You don’t need to have played or watched it for the following to more or less make sense, but a quick summary for the absolutely uninitiated:
Plunkbat is a game where 100 strangers on the internet, alone or in teams of 2-4, parachute onto a large island and then, in the general mold of Hunger Games or Battle Royale, try to find weapons and armor and gear, and strive to be the last player or players not dead at the end. But there’s a great big circle that keeps closing in, and if you’re outside the circle, you die. And the circle gets really small as time goes on, one circle inside another inside another until you’re shouting distance from each other. That’s the core mechanic that drives the game. It’s all about being forced into a small shared space, or dying trying. Whoever lasts longest gets the winner winner chicken dinner.
PART 1: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Autorunner
I was thinking about goofy stunt playthroughs the other day and was like, “what if all you did was autorun?” Just hit the “run forward automatically” button, and that’s…it. My brother, a dad of two, did a version of this by accident because of a child care situation the other day and got in the top ten.
So I decided to develop the idea a little, to come up with some simple rules to basically remove any agency from the game, and then execute those. The sort of thing that a bot could do well pretty easily if there was bot support.
My ruleset shook out like this as I tried it a few times:
- Hammer the F key to jump out of the plane immediately. No steering on the way down, just fall where you fall.
- The original destination is the center of the island.
- With each new circle, the new destination is the center of that circle.
- Use autorun to run/swim directly toward the current destination.
- When you reach the destination, hit the button to go prone and wait for the next destination.
- Don’t switch to manual control unless you’re literally stuck, and then just long enough to route around the obstacle.
- No picking stuff up, no getting in vehicles, no punching, no dodging and weaving. None of the stuff a player would do to try and win the game. Nothing but autorunning.
- It’s okay to crawl in the last few circles if crawling will get you there in time.
This ended up feeling like a good strict set of instructions that still allowed a few compromises to make it more possible to get to the late game; the crawling and the manual obstacle fixing could go if you didn’t mind, respectively, definitely getting shot immediately late game or possibly dying to a contracting circle earlier on while stationary on some fixed object like a house or cliff wall out near where you first landed.
And so I did a few runs! And the first time I got #20/100. Twentieth place. 80 players, doing the best they could hunting for guns and moving with care and so on, did worse than I did, me doing this stupid stupid thing.
The second run, I got #40, which got me thinking #20 might be a fluke. Maybe this doesn’t actually work very well.
Then I got #13.
Then I got #2. Second place. The only person who did better than me was the guy with a gun who shot me at the very end.
I had ended in a grass field in the final circle, out on a crop of cliff-edged coastline on Plunkbat Island, as the last 10 or so other players fought it out; my last circle crawl or two were both close to where I’d already been, as the random smaller circles were nearly concentric this game to the ones before. So I just had to crawl a bit here or there to reach each destination, and I’m just lying prone and not making any noises so no one is looking for me per se. And yet, I’m RIGHT THERE, guys.
Eventually the circle has gotten as small as it will before the big smush, a cataclysmic end-game event where the circle goes from being quite small indeed to collapsing into nothingness and killing anybody who is still alive in a matter of seconds. It’s the final circle and there’s three people left, including me. I have had eye on one of ’em, a dude behind a rock to my south, who keeps peeking around, keeps looking my way, and keeps not taking me out. He can’t actually have seen me, because I’m right there and pointed his direction and that would be troubling as hell for him AND an easy shot to take.
Where’s number 3, though? I haven’t seen him, Rock Boy hasn’t seen him. Eventually I catch a glimpse; he’s hiding behind a basically identical rock to my north! Like, I am very nearly the midpoint in the line between these two rocks. Can’t be more than fifty feet from either. These guys are just glued to their scopes and peeking each other, I guess, because they eventually commit to a firefight basically over my head. North Rock Boy eventually kills South Rock Boy, and then it’s just him and me. Him and unarmed pacifist me.
I lay there in the grass, watching North Rock Boy (my head presumably moving a bit to animate the alt-key looking-about with the camera that I’m doing, since I’m proned out facing away from him and my default view would be Dead South Rock Boy), and he craaaaawls along and doesn’t shoot me. Craaaaaawls along and doesn’t shoot me. Guy gets within ten feet, more beside me than behind me at this point, and who knows what he’s thinking because it’s a flat circle of terrain and there were only two rocks in and its solo so there’s no chance another hostile player was hiding behind the rock with South Rock Boy. But he’s crawling and not shooting me.
Until finally he shoots me. A #2 finish for me. If I’d had a gun it would have been the best most fuckery easy-peasy chicken dinner ever.
But Operation Autorun isn’t about chicken dinners. It’s about accepting that one has no control over the universe, that all choice is illusion, that a keyboard with any keys other than deplane and go prone and autorun is a keyboard that is mired to the fiction of reality.
But anyway, that’s not the good story.
PART 2: We Two, We Happy Two, We Band of Autorunners
The good story is, I’m doing these goofy Operation Autorun things and developing my ruleset and chatting a bit about this with friends in a slack channel, and my Plunkbud Haus says, okay, he has to try this out. So we get our duo on; instead of going in alone, we go in as one of 50 pairs of players.
So we duo up and get in the game, and start hammering on the jump outta the plane button, float gormlessly down to whatever near coast of the island the plane was crossing.
We land in the shallow water of a beach, and get running.
Now, doing this as a duo adds an extra element or two.
For one, idle chatter to pass the time. Playing solo, I had myself to mutter to and the slack channel to toss observations into, but it’s an isolated experience all in all. Just you and the autorun button and an island of strangers hoping to kill you.
With Haus along, that isn’t a problem. We riff and speculate and Boy Howdy about stuff the whole time. We discuss the philosophy and edge cases of no-touch autorunning. We get exceptionally well trapped by island geography at one point by running into the great horseshoe of the prison area, and decide collectively to fudge the circle center rule by several hundred hards for a circle or two on account of not wanting to violate the spirit of the thing by manually running a huge loop around the impassible prison wall, until the next circle happily directs us back out of the prison mouth. We theorize about sight lines and the tug-of-war between, on the one hand, our blatantly poor “choices” of coverage, and on the other the implausibility of folks scanning such idiotic spots for actual human players.
At one point I find myself singing a song called Mud Buds about being buds lying in the mud, after we, following the rules, drop prone at circle center in the one patch of bare mud in an entire forest of grass and bushes, as the simulated weather rains down on us.
Duo also adds an electric-football sort of competitive element to the early running bits. One of us slides off a tree (“a tree hug”, I declare this), the other gets caught on a fence (“a fence hug”, I’m really onto something here taxonomically), we both spend 20 seconds awkwardly sliding and hitching leftward along an 85 degree angle on a concrete wall. It’s a back and forth, a good horse race. Plunkbat is a great Long Distance Android Runner Simulator if you want it to be.
So we run and run and prone and wait and run and prone and wait, and it goes very well in the sense that we both continue to be not dead. We get shot at here or there but nobody can do the job apparently and we certainly aren’t slowing down to let them try, so, hey.
Eventually we end up in the last few circles, firefights happening all around us. At this point we’ve opted for crawling to keep the odds better; folks with good gear are trying to murder each other at various points on the edge of the current circle, since the edge is where smart players stay so they don’t have to worry about who is behind them in the outside where everybody’s quite dead now, thanks.
And we’re in the middle, just skootching along. The circle center tells us we have to crawl right across a road, which provides no grass or bushes for cover and takes forever and draws no attention. We get eyes on three or four different pairs or surviving single players, none of whom notice us. The next circle makes us crawl BACK ACROSS THE ROAD. Still nothing happens. Other dudes winnow each other down. The next circle, the final circle, tells us to crawl halfway up a bare stretch of hill, tremendously visible, just the last thing you would ever choose to do. Just an idiotic idea.
And as we aim up this hill, I accidentally hit the prone button again when I’m already prone, and so I stand up instead of crawling, and before I can fix this massive own-goal of a miskey, a couple of dudes that we were already quite sure must be at the hilltop see me and murder me.
Oh boy, me and Haus are saying to each other. That’s that. Dang. You’re next, Haus, oh well, good game.
So they murder me and Haus finishes his crawl to the new awful destination a second later (I ran slightly past it accidentally because of the standing up and running), and we wait for the finishing hail of bullets.
Haus is unquestionably visible from their vantage peeking over the hill. He’s laying a few feet behind and to the right of where my body is. My own body is basically behind and under the wooden loot crate that dead players drop, directly downhill from the dudes at the top of the hill. And they don’t do anything.
At first we think they’re playing it half-safe, peeking but not shooting? But it goes on for a while. A while.
And then they get mobile, and come over the hill, flanking left and right around the edges of the final circle. They are kitted OUT, silenced scoped nonsense, one’s got that new Gorka rifle the game just added, they’re all armor and coats and kevlar and helmets and such. They’ve had a real good game and they’re down to one guy left, and he’s apparently Darned Wily.
So they circle the whole area, hopping and dodging and weaving to avoid the incoming fire they’re expecting at any moment, and they’re getting behind the few trees there are in this wee final circle, hoping to find this guy, this ninja, this fucking Plunkbat wizard who is giving them the business. They circle everything, and they do it again. They run past Haus several times, like RIGHT past him. They stop and look at him, and then move on. They circle again, they start shooting everything. Trees. Rocks. Grass. More rocks. There’s not even anything to shoot but they shoot it.
They shoot everything but Haus, at whom they keep looking and then moving on.
And we’re on voice chat just losing our minds, because how is this happening? But it’s happening, and it’s taking an unbearable amount of time to happen. I don’t know exactly how long the delay between the final circle settling down and then the Crushing Doom as it finally shrinks away to nothingness is, but even though I’d guess its about a minute or so, based on my subjective experience from this episode it’s actually something like three hours because HOW IS THIS HAPPENING.
We have time to develop theories about it all. Fundamental assumption: they think Haus’s prone, living body is actually my dead body, because they couldn’t see my actual corpse behind my crate before it despawned.
So, from there, my best guess is these guys either (a) don’t know that bodies despawn, which seems unlikely given the pretty solid and coordinated job they’ve done of getting the table set for dinner, or (b) they assume Haus’ body is my body and the game glitched and failed to properly get rid of it. I like this latter theory although I still have no idea why they didn’t shoot just for good measure. And in later debriefing my brother notes that a body in the late game with nothing, zero, zilch — no guns, no helmet, no armor, no backpack — sure looks like a glitch just on principle. How would that be possible? How would they get there? It makes no sense. It’s impossible. Game must be broken, man. But anyway, where’s this Solid Snake motherfucker hiding?
I would have given anything to hear their end of the conversation.
I start to daydream about the unlikely possibility that, so confused and distraught by this impossible scenario where they’re fighting with Invisible Wizard Ninja, they lose track of the circle as it does the final crush to singularity, and die in the deadly Outside while Haus lays quietly at circle center. It’s insane, it’s impossible, but LOOK WHAT WE’RE WORKING WITH. It could happen. It could happen.
But it’s impossible. Somehow, eventually, after more rock shooting and tree shooting and lapping the circle and staring long and hard at Haus’ body, after who knows how much and what tenor of discussion while they grappled with the world-tilting surreality of this final circle, these guys come to a radical conclusion: maybe we should shoot the person we can see. Maybe we should use our guns to put bullets in this person we keep staring at while trying to figure out where the only other person left in this match is. Maybe we should shoot at the human-shaped rock instead of all the rock-shaped ones.
And so: we got second place in a duo game, just by autorunning and waiting. Operation Autorun is not only freaking the norms, it’s IMPROVING MY STATS.