The sequel to the cult 2003 hit PlanetSide is incoming. Sitting down with the creative director of the upcoming MMOFPS, Matthew Higby, we spoke about how PlanetSide 2 differs from its predecessor, and the problems that arise from developing a game in this rarely seen genre.
Q: What is PlanetSide 2 for those who aren't aware?
Matthew Higby: PlanetSide 2 is a massively multiplayer online first person shooter. It allows thousands of players to directly and simultaneously compete with each other in a huge open world game. There are air vehicles, ground vehicles.
Q: How does it relate to the first game?
Matthew Higby: It's not a sequel. We consider it to be a re-envisioning. You know, it's on the same planet, it has the same factions. They're just kind of more starkly contrasting. And they have a little bit of a different motivations, more well defined motivations, and sort of different priorities.
Q: Why not go for an entirely different world?
MH: We wanted to explore Auraxis a little bit more. It's a really interesting world, it has some really interesting story that never really got fleshed out in the original game, about how the planet was formed, what sort of people lived there before, that kind of stuff. And we're really looking forward to being able to explore that space a little bit more.
Q: There are rumours of it coming to console, is this true?
MH: Right now it's PC only.
Q: Have there been any plans to test those waters?
MH: I don't know! [laughs]
Q: Do you think branching out to new platforms is going to be a way for MMOs to evolve in the industry?
MH: I think so. You know, it's much different to make an MMO for a console than it is to make an MMO for a PC. It takes a lot of work. The most difficult thing is porting all the UI over. You have to create UI that is joypad-friendly, and that's hard. But yeah, there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the engine, and consoles have a very small memory so, I mean there is a huge amount of work that needs to get done to bring an MMO from PC to PS3.
Q: Could you describe the actual combat?
MH: It's 100 per cent PvP. The entire game is PvP and it's basically, very fast-pace, very faithful to the original PlanetSide, but it's a lot quicker. That's something that people who played the original game will notice right away. But it's incredibly massive. If you look at something like Battlefield where you have 32 players versus 32 players, you might be having 320 versus 320 versus 320. You can have battles with 1000 people actively participating in all three teams.
Q: Surely latency will be an issue?
MH: Latency is the reason we don't have a lot of MMOFPS' on the market. It's a huge problem and it's very difficult to solve.
Q: So how are you guys going to solve it?
MH: We have a lot of really intelligent engineers who have years and years of experience making massively multiplayer games. So we have the specific expertise of that. PlanetSide 1 managed to work really well even considering we had to take a lot of low bandwith Internet connections into consideration. Now with broadband saturation being really high and being the de facto mode it's going to be a little bit easier for us to get around some of those latency issues.
Q: What did you want to change from the last game?
MH: Pacing is one of the main changes with PlanetSide 2, pacing in PlanetSide 2 is closer to Bad Company 2. It's similar to that kind of speed. We also added some things like a mission system that allows players to easily coordinate large battles and get into huge combats faster. In PlanetSide sometimes it was difficult to coordinate and that was something we definitely wanted to solve. We also added way more customisation, not only to characters but to vehicles. You can pimp out your tank, change your secondary and primary weapons on it, change the armour on it. Change the transmission and engine, all that stuff, you can really modify it. It's all about making trade-offs so you can make the kind of tank you want to drive, the kind of weapon you want to fire. We don't want you to get more powerful [through customisation], we just want you to have your particular niche filled.
Q: A few MMOs are embracing sandbox PvP. Is that something you feel might work in this game?
MH: We've talked a lot about doing sandbox style gameplay. It's something that we'll probably start pursuing post-launch, players being able to place their own facilities, players being able to place their own towers, and populate their world with contestable areas.
Q: Can you talk about the free-to-play aspect?
MH: We have a shop, so there are microtransactions. One of our key goals with microtransactions is never exclusively sell power. We will never allow you to buy an item that gives you more power. We want to make sure that the stuff that's available in the store is also available through gameplay. The store is a way to maybe bypass spending a lot of time finding items.
Q: Does it surprise you that there are so few developers attempting to combine shooters with an MMO structure?
MH: I'm not surprised that people haven't succeeded with a true FPS MMO before because they are really hard to make. But there are those issues of latency, getting the balance correct, supporting thousands of players, that's just part of it. But we're more surprised that more people haven't tried. It surprises me that there aren't more out there, or at least more attempts. Because I think honestly with PlanetSide 2 we'll be able to open up the MMOFPS genre, in the same way that EverQuest did to the MMORPG genre.