Next up, Strategy Informer went to talk to Sony Entertainment Online about their plans for the sequel to the cult classic Planetside. Sadly, there wasn't any gameplay to see, but we did get an interview with front-man Matthew Higby:
Strategy Informer: For the sake of the uninitiated, can you give a brief overview of what Planetside 2 is all about?
Matthew Higby: We have all the modern-day bells and whistles you'd expect to - real-time reflections, real-time shadowing, HDR lighting, physics... you'd expect these in a modern FPS title, and attached to that we've also added modern day... deep character progression, outfits... all that sort of MMO progression.
Planetside 2 takes place on these massive battle-fronts that are dozens of square kilometres. It's an entirely over-world, non-instanced combat game. You can have hundreds of players fighting against hundreds of players fighting against hundreds of players in these massive cluster-fuck battles that allow you to have tanks coming in on one side, aircraft coming over the ridge... such a massive scope.
Strategy Informer:I imagine latency is going to be big thing for you guys, seeing as in you want to cram so many people in a (high quality) persistent world. What steps are you taking to account for that?
Matthew Higby: S.O.E.'s DNA is built around Massively Multiplayer, so in terms of server structure and getting players to be proxy'd to one another, that's one of our core competencies. I always say that I'm not surprised that there hasn't been another successful MMOFPS besides the original Planetside, but I'm shocked that there haven't been attempts to make one, because the gameplay is phenomenal - you have hundreds of players fighting, and latency is not a problem so you can massive battles.
Strategy Informer:It's been eight years since the original game - that's a long time in gaming terms.
Matthew Higby: Yup, it launched in 2003. Planetside was a bit of a tragic game, actually. It was way ahead of its time. It launched when people really didn't have broadband - at least in the states it wasn't that widespread. People's hardware wasn't really at the ability to be able to run it - so it wasn't really able to catch on. Also, it was a subscription base game that was launched into a market that only had really 400,000 subscribers to sustain it. Now that WoW is out, people are more familiar with that kind of model. We haven't announced anything regarding Planetside 2's business model, yet. But back then, that was definitely a hurdle.
Strategy Informer:As you mentioned, there hasn't really been a decent attempt to emulate Planetside, so really you've got nothing to look to in terms of what might work, what won't work. Are you going t be more cautious with experimenting in this game?
Matthew Higby: We're technically pushing things, but really we're looking at the more successful FPS titles. We're saying "well, what games do WE like to play?", what kind of experiences do players enjoy? We're looking at Battlefield, Modern Warfare, MAG... even Team Fortress 2. We look at them and we think about what are the cool experiences we can take from this and incorporate into Planetside 2.
In addition to that, we look at everything that's cool with modern MMO games. Guild systems, progression etc... And of course we have eight years of experience working with the original Planetside.
Strategy Informer: You mentioned barriers to success for the original Planetside - obviously things have come a long way in eight years, is there anything that you're doing now that you wanted to do in the original game, but couldn't?
Matthew Higby: Oh absolutely. Planetside 2 is much faster paced. We're moving a lot... we're basically making it more like a modern shooter. Planetside was a more slower game it took a lot of bullets to kill somebody. We have a mission system now, one of our big learning curves from the original was that new players jumping in for the first time will need guidance on what to do. Players that are experienced and have played the game a lot need a way to organise, so we created a mission system that serves both fronts.
If you are a new player and just want to join in, and just want to have that FPS experience and not mess around with all the coordination and leadership stuff, then we have missions that let you have that kick ass FPS experience. IF you are an experienced player, than you can create your own missions that depend on what rank you are, whether you're the leader of you 'outfit' or guild, and players who log in can see these missions and can really coordinate. The mission system was a key component mission from the original Planetside.
Strategy Informer:What about the factions, any changes there?
Matthew Higby: There are three factions that are pretty much unique - I mean they are all human, they all wear armour and have similar classes - but they have unique weapons and vehicles, and so have unique tactics. Within each faction there can be any number of player-run 'outfits', with squads etc... and they are all working towards the same faction goal. So you could have two of the factions fighting it out, and suddenly the third faction will appear and just cause havoc.
Strategy Informer:Can you go into the territory/control system a bit?
Matthew Higby: There's a whole regional control system where you run around and capture bases, which means you can capture pieces of territory, and this nets resources to the player. This means I don't have to go out an acquire my own territory though - if I'm a member of a faction, or outfit, and that group owns territory, I get resources passively. And those resources can be used for everything from customising your vehicles or weapons, buying things from the store, to being able to place towers or bunkers on the game world.
Also, different territories will have different resources, and different resources will have different rarities. Say one empire needs a lot of Araxium - which is a resources used in rail guns - and as an opposing empire you know that, and you decide you're going to deprive them of Araxium by taking out this and taking out that. So there's an entire resource game that makes PS2 play like a real war.
Strategy Informer:Will there be friendly fire within a faction?
Matthew Higby: Friendly-fire is still something we're working out - the original Planetside had friendly-fire, we have friendly-fire on currently, but we're not entirely sure it will be in at launch. Right now we're iterating on the mechanics for weapons and vehicles.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned a leadership ship - if you look at MAG, their approach to leadership was the "carrot", giving people incentives to do as they are told. What's your take on this? Sometimes we can't help but feel that people who don't want to do as they are told, really won't no matter how much incentive there is, so perhaps a "rod" should be in place as well?
Matthew Higby: Well, M.A.G. has a limit on the amount of people that could play right? But with Planetside, you're not going to have the problem where - say these people don't do as they are told - you can't accomplish goals or anything. You're going to have enough players to be able to get stuff done still.
We want the game to remain open-ended, if someone just wants to hop into a mosquito - one of our lighter aircraft - and just go fly around in circles in the corner, that's fine. That's not really bothering anyone. Yeah, he's not helping anyone achieve any goals, but it's not the end of the world.
Strategy Informer:Social Networking is becoming a big thing at the moment, especially with online games - are you guys incorporating that into Planetside 2 at all?
Matthew Higby: We will have our own built-in social network with friends, character profiles, Outfits... we have a very deep and rich Outfit system, Outfits are our Guilds. But we're also doing facebook integration, probably Twitter. We want it to be so that, if you get a sweet headshot, you can tell people about it.
Strategy Informer:How are you going into the MMO side of things? Are we talking about crafting, marketplaces, etc...?
Matthew Higby: Well we're a first-person shooter first. No matter what else we focus on. We talked a bit about crafting, like buildings and stuff - I mentioned earlier that you could use resources to dynamically place things on the map, but that's something we'd consider doing post-launch. Player resources, player trading and marketplaces for trading are all things we've discussed but not something we're going to focus on.
Strategy Informer:Will there be several zones like the original game?
Matthew Higby: We'll have several maps, each of them will be dozens of square kilometres of playable game space. Right now we're hand-crafting every single playable area on the map so that, not only infantry, but all the vehicles we have feel fun and interesting in the area. Yeah, we'll have several areas, different climates and environments.
Strategy Informer:Is there anything for players to do when they're not trying to shoot each other, is there a base or 'house' where they can just hang out?
Matthew Higby: Well, if there's a safe zone you could probably hang-out there. It wouldn't be much fun but if you just wanted to chat to your guild-mates, you could. We talked about offering 'Outfit Housing' so that Outfits could have or create their own bases, but we're not sure that's something we're going to do for launch. It would probably be something we'd have in our long-term plan.
Strategy Informer:I imagine the most important question on everyone minds is the when? Do you have a release window yet for release? Or even a Beta?
Matthew Higby: We don't have a release date or a beta date announced yet. Right now we're working on things like weapon mechanics, how many weapons we want to have, balancing between empires, etc... so once we have a solid feel on those bits, and the larger gameplay affecting bits, then we'll have a better idea of when our release and beta dates will be. We also haven't announced a business model, and that comes from the finalisation of what the core gameplay is going to be, how many skills are there, how many items there are etc... we don't want to just say "hey, here's our business model, let's slap a game on top of it".
Many people remember the original Planetside fondly, but as Higby stated, it may have come ahead of its time. But with eight years experience and all of the wonders of modern technology at its disposal, perhaps it's time has finally come. We'll bring you more information as we get it.