Vikendi, the much anticipated fourth map for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, launches on PC test servers today before a full launch on 19th December, with a console release set for January. Based on a series of short preview videos I was shown earlier in the week and the following interview with Dave Curd, world art director at PUBG Corporation, I can safely say it's the battle royale's most creative and ambitious map yet.
The videos opened with a squad of PUBG players trudging through deep snow, leaving a trail of footprints behind them as a light scattering of snow fell from the sky. This then moved onto a flyby of a couple of brand new locations including a run-down, dinosaur-themed amusement park and the rusty interior of an abandoned cosmodrome, complete with old missiles and worn-out machinery.
This exaggerated and almost light-hearted approach to the level design may be an attempt to win over some of the Fortnite crowd, but there's still plenty of scope in the map for more traditional PUBG arenas. Fans of earlier maps should be excited to hear I was shown several shots of a large town that featured multiple multi-storey buildings. This will be perfect for a more realistic urban combat environment, akin to some of the larger towns in Miramar.
Finally, there was an extended shot of a snow mobile thundering through a dense forest. Again, this left tracks in its wake as it pushed forwards through the drifts. Not all areas of the floor were covered in snow though and, as the snow mobile passed over those bare patches, the tracks disappeared. This suggests that there will be plenty of opportunities to play around with you footprints in order to trick and ambush any pursuers who may be following your tracks.
You've said the map is 6x6, but could you give us an overview of the map and some of its feature locations, and tell us how they'll affect the gameplay and bring a new vibe to PUBG?
Dave Curd: This is what I've been internally calling the Goldilocks map, because for me it's just right, between the rush in intensity of our 4x4 Sanhok, and the more deliberate tactical pace we get with Erangel. That was our deliberate choice with this map - we wanted something that tries to bridge the gap between our competitive hardcore hot dropping 4x4 fans, and our more patient survival-oriented players of the 8x8.
In terms of locations, it's obviously a frozen wasteland, very Eastern European, Slovenian. You'll have a lot of European architecture. We have two very large cities, a bunch of beautiful small towns. And in terms of unique locations, you saw a little sneak peek of the Dino Park, which we're very proud of. Besides being a fun amusement park with a rollercoaster, it features a maze players can explore and battle in and loot and fight. So the hot-drops in that maze are going to be really fun.
We also have an old 60s era cosmodrome space research centre with an enormous hangar, giant rocket and lots of underground bunkers for players to explore and fight over. So many dense forests! We haven't done foliage this thick yet, so we're thinking players are going to have a really good time playing hide and seek in those woods. Those are some of my favourite environments.
Would you say this is potentially the most imaginative of PUBG maps?
Dave Curd: Yeah. We're really defining what is and is not PUBG. It's a very serious, gritty survival game, but there are strange and interesting things in the real world. So when we do something more like an old amusement park location, we just want to take care to give it the appropriate wear and tear and history to make it feel super interesting but still believable. But in terms of interesting locations, we've never gone this far before.
When it comes to the snow and the weather types, will there be dynamic weather? Will there be, for example, light snow? Will there occasionally be a blizzard to obscure the view?
Dave Curd: We always experiment with weather all the way up until launch. As you've seen on Miramar for example, we've added different kind of dynamic weathers post-launch as we're constantly looking for the best look. I would expect some light snow in at least one of the weathers. But I don't know exactly which ones we're going to ship with. Basically, what the players see is about 10 per cent of the weathers we experiment and play with.
In the trailer you teased footprints. I've just seen a Ski-Doo leaving tracks. How long will these tracks persist in the world? Will they stay forever? Will you be able to hunt someone who's gone past that way 10 minutes ago? Or do they fade? How do they work?
Dave Curd: The tracks will fade. If we leave them forever it will be more challenging to decide which tracks to hunt players by. The gameplay intention, whether it's footprints or vehicle tracks, or even a prone player dragging his or her body across the snow, is we want players to come across these tracks and then make the decision, do we take the fight, do we pursue these tracks or do we go the other way? And then we also want the players to think, are people behind my tracks? If we let them go out for two miles, it's technically neat, but not as useful from a gameplay perspective.
So, if you see tracks you'll know there's a player in the near vicinity? They won't have past by a long time ago?
Dave Curd: Yes, that's the gameplay intention. With our old PUBG features like broken windows and open doors, you really don't have an expectation of when this occurred. But with these tracks, if you see them you'll know someone is very close.
The Ski-Doo - the snow mobile - can you talk a little bit about that and maybe mention any other new vehicles that are coming?
Dave Curd: The snow mobile is my favourite vehicle because it handles really slippery and really fun. Right down the centre of the map we have a beautiful frozen river. It's beautiful bright blue ice. And when the snow mobile is on it there's a lot of drifting. I feel like I'm in The Fast and the Furious! I'm whipping by ice fishing sheds at 60 miles an hour. It's really fun and terrifying at the same time. To me, because it's so loud and fast and scary, it's a "break in case of emergency" vehicle. It's going to be a vehicle I get on when I'm trying to outrun the circle. But it's just a blast to drive. And it's tandem, so your teammate can be on there, behind you with a gun watching your tail.
Another battle royale that's come out recently has snow and snowboards. Is that anything you might look into adding to the game? Or skis perhaps? Some kind of different mode of transport that's not vehicle based?
Dave Curd: With our development methodology, especially kicking off with early access with Brendan [Greene, PUBG creator] and the Korean team, it's always been listening to our audience, working with our audience and figuring out what our audience wants. We don't really have a very reactive game plan. We already have our plans and we're already moving forward. Of course, to be a responsible developer you want to look at all the titles and look at all the competition, but that's something we're not interested in right now. We think for the intended mood and atmosphere, some of those modes of transportation might lend themselves to more of a high adventure fun experience, which is apples and oranges. It's not what we're after.
Will we see any camouflage coming to the cosmetics? Maybe snowy skins for weapons?
Dave Curd: I would say it's a pretty good bet!
Has the community's push for a snow map on Reddit been a big factor in launching this map? I know Brendan mentioned a snow map a long time ago, but this has been a type of map that's been on the community's mind for a long time.
Dave Curd: We love working with and listening to our community, and certainly we have their voices in our minds when we're thinking about what the next experience should be. When we kick off a new map, it's not usually like, okay, is it time to do a beach one or is it time to do a snow one? It's more like, first of all we have to justify, why a new map? What is this map going to offer we can't get in other maps? And then, what is the feeling or the mood we want players to experience? That philosophy of targeting the experience and then let the decisions be downstream of that.
So, we knew we wanted to try the footprint stuff, so that immediately makes snow or sand a good choice. We'd already done sand with Miramar. So okay, now we want to do a snow map. And clearly our fans have been asking for a snow map. So that all worked together well. And then from there each decision is, is it for the best for the game? Is it what we agreed on up front? Is it something we think the fans will dig?
There was a bit of controversy earlier this year surrounding Unreal store assets. It was addressed by communications lead Ryan Rigney, who said the team had stopped relying on store-bought assets as time went on, and they were now being used more strategically. Are there still Unreal store assets in this snow map? Or have you tried to phase them out completely to make it more your own?
Dave Curd: To clarify, I was the Dave who Ryan was referring to! I think the quote was, how many times do we have to model a payphone? To kick off Erangel, it was the best way to get a game feeling pretty good and looking pretty good in the shortest amount of time. That map and that initial version of the game was made by a small handful of people, and you want to spend your resources in a way that most makes sense.
But as we got into Miramar, Sanhok and now especially Vikendi, we work with some really amazing external developers, but everything in the map is made for Vikendi. There should be no, oh, I recognise that table from another game, because we art directed and we had the table sculpted for us.
What scope will there be for changes to the map based on player feedback going forward? Sanhok had a cave added for instance, and all the maps have evolved over time. I've seen new villages put in Erangel and stuff like that. Is there scope for change?
Dave Curd: Always! A million per cent. That is the beauty of PUBG being an online evolving game. Erangel, Sanhok and Miramar all play very different today than they did at launch. So it will go with Vikendi. We will gather feedback, see how it plays in the wild, listen to what our players love, be respectful of what they're not enjoying, and keep pushing and making it grow. These things are never done. They're always live.
Is a night mode still in the works for the game? I don't know if it was ever 100 per cent confirmed, but there was chatter and the community is after a night mode.
Dave Curd: Well, as I said, we're always respectful and listening to our community. You'll have to see what our weather is when we launch on test servers 7th December. So we're pretty close to all learning what weather we'll ship with.
It would be good to go over the new weapons. I saw one assault rifle.
Dave Curd: Right now we're focused on the G36C, which is our assault rifle. I think it feels really good in medium distances. We have a lot of urban combat in this map. In fact, our largest city is very dense, very hardcore urban combat, and that's where the rifle really shines. Being out in the snow fields, I still prefer the sniper rifle choices. But when you drop a city, you want to get your hands on that rifle and put some work in. For launch we're excited to have the G36C rifle and then the snow mobile. Those will be available for us at launch.
I love the street to street combat in Miramar. I love going into Los Leones, climbing up buildings. Is the vibe going to be similar to that?
Dave Curd: What's interesting is, every map we want to try something different. With Miramar, we had this intention of just the ultimate scary urban combat because we had not only these very tall buildings, but they're filled with so many windows, which was good and bad, right? It's challenging to check all the potential targets, but you just get this rush of exploring the space.
With our larger cities in this map, they're not quite as vertical. We made a conscious effort to use them more to funnel players into interesting chokes. This will be a larger city. It feels to me a little bit larger than Los Leones, but it's less vertical, and definitely more tactical in terms of getting from cover to cover and trying to hold and protect choke points.
This is our most ambitious map in terms of kinds of locations and different kinds of gameplay experiences. This map has secrets and Easter eggs to unlock, and we're curious to see how long it takes our giant fanbase to find all the secrets.
These secrets, are they things players will stumble around the corner and see, or is it a little bit more intricate than that?
Dave Curd: Definitely more complicated! But I can't say any more than that, or they'd hurt me!