We spent some time with Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris to talk about Paladins: Battlegrounds at HRX 2018 in Atlanta, GA on the day of the Smite and Paladins Grand Finals. We were able to learn more about this new Battle Royale mode that's due to be added to the game in the upcoming months, but you can also check some fresh gameplay footage we grabbed at HRX 2018. Enjoy!
Wccf: Hey Todd! We’re at Hi-Rez Expo 2018 where you’re hosting tournaments for Smite and Paladins, but you made some news this weekend with the announcement of Paladins: Battlegrounds. Could you tell us a bit about Battlegrounds, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Paladins but have heard of Battlegrounds before in a different context?
TH: (laughs) Yeah, there’s a good reason it sounds familiar. What we tried to do with Battlegrounds was one; take some elements of the Battle Royale genre that we enjoy as players. Those elements are a giant map, a lot of players (100 players in this instance), and some collection elements with loot and gear, and finally the last man or team standing wins.
The thought was, can we have an innovative offering of that mode by using the Paladins’ Champions? Because in Paladins, you’re not just a guy or a girl with a gun. You are a hero or a Champion with a fully designed kit. You have an in-hand weapon, you’ve got your abilities and they all work cohesively. There are also various strategies involving cards and items. So we can this take these core Paladins ideals and take them into Battlegrounds.
As it turns out, it’s a lot of fun. You drop off a ship to massive map which right now, it’s 300 times the size of our biggest stage in Paladins. You spawn with a team of three other teammates with different classes that you’ve chosen. As a team you’re moving across the map, finding gear in chests or by killing other players. That gear goes from common to epic, to even legendary. The gear through stat bonuses really modifies your experience with things like 100% more damage for your character.
You’re battling as the fog closes in which is a lot of fun. It’s definitely in some ways familiar to people who have played Battle Royale games. In other ways, very unique.
Wccf: After playing the game for a bit, I can say that you definitely check all boxes needed for a Battle Royale game: big map, 100 players, and loot. However, from the get-go your heroes are ready to fight as opposed to starting out with nothing and hoping to find a decent weapon nearby. So instead of hoping to find good gear, is the concern for players more focused on picking your battles and decided if other teams are worth fighting at any given moment?
TH: Yes.There’s less hiding in bathtubs and more encountering (laughs). A lot of the mechanics are based on encouraging encounters or like you mentioned, making a deliberate decision on whether you want to get encountered or not instead of just being shot through a window which happens to me when I play other games of that type.
Wccf: How did you decide on the character selection? I noticed that you offer two heroes for each class type. Is this entirely random?
TH: It is random. This is certainly something we may tweak during public testing. The current thought is we give the player eight Champions, two for each of the different roles in the game. At least one of those will be available to free players. It’s basically random right now with two in each role. We may tweak the algorithm is we see certain play patterns arise or if certain Champions aren’t so viable.
Wccf: Is it random for each team? How do you avoid all the teams picking the same four characters every time?
TH: The selection is random but consistent for all teams. So everyone will choose from same eight players, meaning that it’s fair in a sense that everyone has the same pool of characters to choose from. They also have the freedom to run 4 Kinessas if they are so inclined. If they do that then they don’t have a healer which could prove useful in the late-game.
Wccf: So where did this idea come from? Hi-Rez seems already busy with the supporting the current slate of games like Smite and Paladins which are tweaked season to season. Whose idea was to approach the idea of making this game type. Did you guys see what was happening with other games and wanted to try it or was it something you had kicking around and finally decided to pull the trigger?
TH: Well, I would say it’s a little of both (laughs). We are always experimenting with possible new modes with Paladins over the past year. We’ve seen one mode, Siege mode, run in eSports that is incredibly popular for casual and competitive players. We have felt that playing Champions is fun and would benefit from a more casual mode than Siege that would be a gateway to the shooter and we came up with Team Deathmatch which we announced at this event which is coming out next week. That’s to serve the very casual audience with a short, fun death-filled time.
Wccf: Almost like a palate cleanser.
TH: Which it is. It’ll give players a chance to warm up and brush up on different heroes they may feel like playing in other modes or just mess around. We’ve also been prototyping different modes that would give more variable intensity. Siege, for example, you’re fully engaged and focused, so for that ten minutes or so you need to be super coordination with your team for the entire time. It’s not very forgiving, still super fun but intense. We’ve been thinking for a while of a mode that has more highs and lows because sometimes it can be exhausting to be constantly on. So it means that people are playing Siege and loving it but end up playing something else instead of Paladins in order to wind down with something a little less intense. So we’ve been prototyping modes for a while and we noticed that players are going to Battle Royale experiences so we tried to figure out how to bring Paladins and a Battle Royale mode together and keep players engaged. Will it suck or will be awesome is what we ask ourselves, but the only way to know is to try it. Internally, in the studio, it’s been fun and seeing players reactions here to playing the game has been positive.
Wccf: Looking into the future and since esports is why we are currently here at HRX 2018. You spoke in a panel yesterday about the future of eSports for Paladin and Smite. Do you see Battlegrounds having a place in your pantheon of competitive titles?
TH: We’ll see. We always take cues from the community because you can’t force it. I think and I would guess if the mode is popular that at next year’s HRX there could be a tournament format for Battlegrounds. It's less likely that we would have a regular league for it.
Wccf: Are you not a fan of the logistics of ferrying a hundreds players from place to place?
TH: (laughs) Multiple buses coming in and out with players from all over the world sounds like a logistical nightmare. I am for an occasional tournament if there is an appetite. First, we have to just make sure the game is fun.
Wccf: Will the monetization strategy stay the same for Battlegrounds? What will players be able to spend money on if they feel like it?
TH: It’s consistent throughout Paladins. Any skins you buy can be used in any game type. You have cards that you can take into the game. We give players all cards at a lower level and can be grinded out be made a little stronger. In the future, there will be a monetization element to the cards. The stat bonuses from cards pale in comparison to the loot found during matches. It's good for players that want to go in with a custom build. Any champions that you unlocked will be available in all modes.
Wccf: Going back to loot, I noticed whenever legendary chests are dropped in the world, they are highlighted in the minimap. It seems like you’re forcing players to make some big decisions as they play.
TH: Again, we are building systems that encourage engagement. When zeppelins fly over your head, we highlight the drop with a purple beam and icon on the map. You have to make tough choices!
Wccf: As part of the ‘Anti-Hide in the Bathtub’ design, I guess? Speaking of which, looping back to the awkward back and forth between Bluehole of PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds and Epic Games with Fornite. Were there any concerns when you were ready to announce especially using the term Battlegrounds?
TH: There’s zero concern. We as developers recognize the games that came before and helped established some conventions and also innovate in a few interesting ways. If you innovate in the right ways and scratch a different itch then the gaming public gets to decides what’s fun. Yeah, there’s not any concerns. We feel that there’s a lot of innovation in the case of Paladins Battlegrounds.
Wccf: Any talks of an open beta or a release window?
TH: Our internal goal is that within two months for at least PC will be playable in some form. By the end of March, we want to have it out there as another queue they can join in Paladins.
Wccf: Any major highlights for you personally from HRX 2018 this year?
TH: I really enjoyed seeing all the international competitors for Smite and Paladins especially from Latin America, Chinese and Australian teams. An American team came in and really over-performed and came really close to taking it all the way to the finals. Upsets are fun we have a lot of them. We are ending up with two European teams in the finals which is great because that’s a strong region. It’s been a great path to get here for us and the teams. For the development team, what they are excited to see is the viabilities of champions that these pros are using. We think every Champion outside of Victor and Willow were picked that was pretty cool. It shows us that each of the characters are viable in their own way.
Wccf: What's been the team’s reaction to seeing the response and the turn out to HRX 2018?
TH: It’s awesome. There’s a lot of folks in the seats who been with us for four years and come every year who’ve grown an attachment to the games and the teams who compete. That’s really cool to see the guys from Luminosity show up who’ve been here since season 1 and meeting fans and having our community connect for the first time in real life. The creativity in the cosplay really blew away our artists and that was amazing to see.
Wccf: From computer screen to real life and from alias to real faces. These events are always fun. Todd, thank you so much for sitting and chatting.
TH: Of course. Thanks for being here!