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PlanetSide Arena Interview – Devs on What Makes It Unique, Adding Story Progression & Third Person; Cross-Play Planned

Sep 13, 2019
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After originally being scheduled to debut in January 2019, PlanetSide Arena is now about to launch on Steam Early Access, where it's due on September 19th.

This new installment in the massive scale online shooter franchise will retain the focus on extremely large scale battles, launching with up to 300 players in a match with plans to eventually ramp the size up to a thousand players at once. There are, however, several differences compared to PlanetSide 2, starting with the gameplay modes inspired by Battle Royale titles (though other modes will be added later) and continuing with the recently revealed third-person view option.

Planetside 3 is in the Plans, Planetside Arena is Just a Stepping Stone

To learn about them we had a good long chat with two of the game's developers, Executive Producer Andy Sites and Lead Game Designer Tony Morton, earlier this week. There should be more than enough to answer almost every conceivable question you might have about PlanetSide Arena, you'll just have to take a minute to read it below.

Enjoy!

Andy Sites: Just to give you kind of a high-level overview, PlanetSide Arena is still a massive scale sci-fi arena shooter where we basically take all the components that made the PlanetSide games so unique and so fun to play and essentially create a rule set that allows players to experience them in a match based experience. Unlike PlanetSide 2 for example where it's an ongoing war that essentially never ends, where you occasionally have these amazing battles and these amazing events every couple hours or maybe every couple days, we've created matches where you experience them essentially every time you play a match. Basically every 25 to 30 minutes and that's really what we think makes this special. In addition to that, we've also incorporated a lot of changes that help improve the player experience and make it so that players can really focus on the combat and not have to deal with all the ancillary stuff like inventory management and some of the other more monotonous things when you play these types of games. What we want to talk about today is some of the unique changes that are going in. So Tony's gonna be talking a little bit about the class system and about the loadout system, and then hopefully answer any questions that you might have. So Tony, do you want to talk about some of the class changes that have been made?

Tony Morton: Yeah! At launch, we will have three classes, the assault, the engineer and the medic. Some of the big things with the classes is that the damage output is typically pretty equal across the classes, we wanted to lean into play styles. If you want to play a class like the assault, that will allow you to get in and get out due to its Escape Jet ability, which plays well, with the personal vehicle that every class has. You can use your vehicle to get in, use your ability to get back out, so the assault class plays really, really well as a hit and run. Whereas with the engineer, you have the ability to drop down a turret and you can place a deployable energy barrier that allows you to kind of fortify an area and just kind of hold the spot as your own. And then you've got the medic who comes in with their ability to heal, their ability to revive their teammates faster. And their deployable, which allows for shield regeneration. And so the medic is there to reinforce the team, and really kind of keep people topped up and combat-ready. Now, the other change that we've made since the last time was that classes actually have weapon restrictions. The engineer, since he is more about fortifying, we gave him an LMG. He's the only class that can use LMGS which really allows him to hold on an area throughout a lot of bullets, and just kind of hold his own. And then you've got the medic, who since he's there for reinforcing and keeping everybody topped up, he likes to keep his distance. The medic's unique weapon is the scout rifle, which obviously excels a bit more at a range. And then since the assault class is more about getting in and getting out, we gave that class the carbine, which is more effective at closer ranges, because that's where the assault class is going to be doing most of their work. On top of that, in terms of the battle royale segment, is the loadout system. The last time that we had anything public-facing, we didn't have a lot of system and we brought this system in because we wanted people to set up their weaponry and set up how they want to go in and how they want to play. So when you drop into the match in PlanetSide Arena, you're going to drop in kit with two primary weapons and a sidearm of your choice, within the class restrictions of course. This will really allow you to play how you want to play. Then as you progress through the National upgrade those weapons as well, so there's still a power growth phase and a learning phase. But you're working on things that you want to work on rather than dropping in and finding you know, some kind of a weapon you don't like, or a weapon that just feels very underwhelming, you can bring in what you want to bring in and then you upgrade that throughout the match. Outside of that,  we lean more into embracing your play style with the mod system. Essentially what the system does is add modifiers which go on the weapons, they go on your class armor as well. And they'll change the gameplay a little bit. For example, there's one for your class armor that might give your vehicles that you're in additional turbo or boost, there's one on a sidearm that allows you to go ABS faster coming out of Sprint, other ones that allow you to run faster when you hit the brakes, or maybe some that put additional bullets in the magazine if you land headshots.

The main focus on those wasn't direct damage buffs, if you will, but more about utility and allowing you to kind of craft a loadout that really lets you play the game how you want to play. And so between the classes, the loadouts and the mods, we feel that we've made some pretty significant and positive changes to PlanetSide Arena and how players can interact with it on day one.

PlanetSide Arena Lands September 19th on Steam Early Access; Year One Roadmap Revealed

Andy Sites: And as Tony mentioned, the first couple modes that we're going to be releasing, while they're based in Battle Royale roots, there's been some significant changes. Our goal from the beginning with PlanetSide Arena has always been to keep the game fresh, to release new modes. And they're not just BR modes, we have all different types of modes that players can play. But basically, every season, every couple months, we'll release large new game updates that will include new modes, new classes, in addition to the three that Tony mentioned, new vehicles, both ground vehicles and aircraft, new maps, maps that might be accompanying new modes, new weapons sets. We're going to be progressing the storyline. One of the biggest criticisms that we've had internally with PlanetSide 2 is we've never felt like we really conveyed the storyline well. So what we're going to be doing now is incorporating a lot more story progression within the game over the seasonal updates, which are delivered through both in-game messaging as well as changes to the actual gameplay environment and the gameplay itself. So every time we roll out one of these major updates, there's going to be some really, really significant changes that come along with it. And our goal there is to ensure that we keep players coming back. And, you know, it's not just one type of gameplay that you're gonna be playing from day one to, you know, year one to year five, it's going to be constantly progressing and changing over time.

Story progression certainly sounds like a unique new element for PlanetSide. I'm wondering if perhaps the actual average win/loss ratio for the factions will play a role in determining which faction is prevailing in the storyline? 

I think we could definitely consider that. We haven't actually thought about doing it in that way. But that's definitely an interesting way that we can look at it, you know, as you said, the factions are really the primary driver, that's the thing that that players really gravitate towards. With PlanetSide Arena, the storyline essentially has the faction lines collapsing, and essentially all that is left is mercenaries, but part of the storyline within the first year of release is formally reestablishing factions and, and that's something that we think will obviously be appealing to PlanetSide 2 players, but maybe like you said, if a certain faction's win/loss ratio could come into play, that would be a really interesting element, and probably something that hasn't been done before, so, definitely something that'd be worth considering.

That would be cool indeed! Going back to the class system, it seems like that's your big differentiator compared to other Battle Royale games. Do you agree?

Tony Morton: I think there's a few different points. I mean, the class system really helps us out quite a bit. The loadout system, too, I don't believe there's another game out there where you actually drop in with guns ready to go?

Andy Sites: One of the biggest complaints that we see just from streamers and ourselves playing these games is that there's nothing like it as you usually hit the ground with nothing, which makes PlanetSide Arena a novelty in that regard. There's definitely some gameplay elements that can happen when you land next to somebody that has nothing either and you guys start punching each other, but it gets to a point where you just want to hit the ground and start actually engaging in combat and not spending like the first three to five minutes finding bandages and a handgun and other stuff just so you can survive. That's what I was talking about earlier where we want to keep players focused on combat and less on the managerial side of things where they're just picking up basic items to engage with other players or they're managing inventory or they're running across the map trying to get to a safe area. In PlanetSide Arena, you can have your personal vehicle that you can spawn it anytime. We wanted to go through and eliminate all those friction points so you can really just focus on the massive scale combat that is what makes the franchise so unique.

Earlier you've mentioned class progression. Is that purely match based or are you going to allow for progression across matches, too?

Tony Morton: In matches, you've got the basic progression you're used to in Battle Royale. You come in with your weapons of common tier and then you upgrade them to rare, epic, legendary. And when you do that, you get preset optics, grips, under barrels, magazines, ammo types, things like that, and that's inside the match.

Now, what we're doing outside of the matches can be split into a few different phases, the first phase is our mods. As you play you end up with the ability to earn more mods, acquire more mods, and then longer term, we're looking at more in-depth class progression. Our main thing for us is whether or not you win a match, or you come in second place, or 10th place, we want you to kind of take something away from every match. We don't want it to be where the only time you really feel like you're getting something is if you win, we want players to be able to have those longer-term carrots, work on the things they want to work on, unlock things they want to unlock.

With regards to the Solos mode, which is coming later this year, there are concerns with regards to teaming between solo players. Do you have any plans to avoid this issue?

Tony Morton: So this isn't our first rodeo when it comes to BR. And some of the things that we've got in terms of anti-cheat and anti-teaming detection, I don't think we've ever actually said what kind of software we use, but we do have the ability to identify when players are kind of hanging out together and not actually in combat, checking player patterns and whatnot. So we've got some of that up our sleeve, which is from our experience in the past.

Andy Sites: We use a combination of both licensed and proprietary anti-cheat software detection, so it's not just one thing we're using, because as you know players can figure out ways to circumvent everything and it requires not just incorporating these detection methods, but, you know, having people that are on top of that all the time updating it and monitoring it to, to ensure that it when they do circumvent it, we push out something to counter that.

What kind of penalties do you have in mind for those who are caught, you know, teaming up when they shouldn't?

Andy Sites: It's basically the standard policies that we have had before. If there's people that are caught teaming up, we have various levels of warnings, and then short term ban and then permanent banning. I mean, it's something that we've been doing in our games for years now, but you're right, it's something that we need to be wary of. And specifically, with the Solos mode, I wanted to point out the way that we've got the game mode set up for launch. We have primary modes, which are going to be the Squads mode, which is groups of twelve, and then Teams mode, which will be groups of three. And then, for example, Solos, when we release that, that will be a special event that we run on weekends, Friday through Sunday for a few weekends, where you get unique rewards when you compete in it, and we'll cycle those out fairly frequently.

Okay, so Solos mode won't be a permanent addition.

Andy Sites: When we launch the game it's not going to be one of the primary permanent modes, we're going to introduce it as a special event mode. And, you know, like all the modes that we introduce, depending on their popularity we might decide whether or not we move those into the always-on, always available category versus being, you know, a weekend special event.

Got it. There are many, many questions from the community as well. But, you know, just to select a few of them, for example, will there be proximity chat in PlanetSide Arena?

Andy Sites: No, there's team chat, but we're not doing proximity chat.

Tony Morton: All the chat is team-based. And then if we do have modes that have extremely large teams, well, there's essentially a proximity chat for your team, but not cross-team. So you won't be able to talk essentially with an enemy just because of the toxicity that comes along with it.

Makes sense. Another big concern is always the performance, especially in a massive scale game like PlanetSide Arena. Did you make any significant improvements compared to PlanetSide 2 in this area?

Andy Sites: Of course. We made quite a few changes, actually, as you know, PlanetSide 2 has been out for almost seven years now. And the engine and code base that we're using, for this, at least as a foundation, we started with that. But we did a pretty significant visual optimization and overhaul. We've also just been generally optimizing performance overall. But really, PlanetSide 2 has been our test case for the last almost seven years, I mean, we have population caps on PlanetSide 2 of 1000 concurrent players in a match, we've hit almost 1200 in record events. The thing that's great about this, using this code base at least as a foundation is that these numbers aren't theoretical, we're not projecting that we might be able to have a 300 person match or a 500 person match or higher. We've done this several times on a version that isn't as optimized as what we're using right now. So we're confident in the scale that we're trying to achieve. And really, what it's coming down to is, and what our focus has been on is, you know, the visual overhaul to make the game look different, subjectively at least in our opinion better than how it looks in PlanetSide 2. And then also really focusing just on gameplay. When you work on a new game, it's a combination of ensuring that you've got stability and you can support the scale and the gameplay. What's been great about this is that we've got our server and client stability already in place. Now the focus is just gameplay. And that really allows the team to really hone in on the meta and what makes the game fun and what's going to get players to come back.

Can you talk a little bit about the Outfit System and the Outfit Wars?

Andy Sites: Yeah. If you're familiar with PlanetSide 2, you know, the outfits are essentially guilds. And they're essentially the social glue for all the players in the game. What we wanted to do with PlanetSide Arena is not only incorporate the foundational Outfit system, but we want to take it a step further, and implement a rule set and options that allow outfits to actually compete against one another. So let's say Tony's Outfit and my Outfit are rival Outfits, and we want to actually compete against one another in a match. We're working on with the Outfit War system, the ability for both of us to configure and run matches between the two of our Outfits.

Right. So in this case, there is no matchmaking, you just agree to have an Outfit vs Outfit match, correct?

Andy Sites: Yeah, it'd be unlikely that we would incorporate matchmaking into that because we're voluntarily opting in to compete against one another in this case.

Of course, I have to ask one of the big topics in the community after the latest gameplay trailer, the addition of the third-person view, given that PlanetSide was always first-person only.

Andy Sites: Yeah, that obviously was, you know, the camera view can be a polarizing topic, but one of the reasons we introduced the third-person view was to continue to differentiate it from PlanetSide 2, we didn't want people to think that this was just PlanetSide 2 all over again. But it also really lends itself well to the type of gameplay that we offer. In PlanetSide 2 there's one class that has jetpacks, while every class has jetpacks in here. The verticality and the gameplay that we offer in PlanetSide Arena is something you can experience with the first person, and it's fine, but the third person really, really supports it well. But at the end of the day, we opted to give players the option to both to choose whether they want to play third person or first person and that's the way it's been implemented. That's the way we plan on rolling it out. And so far, with all of our internal testing, and all of our testing we've been doing over the last few weeks with our NDA'd external players, it's gone well, so we feel like we made the right decision to offer both. We feel like the third person view gives you that situational awareness and maybe provides a little more compelling experience to a casual player, but for like the hardcore PlanetSide 2 players that are you know, ride or die with first-person, they've got that option, and they can play that way as well.

There is, however, the concern of competitive advantage, slight as it may be, for those choosing third-person instead of first-person when both are available at the same time.

Andy Sites: One comment on that is the external players that we've invited in over the last couple weeks, a lot of them are PlanetSide 2 vets and I can tell you from experience that they are not having any disadvantage playing in first person against people that are playing in third person, but if it gets to a point where there is a, you know, a significant disadvantage between one or the other, you know, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, if we've got the player engagement and there is an actual actionable issue there then we'll likely make a change but we wanted to at least roll out with the option in, because we feel like it improves the experience and it also is something that we think is going to be more compelling to newcomers to PlanetSide.

Will there be an FoV (Field-of-View) slider?

Andy Sites: Yes, that's already in the options right now.

Another question I've got is regarding the business model you chose to go with, Buy-to-Play. Of course, there are many Free-to-Play Battle Royale games, while PlanetSide Arena will have this payment barrier to access. How do you feel about that?

Andy Sites: Yeah, there obviously is a barrier to entry with a paywall restriction, but we are planning on rolling out as a paid download game. With the bundles, we want to make sure that people feel like they're getting their money's worth, so it's very generous. There's a lot of crates and unique skins and stuff that you get for going in. The exact business model for the game's full launch next year is currently under consideration.

PlanetSide Arena is coming to consoles as well at that time, correct? 

Andy Sites: Yes, when we formally launch the game, it will be a simultaneous multi-platform launch. Early Access will be exclusively PC and then when we launch 1.0 it will be on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Are you planning to implement cross-play, as many other games are doing now?

Andy Sites: Yes, yeah, in PlanetSide 2 PC and PlayStation 4 users can technically already cross-play, we've just limited it because there are some differences between the features between both of them. But the plan for PlanetSide Arena is to offer cross-play.

That's great to hear. Thank you for your time.

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