IncGamers Network

Big guns in a bigger world, designing Planetside 2

Sequel to 2003’s generally favourably received Planetside, Planetside 2 is aiming to at bigger and better things… to become the first truly successful first-person shooter MMO. (By truly successful, we’re talking World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and EVE Online.)
How is it aiming to achieve such feats? We talk to the game’s creative director, Matt Higby, to find out. 
IncGamers: Planetside 2 is a first-person shooter MMO, can you explain how the mentality of such a game differs from the RPG format that most MMOs take?
Matt Higby: Well, we want the focus to be on combat. We don’t want you to feel as though you’ve got to play this pseudo crafting-style game to be able to gain resources and progress. Our game is entirely PVP, there is no PVE element – each server can hold thousands of players.
There are still skills to earn. For example, with vehicles there are different engines and weapons to unlock which you can use to customise it to your own liking. In terms of abilities there’s different infantry classes, each of which can customise themselves in a number of ways. For example, if I want to have a ‘light assault’ character that has an assault rifle that deals a lot of damage then I can do that but it’ll come at the cost of increased recoil.
IncGamers: How are those customisable elements balanced?
Higby: All of our weapons are balanced to allow a five minute player, a five month player and a five year player to be able to compete with one another. Of course, the five year player will have many more options to personalise their set-up but it doesn’t mean that they will be more powerful.
As you progress through the skill tree you gain access to more and more things. We still have experience points and level progression that are used to unlock further items on the skill tree; so a level three player will only have access to a few branches but level 20 will have many more.

IncGamers: Does each faction have their own unique skill sets?
Higby: Well, they have their own unique variants on skills. In most cases though the skills are equivalent between factions.
There are unique vehicles and weapons so, based on the way the skills interact with these, you can create very individual classes. In the original Planetside we didn’t have a class system, you just choose which weapons and armour you wanted. It was a very free system. By adding the defined class roles we now have many more skills available to players.
We didn’t want to allow someone to have a jump-pack and a sniper rifle because then they could jump up to some high perch and get easy kills all day. The class system lets players do cooler stuff but limiting is also required.
IncGamers: I presume you can have multiple characters, and multiple classes, with each account…
Higby: Yeah. Also the classes aren’t locked. You don’t start a character and always have to play in the same class, you can switch your role every time you respawn or go into an equipment terminal. The only real restriction we have right now is that you can’t create a second character from a different Empire [read: faction] on the same server. We don’t want people going in and screwing over people that they should be defending.

IncGamers: You’re calling guilds ‘Outfits’, how do they operate in the world?
Higby: Our Outfit system is extremely robust. When you’re making an MMO FPS it’s important that you take the best elements from modern MMO’s and the best elements from modern FPS’ and slam them together properly.
So, obviously, the Outfit system is one of those elements from modern MMO’s that we’ve put a lot of effort into. We’ve got the customising elements built into the Outfits. So, if you want your Outfit to be the best pilots of air vehicles on your server then you can unlock skills for those vehicles that no other Outfit has access to, except for others that have done the same thing.
We want situations where you’ll see a certain kind of customised armour coming over the ridge and you’ll think “shit, yeah, the bad-ass air units are here.” Hopefully those elements will become aspirational in that new players will see those guys and work towards being a part of their Outfit.
So, yeah, we’ve worked really hard for Outfits to be able to customise elements that affect gameplay rather than just stuff like armour. Plus, we’ve got the other stuff like leaderboards, voice-over IP chat channels etc.
IncGamers: Can you go as far as to build/take ownership of your own Outfit stronghold?
Higby: We’re talking about having Outfit housing. I’m not absolutely sure as to whether we’re going to have that at launch and we don’t know what format they will take – i.e. space stations or underground or whatever. But, we do want something of that type.
IncGamers: Is it possible for an Empire to be completely wiped off of a map?
Higby: No, on every continent there’s one uncapturable [sic] sanctuary base zone that you can’t overthrow. There are multiple continents and enough to make it almost impossible for any one faction to own every territory at any given time. It would require just too much manpower. Maybe if you had two thousand people in your faction you could do it but it would be extremely unlikely and the other factions would have to be very under-populated.

IncGamers: How do you deal with a situation whereby two of the factions are very popular and the third has many fewer individuals?
Higby: That is a concern and that does happen. What we do is we give advantages to the faction (or factions) with smaller populations. Resources will be handed out in greater quantities to the smaller factions which will allow you to kit yourself out with better stuff more quickly, you’ll also gain more experience and level up faster.
The other thing is that, because it’s a three-way game, you don’t necessarily need equal numbers to have fun. You can have 100 vs. 30 and still have fun because when 20 people from the third faction enter the fight you’ve created a giant cluster-fuck. That rules and it’s one of the most exciting things about Planetside 2.
IncGamers: I know from talking to other developers that shooters are difficult to balance, how difficult is such a task in a shooter MMO?
Higby: It’s certainly a challenge. That’s sort of the place we’re at right now, we’re playing around a lot with the weapons and abilities and working out what stuff works and what doesn’t. At the moment we’ve got a lot of cool stuff in the game but some of it is broken cool stuff so we’re trying to find out a way of having those bits remain cool but fit with the rest of the game.
That iteration cycle is something that takes a long time and that’s why our release date is simply ‘when we’re ready’.
IncGamers: What about an open beta? When will you be ready for that?
Higby: Same thing, really. We’re waiting until we’re far enough along to allow us to use a beta to just test server load and that kind of thing. We have enough people at the company right now to do internal testing with 50 vs. 50 vs. 50 battles. We’re still a ways off from a beta.


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