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SOE Fan Faire 2011: Planetside panel and interview with Creative Director Matt Higby

Karen Bryan

Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley and members of the Planetside 2 development team sat down with press to talk more about the highly-anticipated sequel to the original Planetside. Joining Smedley were Creative Director Matt Higby, Senior Art Director Trammell Isaac, and Executive Producer Josh Hackney.

Smedley began by talking about how Planetside 2 is both an MMO and a FPS game, and that there are very few titles in that particular genre. He added that it will be a remarkable experience, and that he feels they can deliver in a way that no one else has. Read past the cut for more details.

From there, he discussed some of Planetside 2's features in greater detail. First off is the territory control system, which allows players to control not only structures or choke points, but entire areas. In Planetside 2, they wanted to improve on making fights more unpredictable. It's created so that each piece of the map has intrinsic value through control of resources. So, rather than capturing a facility to increase influence for the empire, you can capture everything. Control of resources gives players a new motivation to fight.

"Control of resources gives players a new motivation to fight."

As a result, it changes the way they design levels and continents. There will be more vertical gameplay, with the addition of things like scaffolding along canyon walls, and the battles will be more intense. More players will be able to fit on a map and have a meaningful interaction.

Matt Higby went on to explain the importance of resources. Control of resources means a gain for the outfit, empire and self. There are rare and common resources, and players have to make a decision about what resources to pursue and how far to go in order to get them. In addition, players can capture territory in order to deny resources to the enemy. It adds a lot of variety to the game.

With this much going on, he added, you're not drilling down towards this particular area; you're looking at the bigger picture and the war across the entire continent. Everyone's on the move. Players are part of a huge army, accomplishing individual goals in the process of accomplishing team goals. And he added that the world is persistent, so once an area is captured, it's under the control of those players until someone takes it back.

Skills and Classes
Next was a discussion of the skill tree and classes. Classes are combat roles, and players can switch seamlessly between them. Players will be able to add attachments, power ups, and even improve their vehicles through the skill tree. In addition, there's a time-based unlock system, which allows players to select skills to level up, and they continue to increase whether you're online or not. You just need to log in once a day and have those selected skills in queue to improve them.

For example a player could choose to be a Vanguard driver, one of the new classes that will be available. You can choose how to customize your vehicle, such as improving the handling of the tank, unlocking secondary weapons, adding ground-to-air or anti-infantry weapons.

There is also a skill tree for outfits. Skills can be chosen to make an outfit specialize in a particular style of combat, and Smedley used the example of the 101st Airborne Division as a type of outfit that players could aim for. It gives an incentive for players to join certain outfits based on what they can do and what skills they unlock.

"The basic goal of Planetside 2's design is to take everything that players loved about the original game, take all the bells and whistles of modern day FPS games, add in the systems and features of MMOs, and integrate it all."

Activity in game does increase your velocity of points increasing. So the more active players are rewarded for playing the game. But there are a few reasons that they added the offline skill system. First, they wanted people to stay close to friends even though they can't play as much. But they also wanted to allow players to play actively. With a time-based unlock, you won't feel like you're wasting time if you're not actively fighting. If you're waiting for obstacles to clear or for one more kill, you'll still be increasing your points. This should prevent people from running off randomly instead of sticking with the team and staying in order.

The basic goal of Planetside 2's design is to take everything that players loved about the original game, take all the bells and whistles of modern day FPS games, add in the systems and features of MMOs, and integrate it all. They have sought out player feedback, and as part of a larger plan, they intend to reveal features for the next three years in advance, to let players give feedback and input.

Press Q&A
During a Q&A with the press, there was a question about what was not included from the original Planetside. Sanctuaries are one thing that will not be in Planetside 2. The team decided that they wanted people either coordinating a battle or in a battle. In addition, shuttle timers were scrapped, because it was a feature that frustrated players.

When asked about whether Planetside 2 will be launched both on the Playstation 3 and PC, Smedley dodged the question, but he did say cryptically, "We were first with DCUO, second with Free Realms, and we have other things planned, possibly beyond even the PS3."

Our Interview
After the panel, Creative Director Matt Higby talked with Massively to answer some questions about the game. A recap of the interview follows:

Higby first elaborated a bit on the question of what type of price plan Planetside 2 will have. He said that Station Cash is a company-wide agenda. It hasn't been worked out completely yet, but he assured players that they will never sell powerful items or items that give players an advantage through the cash shop. He said they don't want to limit players' enjoyment of the game by forcing them to buy items with Station Cash.

Next, he talked about servers and populations. Planetside 2 will have multiple servers, in order to support the size of the playerbase on the world map. He also said they don't want players to be able to create characters from different factions and be able to listen in on the enemy. Players will be able to play multiple factions, but they'll have to do it on separate servers.

When asked about populations and managing a balance among the tree factions, he said it was a tricky problem. They don't want to break up player communities, especially the enormous teams that are coming from Planetside. They plan to allow people to create characters, choose their faction first, and then select from recommended servers that need the empire they want to play the most.

We asked next about whether players will be able to build structures in open territory that they capture, such as river banks or cliff sides. Initially, he said, they will be able to build structures like turrets and sand bag walls, which he said hopefully will be in a launch. As part of the three year plan, they intend to add a greater variety of structures and facilities that give players more ability to build bases and defenses. But as with everything, if you build it up, it can also be torn down.

"But as with everything, if you build it up, it can also be torn down."

Next was the topic of voice chat, and as with other SOE games, Planetside 2 will use the Vivox voice chat system, complete with various channels and the ability to customize your own voice channels. When asked about whether players will see the ability to interact with mobile devices, Higby said they're not ready to announce anything yet, but the idea of having something like the mini-map on your iPad, allowing you to interact with that while playing on your big screen, is an eventuality.

Higby then spoke about the prospect of one faction dominating the others, to the point that they can't retake captured territory. When asked about whether there would be plans for a reset or a way to help players even out the battle, he said they don't intend to include that in the game. If anything, it would only be a last resort. He said they plan to manage and balance things very carefully to reduce the chances of something like that. But he also added that being able to have one empire control large portions of the map, or even take over the entire map, is next to impossible.

We asked about whether there would be any small group instanced PvP, and while he said that Planetside 2 is focused only on world map open battles, he did say they thought about adding some strict, competitive, e-sports-style competition into the game. It would be a small map set up for platoon vs platoon, or 40 vs 40, with a set duration and objectives. He said it would be a neat sub-game to Planetside 2, but he stressed that it would never be the focus of the game.

Lastly, we asked about whether they had any specific plans for the original Planetside once the sequel launches. He didn't go into specifics, but he said they're focused on rewarding Planetside fans in Planetside 2.

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