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GDC 2012 - Exclusive Interview

Michael Bitton Posted:
Interviews 0

PlanetSide 2 made its public gameplay debut at this year’s Games Developers Conference in San Francisco and we were on hand to check it out in our exclusive preview. Not too long after the demo, we sat down with Tramell Ray Isaac, senior art director on PlanetSide 2, to discuss the game and some of what we saw during the demonstration.

MMORPG.com: Matt spoke about the different factions. Can you talk about the different gameplay between the three factions?

Tramell Ray Isaac: Well, Matt basically broke it down for us like, which factions allow what type of gameplay. 

The Vanu Sovreignty, high rate of fire, energy weapons, we’re talking about no bullet drop, because it’s all laser, but it loses damage over time. The further it travels, the less damage it does, so it’s a tradeoff.

The Terran Republic, it’s all about high rate of fire, big weaponry, more conventional ammo, like bullets and stuff like that.

NC (New Conglomerate) is about hard-hitting, short range- kind of experimental, railguns and stuff like that.

The different types of ammo types and the different armor types on the vehicle side actually introduce a different kind of play type. When you’re flying around in a Reaver, as opposed to a Mosquito, which is a little more agile, but is not as tough as a Reaver is, you’re going to be approaching your enemies in a different way. You basically want to hit-and-run with the Mosquito. With the Reaver, you’re going to be able to take a little bit of damage and get out, but you’re not going to be able to escape as fast as the Mosquito. The Scythe, which is the Vanu Sovereignty flying vehicle that you didn’t see in the demo, is actually more maneuverable, but does a little bit less damage, so it can get away. It can come in and hit and then leave, and it can come in and hit again. But those are kinds of tactics you have to employ. If you stay in and go toe-to-toe with a Reaver, you’re mostly going to lose because it’s more heavily armored.

Each player also has the option to upgrade those weapons that they have. If you go up against a base Reaver, and he’s just got a basic machinegun, and you’ve got a heavy rail-beam on a Scythe, you’re going to win. It’s all about how you progress your vehicles, your armor, your character, and that’s going to kind of determine what the outcome is going to be, because you never know what you’re going to go up against. With a tank, you have the options to have armor attachments, so you can upgrade to have armor attachments, front, side, top, and back. If I go up against you, say if it were possible to go NC vs. NC. Regular NC Vanguard vs. heavily armored Vanguard, you’re going to lose, because he’s got the armor attachments applied to his vehicle. It all depends on how each player decides to go into the battle, is what’s going to be the outcome. You might say, “All right. I can’t go up against those guys. They’re all in Vanguards, and they’re all heavily armored.

Let me go back and use something else, or go back and get a group of guys in order to handle this group of guys.” That’s where we give players the options and the tradeoffs come in, with the advancements and the different abilities that each empire has.

MMORPG.com: Do the different empires have different customization options?

Tramell Ray Isaac: Everybody has the same kinds of customizations, on your rifle you’re going to have a silencer, different red dot sights; they’re going to look different per faction, they’re going to behave a little bit different per faction, but there’s going to be a 1:1 correlation for each one. You’re not going to go into the Vanu Sovereignty and say, “Well, I’ve got armor attachments on my Mag Rider.” But then you go into the NC, and you don’t get armor attachments. Everybody gets armor attachments and they behave the same way. Going in and out of factions is less foreign than going to a different type of game. You’re actually advancing in the same way, but different types of attachments go on different types of vehicles based on the shape and abilities of the vehicle.

MMORPG.com: Are the array of vehicles and such unique to each faction? Are there common vehicles, guns, etc?

Tramell Ray Isaac: We do have common pool vehicles, like the Lightning, which we didn’t show today. It’s a common pool tank, a one man tank, which anyone can have. The Galaxy itself, the troop transport and gunship that anybody can have, any faction. The Sunderer, same thing, you can put anyone in it. The Liberator, which is our bomber, that goes across all factions. And then you have the faction-specific vehicles, which are the Vanguard and the Reaver on the NC side; you have the Scythes and the Mag Rider on the VS side; and then you have the Prowler and the Mosquito on the TR side.

MMORPG.com: Can you hop into abandoned vehicles from the opposing faction? Can you steal enemy vehicles?

Tramell Ray Isaac: Basically jacking? It’s up for debate right now. It’s two different camps inside the building. Like, “Do we want jacking? How do you advance if you jack somebody’s vehicle?” It’s all because the cert tree actually goes based on the vehicle that you currently have in your faction. If I go steal a Vanguard and I’m on VS side, what happens? That’s the debate right now internally; some people want it, some people don’t.

MMORPG.com: Do you feel the game will have those kinds of ‘Battlefield moments’?

Tramell Ray Isaac: You’ve got situations with hotdrops, with like the Galaxy, you just bail out of them. In the first PlanetSide, you see like a wavy of Galaxies coming by, and each one of them holds like 10 or 12 people, plus a vehicle. All of a sudden, you get to a certain distance, you see five Galaxies coming out, you see vehicles dropping out, guys dropping out, same thing happens here. You can bail out a Reaver at 3000 feet, bail out, shoot a bunch of guys, right before you hit the ground, hit your jump jets (if you’re light assault) and survive it. There will be plenty of situations like that, where people will be videotaping the gameplay, where you’ll have some pretty spectacular moments.

MMORPG.com: Can you talk about the certification system and how it differs from the original PlanetSide?

Tramell Ray Isaac: Well, it’s a lot deeper. In the original PlanetSide, it’s like, “Well, I’m a medic.” And then I upgrade it and upgrade it and I’m done. In PlanetSide2, you actually can upgrade each individual piece of your gameplay experience: how good you are with an assault rifle, how good you are with a sniper rifle, how good you are with an SMG, how good you are with throwing grenades, upgrading different vehicle attachments, upgrading different skills on your vehicle. There’s a large depth branch that we currently have in PlanetSide2 that never existed in PlanetSide. I think that’s going to allow people, as opposed to the original PlanetSide, going through all the content in a month or a half or two months, that’s going to allow people to experiment, they go down different avenues and say whether they like that or not. Once I max this out, then there’s five other things I can start working on. You’re talking about yourself, your weapons, and your vehicles, they all have their own little branches of skills, weapons attachments, upgrades, and so on.

MMORPG.com: Despite the fact the original PlanetSide was a bit ahead of its time, there were still huge battles going on. How are you going to take PlanetSide 2 to the next level?

Tramell Ray Isaac: We’ve got the opportunity to do a little bit more than we did before. I think our original limit was, I think, one thousand on server. We’re trying to roughly shoot for like two thousand on each server. The battles are going to be bigger. The battles are going to be more detailed. We’ve pretty much upped the ante as far as the level of quality on the graphics, they’re probably comparable to any other first person shooter out there. Piled upon that, it’s a free-to-play game. I think we’ve pretty much outdone ourselves in this regard.

The original PlanetSide, yes, it was ahead of its time, it was a great game, for then. As far as graphically, it was just OK. This time around, we’ve got the Forge Light engine behind us. We’ve got the open world engine that can do stuff that most engines that have been around for 10 years can’t even pull off yet. I think with the technology and with this team, we’ve created a new world of PlanetSide that more people can enjoy than they did the original.

I think the buzz behind PlanetSide 2 is much greater than it was for the original PlanetSide, and because it’s free-to-play, we’re going to draw in people who never even gave it a first look, because it’s, “I don’t want to pay a subscription. I can just go play any first person shooer, pay my $60 and go do that.” This time you have a choice: you play the game, you like it, you might buy something. If you don’t buy anything, you keep playing, it doesn’t matter. Just go in and have fun.

We’re going to have thousands of people playing this game. It’s going to be up to the people to make the content; everybody makes their own experience. That was one of the great things about the original PlanetSide. I’ve come across people who have played before, everybody’s got a story, everybody’s got that one experience that they remember, and it’s not just some fleeting thing, they remember it ten years later. It’s gotta be something that’s impactful and I think we’ve got the same thing with PlanetSide 2.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB