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Feature Article

Battle Royale Game SOS Puts Players In The Spotlight For A Live Audience

The Truman Show meets Lord of the Flies.

When you're trapped on an island with danger around every corner, you'll have to use anything at your disposal to survive. Outpost Games' upcoming battle royale game SOS takes this thinking to heart, but adds in some rather unorthodox twists that asks players--or "performers," as the developers say--to go out of their comfort zone. Taking part in a life-or-death game on a reality TV show, 16 performers, along with some dangerous infected creatures, have to fight to survive, and only a few will make it out alive. While there's plenty of guns and axes to find, the best weapons you'll use are your very own words.

Spending some time with a closed-alpha build of the game ahead of its closed-beta, we had the chance to talk with CEO of Outpost Games Wright Bagwell and creative director Ian Milham about their ambitious take on the now popular Battle Royale sub-genre--and what strange situations it'll force players into.

As a survival game, you'll have to manage your meager resources while contending with the ravenous infected and other survivors. The main goal is to find the one of four relics, signal for extraction, and then make it onto the helicopter. While this may sound simple, 16 players have the same goal, and with only a few seats on the helicopter, alliances can quickly shatter when the time for escape draws near.

What sets SOS apart from other online free-for-all games is the focus on the social aspect of online gaming. It requires a microphone to play, and your social skills and sense of showmanship will be put to the test, with each player having to present themselves in an interesting way to stand out. As a quasi-reality show--which includes live pre-match introductions--how you play the game (and your audience) will make or break your chances of success. Each game is broadcast live online via the social gaming platform Hero, with spectators voting on possible in-game events like supply drops or bombing runs and while also sending their favor towards particular performers.

Speaking with the CEO of Outpost Games, he spoke about their focus on putting you in the spotlight, and how the trends of livestreaming resulted in a convergence for their game.

"Up until now, there really haven't been many games that make people aware that they're being streamed," said Bagwell. "Like there's streaming, and that's great, but it's existing in another world than the game is. We're trying to bring those worlds together to create something really interesting, and by having it be baked into the motivations--where you're rewarded for being entertaining. And it's not such a broad idea of being entertaining, but we can be specific about being funny or being dramatic or all these other things. You don't need to be the world's greatest shooter or have crazy elite gamer skills to have fun and have a good time. And we're hoping to provide a stage for all types of players to enjoy."

During one instance, our group of five--led by a placid streamer who'd quickly turn ruthless when the time was right--fought a rival party while trying to make sure one of our own could make it onto the helicopter. Unfortunately, the audience voted to send in a bomb around the extraction site, which subsequently went off and eliminated half the performers in the area.

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One aspect of SOS that the developers were keen on maintaining is the feeling of unpredictability. With trust being a hard thing to come by, resulting in some players having to jump through hoops to get on someone's good side, there was a feeling of uncertainty in each game. Milham spoke about many of the strange events he's seen from streamers--including a spontaneous rap-battle between performers to curry favor with a well-supplied survivor--and how that all tied into the broader experience of what SOS offers.

"What we're hoping to do is to embrace and steer into that unpredictability, which is really the magic of the whole thing," Milham said. "We've seen a number of amazing moments that we've never could have predicted in our closed alpha. And then creating a world that is flexible and strong, and doesn't break if people behave in unpredictable ways--that feels additive and fun in that whole group [for all players]. We're creating a world that isn't about the moderation team and their ban-hammers trying to enforce the ruleset; I mean of course, we'll have to guide the community in some form, but our theory is that communities are pretty good at guiding themselves if they feel respected and encourage positive behavior. Being a jerk isn't entertaining, and the community itself will weed out that sort of behavior."

With the upcoming closed beta starting on December 11, more people will be able to try out SOS's tongue-in-cheek take on the battle royale sub-genre. While most games within the Battle Royale sub-genre tend to focus more on the shoot first, ask questions later set-up, SOS flips that around, putting your words ahead of the violence. Of course, violence is oftentimes the end result--and SOS doesn't deter players from taking that route if they choose--but how you arrive at the action is often more interesting than the act itself. Set for full release sometime next year, SOS is shaping up to be a clever twist on the sub-genre in asking you to put on a good show while doing what you have to do to survive.

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