Battle Royale with Arda Ocal: Hyper Scape devs on creating a 'spectacle'

Hyper Scape takes place in an urban environment, unlike other battle royale games. Ubisoft

Hyper Scape, Ubisoft's entry into the battle royale genre, enters open beta on Sunday. Billed as a fresh outlook on battle royale, the game has elements of a traditional BR but incorporates new features -- such as the ability to scale buildings with ease through a focus on verticality, a reimagined spawn system, a new "capture the crown" end-game possibility and detailed Twitch integration.

ESPN spoke with the game's executive producer, Graeme Jennings, and creative director, J-C Guyot, ahead of the open beta launch to discuss the game, its rollout and the crowded BR scene.

When did the idea of Hyper Scape begin?

Guyot: So it started about two years ago, but actually, before just a BR, the genesis of it was really the notion of a game as a spectacle. We looked at what we were doing as players, and we realized that we were almost watching streamers as much as we were playing games. So one of the starting points was really, how do we create this notion of a game as a spectacle where players, streamers and viewers come together? We wanted a game that was the most spectacular game possible with a very high pace -- a lot of action. It made a lot of sense to unite 100 players in one battle to make it the most spectacular possible, and that's when we started to look into battle royale with the knowledge that we wanted to differentiate a lot from what was on the market in order to create this spectacle.

Was there ever any consideration to create a game other than a BR when thinking of a game as a spectacle?

Jennings: We knew we would build a first-person shooter because it felt good within the "game as a spectacle" pillar, and then it kind of moved to the battle royale. We always agreed to be first person, and then I think we didn't really have something that was more than BR because we wanted enough players to make the spectacle a thing overall.

Was there concern that the battle royale genre might be oversaturated already as it is, with many titles crowding the market?

Jennings: I think for us, we knew once we started to get into the fast movement, the pace, the verticality, the urbanness of the city that we would build something that felt very different. Like it's BR within the genre, yes, but I don't feel like the minute-to-minute play, the way you play, the stuff you do feels really like anything else in the BR genre at the minute. So whilst it sat in that [genre], I think the gameplay is really different.

What were some of the important features to include in the game to differentiate it?

Jennings: As a pillar we didn't want players who had been eliminated to just [sit] watching a camera. You know, you end up with the scenario where you've partied with someone, you died, you can't come back, and then you either have to leave them or you watch them for 10 minutes, and then they die and then your game's over. So we decided that [you] really needed to be active, you needed to take part.

We wanted to be able to bring players back. We wanted to be able to bring them back in a dynamic way. We didn't just want standard spawn points that other teams would camp, you know, and then you come back, you've gotten a weapon, someone shoots you and then you're dead again. So we started to look at revive. ... We felt that the echo brought something different to the gameplay, and we started to build around that.

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Guyot: So one of the first decisions we made after we started the game was also to put it in an urban environment. So that's a big game-changer, it changes the pace. The reasoning behind that was not only to have a very different look, but also a different pace with more intense cat-and-mouse action.

As soon as we did that, the game felt very different. With the verticality, we don't want full damage, we need ways to go up the rooftops, etc. And so, it was interesting to start to explore special abilities that you could customize your loadout with in order to address navigational needs, survivability or offense. So for us the goal was to, on one hand, have every aspect of the shooter but also add some more creative tools for the player so that they could express themselves, not only through shooting, but also through creative means.

What about the loot mechanic? How random is it?

Guyot: Currently, it's randomized, but balanced within. So there is an algorithm that makes sure that there's a balanced number of weapons overall per district, per building, and the map in general so that we don't have weird random streaks where there's only snipers in one district. The goal is really to balance the game to make sure that everyone can get their play style. ... But in general we want players to be free to make their choices and have strategies and not have loot dictate that.

How much have you thought of Hyper Scape as an esport, or is this not a concern to you?

Guyot: Onboarding and accessibility is our focus for now. We realized while doing technical tests that the skill ceiling was really high. That's proven to be true. It's something that we're really interested in in terms of upping the competitive aspect of the game. But for now, we really want to make sure that everything's solid, and we listen to the community. What's important is to see how the community reacts. The core of the game is super competitive. So we are definitely interested in exploring this aspect. We'll also add features as we go for a while that are more competitive oriented, such as leaderboards and these kinds of things.

Twitch integration and chat influence is a major part of this game. Was there ever any conversations about making this game completely Twitch exclusive, so streamers could only stream it on Twitch?

Jennings: It's not a conversation we had, but the extension features are only through Twitch. So, to have the best game experience as a streamer you want to be on Twitch because we have the extension with all the bits within the extension just on the Twitch platform.

How has the feedback been to the Twitch integration?

Jennings: Initial feedback is amazing. We can see the number of installs in terms of streamers that stream the game and then install the extension. So that's very, very, very high. Feedback from the communities is really good as well, because they're actually able to directly play with the streamers while they're watching.

So one of the favourites of the minute is we have the ability for viewers to vote on the card that's played, and a lot viewers vote for the low-gravity card. You know, it's fun for them to troll the streamer they're watching. It's a good [back and forth] between viewers and streamers.

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Feedback from the streamers has been great as well. We built this [game] from the ground up with streamer feedback as we went, like it's a core thing and a core part of the premise. ... As we go into open beta on Sunday, we have the ability for streamers to be able to invite two viewers from their session into the game. It's super smooth. You say, 'Hey, I'm looking for two members to join my squad, you click, the viewers will pop, and choose who they want, and off to the game you go. So there's no more messy friend invites and all this stuff. It's super seamless.

The second part is the battle pass viewing. So basically, if you are a viewer, and you're engaged with Hyper Scape, if you view the game [through] the streamer who has the extension enabled, you can gain points on your battle pass as well. And so we wanted to make viewing an active experience, not just a passive one.

What about updates? How frequently can people look forward to seasons, game modes, anything new in the game?

Jennings: We can't go into the actual dates or seasons and frequency yet, but we will add packs and weapons and game modes, characters, a bunch of different things every season. So every season has new fresh content and viewer events for the streamers, too.

What can you tell us about the rollout strategy of this game? Will we see a bunch of top-level streamers playing online in a big campaign for example?

Jennings: I don't think we're sharing that exactly. Sunday will be the open beta, which is on PC. The next thing we do after will be releasing, and then Xbox One, PS4 and PC will come together. So they'll all come over and that will be Season 1 at the yet-to-be-announced date. They will have cross progression between them as well, which is a key thing. So if you picked up and started playing the tech test, or the open beta on PC, once you go and pick up the game, let's say you're playing on PS4, you have all the progression from everything you learned through the phases before.

Last question, I'd like to commend you and the team for the strong representation in this game. I can't remember the last time I saw a protagonist in a video game wearing a hijab, like Noor, for example. How important was making sure diversity and inclusion was a big part of the game?

Jennings: I think it's a key pillar for the team. Diversity, inclusion is key for how we build the game, and it should also be key for how the game comes out for players to play. I want every player who picks up our game to be able to find a character they can relate to or want to play as, so that's cool for me, like that's why we went with this route. And because season to season we advance the characters, new characters come out, story changes, you can stick with your character that you found, and you can follow their progression. So it's really key for me that you find someone early that you like and want to stay as. ... And it's a core value for the game as well, and it's something we will absolutely continue to do.

I also talked to Britanni Johnson, who is the head of creators for G2 but also an accomplished talent most recently seen on the Twitch Rivals Hyper Scape Launch Showdowns in NA and EU, some of the questions about Hyper Scape that are on everyone's minds.

Do we really need another BR game? Isn't the market saturated enough?

Who are we to say there are too many of one genre of game? Do you hear the same argument about mobile games or RPGs? These studios pour their heart into these games because they believe in it and are passionate about the idea -- as a gamer, and as someone who cares about the industry, I feel that it never hurts to give it a shot.

Did Hyper Scape do enough to be different and make a splash in the genre?

Not too sure if I would say it "made a splash," however, Ubisoft definitely took their time to make sure it stands apart from other battle royale titles out there. The mobility, verticality, and gun/hack features and availability make for smooth and fast-paced game play.

How much will Twitch integration really factor in? Will this make people play and watch this over Fortnite or Warzone?

It is great to see viewability be a consideration in the development process, especially in this genre. The ability for your audience to interact and affect your gameplay is really fun and makes the interaction genuine for the creators. I can see it staying in rotation for many creators.

Could Hyper Scape work as a competitive game?

Hyper Scape was not made to be an esport title, however it does work as a competitive game as we saw in this week's Twitch Rivals. The play style welcomes highly skilled players from various genres and is interesting to showcase different talent and personalities.

Predict how Hyper Scape scene looks in a year.

I see the Hyper Scape scene having creator invitationals but not a lot of org presence as a competitive esport.


Speaking of Hyper Scape, congrats to NRG, really leading the way in the BR scene lately, taking home the NA Launch Showdown championship, with aceu, tfue and Mendo!

Super League Gaming and the Wounded Warrior Project are partnering up to put on an Apex Legends tournament to benefit veterans and their families. The event takes place on July 19 and will be streamed on Super League and WWP's Twitch channels. It's free to play, with signups here (https://superleague.com/events/wwp-play-charity-tournament-apex-legends/about). It's a two round tournament, with the Qualifier Round being three games in private rooms with other tournament participants. Top 20 teams move on. Final round will be between those teams in four rounds. Points are earned based on placement and kills.

"This tournament reflects the passion of a large group of our warriors who are staying engaged through gaming," said WWP live streaming and gaming specialist Matt Twigg in a press release. "We've been able to connect with so many of them virtually through gaming nights and our Discord channel, especially during this time of social distancing. We hope all gamers will join us and play to support this great cause."

PUBG corporation has announced that PUBG, which turns three in December, has reached 70 million copies sold. Earlier this month it was also announced that PUBG mobile had a strong first half of 2020, with $1.3 billion (with a B) in revenue this year, bringing the lifetime total to $3 billion (again, with a B). Incredible numbers for a game that certainly has its audience but for some reason isn't spoken about as much as it probably should be in the BR discussion.

Want to give credit to Fortnite competitor YungCalc -- he first tweeted on July 11 that "Gaming is genetics stop grinding to go pro, if you pro aren't already there is a reason." The next day, he had deleted that tweet and scaled it back, saying "After educating myself, genetics has nothing to do with going pro in video games. It's all when you start playing the game and hard work."

I am definitely not going to flame this one bit, in fact I'm going to commend him. This is a minor example, sure, but the effort was there and the execution was great. He tweeted something, second guessed it, put some effort into it, looked it up, educated himself, then formed a more conclusive opinion based on what he read. Respect.