Planetside 2 Interview With Senior Game Designer Jason Good

Recently we spoke with Jason Good, Senior Game Designer on the upcoming Planetside 2. What I saw of the game at E3 was amazing and as part of our PAX Prime 2012 coverage we get the details on what is shaping up to be an awesome game.

What is the background and setting for the game please?

After traveling through a worm hole on a mission of exploration, a fleet of human spacecraft are stranded at the far end of the galaxy, cut off from Earth. They colonize the planet of Auraxis, a world full of mysterious alien artifacts that pave the way for leaps forward with technology. Over 200 years of strife and social breakdown, tensions have devolved into war between three empires:

o The Terran Republic: The historic authority on Auraxis, the Terran Republic is obsessed with the preservation of law and order and is seen by some to be an oppressive and dictatorial force – though many view the TR as the only hope for lasting security.

o The New Conglomerate: The New Conglomerate operates as a loosely organized band of dissidents, vehemently opposed to the stranglehold that the Terran Republic has on Auraxis. Led by an unusual quorum of outcasts, industry titans, pirates and former military leaders, they are willing to achieve their goals by any means necessary.

o Vanu Sovereignty: The Vanu Sovereignty is extremely advanced, employing powerful alien technology on the battlefield. Their singular purpose is to uncover the secrets hidden away in ancient artifacts scattered over the surface of Auraxis and they will annihilate anyone who interferes.

Why was there such a long gap between PlanetSide 1 and PlanetSide 2?

• There are numerous factors that played into this, but the foremost is that the technology that a game like PlanetSide 2 requires just didn’t exist. The original PlanetSide was able to deliver a scale that was unparalleled, but due to the technology available at the time, the shooter element of the game wasn’t as deep as many people would have liked.

With PlanetSide 2, we have a decade of new technology and the brand new ForgeLight™ engine that we created to meet the specific needs we’d have for a game like this – so not only can we blow away the scope of the original PlanetSide, we can do it without sacrificing any of the mechanics we’ve all come to expect in a modern shooter.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered blending a MMORPG and a 3D Shooter?
• An MMORPG needs a sense of progression and advancement in order to keep people engaged over the long term, but in a skill based shooter it would be pretty frustrating to get rocked by potentially less skilled “high level” players simply because they’d been playing longer than you.

With that in mind, it’s definitely been an interesting challenge to keep that sense of progression without making an unbalanced playing field; we’ve had to be very careful. As a result, we focus more on choice and specialization as players advance as opposed to simply making them “better” than starting characters – but that’s a more time consuming and tricky thing to execute well than simply bumping stats on characters and weapons.

How will Player VS Player be handled in the release?

• All of the gameplay in PlanetSide 2 is PVP, so it’s going to be hard to miss. Players generate all of the content through the actions they take.

What are some of the player types and their abilities as we have heard about the three factions?

• All empires have access to 6 different classes, and each of them can be tailored to more specialized strengths and play styles with equipment and certifications:
o Light Assault: a highly mobile attacker that makes use of jump jets that give them a tactical advantage over other infantry units on the battlefield.
o Heavy Assault: heavily armored and packing the big guns, this class is useful for taking out enemy vehicles.
o Combat Medic: has the ability to both heal and revive injured and fallen allies. A force multiplier that will make any squad or platoon more powerful
o Engineer: Able to repair vehicles, turrets, and MAX suits, the engineer is an integral support class with access to various deployables and explosives.
o Infiltrator: Has the ability to cloak, make use of sniper rifles, and access advanced recon and hacking devices.
o MAX: Utilizing an armored exo-suit, the MAX is a heavily armored mobile weapons platform, sacrificing agility for firepower.

What are some of the weapons and vehicles players will have access to and how have attempted to balance them out?

• Balance is always ongoing at this stage of a project, and opening up Beta is going to help us a ton on that front. That said, here’s a brief overview of how we approached the design for weapons and vehicles.

o Weapons: The goal is to make weapons of a particular type (all pistols, all sniper rifles, etc) balanced against each other, but with different strengths and weaknesses that will allow players to be effective in their own style of play, or in specific circumstances. So one rifle may do more damage, but its bolt action, so you only get one shot. Another does less damage, but is semi-auto and you can fire multiple rounds. One is not inherently better than the other when all factors are considered; it depends on the situation and preferences of the player.

o Vehicles: All the empires have access to a common pool of vehicles, so outside of the way players equip those vehicles; the factions are on a level playing field there. Where it starts to get interesting is in the faction specific tanks and air superiority fighters. These vehicles have a much more empire specific set of strengths and will outperform/underperform against each other in a myriad of ways.

What game engine are you using for the game and what are some of the features it allows you to include that are new to the genre?

• We are using the ForgeLight™ engine, which we’ve created in house with PlanetSide 2 in mind. I can’t speak to the detailed technical aspects, but from my perspective, the key thing that ForgeLight brings to the table is the ability to support thousands of players without needing to sacrifice the mechanics of a modern day shooter. It’s been pretty amazing to watch develop.

How are missions assigned in the game and what are some mission types players will see?

• What we originally had been calling “Missions”, we’re now calling “Hotspots” as a callback to the original PlanetSide. Here’s a quick overview:
o The top five hotspots (as determined by a bunch of factors like population, combat activity, resources, influence, etc) appear on the Map screen.
o You can click on these hotspots and they will expand out the details on the region/facility
o From here, you can click an “Instant Action” button. After a short countdown, you’ll drop pod into the hotspot you’ve selected
o While we want people to be able to get in and have fun quickly, we still want players to commit to the fight they have chosen, so there will be a cool down period before you can use “Instant Action” again.

What have been the biggest challenges in creating the game and the biggest rewards?

• I think it’s safe to say creating an MMO of any kind is one of the hardest things to try and execute as a game developer due to the scope and scale. Even with as much experience as we have as a company, in some ways we’ve had to tread in unknown territory with PlanetSide 2. No one in the industry has ever really done what we’re trying to do before. We tackle serious challenges on what feels like a daily basis, so it’s tough to single any one thing out. Luckily we’ve got a group of incredibly talented people working their butts off to get it done, along with the support of a fantastic community who is super passionate about the game.

In terms of rewarding moments, I’d be hard pressed to top the first time we let players outside of the company in for testing – finally getting to see huge numbers of players battling it out was a fantastic feeling.

Will the game be free to play or subscription based?

• It’s totally free. You never have to pay us a dime if you don’t want to – but hopefully you’ll have enough fun that you’ll decide to spend some money on stuff like character and vehicle customizations. We will have an optional membership that offers some benefits that we’re still in the process of narrowing down, but we’re approaching that knowing we need to maintain a level playing field between subscribers and non-subscribers.

Tell us about the mass combat abilities of the game and how day/night combat will work please.

• We’re targeting about 2000 players per continent and two continents at launch, so the game has a huge emphasis on massive combat. We’re optimizing constantly to make sure everything will run as smoothly as possible, even under that kind of load.
• The game’s day/night cycle creates another tactical variable within combat. When it gets dark, it will impact your ability to see and indentify the enemy. Players can use the cover of darkness to do things like help mask troop movements and make being sneaky a bit easier. We’ll have some options available that will help counter the effects of darkness as well, but those tend to be things you’ll have to trade off for in your loadout.