This article was updated on the 11th June 2018, after Automaton revealed their first gameplay trailer during the PC Gaming Show at E3, alongside a new 1000-person Battle Royale mode. You can sign up for the Mavericks: Proving Grounds closed Beta at www.mavericks.gg
Revealed in September 2017 as ‘Project X’, Mavericks: Proving Grounds is a hugely ambitious online shooter using Improbable’s SpatialOS technology alongside a bleeding-edge version of CRYENGINE. The result is what we’re calling a Persistent Open World (POW) – a giant, beautiful, dynamic world incorporating both destruction and persistence so that hundreds of players can see their impact on the game world, across several game modes.
The studio behind Mavericks is Automaton Games. Based in Cambridge, UK, the studio was founded in 2015 by former Jagex employees including former CEO Mark Gerhard and James Thompson. Thompson is best known for the anti-cheat systems for Jagex’s MMO game RuneScape, his work on OldSchool RuneScape, and for creating the widely-used OSBuddy RuneScape client. Automaton has grown into an experienced team of professionals with talents specialising in AI, MMO development, environmental art, engineering and plenty more.
In 2017, the team released Deceit – a multiplayer action game with horror elements, built using CRYENGINE. This asymmetrical multiplayer shooter was a statement of intent for the team’s desire to push the boundaries of online multiplayer experiences. Today, it’s free-to-play, with a dedicated fan-base and a solid Twitch following.
As a hint of what was to come, in 2017 the studio also integrated CRYENGINE with SpatialOS. This project is a bespoke solution combining the best of CryEngine 5.4 with Improbable’s platform and can be downloaded here.
Built from the ground up with an MMO architecture, the game uses CRYENGINE technology with SpatialOS handling the infrastructure and server-side elements. The result is an Persistent Open World (POW) shooter of unprecedented scale, offering support for hundreds of players concurrently in a gorgeous, crafted, high fidelity world.
Set in the near future, the world of Mavericks is an island run by a central Capital, with four towns run by different factions around the isle. Each faction has its own motivations for taking part – making the best of things, perhaps, or just trying to dominate. Players will have a role in this overarching storyline as they fight to survive, overthrow the island’s ruling regime and become the dominant force.
Environments in Mavericks use advanced photogrammetry to present realistic environments regardless of time of day, what the weather is currently up to, or how much the local area has been devastated by combat. The latter element ties in with the game’s dynamic environmental aspects, which result in deformed and destroyed battlefields: for example, muddy footprints operate both as a fine visual touch, but also a clue to other alert players to the presence of another.
While the POW experience is a future goal, Automaton is currently aiming to have its Battle Royale mode ready for a Summer closed beta. This part of the game tackles the genre in a scalable, technologically savvy way as yet unseen in other, similar titles, and allows for scalability from just a few players all the way up to the promised 400.
Mavericks isn’t just a 1000-person Battle Royale mode, though the initial release will focus on it. From the start, Mavericks will include a connected social hub city – The Capital – which will offer deep social interactivity, alongside a sophisticated trading economy.
The roadmap has the game eventually growing into a narrative-driven POW with character progression, player hubs, a trading system, a machine learning-driven quest and events system, and more. There will also be progression systems as well as perks and customisation options. And, while it’s all couched in MMO sensibilities, the POW means that players wanting to go solo will be able to do so.
Speaking with PC Gamer, Automaton founder James Thompson explained: “On a global scale, between what all the players do, the whole narrative will progress based on those player interactions, but there’s fully fleshed out characterisation and stories for all the different parts of the land. So there is quite a lot of narrative, that’s a big part of what ties together that side of the experience.”
All of this takes place in a 256km2 (16km by 16km) map – that’s four times bigger than the largest map in PLAYERUNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds (64km2) – full of the aforementioned dynamic weather and day/night cycle, crafted regions and areas (not procedurally generated), wildlife, vehicles, and more. Automaton is focused on evolving this world over time, rather than just adding more maps.
This ‘holistic’ approach to creating the world works for artistic reasons. It also impacts gameplay positively, allowing Automaton to make sure its map is well suited to a broad range of tactical options.
Again talking to PC Gamer, Thompson said: “We’re thinking, let’s make awesome MMO worlds and experiences, and I think that the current Battle Royale games out there right now are almost like, ‘let’s make a mod of an existing game but try and push the players up a bit and try and get a really fun last-man standing experience’ and that’s obviously latched on a lot.”
“We do have, within our game, the arena (Battle Royale) mode where you do play in that format,” he continued, “But I would say that it’s not really player numbers that is the big differentiator between what we’re doing and what these games have done. It’s the level of simulation, the level of fidelity and the amount of information you see and how that affects the tactics used in the game.”
This vast, ambitious development is being aided by a $10m investment Automaton received from various companies, led by Cambridge Venture Partners. An steadily increasing amount of investment is going towards outsourcing assets creation, allowing the core team in Cambridge to focus on getting the tech, the world building, and the physics spot on using CRYENGINE and SpatialOS.
Mavericks has already registered a huge amount of interest, with over 100,000 sign-ups to its newsletter – unprecedented for a game with little more than a site and a few bits of information. There are also plans to bring the game to consoles, as Thompson revealed to WCCFtech: “Everything is carefully designed around controllers, so we aren’t just going to make a PC game and port it to console. It’s being built now with console in mind. We don’t have the exact release date yet.”
The focus remains on the PC version for now, meaning the developers can experiment almost freely with elements of design. “What we’re building with Improbable on SpatialOS and in Mavericks in terms of the shooting itself isn’t just about scale but about robustness,” Thompson explained to VG247, “You don’t just compromise because we have this scale… We’re very, very aware of the huge number of players that we’re expecting and we’re working to support that. Of course, as a technical architecture, SpatialOS is designed to scale infinitely – there’s nothing stopping it other than the data center limitations that’ll come into play, but we’re mapping that out and we’re aware of that.”
This doesn’t mean Mavericks is just big for the sake of it, as Thompson went on to tell Alphr: “We’re sensitive that adding players for the sake of it won’t actually add any real value to the game, but we’re experimenting with objectives and environments so that it does offer new experiences instead of cramming in extra people onto an empty map.”
“Obviously Battle Royale is having quite a lot of popularity right now, it’s come from a sort of different direction to what we’re from,” Thompson told PC Gamer, “We’re doing something that’s progressive I think from the Battle Royale games that are out there, but that’s not the scope of the game. It’s all about really pushing—in a specific way—MMORPGs forward and yet being a dip-in dip-out shooting experience.”