Four years is a very short time to go from part-time programmer - working on a mod out of your bedroom - to the creative director of a game that sells in excess of two million copies in its first month. Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown‘ Greene is the father of the battle royale genre, multiplayer survival games where the emphasis is on outliving every other player rather than grinding resources or racking up hundreds of kills. It’s a niche genre in the big picture, certainly, but since Greene released his Battle Royale mod for Arma 2 and 3, it’s a genre that’s continued to pull in vast numbers of players, streamers, viewers. It’s a bit of a sensation, although that’s probably putting it lightly.
New to Greene’s latest multiplayer free-for-all? Check out our Battlegrounds guide.
Greene’s's Battlegrounds is Greene’s self-titled debut: a game he’s had lurking at the back of his mind since releasing the Arma mod in 2013. Between then and his appointment at Bluehole Studio, Brendan also pitched in with the development of H1Z1’s King of the Kill game mode. Battlegrounds is a blend of the two projects: an accessible multiplayer game with the gunplay and realism of a military sim. We talk to Greene himself to hear what he has to say about the game’s success, Early Access roadmap, and the state of the genre he created.
PCGamesN: Now you’ve launched in Early Access, do you have a roadmap for the official release?
Brendan Greene: Yes, we’re planning to stay in Early Access for about six months, so we’re looking at a full release towards the end of this year. Perhaps fall of this year, but we haven’t set an exact date yet.
What do you think the core appeal of the genre is?
I’ve been doing battle royale games for four years now - I want to do something else [laughs]. But seriously, the reason I created Battle Royale in the first place was because I found a lot of the standard shooter games quite boring, especially the competitive games. They were based on small maps, everyone knew every spot on the map, there was no guess work to it. When I created Battle Royale, what I wanted was to create a random game, where you never knew what you might find and how it was going to end. I think that’s what gives it its replayability. It’s a different game every time for the players. With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds you have 18 or 19 weapons, 35 attachments, and an 8x8km map, so it can end in many, many places. I think that’s what gives it its replayability. It’s why people are playing Arma 3 Battle Royale to this day. It’s just got that element of randomness.
Where do you think PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds exists in the genre?
PC Gamer told me I created it, so I’m going with it. I’ll take that. My aim with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was to sit somewhere between H1z1 and Arma 3. I love the realistic physics and weapon mechanics that Arma 3 brings, but H1Z1 is much easier to get into. There’s an entry barrier that Arma 3 has, especially when it comes to modding. So I wanted it somewhere in the middle, something that has the depth that Arma 3 has, but also the ease of play of H1Z1.
What were your inspirations for the original mod? Have they changed much for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds?
My main inspiration was making a game that I wanted to play. I’d seen what Survivor GameZ did with DayZ - that was a Brian Hicks and Jordan Tayer project. It was a great event but I couldn’t play in it because I wasn’t a streamer. I thought: ‘Well, I want to do this. I want to play this’. I had a DayZ mod server that I had scripted lots of stuff into and decided I wanted to make a mod. I just thought, ‘Right, let’s try and make a battle royale mod’, and the genre was born. My inspirations today? It’s keeping that realistic world and giving people a place that looks and feels real. I’m trying to think of other inspirations, but I don’t consider myself a big gamer, I don’t play a lot of games. Quite deliberately I’m not influenced by other things. I was playing the hell out of Rainbow Six Siege and I thought, ‘Oh, it’d be cool to put this in our game’, but it didn’t really fit with the battle royale genre. I want to be very careful about getting too [heavily] influenced by other games and wanting other things from [them].
Did you expect PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds to be so popular with streamers?
I had confidence in my own game mode and I’d seen what H1Z1 did with my game mode - they simplified it a lot. It was a huge success. I had faith that if I created my own battle royale game, with the depth of loot that we have and the mechanics we have, then it was possible. I didn’t expect us to be knocking League of Legends off the number one spot on Twitch on a regular basis. It’s a credit to the team here, because in a year they turned out a game that’s a great Early Access title.
What sort of new features can we expect to see in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds?
We’ve already launched our custom games to our stream partners, which allow people to make their own versions of battle royale, but we also want to have 3D replays added to the game, and 2D replays as well. We have 2D replays for every single match that’s been played on Arma 3. We’re going to have these 2D replays in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds too, where every match is tracked and you can go back and watch the match. But we also want 3D replays where you can go into the engine and watch the whole match play out, turn things around, and get some really nice shots. We will also have modding at some point in the future, but for now we’re really focussing on getting the game optimised. All the main features are there, but we do have plans for other game modes to be added as well. We want to focus on polishing the game, because everyone and their mother has been shouting at us: ‘Esports! Esports! Esports!’ So, we’re looking into that, and that’s been my dream for the genre since Battle Royale, to create an esport. However, until the game is ready, we don’t want to push it too hard. We have most of the features now that we want to add in, so now it’s just focussed on getting the performance stabilised across all platforms and computers.
Was it difficult to get PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds to such a polished state?
From day one, we said we were going to be an open development title. If you see our dev log and our Twitter, we’re posting almost daily updates on what we’re doing. We’re an open book to our users. With the [closed] pre-alpha, which was about three months after we started development, we had 600 people who came and played the build. We’ve done that right up until our Early Access launch where we had our closed alpha period and closed beta period. We gave out something close to 80,000 keys for the alpha and beta periods, and that’s what helped us polish the game to the state that it’s in.
We had a really good tester base. They gave us feedback on our Discord, they told us what they didn’t like. We also have our lead game designer, JC, and he thinks so much about every detail - the fact that everything in the game and the gameplay is so polished is down to him. He’s so meticulous about looking at every possible outcome for every possible event and trying to plan for it. With a battle royale game, that’s often not possible. Again, it’s a great team. I can’t talk highly enough about them. Because when they said we’ll make a game in a year, I didn’t believe them. Even with using Unreal Engine 4, which is a great engine, I just thought ‘No, that just won’t happen’. Then a year later we launched and I was like, ‘ah, okay then!’
Does that level of polish make your job easier going forward?
This is exactly it. We’re going to be making some tweaks to weapons and balancing over the next six months to really balance out the classes of weapons and different ammo types, but the engineering team are just focussing solely on optimisation. In general, the public don’t seem to fully understand that. We put up a picture today of a tuner working on one of the new weapons that we’re adding and people were saying, ‘Stop adding weapons and just fix the game’. One guy suggested that we fire all of the artists and just get engineers to fix the optimisation. Even if we got 100 extra engineers, there are still problems that we need to fix, and they’re not easy fixes. We are committed to getting it done. We’ve recently expanded our team - we’re about 40 people and we’re hoping to be about 60. We have a great executive producer, Chang-Han Kim, and he’s an incredibly smart man. The way he’s driven development and got us to where we are now is just a credit to him. Can’t talk highly enough about the man.
How did the partnership with Bluehole Studio come about?
Chang-Han Kim sent me an email saying, ‘I have an idea for a battle royale game. I’ve wanted to make one myself for about ten years and I saw what you did with Arma 3 and H1Z1, I loved it. Would you be interested in coming out here, talking to us, and working on your vision of a battle royale game?’ I flew out to Korea the next week, [we] sat down and chatted for about a week with them. They showed me their ideas, I liked what I saw, and I started work about two or three weeks later. I moved to Korea permanently.
It was just after H1Z1’s [split] into just survival and King of the Kill, and at that stage I’d left Daybreak to do their own thing with the game. I wasn’t tied to them anymore. It was the perfect opportunity for me and I’m so happy I took it. To me, Bluehole were an MMO studio - they made Tera - and that didn’t fill me with a huge amount of confidence. Then I came here and I saw the art they’d done and I had a look at Tera myself, and I saw that their company model was to make well-made games. Everything they do has to be done well, and that’s kind of what made me choose them. That commitment to making a really well-made game has shown off now in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Was it tough being the creative director of a 40-man team after working on your own for many years?
I was a photographer and a designer for most of my career, mainly working for myself, so this is my first job in an actual company in 15 years. I’ve been freelancing and doing my own thing for most of my career, so having to come in and work for a company is a bit odd. The team here knew that I had no experience, and they’ve supported me. The executive producer sent me a really great email, about three or four pages long, just telling me how to be a good creative director and what kind of creative director I could be. The team know I don’t have a whole lot of experience, but they understand my vision and they’re so dedicated. Some of them will work 14-hour days, though I have to clarify that I don’t expect them to work 14-hour days. I got a lot of shit on Twitter for that, because I did an interview for Eurogamer and I mentioned that [some of my team] were working 14-hour days, and Mike Bithell from Thomas was Alone said we were boasting about how we overwork our staff. Some of them just don’t want to go home, you know? If there was a gas grenade in the office, they’d bring a gas mask in and keep working. They have such passion for what they’re doing. Working hours are 10-7 and then you’re free to go, but most people will stay and keep working because they have so many ideas about things to add to the game or improve.
Is that what you want as a creative director? Do you want your team to suggest changes and additions?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I have the original vision, but a lot of these people have been working in games for a long time and they’re going to have ideas that maybe I wouldn’t have. I was a DJ for many years - I still am a DJ, technically, but I don’t get to do it very often - when I stuck my head into producing music in my twenties, whenever I wrote a bassline, I’d always go up to a bass guitarist and go ‘This is what I think it should sound like. What do you think?’ And I do a lot of that here. I give them the original idea and then they’re free to suggest stuff - if it’s a good idea and the team agree, it gets added.
I bet you could get some good DJ some good gigs now.
Right? I should use this fame to become a famous DJ.
What’s the story behind ‘winner winner, chicken dinner’?
It’s something I’ve had since the Battle Royale mod, I just love that phrase. Before the start of the round in Battle Royale ‘Stay frosty’ was the countdown [message] at the start, and at the end it’s always been ‘winner winner chicken dinner’. I just love the phrase. Nothing more than that.
Are there plans to introduce modding to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds?
I really want to add modding and find the next PlayerUnknown, but it’s not going to be until after the official launch, and even then it’s something we have to do carefully. Opening our server files to the public? There’s a lot of risk there with [things] like cheating. It is something we want to do, but not until the game is solid so we’re going to hold off on letting people go mad for now. We have our custom games and we’ll be adding a lot more stuff to the custom games, so technically people can mod the game, but not in the proper sense of the word. We have a good plan for modding, but we’re putting that to one side until the game is finished.
What type of access would you have to hand over to prospective modders?
They want everything, generally. Even on Arma, they want things like scripting skies, some of them would go, ‘So when are they going to give us access to gravity?’ That’s what I want to give modders with our game - complete control. I want our game to be a platform, and for them to do whatever they want with it. We have good gunplay, we provide good animations and character models. The basic features of the game should be solid, and then they can do what they want. From building islands to whole new game modes, and even games based on our engine.
Finally, do you plan to change or tweak the game’s melee?
We’re still tuning melee a bit. For example, now when you hold left click you swing back, and when you release you swing forward, so you can time your hits better. Little things like that improve the melee combat, just a little bit. It’s not a huge part of the game, but for custom game modes when people just use pistols and melee items, it’s very important. We want to make sure that every fighting system we have in the game is the best we can make it.
What do you make of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ meteoric rise to prominence? Let us know in the comments below.