Montreal studio and globally across Ubisoft for more than eight months now, where we’ve been grabbing balancing metrics. We feel like we have a good level of balance to date. The technical test will also help us with that so we’ll get more data on top, we’ll see more emerging play styles, and that will give us a chance to adjust.
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We’ve put the configuration of these things online, so – let’s say we have a big balancing issue that we weren’t aware of – we have the configs online, so we can quickly adjust balance without having to roll out a big update for all of the players. This is a key thing for us and we are able to dynamically make adjustments when we need to.
Will there be any skill-based matchmaking for Hyper Scape?
We don’t have skill-based matchmaking at present time, but we will look at it for the future.
Is competitive play a big deal for you, or would you prefer this to be a battle royale game for a casual audience?
It’s really a mixture of both. At the bottom end, hacks are there to enable players who aren’t as good at shooting to still be able to win. For example, when talking about the bouncing ball and invisibility, you can use those to sneak in and position yourself so you’re in the final zone when the crown appears, then you can take that and use the bouncing ball to survive. So you can win without being the best shooter.
Because you can tailor your hacks for traversal and use lots of mobility tools, the skill ceiling is very high as well.