GDC 2012: Planetside 2 Demo

 

Planetside 2‘s GDC event began by trying to establish a contrast with other games. Most shooter fans, argued executive producer Josh Hackney, remember personal achievements which have little relevance beyond the last multiplayer round.

Fans of the original Planetside, he claimed, have memories on a much grander stage. Battles that lasted for weeks. Hundreds of players collaborating to achieve success. Nearly a decade after the release of the first game, Planetside 2 hopes to provide such experiences again.

World

An MMOFPS lives and dies on the strength of its world. Planetside 2 is built in the proprietary Forgelight engine, which depicts colorful, but not garish environs. In the demo, battles raged across a landscape that seemed unfamiliar but not fully alien. Particle effects such as explosions were said to be temporary, but still looked great.

Spread out across dozens of square kilometers, the gameworld will encompass a wide variety of different terrain. SOE showed off two areas at GDC, the first a highland area — good for combined arms — and the other a canyon, which favors infantry.

The landscape is also dotted with a variety of facilities, massive capture points that are each the size of an entire map in a traditional FPS. Three different factions will battle for control of these mammoth structures, hoping to reap resource rewards. Smaller outposts are also available for capture, and over time, each of the three factions — the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vanu Sovreignty — will come to own entire regions.

The addition of a full day-night cycle promises interesting tactical possibilities, like night-vision scopes and goggles. Thanks to light-scattering effects and other tricks from the game designer playbook, no time of day seems anything less than epic.

Gameplay

At the helm of an agile, helicopter-like craft, lead designer Matt Higby showed off Planetside 2′s gameplay. Reductively, it could be described as a cross between Halo and Battlefield — sleek sci-fi technology, huge land area, and gratifying little score pop-ups. Nevertheless, the demo established the game’s shooter bona fides: action was free-flowing and fast-paced, and framerates remained generally high.

Vehicle pilots can choose between a first- and third-person camera, while also customizing loadouts to perform a variety of combat roles. A wide variety is available, including faction-specific options. Real-time physics (powered by PHYSX) will ensure that vehicle combat feels appropriately weighty.

From an infantry perspective, the game looked sharp, boasting plenty of vegetative doodads that aren’t as apparent from the cockpit. Classes are as customizable as the vehicles, and the game provides plenty of support roles for those who eschew twitch combat. Logistics, in general, are more important in Planetside 2 than they are in other games. Players will set up supply lines and spawn points, even piloting a huge aerial vehicles that act as mobile bases.

Progression

Echoing a theme that seems omnipresent at GDC 2012, Planetside 2 will be “free-to-play, but not pay to win.” Players can choose to spend either in-game resources of SOE funny-money to unlock weapon and vehicle upgrades, custom paint-jobs, and special decals. Higby insisted that all the purchasable weapons will be “side-grades, not upgrades,” and that the dev team wants “five minute players and five year players to be equal to each other.”

Whether this will work in practice remains to be seen, but the fact that Planetside 2 players will earn progression points even while offline is certainly a big step in the right direction. Offline players will also be interested in the game’s extensive, Battlelog-style website, which will offer a dizzying suite of stat tracking. The fact that the game’s world is in persistent flux makes the idea especially appealing; dedicated players trapped at work will be able to follow the ebb and flow of global combat, even if they can’t directly participate.

SOE plans at least five years of content updates, so expect the tide of war turn a lot.

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