PlanetSide 2 The Shattered Warpgate Interview – Adding Story to an MMOFPS

Alessio Palumbo
The Shattered Warpgate

A new era is about to begin in PlanetSide 2, known as the first and arguably only true Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS) game.

A new update titled 'The Shattered Warpgate' and due to appear on the Public Test Server soon will introduce the very first storytelling experiences to the franchise through 'Campaigns'. Focused on the continent of Esamir, the story's chapters will chronicle a 'catastrophic technological event', apparently sparked by the destruction of one of the continent's Warpgates (hence the name). This will be the catalyst for several changes to the continent of Esamir and even to the gameplay of PlanetSide 2.

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We recently had the opportunity to talk with Andy Sites, Head of Rogue Planet Games and Executive Producer of the PlanetSide franchise, and Michael “Wrel” Henderson, Lead Designer of PlanetSide 2, to learn more about this massive upcoming change for the game.

The Shattered Warpgate
The Shattered Warpgate
The Shattered Warpgate

Of course, the big new feature of The Shattered Warpgate is the new campaign system. Can you share whether this was something that you discussed internally in the studio, or was it more of a request that you saw from the community, about adding some more proper storytelling to the game?

Michael Henderson: I think we've always had hints from the community that is something that at the very least a subsection of the community is interested in. But I think more important is that when you inject lore into the game, that has these almost unquantifiable benefits for people where there's just a better sense of connection and immersion with the world. But we also get to the campaign system and the mission system as well. We have very tangible objectives, missions that you go on, and rewards that you get from the missions. So there's definitely a gameplay element. It's not all about lore, but we're using campaigns as kind of a wrapper for the updates as a whole moving forward. For this one, Shattered Warpgate is about the events that are taking place on the continent of Esamir and there is a bunch of lore that's associated with that but we're also using it as a way to introduce this new system. We also cleaned up the continent and made the flow of battle better there and then also address some long-standing issues with the game. It definitely gives us something that we can kind of wrap around a good update in.

Andy Sites: It frames all the changes with lore and story rather than just being a list of bullet points for everything that's changed since you were last in.

I'm wondering how the missions will work, whether that's going to be separate from the usual PlanetSide 2 faction versus faction warfare. When The Shattered Warpgate is out and you select one of the campaign missions, does it bring you in a separate instance or anything like that?

Michael Henderson: No, our game is a sandbox with a population of up to 900 per continent. They all have their goals and objectives and typically, at least in the past, it's been fighting for the bases that you have different connections to and that sort of thing. What we're doing with missions and campaigns as well is giving them kind of sub-objectives to complete. We don't spin up a new instance, you're not going into any single player realm. You're doing these missions alongside, you know, the hundreds of other players and the way that we've designed the missions, it's done in such a way where players are meant to intersect. So you'll come across players in areas of the map that you typically wouldn't and then it will create some form of combat and just the sort of emergent gameplay that's a result of the storytelling that we're sharing with players.

Are you going to have any named characters or something like that?

Michael Henderson: Alongside the story, there's definitely going to be some NPCs that you bump into, and they will primarily be in the social space that we have in the game that's called Sanctuary. It's a big space satellite that exists in orbit over the planet of our access and there's no combat in the zone. You'll start out talking to a person whose name is Representative Foster, he is from the Nanites Systems faction, which is this comment faction that all the warring empires have an interaction with. He's asking you to investigate some of the ongoings on Esamir, that's how the campaign kind of starts. We definitely want to do some character building and definitely create recurring characters and just different lore elements that you learn more about and then become present throughout the entirety of the game.

Do you have any plans to eventually introduce, at some point after The Shattered Warpgate, NPC faction leaders? It could be something that gets the storytelling to another level, as it did for many other games.

Michael Henderson: I wouldn't say we've currently got any plans for that. All the factions do have either a single leader or multiple leaders; the New Conglomerate is actually run by a corporation, or like upper-level management I guess, of individuals called The Board. But we've got some iconic characters as well, for example in the Vanu Sovereignty there was a character named Briggs who interacted with an ancient artifact, and he got visions and telekinetic powers and that sort of thing. But he hasn't been seen for many years now, so bringing him back could be something that we do in the future. But for the time being, we're letting you interact with people who aren't at the top and are kind of the messengers. I'd say that you don't want to kind of fall into the trap where or you're always interacting with the hero and he's alongside you because ultimately in Planetside 2 you're just a soldier. You're a grunt and we want to be sure to give that role that you're playing some credence as well. So we'll have to see how the story evolves, but that's where we're leaning right now.

In The Shattered Warpgate presentation, you said that the campaign system will intersect with the existing mission system in some ways, right?

Michael Henderson: We had an old mission system that has been in the game for a few years, but it didn't really do what we wanted it to. Basically, we're ripping that out and throwing it away and then putting in this new mission system. Actually, campaigns are kind of built on top of this new system.
So the missions are daily quests, players can pick which ones they want to participate in. And those missions are intended to give players the opportunity to participate in different forms of gameplay while rewarding them for doing so. You have some missions which are more relaxed where you're kind of cruising around the map, other missions that are more community oriented or it's like a single focus point, and then anybody who has that mission goes and competes over the objective. Then we have other missions that are kind of more in line with the normal gameplay, like go to this place and set up spawn points for your faction. We want to continue to feel like there's a sense of war and urgency throughout the entirety of the space even while you're on solo missions, you want to feel like you're doing something for your faction. Campaigns is kind of an offshoot of that as well as telling the story of our campaign, which is slated to last three months currently.

What kind of rewards can players expect from completing the campaign missions once they are released alongside The Shattered Warpgate?

Michael Henderson: The campaign in itself has a bunch of new cosmetics, there's a new weapon, there's a bunch of tangential unlockables that are given alongside the campaign. You don't even have to participate in order to get these; they're just new unlocks that are coming to the game, such as a new grenade type that slows enemies, we have a new ammo type that does the same thing and then there's new rockets for our fighter craft that inflict a debuff that makes it so vehicles can't be repaired for a short amount of time. There's a bunch of cool things that are going in. But then alongside that, within normal missions that you're participating in, what we're doing is we're making it so players have more access to the in-game currencies than they've had in the past. By virtue of doing the missions, you can pick what currencies you're going for. For example, you have certain things that you want to unlock certification points, you can lean into the missions that give you these types of rewards. Or you can lean into the missions that have ISO-4, which is a currency for the implant system that's on the game, and that previously has been difficult to access. Typically, you'd have to burn a bunch of certification points and break down random implants or duplicate implants to turn them into the currency, but we're giving you new methods to earn these different sorts of currency.

Then there's also some stuff for newer players as well. For example, if you're playing through missions, you'll occasionally just get a weapon, one that you typically have to unlock for certification points, but it's given to you as an offering from your faction. For new players out of the gate, they'll be able to jump in and unlock weapons that maybe they didn't know that they wanted access to, or maybe they don't have enough certifications for.

Do you have a schedule of how regularly you want to add more campaign chapters or missions to the game after The Shattered Warpgate?

Michael Henderson: The first campaign is going to be three chapters, each chapter is a month. We might do kind of an epilogue, I guess, at the end where there's kind of some time off between campaigns. Whenever we introduce a new campaign, we want to make sure that there's a good update that goes along with it just holistically. So there might be some time in between and I don't want to hold us to a specific schedule just yet.

I think earlier you mentioned that the update will have some fixes to long-standing issues, too. Can you explain which ones in particular?

Michael Henderson: Sure. I guess this one's probably not long-standing, as the War Asset system is something that we introduce with Escalation, but we're doing a full rebalance on the resources that you get around the map with the intent to make it so some of the less popular war assets just due to their cost will get more use in-game. We released a pretty drastic change to the performance, the way that our game handles physics and larger fights, we ran a public play test on Saturday and Sunday and players have a really good response to that. So that'll be out probably before this update, actually.

In addition to the drastic overhaul that we're doing to Esamir, which fixes a number of issues as traditionally that map has been not great for gameplay just because of how the regions are set up, how all the bases are connected. So when we blow up the northeastern market that goes away, and then we move or we created a new market, the eastern part of the map, so it's creating more symmetry within the map as a whole which will make it easier to fight over. And then Indar which is our oldest continent, it is getting some changes to the main three bases around the center to make it so the flow there is a little bit better. It's creating a lot of stagnation currently on the live server, so we're making some low key changes there as well. That'll hopefully increase the flow of players in and around it.

The last time I spoke with Andy, I asked him when PlayStation 4 would get the Escalation update, and it finally happened last month. My question is, are you better equipped now to release the new updates including The Shattered Warpgate on PlayStation 4 a little faster?

Andy Sites: Yeah, definitely, it's our focus. For the last seven months before we published the last PlayStation 4 update, there was a lot of foundational work that needed to be done to carry over a lot of the systems to PlayStation 4. Now that we've got that update out we're much more prepared to get PlayStation 4 updates out within weeks, not months, of their PC releases, so that shouldn't happen again. PS4 PlanetSide 2 players should expect this update much, much sooner than then they received the Escalation one, because that wasn't just Escalation. It was basically every update from last December until the Colossus update, up to and including the last update that the PC had received.

What was the response to Escalation's launch on PlayStation 4?

Andy Sites: It was really good. The games aren't in complete feature parity yet at this point. I noted just as we were publishing the PlayStation 4 update that we were still holding back on one being the Construction system just due to some technical hurdles that were going to push the timing of the update out even further. We opted to push the update out without it just because we knew the community would appreciate the eight months of updates rather than waiting even longer. And then the Outfit Wars system, on PC we're going through and making some pretty significant changes to that and rather than porting over the system that will be changing to the PlayStation 4, we're opting to hold off on releasing it until the revised system is out later this year. But overall, in terms of just player engagement, we saw an increase, though not quite as dramatic because PC is by far our largest player base between the two. But we've doubled our peak population on the game there, too. We basically saw everything increase pretty dramatically in terms of just the number of players coming back and the server populations and the community recognized that pretty quickly noting how full some of the servers were that first weekend.

Okay, sounds good. Anything else worth adding about The Shattered Warpgate?

Michael Henderson: Mostly that we're just on untread ground for us and we are looking and interested in seeing how the community responds to it so that we can create a really good experience for them. So the feedback and recommendations will be taken to heart and the system will evolve over time just like the game does.

Actually, let me ask one final question. Is there a discussion at Rogue Planet about the possibility to introduce NPC AI at some point in PlanetSide 2?

Michael Henderson: It's kind of a tricky subject. Because I think one of PlanetSide's identities at least right now, and who knows where it will go in the future, but it's that every action that you see is driven by a player. And I think it's important to make sure we don't infringe on that too much, at least not right away. I do see there's a lot of value though in having NPCs for tutorials, for example, or even potentially for offshoot like single player experiences in the future maybe, but there are no plans for that right now.

Andy Sites: Just adding to what Michael said, it's a pretty unique aspect of the game that every player you interact with is an actual person. So if we do end up doing anything of the sort we would introduce it very selectively to, you know, certain aspects of the game so that it wouldn't take away from the main core.

Fair enough. Thank you for your time.

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