Getting a Sense of PUBG Pt.1
When you play a game with guns, they’ve got to feel good
Creating the most authentic game environment possible means engaging with a player’s senses in powerful, distinct ways. What makes PUBG special is how real it is—the discrete components of the game each appearing, feeling, and sounding just right. In our Getting a Sense series, we’re releasing an outside interview with a different PUBG dev every month, highlighting a unique look at a specific facet 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 incredible processes that make PUBG a crisp, true to life experience.
Four senses down, one to go. We’ve talked about how guns feel, the amazing looking vehicles in PUBG, level design so good you can almost remember how the maps smell, and the immersive power of exceptional sound effects. That leaves us with just one final thing to do—give you a little taste of PUBG’s future.
To get those details, we went straight to the top: PUBG Creative Director Dave Curd. In a coincidence almost too good to be true, Curd heads up the creative end of how the game evolves from PUBG’s Madison, Wisconsin office—a state well known for its, erm, curds.
“I’m kind of responsible for the feel of the game,” Curd says, explaining what exactly being a creative director means. “The executive producer is the person ‘in charge’ and responsible for what we’re doing and how it gets done. I’m kind of the creative counterpart.” It’s a role he acknowledges requires taking a very high-level, macro view of projects from, and he sometimes struggles not to wade in and get involved in the smaller flourishes that make PUBG really sing.
To have someone like Curd at the helm is awesome for PUBG. He was the sixth person brought on in the Madison office, having joined in July of 2017. Today, there are roughly 25 people working in that unit, and Curd says they’re headed for closer to 50 in 2021. His leadership is sure to attract exceptional talent—prior to joining PUBG, he worked at Shiver Entertainment, after almost a decade of work at Raven Software on other shooters. That’s in addition to the still further decade he spent as a freelance illustrator before getting into games.
Curd’s background as an artist is a big part of why he’s here today. “Madison began in 2017 essentially as an art house,” he says. “We established a small team of counterparts here to Seoul.” What was originally a tiny space to house a few artists stumbled into becoming a full-on development team of programmers, designers, engineering, and more. “We’ve basically turned ourselves into an indie studio collaborating to take on more roles and responsibilities,” he adds.
It’s Curd’s aspiration to be a storyteller that really explains where PUBG has gone in recent times. He sees games as the purest medium for true storytelling and values the collaboration that comes from working with hundreds of other people on a project. His vision for PUBG is almost limitless.
“When Brendan Greene (the PLAYERUNKNOWN of PLAYERUKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS) moved on, there was this kind of moment where we all looked at each other, took a breath, and had to imagine what was next. Where can the game go? How can we deliver on something new?” These were the questions Curd wrestled with as he had what he calls ‘blue sky’ discussions with the team. “We used 2020 as our ‘year of play’ to get into the nuts and bolts of development,” he says. That’s how the newest map, Haven, came to be—rather than an enormous 8×8 map, they could explore new mechanics, ideas, and performance checks in 1/64th the space.
You know Curd’s serious when he gets to talk about jamming on new ideas. While the team is trying to mitigate risks during innovation on a live service game, Curd’s over here saying, “We can try some wild sh*t!” Experiments ranging from the Loot Truck to bullet penetration were possible in part because of this approach to developing PUBG over the course of 2020. “We made a really conscious effort to take on some digestible moonshots—small maps with big ideas,” he contends. “Let’s try some sh*t, let’s have some fun. As we’ve done that, it’s really helped us find our internal compass.”
Reflecting on how these things have worked out, Curd is focused on the player experience first and foremost. “When we sat down to play, did it come out as good as we’d hoped?” With a system like bullet penetration, he argues the tradeoffs became apparent as it hit live servers with real players. “Our first iteration—which was certainly more fun—was that every surface could be shredded. It was something we couldn’t deliver on, so we pivoted to interior walls only. Watching streams, reading reddit, listening on Twitter, we could see people attempting to use bullet penetration in their content, but most players weren’t using it the same way,” he says.
That sets the stage for 2021 beautifully. “My job is to imagine the game I would stop playing PUBG to play, and then make PUBG into that game,” Curd laughs. “PUBG’s biggest strength is its tension and dynamics. We want to give the players more tools to tell richer, more diverse stories, and to graduate more players from novices to veterans.” He says that pulling that off will require the team to respect the game’s core values while delivering fresh experiences—an evolution, not a revolution. “I love PUBG. I want PUBG to be the best, purest expression of survival gameplay.”
In Curd’s eyes, that means leaning into what works and expanding those experiences further. “We’re looking at what we call ‘soft roles’. PUBG already has the ability for you to find a sniper rifle and ammunition, and now you’re playing a sniper.” His contention here, however, is that while PUBG’s gunplay is deep and rich, the survival phase—and the roles that phase allows players to take on—have room to grow. “90-95% of the game is spent moving, exploring, etc.,” he says. “What that tells me is that we have this vast opportunity to provide more things to do in a nuanced survival phase.”
Broadly speaking, Curd wants to give players more agency. Unlike choosing a class in a role-playing game, he sees this as diversifying the ways players can contribute to their squads. “What if there were things in the field that gave your gameplay a little more intentionality? I’m interested in things like team composition being a discussion our community can have,” he says. It’s this idea of exploring the ways that players can feel like they’re making meaningful contributions, especially during the survival phase, that he thinks will create even more satisfying moments in the game.
“We’re just trying to get more tools into the players’ hands,” Curd says. “We’re not changing what PUBG is. The ability to find and identify targets, listen and observe to take in information, hit your shots, gauge when the next circle is coming in—that’s still the highest echelon of what PUBG is.” Within that framework, though, he says he’d love to see more esoteric approaches to parts of the game like final circle engagements, and for PUBG to become a game for even more different types of players.
Bottom line, what you have to look forward to in 2021, according to Curd, is larger worlds. “Players will get to enjoy a nice, big world to get lost in within the first half of the year,” he says. What exactly that might look like, he wouldn’t spill the beans on, but this novel experience comes with a cool moniker: Codename Tiger. “We have new stuff we’re not quite ready to reveal yet,” he added with a wink. “I think there’s so much more that the game can be doing.”
We can’t wait to taste what you’re cooking up, Dave.
That’s it for the Getting a Sense of PUBG series! Thank you so much to the developers for making time for these interviews, and to all of you for reading them. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting a sensory behind-the-scenes peek at how PUBG gets made.
When you play a game with guns, they’ve got to feel good
What you see is what you get.
How we end up at locations so realistic, you can practically smell them.
Keep an ear to the ground to hear what’s coming.