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Here’s how Exoborne can recreate Helldivers 2’s lightning in a bottle

Emergent player stories are crucial to any PS5 or Xbox live service game worth its salt, and Exoborne is looking to replicate Helldivers 2’s success.

Exoborne emergent narratives: a man wearing an exosuit next to a Helldiver wearing armor

Surviving the ever-expanding live service landscape is becoming increasingly difficult, as new GaaS titles like Helldivers 2 are appearing at a rate of knots, and disappearing just as quickly. Sharkmob’s upcoming extraction shooter, Exoborne, will soon enter the arena, and it’s going to need something special to stay afloat. Fortunately, it’s not the studio’s first rodeo, and as studio co-founder Martin Hultberg explains to us during our GDC hands-off preview, the secret sauce to success for Exoborne is exogenous to the PlayStation and Xbox game itself.

While we’ve already picked the brains of Hultberg and executive producer Brynley Gibson when it comes to how Exoborne will be able to stack up against its extraction shooter rivals from a gameplay perspective, it’s all for naught if players themselves don’t take to the FPS game. To Sharkmob, how players share their experiences and craft their own lore – what it calls ‘emergent narratives’ or ‘emergent player stories’ – will ultimately decide Exoborne’s fate.

Having already gone through the live service gauntlet at Sharkmob with Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodhunt, and The Division at Massive Entertainment before that, Hultberg has been in the GaaS scene for over a decade. If anyone knows what it takes to capture that emergent narrative lightning in a bottle, it’s him.

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“Emergent player stories have been part of what we’ve been doing for so long,” Hultberg tells us. “We’ve always worked with game systems that create unique experiences – we have never really worked with heavily scripted things. […] If we look back at The Division, we had what was called the Dark Zone back then, which was very much [built on] this [emergent narratives] all those years ago. So we’ve had a lot of time to think about what emergent gameplay means to us and how we want to set those systems up.”

Of course, it’s all well and good throwing a load of systems into a game and crossing your fingers. To understand how to create the conditions for great emergent narratives, you need to be able to identify how your competitors are making the magic happen. It’s clear that Hultberg lives and breathes these unscripted multiplayer games, which is why we’re unsurprised that he’s got some solid points of reference.

“That’s where we draw most of our fun when we play games – from games where it’s not the scripted thing that was fun. It’s the freaky, strange thing that happened that you’re then talking about for a very long time. Helldivers 2 is a perfect example, DayZ is another. There are plenty of games that have those stories, and those are what we want to try and capture.”

So how do you create the conditions for a great emergent narrative to be born? For Hultberg, it’s about baking the playerbase itself into every morsel of the experience. “You should view other players as a resource in a game,” he states. “They’re not just other players, they’re part of that world and they help shape that session. So creating systems and worlds where their actions are meaningful and matter, and make the entire gaming experience more fun is just maximizing the use of your resources in a session.”

Exoborne emergent narratives: an Exoborne gunman facing a lightning storm

One way Exoborne is looking to achieve this is through its extreme weather. These erratic conditions are redolent of the dynamic weather found in Battlefield 2042, and the planetary hazards currently making the lives of Helldivers 2 players everywhere miserable. A hectic escape from a protracted gunfight using the giant tornado we saw to slingshot you out of Dodge is already an exciting enough prospect, and Sharkmob has plenty of other tricks in its toolbox to help generate those unique experiences.

Of course, Exoborne is still a ways off from hitting consoles, so we won’t know if Hultberg’s philosophy will prosper in the extraction shooter space until after it launches. While Bloodhunt wasn’t able to upset the battle royale game big dogs, Sharkmob tells us it’s taken plenty of learnings from it. As such, we’re optimistic that the studio’s first original IP will fare considerably better, and there’ll be plenty of exciting emergent narratives to come.

For more of our GDC coverage, check out our Flintlock: the Siege of Dawn preview. Additionally, read up on why Dune Awakening has the spice to turn us into survival game addicts.