Every Sunday, we reach deep into Rock, Paper, Shotgun's 142-year history to pull out one of the best moments from the archive. This week, Quintin's tale of Planetside heroism, originally published September 2008.
Planetside, then. Do I have any veterans in the audience? At ease, gentlemen.
It might not have dredged up the subscribers Sony were hoping for, and you personally might have found it a disappointment, a bully, a bastard, or most unforgivably, a bore. The developers were perhaps overambitious, and in any case they managed to screw up both on paper and in practice. But their game has achieved one beautiful thing, and that's the creation of the same invisible veterans' club that results from a real life war. If you played Planetside you might have already encountered this phenomenon: the mutual respect that instantly exists once you find out someone's an ex-Planetside player. Since I can't think of a name for this whole process, I'm going to dub it "I WAS THERE, MAN" syndrome.
And you'd better believe I was there. Me and my friends fought for the Terran Republic against the Barnies and Smurfs from June to November '03, and I won't hesitate to say that we made up one of the better tank squads out there. But whichever side you fought on, or, God forbid, are still fighting for, that shared experience with every other subscriber still exists. It doesn't matter that the entire virtual war that made up the game was (and still is) about as meaningful as a non-contact armwrestling match. If anything that just gives you more to talk about.
"Planetside? Yeah, I was there. God, what a fucking mess. One of my commanders was this unbelievable dick. Ostekate, his name was."
"No way! I fought under him too. That guy would not shut up."
"Yeah. You know the patch that let commanders draw on everyone's map? I remember this one time he started drawing sea monsters and compasses and stuff. What's your name, by the way?"
"Oh, I'm Wakle Skade, candle salesman."
"Good to meet you, Wakle. I'm Chip Lick. So, as I was saying..."
And then before you know it you're into the awesomely masculine business of swapping war stories. I reckon this is what makes Planetside age so well in the heads of its old subscribers. You're not going to vividly remember that time you spent forty minutes looking for a decent fight, or the time you finally scraped together a crew for your bomber only for the lot of you to get shot down and drown in a river. Or at least, if you do remember those things you sure as Hell won't be talking about them. You'll talk about the day you brought a tank to a huge infantry battle and scythed down 20 soldiers in under a minute, triggering a mass retreat, or the time your fighter craft got shot down behind enemy lines and you drove back home in a hacked enemy buggy, scoring some entrenched snipers as roadkill.
It's strange from a sociological perspective because "I WAS THERE, MAN" syndrome is so rare in games. I guess it's because in offline games or, in fact, other MMOs, everyone's off and doing their own thing with zero guarantee of ever working directly with or against someone else. With Planetside there were only ever a few servers, they were all locked down by region, and everyone on each server was either fighting with or against everyone else on the entire server from the second they first logged on. It's like how you always have something to say to your friends after a great twenty minute multiplayer game. Planetside was sort of like one endless, resolve-eroding multiplayer round with the frag limit set to infinity and the time limit set to MONEY!
It made fighting a little tiring, sometimes.
But I always tell the same war story when Planetside gets mentioned. I always tell the same story because it's a really, really good one. And I totally encourage you guys to share your own tales of daring do in the comments, but just let me get this one off my chest first.
(It's probably best if you imagine this whole thing spoken in a tone of voice that exists somewhere between a throat cancer patient and That One Fucking P.E. Teacher You Had.)
Now, this wasn't some Princess Diana shit or anything. I don't remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news.
I do remember I was with my boys, Pyrrhic and Boff, and we were in our Prowler just trying to make a difference, same as always. Prowler's a battle tank, 'case you're unawares. Looks a little something like this. It takes three men to get it up to full strength, which I remember a lot of guys on our side thought was outrageous. They never understood, see, but I reckon they'd have had something of a revelation if they ever spent some time on the other end of its guns. Shit, on some days seemed all anyone on any side could do was whine like a dying dog about the weapons made available to them, but I never complained. Hell, I was grateful. It always was a lot easier to get my knife in the belly of a typin' man.
Anyway, we were fighting on some continent or other when we started getting all these mad messages in our chat ticker. People were saying our Sanctuary had become locked and no one could get into it.
A little explanation's probably called for here. Each of the three sides in Planetside has a Sanctuary, a home island full of shooting ranges and long distance dropships that no other side can even set foot on. A lot of players meet up there before shipping off to a fight, and most players log off there when they quit fighting for the day so when they come back they can grab a seat on an outbound ship and drop back into the action, wherever it is, via a drop pod.
The other thing you should know is that a landmass only becomes locked to a side if they don't have a foothold in any adjoining continents. If a player logs off outside the sanctuary and then the territory they're in gets conquered and subsequently locked, when they log on again they're spawned back in the sanctuary. So you can see why the idea of our sanctuary ever becoming locked would make as much sense as... well, as this war. If you compare Planetside to that there Sisyphean struggle to roll a huge boulder up a hill, our sanctuary becoming locked would be like the bottom of that hill turning into a cliff edge.
Back in the tank, I took us off the road and into a ditch so we could ask a few questions and check our maps. Sure enough, we were locked out of our own God Damned HQ. Word was coming in that those dirtnibblers over in the Vanu and New Conglomerate were having no such trouble with their own sanctuaries, and were continuing to merrily kick our ass as if nothing was wrong.
Heck of a bug, I said to my crew. Heck of a bug. Nothing else for it, I pulled us back out of the ditch and resumed our course for whatever the Hell base we were headed towards at the time, and Boff resumed swinging our chainguns around in a search for any Top Gun wannabes. The trick there if you do see a bird is to slap the guns to the front and centre of the tank, getting the enemy pilot to think you're missing a gunner. You want to get them nice and close before you open fire.
I honestly had no idea just how fucked the TR was until the messages starting coming in from our commanders telling every single member of the Terran Republic to quit the game. Not to fix the bug or anything. We were to stop playing as a form of protest. They figured if our entire side vanished, the devs would hurry up with the fixing of this bullshit.
So already between the TR soldiers who'd done as they were told and all the soldiers on our side who couldn't log on, our side was in a bad place. '/who teams' informed us that we were in fact fighting with just 14% of the world's population, meaning we were a couple of thousand soldiers short of a fair fight. Not only that, word of our situation was spreading through the Vanu and NC. Barny bastards and Smurf bastards were at that moment messaging their friends and telling them to log on and grab their gear, because for the first time in the history of the game here was an opportunity to wipe one side entirely off the map. Those sodsucklers figured they had a chance to fucking win! And here's our commanders telling us to quit!
Boy, there was a lot of cursin' going on inside our tank as we figured all this out. Then again we'd only ever treated orders from the higher ups as advice from a crusty, crumbly grandparent anyway. Our path was our own, and the decision to keep fighting despite the bug came easily. If the enemy wanted us off this cliff then they were going to have to pry our fingers up one by one. Maybe we'd be able to spit in a few deserving eyes in the process. So I kept driving along that road, and we went to war with one o' them renewed vigors.
Funny thing is, this situation the TR was in was only ever a dumb accident that resulted from a technical snafu, right? With Planetside the devs chose to create a war no one could ever lose, and in doing so they sacrificed the chance for anyone to win. But those of us that chose to stay on that day fought harder, cared more, and had more fun than we'd ever done before. For the first time it all meant something. Course, from a monetary perspective I guess you've got to take into account all the thousands of subscribers who threw their toys out of the pram as ordered and did quit in protest. Guess some folks just ain't got the stomach for war.
There's no glory in lying, so I'll come out and admit that under the circumstances the TR didn't last long. In maybe half an hour we were down to 4% of the server population and a handful of bases. The good news was that one of our commanders managed to locate his blow the dust off his courage in time to send a global message ordering our scattered soldiers to relocate to the island of Forseral for a last stand. If every one of us crammed into just a couple of bases our hilarious number problem might be diminished.
What we weren't counting on was the enthusiasm coming from t'other sides.
And this is where my memory starts to get a little better- the defense of our very last base. It was on the flat, leafy coast of Forseral, and a sunny day to boot. We, the few, the proud, 'The 4%.' The base was built in the shadow of the shadow of the big ol' warpgate there. Ordinarily, that warpgate acted as a direct path between Forseral and our sanctuary. Course, it was as useful as screen door on a submarine right about now.
Base defense in Planetside is pretty simple. The defenders get a big compound with high walls, on which sit some mean automated turrets. They also get a few respawn tubes that everyone can use, plus the vehicle pads and airpads that spawn vehicles and aircraft. It's all done with nanotechnology, I think. Amazing what science can do these days. Anyway, those doing the assaulting have to get a hacker into the command room, who in turn has to spend a couple of minutes getting acquainted with the central terminal. Once that's done, the base changes hands instantly.
The attackers can also starve the place of power in the event of a stalemate, but what with the sanctuary bug potentially getting fixed at any moment our opponents on that day weren't in what you'd call a patient mood. I'd probably go as far as to call them a downright ravenous bunch'a mudlovers.
It should be pretty easy for you to understand the severity of our situation if I just tell you that it felt like we were the ones doing the damn assaulting. We were so outgunned that just trying to man the walls got you shredded by lasher and sniper fire before you'd even lined up a shot. It was wild. Those forests around us were more purple than green. I've got no idea how it was we lasted as long as we did, but I'd hazard that those guarding the doors ended up pulling off some real Battle of Thermopylae shit.
My own chosen course of action was to get up on the walls and crawl between the turrets with my repair gun, bringing them back online at about a half of the speed they'd get blown up again. Sometimes I'd drop an EMP grenade into the courtyard below me if whatever got through our gate was big and scary enough, but most of my time was spent with my face buried in the guts of a turret. I couldn't even see what we were under attack from, let alone whether we were holding it back. All I could do was read the mess of capital letters that filled my chat ticker.
I've got no idea what it was that finallly killed me. Sniper, grenade, stabbed by someone in a stealthsuit. Could have been anything. There was too much commotion and graphical effects to pinpoint what did me in as the camera rotated around my corpse, repair gun still in hand.
Problem was, I couldn't respawn in the base again. Someone must have gotten in and wrecked our spawn tubes, so from that point me and everyone else spawned (very... slowly...) in the support tower just outside it. Yeah, that's a pretty surefire sign you've lost. The base changed hands and became Vanu a couple of seconds after, making this tower the last structure in possession of the Terran Republic and our last spawn point in the entire world.
'/who teams', I typed again.
'Vanu Sovereignty 51%, New Conglomerate 48%, Terran Republic 1%.'
Confident that in a situation like this I could get away with showing a bit of brass without some spoilsport calling me a douchebag, I set my chat to broadcast locally. "ALRIGHT EVERYBODY", I said. "We are officially the top ONE PERCENT of this planet. Let's SHOW THOSE VANU C***S WHAT WE CAN DO."
But what was heartwarming was that I wasn't even the only person with that idea. The local broadcasts came thick and fast. We, the fifty or so soldiers defending that tower, knew exactly what we were facing, and we knew we were in this together.
[ripper]fight to the last man!!
[mrblister] f**king vanu f**kers f**k
I managed to push my way through the crowd gathered around the equipment terminal and get myself some landmines, then went sprinting out of the front entrance to the tower. The structure was located on a curling strip of land with our base in one direction and the sea in three others, so I could at least be guaranteed that most of the Vanu force would be coming from that direction. Goddamn hovertanks.
Already I could see the eagerest soldiers of that horrible purple army pouring out of the base and running in our direction. I armed mines with a few other engineers until the first sniper potshots at us arrived, then we ducked back inside. The fighting proper started when we were down in the basement, swapping our gear for heavier armour and bigger guns. On a whim I brought up my map. If this was a movie then our sanctuary would get unlocked again right about now, the cavalry would arrive through the warp gate not a hundred meters from us, and we'd all get enough medals to break our backs.
[pyrrhic] WE NEED ANTI ARMOUR RIGHT NOW
Course, if Planetside teaches its loyal subscribers anything it's that war is not a movie and that war really, really fucking sucks for 98% of the time. So we didn't get medals. Instead we got multiple incoming Vanu hovertanks, spawned fresh right out of the base we just lost.
I wasn't trained to use anything resembling anti armour weaponry, so I just loaded an armour piercing clip into my assault rifle as I ran up the stairs to the roof. On the way I passed the front door, which we hadn't lost control of so much as we were choosing to avoid it. Every time anyone on our side passed close enough for it to open automatically a haze of that dumbass blue energy shit the Barnies use in their weapons was let into the tower like freezing air on a cold day.
The scene from the roof was absurd. It wasn't even that there were that many guys visible from up there. I'd just never seen enemy forces moving on a target with such purpose before. Planetside, for all its scale, never really succeeded in getting everyone working together. Squads, teams, cliquey brotherhoods, sure. But never armies. But these Vanu descending on our tower were positively galvanized. From the roof you could see scattered infantry and vehicles right up to the engine's draw distance, and every one of them was jogging, hovering or flying straight towards us.
Not that I was impressed. My blood was up, and I was just angry. I quickly emptied my pockets of EMP grenades directed at the Magrider doing laps of the tower below me then swapped to my rifle. Didn't those bastards coming towards us know this wasn't fair? Couldn't they see that? What were they hoping to achieve coming over to stomp on the only brave men our side had?
With my clip now empty I moved back into the middle of the roof to reload, crouching behind an anti-air MAX who was busy dissuading enemy planes.
I mean, did this make them feel big? Couldn't they see that they were children next to us? We were giants! And if they killed us then we always would be! Clip empty again, move back in, reload.
I remember my kill ticker popping up at that moment to show I'd got a landmine kill. It gave me a mental image of an enemy so hungry he never took his eyes off the tower to spare a glance at the ground in front of him. It was when I went back to the lip of the roof to see if anyone had even gotten past our minefield that the sniper got me. Pop, one in the head. Simple as that.
Much as I'd like to say the subsequent wait to respawn was the longest minute I've ever had in an MMO, it never actually came to a minute. They got a hacker in and wrestled the tower from us before I ever got the chance to come back.
And that was that. We lost. The game was over for the TR. The last 1% had been painstakingly scrubbed from the face of the planet.
An hour later our Sanctuary got unlocked again. There was apparently some kind of apology given from a GM and everyone on our side got straight back into the important business of fighting endlessly without ever being able to win. They're still fighting to this day, you know. To my knowledge, they still haven't won.
And here's me, eternally grateful for just having had the opportunity to lose.