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SOE Live 2012: PlanetSide 2 interviews emphasize universal appeal and focus on fun

MJ Guthrie

Watching Creative Director Matt Higby in a failed trailer attempt or with Senior Art Director Tramell Isaac on Command Center videos, you get the idea that PlanetSide 2 developers are having fun. And talking to them in-person in an unscripted environment, you know they do. Whether listening to a panel at SOE Live or catching them randomly in a hall, their passion and enthusiasm for the game is unmistakable... and contagious.

But fun wasn't the only theme present. In fact, the focus throughout the weekend convention can be described in three F words. (And no, not a one of them is the one you are thinking!) If you wanted to sum up the PlanetSide 2 message, its fun, friends, and the future. I was able to catch both Higby and Isaac over the weekend to talk with them about the emphasis on players telling their own stories, plans for bringing new players into the game, and the future of PS2. Keep reading to see what they have to say, and enjoy some Amerish concept art along with the continent's reveal trailer.

Planetside 2

There is simply no denying that a major focus of the game's development is on players having fun. That sentiment is not just hinted at, but repeated over and over again; both Isaac and Higby referred to the fun factor multiple times throughout presentations and the interviews. How will this be accomplished? Mainly by making sure the game is running smoothly, preventing griefing, and offering the tools for players to tell their own stories.

Of course, being able to actually play the game is a key to enjoying it. Isaac stated, "It will always be our first priority to make sure that the frame-rate is good, that the game is stable, and that we are actually implementing some of the changes that need to be implemented based on playstyles that we see people actually do." This process is ongoing; as reported earlier, PlanetSide 2 will never be "finished" because it will always be in a state of improvement.

One very unfun aspect in gaming that drives people away is griefing. Isaac pointed out that addressing griefing is also a priority. He noted,
"Griefing, hacking, just outright cheating, things like that are things that we want to lock down on early because we know that it has a detrimental effect on the game as a whole. Because all it takes is a handful of people to ruin the play of one [player] or a handful of people and then those people spread the word... that the game is not fun. We want to hammer that real early and make sure that doesn't happen so new people getting into the game have a good experience from day one."
One way of doing that is with the grief-locking feature. This system will lock the gun of someone for a certain period of time if s/he hits too many friendly targets, thereby preventing people from going on team-killing sprees. But what happens when you accidentally hit friends instead of foes, like when your teammates just jump into your line of fire? Isaac answered by describing a system the devs are working on which involves a way for accidental occurrences to be forgiven while purposeful ones are still punished. One way is by offering a forgiveness system where folks can buy back their time through community service to the group, such as healing or giving away ammo.

PlanetSide 2 concept art
Another ingredient in the PlanetSide 2 fun recipe is that the game is all about the players' stories, not the devs stories. It's about having epic personal experiences, ones that stay with you in your psyche. As Isaac put it, "I want to stain your brain!" He shared an experience where a handful of folks successfully defended a point against forces that seriously outnumbered them. Those involved -- on both sides -- still talk about that experience. It is also about sharing those stories with others, and different tools are implemented to facilitate this, such as the in-game Twitch function so players can stream and share their stories.

One key point devs noted is that this game is best experienced in a group. Higby had this to say about PlanetSide 2 gameplay:
"This is a game that is really, really fun to play with a group, and not as much fun to play by yourself. You can play as a lone wolf, as a sniper, and be really effective in the role, but the game shines in a way that very, very few other games do once you are in a big coordinated group and doing things that just aren't possible otherwise."
While it's not a bad thing to just jump in and fight other players, the devs are working on adding a lot of extra competitive elements for group play, like features that allow empires to have control over areas and get benefits for it. The idea is to get people to play on a strategic level by making teamwork more seamless and more rewarding.

PlanetSide 2 concept art
So how does PlanetSide 2 address the new player experience, those first few minutes that need to grab a player? A common complaint currently is that players get into the game and they just don't know what to do. This will be fixed by the addition of a tutorial-type experience, which is the next part of the mission system. Trammel describes the tutorial this way:
"The mission system is going to be able to give you a small list of attack points or items that you can address... or not address. It'll be an option. It's not something where we're saying, 'Hey, you have to do this in the first 15 minutes,' but it gives you a basic breakdown of certain things you can do to get more points (more experience points and more cert points) within that first 15 minutes."
These missions are really simple and can include going to points on the map, taking out a generator in a particular base, or auto-joining a squad, etc. These missions are meant to teach the basics and gradually introduce players to what the game is about and will be in by launch on November 20th.

Of course, if the game is better played in groups with friends, you need to get your friends in-game!

PlanetSide 2 concept art

Thanks to its predecessor PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2 has a built-in fan base. But the devs have made it clear that the game is intended to reach beyond that player base and grow to include a broader audience. I'd already noted that the enthusiasm for the game was contagious, but can non-elite FPS players get into this game and have enough fun to be hooked into staying? Sure the game sounds interesting, but what is going to keep the new folks from being driven away due to their lack of skill?

I posed those questions to both Higby and Isaac, and their answers gave hope that a variety of players will find a meaningful place in the game. Higby admitted that a skill gap will obviously exist between players who are really good at shooters and those who are not, and the good ones will have an advantage. However, having the game be fun for those who don't possess the highest skills is a priority. He stated,
"One of our goals from the very beginning is we want to make the game so that people who are not necessarily shooter players can go in and fill a very meaningful role and help their team out. We have medics and engineers who don't need to be good twitch shooter players to be a key, fundamental player in the game."
The key is support roles. Higby described various positions that players can (and need) to fulfill that don't rely on shooting ability, such as transport drivers. In short, "You can be a very important part of your team without ever firing a shot."

PlanetSide 2 concept art
That's good news for a game that wants to have a large and diverse playerbase. Matt also emphasized that bringing friends and whole MMO communities together is a focus, stating:
"If you are not the greatest shooter player of all time, it doesn't mean you can't be one of the most important players in the outfit. That's really, really important to us, specifically because we want to be able to get MMO communities [in game]. PS2 devs recognize that MMO communities are diverse, and want them to be able to play together in PlanetSide 2 even when some are not experienced or exceptionally skilled at FPS."
When asked the same questions, Tramell Isaac mirrored the sentiment that the game has meaningful roles for non-twitch players. He emphasized, "There are a number of roles for people who don't necessarily want to be on the front line obviously attacking and defending different points."

And he noted that the additional roles give the game more substance, more strategy. He described how folks who chose non-lethal ways to play the game gain their experience to advance their skills. Basically, a driver or pilot gains experience from the kills made by the gunners in his/her vehicle. Medics gain a ton of experience by AoE healing, using the medic gun, and reviving fallen players. Among other things, Engineers will receive XP each time a player picks up any ammo that they toss out. All those points are used to advance each class' individual skills.

Enjoyment is all about finding the right role for each player. To illustrate, Isaac shared an experience in-game where reporters were brought on-site in San Diego to try out the game, most of whom hadn't played before. After noticing one struggling, he gave the reporter a medic role instead and directed him to go get a fallen comrade up. The player did and received XP. Suddenly feeling useful (and successful), the player got more into the game and was earning XP through supporting the team in a vital role. Isaac sums it up, "Once you get introduced to some of the support roles, you feel like you are contributing to a bigger picture."

PlanetSide 2 concept art

Of course, some naysayers out there had a field day with the launch announcement, and they used the occasion to opine that the game couldn't possibly be ready in time. The developers answer to that is that they know what needs to be done, they know what needs to be added, and they have a plan in place for getting it done. For those complaining that the mission system isn't in, the fact is that part of it is already in (dropping into hotspots) and another (the tutorial) will be in before launch. More aspects of the mission system will continue to be introduced.

The influx of more players will provide more data and help drive the future development of the game. On that note, devs want as much feedback as possible, so they ask that any and everyone sign up for the beta to participate and give them feedback even before launch.

What does the post-launch future hold? Isaac and Higby disclosed that the plan for the next year is to add more functionality for outfits including outfit logos to flags when conquering a base. New continents are already in the works including Searhus (a volcanic map), Oshi, and Hossin. Also on the docket are player-owned bases out in the world that can be attacked, defended, and destroyed.

To every skeptic who thinks the game can't possibly be ready in time for launch, consider Higby's outlook:
"I honestly believe that right now, in the beta, warts and all, [with] the bugs we have and the things that are missing, we have the best massive PvP game that's ever existed. I think that we honestly have the best. And there's so much more that we need to do to make it better and better."
But that doesn't mean the dev team is resting on their laurels! He continued, "Over the next couple of months we will be adding significantly to the meta game the things that make you want to play the game for weeks, months, years at a time."

What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporters MJ Guthrie and Karen Bryan to this year's SOE Live, from which they'll be transmitting all the best fan news on PlanetSide 2, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and the other MMOs on SOE's roster.

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