Sony Online Entertainment presented two amazing games during GDC, second to mention is a free to play science fiction MMO first-person shooter called PlanetSide 2. Technical director Ryan Elam and senior art director Trammell Isaac made public appearances during the conference to discuss why the sequel to PlanetSide, which was released in 2003, is bigger and way better than its predecessor.
What makes PlanetSide 2 different from PlanetSide?
Trammell Isaac: I think we’ve pushed the limits as far as what can be done with the technology that we’ve created. On the PC, I don’t know of any other games that does 200 or 300 people fights with frame rates up to 60 frames per second. And at the same time, do it in a way that’s visually compelling. PlanetSide 2 is basically pushing what PC gaming could be, and it’s free to play.
Why make it free to play?
Trammell Isaac: Because PlanetSide is a game of numbers. We didn’t want any barrier to entry of the game. The more people you can get, the more fun you have with the different scenarios that unfold.
Ryan Elam: People are our contact.
Trammell Isaac: Exactly, so if you come across 50 people coming over a hill, and another 100 people coming over another hill that’s a situation you can’t find in any other game. Each situation in the game could be different because players are not battling against AIs, they’re battling real people, and people behave differently every time. So why put a price tag on that?
How much fan involvement is there?
Ryan Elam: The fans are super important to us and SOE in general, for PlanetSide 2 specifically. We actually outlined a 6-month plan to just put it out there, and showing all the things we’re going to work on. Now we continue to iterate on that and we let users basically upload and download every single feature that we’re talking about and comment on various aspects about them. Then we’ll discuss the things players are talking about, features they like, features they don’t like. If players don’t like a certain feature we ask why. When they tell us, we change it and they start uploading again. So that kind of feedback loop on our customers is awesome. It means once we’ve taken that top tier feature and put it on our actual milestone plan, when we get done, they’re already salivating for it. They already want that feature. We have no guess work or ask ourselves whether players will like this. If this is what they want, we’re going to deliver it.
How do you plan to keep players interested in PlanetSide 2?
Ryan Elam: I think SOE has a pedigree of decade-old games that you don’t play for six months and leave. We have people who have been playing our games for twelve, thirteen or fourteen years and we’ve learned how to maintain that kind of player base. They’re very vocal, they want us to know their thoughts. When they come and play a game like Everquest, Everquest 2 or PlanetSide 1, they feel like their part of a home. We made the engine Forgelight so that we can continue making the game for a decade without having to change engines. So keeping PlanetSide 2 around for the next ten years as well as all the players playing it is one of our core confidences. It’s one of the things SOE is best at.
Trammell Isaac: The way to keep people interested is by continuing to listen to them. I think this is the most vocal audience I’ve ever worked with, be it through command center, of Friday night ops, or any of the forums, meeting boards and venues we visit in order to relate with fans. There are so many avenues in which players can interact with the dev team directly, not through a PR shield. Everyday I get tweets asking me about what feature or such is coming out and its mainly because we’re in a straightforward connection with the fans and as long as we stay connected with them, I think that’s going to allow us to stay on top of things that they want.
Although the game is created primarily for PC, are there any plans to take it to mobile platforms like Android or iPad?
Trammell Isaac: I’m glad you mentioned that, actually! We have an iPad app that works directly with the game.
Ryan Elam: The app is actually an excellent example of some of the RPG elements that are in PlanetSide 2. A lot of our dev team come from an RPG background like Everquest and Everquest 2.
Trammell Isaac: It also permits any player to keep connected with whatever its team is doing. It gives you all your stats, all your classes, every vehicle that you own or have used, and its all realtime. You can also see what’s going on in the world at any time in the map that we have available. So it allows you to do what you want outside of the game, and it allows you to talk with players directly in the game from the iPad or Android. So if you’re stuck at work and have a bunch of friends in the game you can talk directly to them as they’re playing and find out what’s going on. And as time goes on we’ll be developing more functionality for the iPad.
What kinds of weapons can players use in the game?
Trammell Isaac: We’ve got the whole gambit, and we’re always releasing more. We just released empire rocket launchers with very specific abilities, we’ve got the Terran Republic rocket launcher that fires a rapid succession of three rockets, then there’s the lancer, a vehicle weapon for the Vanu Sovereignty, there’s also the Phoenix, a camera guided missile for the NC (New Conglomerate). Last before that was pump action shotguns, and before that was SMGs. Pretty much any weapon known to man has been brought into the game. Not only are we constantly creating more, we plan on releasing new weapons at least every month. We’ll also be upgrading different kinds of Terras you can put on vehicles, different types of Terras on bases, and so forth. We’ve still got a large variety of things we can still add in the game to make it more compelling.
Should gamers already have to be familiar with PlanetSide 1 before playing PlanetSide 2?
Ryan Elam: Anyone can jump into playing PlanetSide 2.
Trammell Isaac: Absolutely. PlanetSide 1 is a completely different game. It plays in a another way, more in the style of RPG. PlanetSide 2 was meant to be a first-person shooter, and therefore plays like a first-person shooter. But on top of that, there are RPG elements that allow you to upgrade and advance your character. Overall, if this will be your first time playing PlanetSide 2 you’re not going to miss anything by not having played PlanetSide 1.
Ryan Elam: Also, if you’re someone who collects items in games, its an awesome game for the collector because you don’t just start with one character class, you’re all the different character classes at the same time. You can collect and amass all these different kinds of weapons and the attachments for those different classes as well as vehicles and vehicle attachments. So for collectors there are hundreds and hundreds of items to gather that’ll make your character more powerful.
Are there plans to take PlanetSide 2 into game competitions?
Ryan Elam: We were just at the Dallas MLG (Major League Gaming).
Trammell Isaac: Yes, we announced not too recently about our partnership with MLG and PlanetSide 2 will be a competitive title. All details were announced at the Dallas MLG and we’ll be at MLG in Anaheim as well. We’ve been working directly with MLG to make sure that PlanetSide 2 is suitable for their formats, so stay tuned for information coming on that!
C + 2 thanks senior producer Todd Carson and associate producer Rod Haza for sharing details on Dragon’s Prophet, tech director Ryan Elam and senior art director Trammell Isaac for sharing details on PlanetSide 2, and thanks to everyone at Sony Online Entertainment!