PAX East 2012: A talk with PlanetSide 2's Matt Higby

PlanetSide 2
"For me, it's such a compelling genre for anybody who's played it," SOE Creative Director Matt Higby said about PlanetSide 2's niche. "But that's the thing. There's not a lot of people who have played a MMOFPS, but the people who have are addicted."

Hibgy sat down with us at PAX East to promote SOE's upcoming sci-fi shooter, saying that it scratches two itches with one bird (or some other mixed metaphor). "I'm a competitive player; I love shooters," he said, "but I'm also a very social player and love the progression aspect of MMOs."

It's not as if the MMOFPS field is going to remain wide-open for very long. Competitors are rushing to mine this largely untouched market. Still, SOE has an advantage above the rest: It launched one of the first of its kind and has years of experience managing such a game. While we anxiously wait for word on PlanetSide 2's beta, we listened to Higby tell us why this title will continue the company's reign over the genre.

Blue night
The failure of competition

While Higby admits that many MMOs out there have the sense of community down pat, he lambasted what he saw as the failure of creating proper competitive content in those titles.

"When you're talking about being able to put thousands of players on a shared server and having a shared experience together, I feel there needs to be a better avenue for competition," he said.

Higby threw down the gauntlet when looking at the future: "I think the focus will be on having a lot more real gameplay. The MMOs of the past decade have used the massive social structure as a crutch for having crappy gameplay. You have a game that has redundant or non-existent gameplay. There's nothing innovative to it; there's nothing fun about it. If it weren't for the fact that you were playing it with a bunch of other people, you'd never play that game for more than an hour."

Thus, Higby believes that it's vital for studios to build solid gameplay systems first and then add the social layer after. He gave praise to Star Wars: The Old Republic for focusing on compelling storytelling as the core of its game but says that competition is where it's truly at.

He also fought back against people who say that MMOs are played out and have no innovation left to them; on the contrary, Higby believes the real innovation is yet to come.

How to win PlanetSide 2

One of our concerns was that PlanetSide 2 will become nothing more than an endless Team Fortress 2 match, with teams going back and forth on objectives that ultimately don't matter. Can we, for lack of a better phrase, win the game?

Higby says no, but that's not bad in the least. While you can't win in a persistent game (that would be boring in the long run, after all), he says that there's a lot more depth to PlanetSide 2 that traditional FPS games simply do not have. One of the major motivating factors for constant combat is the acquisition and defense of bases. Each base controls an area, and since each region deposits specific resources right into the piggy bank of the faction that controls it, players have a vested interest in staking out a claim.

Since there are in-game costs (not Station Cash costs) associated with upgrades and consumables, resources will always be in high demand. SOE fully expects the front lines to shift in unpredictable ways due to the changing demands for specific resources, keeping the battlefield dynamic and fresh rather than just reenacting a stale tug-of-war between two points.

Rough terrain
Your death flashed before your very eyes

We asked about the touchy subject of "deathcams," i.e., the instant replay that shows just how you died. The issue we had is that of a sniper's perspective, as a deathcam replay might reveal a hidden location and instantly compromise it.

Higby said that the deathcam seen at GDC wasn't anything like the one that's actually going in the game. It won't directly expose hiding locations but will instead show exactly how you died: weapon used, damage numbers, and the like.

Our next question was about classes. Will a player who's been in the game for a long time and leveled up a class so high be all but invincible to newbies? Higby answered this by pointing out that PlanetSide 2 focuses on horizontal, rather than vertical, progression. "We want you to be able to unlock different gameplay styles rather than raw power," he explained. "You can have all sorts of single methods." In other words, the more you play, the more you can personalize your gameplay experience, but your skill and strategic thinking will win the day more often than not.

Another concern we had was about players who jump into the game during off-peak hours, when the population is too low to create epic battle. Instead of adding PvE content to fill in the gap, SOE will ensure that players are encouraged to accomplish smaller objectives that can contribute to the greater cause.

We couldn't resist asking when we'll be able to get our hands on a beta -- or the launch. "When it's... awesome," Higby laughed. He told us to keep our eyes on E3, which should be a big time for the game.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 6-8, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about TERA or PlanetSide 2 or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.