Getting a Sense of PUBG Pt. 2

What you see is what you get.

Creating the most authentic game environment possible means engaging with a player’s senses in powerful, distinct ways—the discrete components of the game each appearing, feeling, and sounding just right. In our Getting a Sense of PUBG series, we’re highlighting specific facets of the game in context of the five senses—touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. While you can’t—or, at least, shouldn’t—lick your screen when you play PUBG, these interviews should give you a taste of the delectable processes that make PUBG a refreshing, true-to-life experience.

Making things look believable in video games is almost always an enormous challenge, but that challenge is amplified tenfold by one critical variable—what existing expectations does the design have to surpass? While a typical player may never have held an M16A4 or been to Russia, everyone has seen a car or truck, so their appearance being accurate is of paramount importance.

If there’s one person on PUBG who has had an outsized impact on vehicle design, it’s Pawel Smolewski. While in 2020 he’s more broadly involved with the game’s production, his early days were focused heavily on animation, and then came a hard pivot over the last two years into a laser focus on vehicle design.

“We pay a lot of attention to animating the vehicles themselves—making sure their behavior is believable,” Smolewski says, offering up the behavior of suspensions, axles, and differentials as examples. “While designing the vehicle, we try to think about how to make it fun for players to look at.”

Finding that fun comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s obvious elements that enhance the feedback the game is providing, like having working speedometers and tachometers; sometimes, it’s just goofy details. “The new UAZ has a little fan linked to the RPM of the engine!” Smolewski snickers as he describes these miniscule details that he and his team spent substantial time on. (If you’ve been distracted by the stuff hanging off of rear-view mirrors or keychains bouncing around, blame Pawel.)

What might surprise you is that the ongoing focus on vehicle design is heavily influenced by your camera perspective choices. “We analyze how people play the game, and most of the time their camera is placed behind the vehicle,” Smolewski explains. “We’re mostly focused on the view from the rear, because it’s most often the visible part of the vehicle for the player.” Now you know why the registration plates swing around based on vehicle velocity.

The types of vehicles that end up in the game are informed primarily by two things: Being true to the setting, and sources of inspiration. The former is fairly self-explanatory—a map set in Eastern Europe should have location appropriate vehicles—but on the latter, Smolewski offers up a concise explanation: “James Bond movies!”

Beyond these elements, Smolewski says the unifying consideration is really the PUBG vibe. “What’s maybe more important is the style we want all the vehicles to follow—to create this atmosphere of ‘dirty’, used, partially defective vehicles,” he says. They’ll do their research and design an inspired, setting-appropriate vehicle—something like an old school, 1960’s Mirado in Central America, for example—but then they have to ‘break’ it, carefully applying a signature scratch-and-dent style. These thematic touches really elevate the visual effect of the vehicles.

As with everything in games, there are tradeoffs. Vehicles being believable is important, but a smooth game experience ultimately triumphs. Where they might do something like try to make the steering of a certain type of vehicle feel stiffer, Smolewski says the focus remains on having design decisions driven (pun intended) by gameplay.

“There’s no special terrain deformation or collision effects,” he explains. “We focus more on the gameplay.” At one point, they prototyped having vehicles leave tracks—which avid players will tell you does, in fact, occur, but only in the snow. That, Smolewski says, was an intentional decision to enable certain strategic choices in snowy environments.

BDRM inside

With very few exceptions, the vehicles remain true to life, even when game balance dictates certain limitations. Smolewski offers the BRDM as an example: “In real life, the BRDM has small windows; we artificially redesigned the window and reduced the claustrophobic feeling.” His guiding light here is that they never want to jeopardize gameplay for realism.

“Players should, even subconsciously, be entertained and satisfied by driving our vehicles,” Smolewski adds. His personal favorite—the motorcycle—explains his taste when asked what else he’d add. “There’s an obvious range of vehicles that we’re missing, but I would definitely be interested in more individual vehicles. Most of our vehicles are for two to four people.” Fundamentally, the team’s biggest challenge in this regard is finding appropriate vehicles that fit the military-lite focus of the game. More solo vehicles would also support the ability to shoot from vehicles as the driver.

An obvious option that speaks not only to Smolewski, but to the team’s goal of filling specific niches? The dirt bike…


A and G team photo
“Hey, it’s the A&G team again! We’re holding guns in a developer interview piece about vehicles. What could that mean?”


That concludes this installment of Getting a Sense of PUBG. Join us again next month as we explore game design at PUBG by matching another human sensory perception with an element of battle royale.

–Kevin Hovdestad

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