Dancing To Different Beats: Planetside 2

By Dan Grill on September 9th, 2011 at 2:38 pm.

Pew! Dakka! Etc!
We recently caught up with Matt Higby, Creative Director of Planetside 2. Read on for what he had to say about various aspects of the game world, the factions, and the game mechanics, including vehicle customisation, and Higby’s penchant for griefing.

And no, we didn’t get that payment system stuff cleared up.

RPS: So…what’s changing with the world?

Higby: It’s the same world, but we’re doing a revisioning of the entire thing. The storyline is starting from where Planetside 1 started, we’re not following it up. We’re redefining what Auraxis is and spending a lot of time redefining the roles of the factions. Factions in PS2 are super-important, not just the red team versus the blue; they play the game in a completely different way. We’re creating very distinct motivations and lore for the factions, so they have their own reasons for doing what they’re doing and hating the other factions, and that all feeds into their gameplay types and the types of people who will enjoy playing those factions.

RPS: That’s interesting because in the first one there was a broad stroke background for each faction; are you going to develop them further along the same lines you developed in the first Planetside?

Higby: They’re going to be familiar to those types of roles. We’re not copying, precisely, the abilities from Planetside 1, but it’ll keep the same themes. The Terran republic, for example, is very militaristic, all about strength in numbers. I always use a goofy anaology and compare the factions to music; the Terran Republic is like orchestrated music, military, working in lots of different instruments to produce a really co-ordinated sound.


RPS: Like the Radetzy March?

Higby: Exactly. The New Conglomerate is like Rock ‘n Roll or Hip Hop, where it’s loud and hits you with a sustained powerful beat, but can be a smaller group of people and comes in waves that are unexpected. And Vanu is like electronic music, using sounds you’ve never really heard before, arranged in ways you’ve never really heard before, and you’re kind of thinking, wow, that’s NEW. It’s not something you’d expect to see in music.

RPS: I’m now thinking of the Vanu to the tune of Kraftwerk.

Higby: I’d say Daft Punk. If you listen to the Daft Punk soundtrack or Air, those kind of bands personify what Vanu is to me.

RPS: Would you do it so they have their own soundtracks in game?

Higby: We’re talking about doing a lot of stuff like that, yeah. To really fit the tone, to make each one of these factions feel like a different game.

RPS: Right down to the UI too?

Higby: Aspects of the UI do change between factions.

RPS: Flashing back, I used to always play as an anti-air max, and jump-jet my way on top of base antennae, to get the jump on aircraft. Is the Vanu’s vertical mobility still going to be one of their key features?

Higby: We have more than one ability that each class can have. You can slot different types of abilities. Right now our jumpjet class is our light assault class. Their purpose is to get behind enemy lines to do really quick strikes. They’re our anti-sniper role; if there’s one sat on top of a tower somewhere, the light assault guys can run around really fast, jump-jet up and hit quick with assault rifles.


RPS: A bit like the WH40K set-up? Squads of people tracking behind enemy lines?

Higby: There’s a bunch of people who play the boardgame of WH40K. Like all the figures. One of the things we’re doing is putting squad-spawning in, so if you’re a light assault guy you can jumpjet over into a place, then squad-spawn on top of them. There’s a lot of cool strategic stuff you can do with mixed squads.

RPS: Can people hold off spawning until their team member is in the right exit location?

Higby: When you log into the game, you can select where you’re going to spawn; at a facility, at a galaxy, or on my squad. Squad-spawning is an ability you have to have; we have a cert-tree that’s completely redesigned from the original Planetside, so squad leadership is a cert-tree, and squad-spawning can be unlocked through that, and that has different levels too. So the first level, you can only spawn on the squad-leader, the second you can spawn on anybody in the squad; there’s timers that get reduced as you increase that ability too. So there’s a huge of amount depth built into that and people want to do leadership. You said your friend was a Command Rank 5 in Planetside 1? You can be a CR5 in PS1 by leading a lot of squads; in Planetside 2, you’re going to have to dedicate your skill progression to squad leadership.

RPS: Could anyone who’s played the game a lot become a squad leader now then?

Higby: Absolutely. You don’t have to play the game a lot to do it.

RPS: What was nice about the first one was that it limited the top-end Leadership abilities to people who were good at leading squads.

Higby: You have to dedicate time to it, is the thing. You have to be putting time into that skill tree, which means you’re not putting time into your other elements. You can only level one skill at a time and it’s a time-based system, similar to Eve Online. If you’re dedicated enough to be pouring all your time into squad leadership, you’ll be getting a lot of benefits that are really valuable. Squad leaders give different benefits to their squads, depending on what class you play.

RPS: I’ve got this horrible image now of CoD kiddies shouting abuse down the global chat channel because they’ve got the equivalent of Command Rank 5.

Higby: That happens no matter what. We’ve got Vivox integrated, so people will be doing voice, and you will be able to individually turn off people and channels. We have to have that.


RPS: Every who plays Planetside comes away with amazing war stories. What’s your best war story?

Higby: The coolest thing from the original Planetside… I’ll be honest, I’m a griefer, I love getting in situations where I’m having the time of my life at other people’s expense. I’m one of those a-holes who’d get a stealth suit on, go down inside a base, hack the command terminal, get a Max and sit in the spawn room spawn-camping people. Like, you can’t do that any more. I had the time of my life doing that. As a designer, it’s important to have that mindset, to think like someone who exploits and likes griefing, so you can figure out ways of mitigating it, whilst leaving some little element in there.

RPS: You have to have it in there.

Higby: As long as it doesn’t break the game or significantly detract from people’s gameplay experience, it’s okay to have things like that. The really cool thing about Planetside is that all the content is generated by players, it’s a 100% PvP game, it’s not the a quest that you’re getting and that the end of the quest is cool – what’s cool is when 3 galaxies fly over a base and everyone hot-drops out of them at the same time and you storm the base, y’know? The core of Planetside is these massive co-ordinated assaults, entire tank columns attacking bases. We’re trying to figure out how to make those moments better in Planetside 2.

RPS: Or when you all miss the hot-drop and get trapped outside the walls. It allowed the room for real fuck-ups too, where one guy screwing up, screwed everything up. The RPS PS team had a painstakingly-built tank column with a single anti-air jeep, which was the first thing to die, so we got massacred by reapers.

Higby: Exactly. Or like the dude you’re waiting on a tower who flies in on his Mosquito, drops, then realises he forgot his hacking kit, so you can’t get in. Those war stories are the best thing about the game.

RPS: What stage are you at with Planetside 2 then?

Higby: We’re playing it internally, doing a lot of iteration on combat right now, trying out different class abilities. The class system will allow us to do things with PS2 we couldn’t with PS1. One of the things we’re concerned about is classes in PS2 not feeling very Planetside; but by having these distinctive gameplay roles, not only can we make it so you can recognise them at a distance, but we also make it so that each of these roles has these abilities. Like a dude with a sniper rifle AND jump jets, who can now get to a place where no-one can take him out; that’s too strong. It really will allow us to create more avenues for people to try out. So, the light assault class is more than just a cycler and exosuit, he has a lot of other stuff to unlock.

RPS: Can you switch between classes at any time?

Higby: You can switch between classes any time you respawn.

RPS: Are Ants (the resource trucks) going to return?

Higby: Yes. We like the ANT system, we like that gameplay a lot, because it was fun to be able to load one into a galaxy and drop it into a base and save the day. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we’re trying to do with that system.

RPS: Is there much room for the pacifist side of the community; the ANT and the AMS were the core of that?

Higby: We’re going to have really well-defined support roles; so if you’re somebody who doesn’t consider themself a twitch gamer, you can play as a medic or engineer, and heal team members or set-up base defences. Your skill as a shooter isn’t your defining thing; the twitch shooting can require quite a high skill bar. AMSes aren’t going back in, but Galaxies are going to be mobile spawn points. One of the goals of PS2 is to really speed up the access to gameplay, we don’t want people waiting around.


RPS: What about the cavern tech, like the wonderful artillery piece? Will they be more accessible?

Higby: The Flail? We don’t have the cavern stuff. We have some of those elements. The Flail was indirect warfare, and we want it more in your face. We want the infantry modern warfare experience, urban warfare inside facilities, courtyards will have a lot more cover, though they’ll still be combined arms, and once you go into the facility it’s very infantry-focussed. We are still going to have some element of the indirect warfare; we have the liberator, we have gunships. They definitely served their purpose in Planetside 1.

RPS: Will those bigger, high-value vehicles be more difficult to access in Planetside 2?

Higby: No, they won’t. There will be use restrictions nad we have a resource system too, so putting secondary weapons and additional stuff costs resources, and resources have to be earned in gameplay…

RPS: You can customise the vehicles?

Higby: Yeah, so you might put an armour attachment and a stronger transmission, which allows you to go over hills better but you don’t have as high a top speed. It’s not necessarily upgrades, what we use is sidegrades, something that’s equivalent, but better in one area than the other. So you may have a 20mm chaingun side-armament on your prowler, or a flak cannon for anti-air, or you want a mortar on the top, for bombardments.

RPS: That sounds so WH40K. Give me a Landraider with all lascannons.

Higby: Exactly, that’s the trade-off. Do I want to have a glass cannon, which is the most powerful weapon systems or something that can just run barricades, with max armour and auto-repair nanites on it. We’re working on all of those mechanics right now, what stuff works, what’s too powerful, what the final list of attachments is going to be. Which are fun, which add to gameplay, that’s the most important thing. You can’t things in just for cool’s sake.

RPS: (Dan makes a nnnn noise, implying disagreement).

Higby: Well, cool’s sake is a reason. I absolutely agree that things need to have a place in the game.

RPS: How much do the factions share in terms of weaponry?

Higby: We’re definitely a lot more different in terms of factions from PS1. Each faction has not only their own assault rifle, but also chaingun, sniper rifle, pistol… basically every one of the main weapons. There’s multiple variants inside the factions too though, basically sidegrade, so maybe I want a cycler that has less recoil but does less damage, so I can be more accurate, or has a larger magazine. All those variables fit into the weapon balance and allow people to customise. I’m a great shooter, so I want a higher accuracy, but don’t need a faster fire rate. Off the top of my head, 30% of what’s available in the game is shared; the majority of weapons are specific to your factions. In terms of vehicles, it’s probably the other way around; 30% are your own vehicles. But you can have Vanu-specific attachments on a common vehicle.

RPS: Apart from the maxes, I was the annoying guy who stood behind a wall firing a range of grenades from my thumper.

Higby: Maxes in Planetside 2 are really interesting too. They have multiple weapon systems; you can put an anti-air on one arm and anti-infantry on the other. Or two of each, so you can really customise them.

RPS: Any close combat stuff? I know it isn’t very Planetside.

Higby: We have a bunch of melee weapons still, and certain classes can take better advantage of those than others. Infiltrators who also used them because of the Melee boost. We have mechanics around that, locational damage for knives, so hitting someone from behind with a knife does more damage.


RPS: Any other games you’ve really drawn inspiration from?

Higby: In terms of combat, we’re really closest to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It’s a really good analogue for us, as it has large open-world spaces, with vehicular and infantry gameplay which works well together. We’re taking lots of cues in terms of pacing from that, though we’re not as fast. It’s not as slow as the original, where the time to kill was 2 seconds plus, but it’s faster. When you’re playing Battlefield, if you don’t have matched teams it’s not fun. You can have a legitimately fun time in Planetside with 10 people against 80. I mean it might not be possible to win that fight, but you could hold for a long time, hunker down, and then twenty people from another faction come sweeping in and cluster-fuck the whole thing up, and that doesn’t happen in any other game.

RPS: How do you iterate?

Higby: For example, we have a couple of designers who just work on infantry weapon balance. All day long they put numbers in a spreadsheet and figure out whether a weapon is balanced, then run around shooting at each other lots.

RPS: That’s a fun job; is that the weirdest job anyone’s got?

Higby: Oh, no. We have people who do the exact same thing for vehicle. And we have PhysX in the game. So our vehicles have hundreds of tuning parameters. So a light-fighter has hundred, from how fast it can pitch to what the maximum roll rate is, to what the thruster variance is… those guys have to balance those out. They play hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, then once they get it to a place where it feels good, they have to check it balances against everything else.

RPS: How does the PhysX affect things? Getting your custom Prowler caught in a ditch must be a nightmare, but flying must be even tougher. Are we going to see a lot more plane crashes?

Higby: Oh, yeah. Flying is going to be an artform in this game. Just like everything else, it requires you to dedicate time to it. If you have the best possible reaver, you’re going to have to put a lot of time into the skill tree and the flight mechanics. It’s customisable too, so if I want my reaver to go as fast as possible, I don’t care about vulnerability, or I just want the most nimble one. It’s all personal. So yeah, vehicles are going to crash a lot more than they did in PS1. Right now they’re pretty difficult, but we’re balancing. We’re trying to figure out whether we should make it more like Battlefield, where the first time you get into it you crash for 45 minutes before you figure out how it flies, or do we make it so you can fly first time; finding the middle ground is difficult.

RPS: Yeah, you want players to be able to fly, but not necessarily be able to avoid fire immediately.

Higby: Right, there’s a lot of battlefield knowledge in flight too; how to avoid enemies, weapon ranges, which is all about so much more than firing a gun and hitting someone. You’re dedicating time to increasing your certifications in the game, but you’re also dedicating time to learning all the mechanics. That’s the same with every game, though Planetside is the deep end of FPS games, in terms of how much you can learn. Just like you said, when you jump into a plane, we want you to be able to fly it, not crash it, but it will take you a while until you’re zooming about and doing hairpin turns, and if you try to do that right away, maybe you will crash. The content we’ve got right now is a canyon and it’s so much fun to fly around; you have to pitch and use your afterburners. It’s awesome we made this in-game map as we’re testing.

RPS: It’s also interesting how people will customise their kit and vehicles for different maps. If I’m landing on a plain for example, I’d pick speed and manouvrability; if it’s canyons, something smaller and better armoured.

Higby: Yeah, it’s the deepest FPS available. The amount of stuff available in PS2 dwarfs PS1.

RPS: Special Forces guys always say that they customise their own weapons, from the triggers up, because they know how they fight and they know the tool they need.

Higby: Same with artists as well. That’s what exactly what we’re doing. I want my thermal scope because it’s nighttime. Night vision does matter with the day-night cycle. We have spotlights on top of the turrets on the bases, so you can imagine that the turrets that are firing at you, so it’s almost like the loony tunes prison break thing, where the spotlight is searching for you. And you can flip that thing on and off, if you’re the dude controlling the turret, so if you spot guys out there, you can leave it off until they’re close, then flip it on and blast them.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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40 Comments »

  1. Abundant_Suede says:

    The coolest thing from the original Planetside… I’ll be honest, I’m a griefer, I love getting in situations where I’m having the time of my life at other people’s expense

    Hah, yeah, thats great! I’m so reassured this is coming from a developer! This manic grimace on my face is definitively not me putting on a brave show to avoid public ridicule, references to plush toys, and questions about the hardness of my core!

    • irongamer says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. “Oh a griefer developer, this should turn out wonderful.”

    • pepper says:

      Dont worry to much about that. I’ve worked with griefers before and they can be quite good in actually balancing because they realize what is actually breaking a game. Offcourse the wrong ones can screw up everything.

    • Reefpirate says:

      I’d rather have a few griefers on the dev team to point out the overly exploitable holes in the design. But having fun at other people’s expense? Guess what, it’s a 100% PvP game, so how you propose to make everyone have equal carebear fun is beyond me… I have a feeling that according to your definition, everyone who scores a kill in TF2 is a griefer. Sheesh.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @reefpirate

      I’m not sure if your confusing and vaguely insulting post was aimed at me or not, but I will just mention that PvP =/= griefing. I happen to adore well designed 100% pvp games, even when I’m losing. Griefing, not so much.

      Beyond that, since I’m over the age of 15, I generally don’t argue with people who are throwing terms like “carebear” around in a non-ironic fashion. Carry on.

    • WombatDeath says:

      I’m not seeing a massive difference between “I’m a griefer, I love getting in situations where I’m having the time of my life at other people’s expense” and “I’m a bit of a shit human being”.

    • omgitsgene says:

      @Abundant Suede: To be fair, “carebear” is common internet terminology for the PvE gamer who wants nothing to do with PvP and has been in use for years and years.

    • Nevard says:

      @omgitsgene
      Commonly used doesn’t mean “not an insult”
      It’s commonly used because people love insulting eachother on the internet

  2. Noirdeathe says:

    I remember the most fun part of Planetside (for me) was being the Galaxy pilot and playing Galaxy roulette. What poor bastard would I randomly eject over a body of water because they were annoying me? Usually the dick in the MAX suit.

  3. Schiraman says:

    I fear change, so some of these answers make me nervous.

    I liked having jump-jets on my MAX, I’m going to miss those if they’re gone now :(

    Also: aircraft being easy to pilot was good – I’d prefer they were simple and usable by everyone, rather than some kind of ultra-skilful thing that only a handful of players can use.

    Also also: AMSs were a fantastic idea. Trying to find your enemy’s hidden spawn-point was one of the key elements of Planetside battles. Automatically spawning with your squad seems like cheating somehow, and potentially a lot less interesting.

    Edit: I do like the idea of ‘sidegrades’ though. That sounds pretty cool.

    • CMaster says:

      While I’ll agree that AMSs gave the game targets of tactical value, the idea of Galaxies replacing them means that maybe Gals will become the regular battlefield sight they should have been, rather than a rare creature.

    • Jimmeh says:

      I have to agree with the AMS point. Some of my fondest memories are of hunting those bastards down, or keeping one alive far beyond it’s time.

      Overall some interesting ideas, the Eve skill mechanics are intriguing and everyone likes customisation.

    • Schiraman says:

      If the Galaxy cloaks when landed, or can deploy into some kind of mini-base or something then I’m all in favour of the change. Like a lot of the PS2 stuff announced so far, I guess it really just depends on the details.

  4. Nemon says:

    I don’t remember what continent or base this was, but my conglomerate base was under attack from both the vanu and the terran faction, a massive battle featuring a stunning amount of players – all fighting for the very same spot. I geared up my reaver with the very latest in rocket-blowupsy and took off to fight for freedom and rock/hip-hop(?) against the conservative fiddlers/acid heads of the terran/vanu disease. Waves of enemies hit against the solid walls of our base, our brave soldiers thinning out their numbers before my rocket spam sealed the deal (or at least that’s what I like to think). Our force field kept me safe to have a look at the surrounding sea of enemies outside our base, laser and plasma beams shooting off in all directions, wreaking havoc and mayhem.

    Trying to leave the forcefield was pure suicide, but at one single lucky moment I managed to successfully dive into a nearby forest, losing the countless lock on warnings I got and keeping me safe for a second. I suddenly saw something appearing a rockets launch away and I immediately set course for it. And lo, an AMS appeared like an anthill in the forest. Someone had already done some damage to it so I emptied my bag of rockets, taking damage from hitting nearby trees and small arms fire. Seeing it burst into oblivion and me being able to return to base and our lovely force field – great success. Now, I probably shouldn’t try to land on top of the vehicle spawner…

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      EEEEE! More war stories! More!

    • thetruegentleman says:

      There was nothing quite like having a quiet chat with your friends in a semi-secure base, waiting on a few of your fellows, then watching as a flood of enemy vehicles appeared on the horizon, gunning straight for you…

      Never tell me the odds!

  5. P4p3Rc1iP says:

    Not sure about the lack of AMSs and the spawning on squadmates either, but other then that it sounds like they know what they’re doing. I hope they’re bringing back the jungle/marsh areas (Forgot the name) Oshur was very cool too!

    Edit: Also the command rank stuff I’m not too sure about. I always found the commanders in PS1 to be really cool, but like said, I do not want some kid with peanuts for a brain telling me what to do.

    • Mechanicus_ says:

      Spawning on Galaxies sounds cooler than the AMS to me – it has the potential to lead to proper air to air battles; the enemy is going to need to shoot down those fat flying spawn points, which means they will need escorts… Of course, presumably you could just land the Galaxy, which would be similar in function to the AMS (maybe with the cloaking field as one of those vehicle addons).

      Unless the squad spawning renders that all pointless.

    • P4p3Rc1iP says:

      I’t all cool if they replace the AMS with Gallaxies, I was mostly reffering to spawning on squad mates. If done propperly this can still be OK, but if done bad, it would suck.

      The only way I can see this working is if only a squad leader could spawn on other squad member, and if squad members could only spawn on the leader. This would mean that the commander is still very important for squads, and makes working in squads a lot more important then it was, yet would require a good leader that doesn’t get himself killed too much. Adding to this, it would be cool if the leader would be distinctly visible as being the leader, so snipers know who to kill first.

  6. dsi1 says:

    Removal of AMSes? Squad spawning? Boo and hiss.

    Night that matters? YES YES YES!

  7. ix says:

    This reads pretty interesting. I like how he compares it with BFBC2. The thing that always worries me is that classes tend to blend together a bit. Especially medics tend to be so ridiculously good at killing things they’re not really a “support” class anymore. The long range SMGs in BC2 being a perfect example of this (running into a medic is just as terrifying as running into assault IMHO).

    I did not understand half the interview though (maybe I glossed over some terms). What the hell is a max?

  8. squareking says:

    This is shaping up to be quite interesting. All this discussion is making me want to give PS1 a shot.

    • P4p3Rc1iP says:

      Don’t. It’s not aged well and the servers are deserted. Oh and BFR’s

  9. Adekan says:

    So excited for this game, and the stated fact that it will not use a traditional subscription model has me intrigued, as this is unquestionably a game i’d pay $15 a month for ( and I haven’t paid for any sony MMO since the original PS ).

    I am slightly concerned about the roles of support though, as how I usually played the game was a strict engineer class. I’d load up the trunk of my little buggy with tons of mines at a friendly tower and then go deposit my little boxes of joy all over the battlefield. I rarely if ever actually shot at people unless from a bases defense turret. The AMS was another of my joys, I’m all about supporting my team.

  10. AlwaysRight says:

    Kraftwerk!?

    Come on Dan, that was a miss-step.

    • darkbhudda says:

      I’d love a Kraftwerk Faction. Everyone would be a model or a robot.

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      I’d guess the Kraftwerk reference had about as much recognition from Mr Higby as the 40K ones did. I’m imagining these blank looks quickly hidden.

  11. Lev Astov says:

    You’re making me really look forward to this game, and I never played the first one. That’s bad considering there are about 90 games I really want to play coming out soon XD

    On the vehicles, I really hope they end up doing it like in the old Battlefield games, where you’d die immediately if you didn’t have lots of experience. That way only people who are actually dedicated to that sort of thing will be any threat. I like that sort of thing, since it thins the herd a bit.

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      Ever played Battlefield 2142?
      I hope the PS2 guys have. The VTOL gunships in that are great. They are much easier to fly, but not too much so.

      I found in BF2 for example fact that the jets were a bit more tricky meant that if the other team had two guys that were good pilots and you didn’t to counter them then in short the game was untenable.

  12. Biscuitry says:

    Personally I like how all this is sounding. But I’m going to have to upgrade my computer for this, I can tell.

  13. ayo says:

    I remember coming out of the spawn,and there in front of me was the outfit Druckwelle all lined up in military display order all in front of their vehicles Max suits and all.The commander walked up and down in front of them and was inspecting their ranks.Gawd knows what the fuck he was saying to them. At his command they scattered and entered their vehicles loaded them into at least 10 Galaxies and flew off in order to attack somewhere ,i was fuckin gobsmacked and i felt sorry for whoever they was gonna unload that shit load of ordinance on.I aint seen much of that kind of coordination in any mmo but ps1 and imma hard core player.DRUCKWELLE I SALUTE YOU. OH AND YEAH VANU GONNA OWN ALL U ASS ON PS2 AS WELL ;-)

  14. Magus44 says:

    Heres a Quick question that people may be able to answer.
    As awesome as this all sounds, and it really does. I’m sad I missed the first one.
    How do the servers work?
    I’m in Aus you see, and I’m a bit concerned that the servers will have horrible lag, and then I’ll get shot heaps, and die heaps, and hate it.
    Did anyone have this problem in the first?
    Stupid country.

  15. free keno says:

    Has anyone tested it already? I mean for real because there are just descriptions…

  16. BoZo says:

    This all just sounds so wonderful.

    But I am just so terribly worried about the payment system, I wish they would just keep to the old monthly billing formula…

    I miss my cycler and prowler…