PUBG’s most iconic weapon isn’t a shotgun, an assault rifle or an SMG. In fact, in most other contexts, you wouldn’t even consider it much of a weapon at all, you’d probably just use it to make eggs. But here, in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, it carries a greater meaning, a higher purpose. Oh and also, if you stick it on your bum, it could very well save your life. I am, of course, talking about the frying pan.
Brendan Greene, the creator of PUBG, cites the Battle Royale movie as being a huge inspiration for his work. So much so, that games like his and those that have followed in its footsteps are now referred to as being part of the Battle Royale genre. Had he never watched Class 3-B murder one another with an assortment of weaponry, PUBG may well have never come to be.
And so it was crucial to Greene that his game included some kind of homage to this movie that had forever changed his life. There are, in fact, a tonne of Battle Royale references you can spot: the crossbow, the sickle, the lighthouse, the size of the island. But the developer’s favourite remains the trusted frying pan.
This was included as a nod to an early scene in the film in which one of the main characters, Shuya opens his bag to discover that he’s only been given a pan to defend himself with. This is considered quite unfortunate, as some other students are equipped with a shotgun or an Uzi. Except as you may already know (and as Greene would only realise some months after adding it to the game), Shuya was never actually given a frying pan. He received a saucepan lid.
“Someone on the team said: you know the frying pan isn’t in the f*cking movie?” explained Greene as I spoke to him last week. “I was like, really?!”
Ah it’s the thought that counts, I suppose.
Anyway, when the pan was first introduced during the game’s closed Alpha it was so strong that a single hit would kill any player, even if they were kitted out with the highest-level armour. It’s since been toned down a bit, which is probably for the best, although it still remains the most powerful melee weapon you can find in-game.
And players love it, not because it deals more damage than the machete or the crowbar – that’s an added bonus – but because there’s something very special about managing to land a kill with a cast iron skillet in a game where people can be running around with M16s and frag grenades. It’s the ultimate insult.
On top of this, there’s also the fact the PUBG pan possesses a rather unique trait: it’s completely impervious to bullets.
This, it turns out, is the result of a mistake.
Shortly after the game was released in Early Access, Greene was mucking around with one of his lead programmers, Marek Krasowski. PUBG was already making waves at this point, having hit its millionth copy sold in the previous week, but despite this, the development process remained quite spontaneous. Which is why Greene and Krasowski were spending their evening trying to figure out how to add collision to the frying pan, so players could potentially swat away an incoming grenade.
It’s really difficult to pull this off and they knew most players would never see it in action, but those who did, would really value that moment.
“We wanted to eventually make it that you could hit a grenade with the frying pan,” said Greene. “Just to give that level of detail. As Pixar say, it’s ‘bumping the lamp’. You wouldn’t expect to be able to do it, but if you can, then why not? Someone will notice and someone will love it.”
They got it working, played around with grenades for a bit and then headed home, content with the progress they’d made. Best to get a good night’s rest they thought, as the game’s first big update was going live overnight and they’d need to be ready to jump on any issues this might cause the following day.
Greene remembers waking up to this article on the front page of PC Gamer the next morning, entitled: Frying pans now literally save your ass in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
They’d been experimenting with the frying pan in the same version of the game they’d just sent out to over a million players. And nobody had remembered to remove their changes.
“We didn’t realise it would protect against bullets,” admitted Greene. “And then when we saw it, it was like: well, that’s awesome. I’ve seen people use the frying pan and bat a bullet out of midair. It’s amazing. Stuff like that is truly emergent. Something that you can never really plan for.”
You can go back and check the patch notes for the Month 1 update, by the way. You’ll see them they talk about performance improvements, an overhaul of how reviving works and the Vector SMG makes its first appearance. There’s loads of stuff, but absolutely no mention of the pan.
Now Greene had been planning to introduce this change at some point down the line, although first, he was going to look into adding some kind of penetration. So if your frying pan got shot, it’d leave a big hole, as a number of YouTubers have been keen to point out is the case in-real-life.
However in another fantastic example of ‘it’s not a bug, it’s a feature’, PUBG players immediately fell in love with the pan’s new update and Greene and his team very quickly realised they probably shouldn’t change it back.
Months later, they haven’t, and the frying pan is now seen internationally as a symbol for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Just a few days ago, a South Korean politician brought a golden pan along with him to the country’s National Assembly, as he requested the government do even more to foster other game development companies alongside Bluehole.
And yet, were it not for a couple of fortunate mistakes, he could have been carrying a saucepan lid and a non-bulletproof one at that. I know it’s a daft story, but to me this seems a really important thing to do when you’re creating something: to recognise your mistakes, sure, but also to know when you’ve accidentally stumbled onto something really cool. We covered a similar sort of story in the very first Here’s A Thing episode at the start of this year: the mistake that made World of Warcraft’s stealth mechanic work.
Sometimes it pans out in the end, y’know?
Illustration and animation by Anni Sayers.