Scavengers interview: Midwinter devs talk getting inspired by Halo, blending genres

Scavengers (Image credit: Midwinter Entertainment)

Scavengers is an upcoming free-to-play multiplayer survival game out now in Early Access that blends tense battle royale-style PvP action with dynamic PvE threats that include both enemy AI factions and dangerous weather conditions. While I'm not usually the biggest fan of these types of games, Scavengers' unique PvEvP approach immediately had me hooked.

Excited to learn more about the game, I caught up with Josh Holmes and Mary Olson — ex-343 Industries Halo developers and current leads at Midwinter Entertainment — to talk Scavengers' world design, PvE elements, gameplay mechanics, inspirations, and more.

Crafting a frozen world

Source: Midwinter Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Midwinter Entertainment)

Brendan Lowry, Windows Central: What made the team at Midwinter Entertainment decide to focus on a winterized environment for the game?

Josh Holmes, CEO of Midwinter Entertainment: The inspiration largely comes from the fact that we love the winter. We think there's an incredible beauty to the frozen landscapes and to the cold weather, and also the idea that cold is a force that brings people together. You need to come together to stay warm. The catchphrase for our studio is even "keep warm together," so there was a lot of that that really spoke to us, and the rest of our ideas evolved around that.

We think there's an incredible beauty to the frozen landscapes and to the cold weather.

How present are story elements in Scavengers? From what I've played, the story seems pretty off to the side, but are things there for players to find if they look?

Holmes: There are lots of ideas that are seeded into the background, but they're there for you to pull on those threads if you care. The most important story in the game is the player's story, and so we're focused on giving the players tools and creating systems that enable unique and memorable stories that you create yourself within the experience. There is a fair amount of narrative lore and backstory that has gone into the construction of the world, but we've largely kept it in the background since this is, after all, a sandbox multiplayer game.

Mary Olson, Head of Production at Midwinter Entertainment: Just to add onto that, we've talked about Scavengers being a "story generator" for people — we have all these moments that emerge, and that's kind of the goal. So if we're trying to force and guide you through specific story elements, then that's counterintuitive to the idea of allowing those moments to happen through gameplay.

Blending genres together

Source: Midwinter Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Midwinter Entertainment)

Scavengers' PvEvP design makes it stand out amongst other battle royale-style games. What led to the team's desire to focus on making a three-way-war environment rather than focus on PvP gameplay entirely?

Holmes: Well, many of us came from working on Halo 5 — three-fourths of our founders came from Halo — and we really felt inspired by the PvEvP Warzone mode that we created in that game. We felt there was a lot of gold to mine there that other games haven't really pursued or explored. There are examples of other PvEvP games that have come out since then, but nothing that brings together the large scale, sandbox systems, and light survival elements that you'll find in Scavengers.

What are some of the games that influenced or inspired Scavengers? The PvEvP had me thinking of Halo 5 Warzone before you even mentioned it, and the dropship extractions at the end of each match remind me a lot of The Division's PvP zones. Am I on the right track there?

Holmes: Each individual member of the team brings their own inspirations to the fold — many of us definitely played The Division in the past, and we also play a lot of games like Tarkov and PUBG as well as more classic survival games. Between all the members of the team, everybody brings their own perspective as players. The way we go about developing Scavengers is through constant experimentation and iteration through play. We have ideas, we debate those ideas, and once an idea is deemed something we're interested in pursuing, we try to stand it up in the game experience as quickly as possible to see what works and then show it to the community to get their feedback.

The way we go about developing Scavengers is through constant experimentation and iteration through play.

What are some of the AI factions players will come across in Scavengers? What makes each of them feel distinct from one another in-game? Will they encounter and fight each other as well as you?

Olson: So, first we have Outlanders, which are evolved humans that you can find in camps around the map. They're these cannibalistic humans that look like beefed-up people and they've adapted to live in the winterized environment. Then there's the Scourge, which are much more zombie-like and very mutated. There's also wildlife, including bears and wolves that will attack you, as well as peaceful deer and bunnies. There are Scourge-infected animals as well, which are even more lethal. You can draw the AI into each other and they'll fight each other as well as you. You can lead a bear into an Outlander camp and then stand back as the bear fights the Outlanders, for example. Some really cool moments happen from that, and you can manipulate that and use it as a strategy.

Holmes: In terms of what differentiates their playstyle, the Outlanders are much more coordinated and will communicate with each other. If you can prevent this by killing Outlanders stealthily, the other Outlanders won't raise an alarm, which you can use to pick off some defenders before assaulting camps. Once they do know you're there, they'll call to each other where you are and will start to maneuver strategically based on your position. The Scourge, on the other hand, are much more animalistic. They have a single target in mind and they'll stop at nothing to try and get to you. There's very little coordination between them; they're simply out to kill.

Source: Midwinter Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Midwinter Entertainment)

The snowstorm weather system is a huge part of Scavengers. Do you have any plans to evolve the weather systems and implement new types of storms that have different effects, or are you focused on perfecting the one that you currently have?

Holmes: Right now, our focus is on getting the weather patterns to play right. They're such an important part of the game — on one hand, they make you very cold very quickly, and without items like thermal boost it's difficult to survive in them for a long time. However, they also allow you to avoid detection since you'll be very difficult to see and won't appear on radar. They can be a good way to escape from players trying to shoot you, and they can also be a good tool to use to push in and take a team by surprise with an ambush. We're still tuning how the storm works with things like shelter and making sure that those systems are consistent, but weather is something that we're going to continue exploring since it's such a powerful and unique part of our experience.

Every character in Scavengers has unique abilities that can be used in clutch ways. For example, when I recently played a preview build, my teammate saved our team from dying when we were getting shot in the storm by using a shield ability that allowed us to collect ourselves and plan our next move. Have these types of abilities been a core part of Scavengers since the start, or did the idea develop over time?

Olson: It's a huge part of the game, and it's a big part of any strategy in Scavengers. Which three of the seven characters your team chooses has been a big focus of the game since the start, and playtests have helped us quickly see which character abilities are overpowered. Over time, we've tuned things like that to keep things feeling balanced. Overall, the different characters and how their abilities interact with one another has been a big focus for us.

What to expect from presentation and progression

Source: Midwinter Entertainment (Image credit: Source: Midwinter Entertainment)

Scavengers' movement is fast-paced, but also fairly grounded. This places it right between "advanced mobility" games and games focused on delivering a "boots on the ground" feel. What made the team go in this direction?

Holmes: It goes in line with our "semi-realistic" creative direction for the game. We didn't want it to feel super grounded and simulated to the point where it felt like it was holding you back from doing spectacular things, but at the same time, we wanted to feel grounded enough to where it has a sense of realism to it. Over time, we've pushed things farther than what we planned, but we wanted to achieve that feel of fluid mobility, particularly with sliding. And as our art direction has evolved over time and become more stylized, we think it feels like a good, fitting balance.

We wanted to feel grounded enough to where it has a sense of realism to it.

I noticed there was support for NVIDIA's DLSS when I played the preview build. Are there plans for ray tracing support?

Holmes: Stay tuned — we won't have ray tracing for Early Access, but it's definitely something we're interested in.

What will the game's progression system look like when it comes to cosmetics? How will players be able to earn new skins and outfits for their characters?

Holmes: Those are parts of the game still in development right now, but there will be a combination of things where some cosmetics are earned strictly through gameplay progression like account progress or character leveling, while others are purchasable from the in-game store. These can still be earned through play, though, as players can earn currency for simply playing the game. We want players to be able to earn whatever there is in the game so they can personalize their appearance and different aspects of their character.

Final thoughts

With its unique blend of genres, smooth and dynamic gameplay, and awesome winter theme, there's a good chance that Scavengers will become one of the best multiplayer PC games as well as one of the best multiplayer games for Xbox. If it doesn't sound right for you, though, make sure you check out our roundup of the best battle royale games for Windows PCs for excellent alternatives to play.

I can't wait to see where Scavengers goes next, and I'm definitely going to be playing a lot of it now that it's available on Steam in Early Access. It will be available on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One consoles, PS5, and PS4 at a later date, too, so you'll be able to play the game if you're a console user as well.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.