One of the most impressive displays of gaming greatness at Penny Arcade Expo Prime this year was “PlanetSide 2,” a game being developed right here in San Diego at Sony Online Entertainment. Past readers should know how excited I am about this massively-multiplayer first-person shooter.
The game has been in beta testing for the last few weeks and just dropped the non-disclosure agreement, meaning a wealth of new information and footage has flooded out onto the Internet. I had the opportunity to interview Executive Producer of “PlanetSide 2” Josh Hackney and ask him how the beta is progressing and what plans are expected in the future.
Cody Franklin: Hi guys, it’s Cody here, and we’re here with Josh Hackney, Executive Producer for Sony Online Entertainment (and “PlanetSide 2”), and we’re going to ask just a couple questions about “PlanetSide 2.” Hi Josh.
Josh Hackney: How ya doing?
Franklin: Pretty good. So, my first question is what has been the biggest surprise you’ve had with the beta testing?
Hackney: The biggest surprise for me has been how well the players actually jumped in the game and how good they are. You know, you hear a lot of beta tests, especially shooters, and you get trolls and stuff like that, but actually our fans that are helping us beta test are really awesome. They’re really helping us and they’re helping each other learn how to play … They’re working really well together and they’re really just doing a great job.
Franklin: What it is like working with a community that is so involved with everything?
Hackney: It’s amazing because, you know, we’re in out and out of the beta every day. My technical director will jump in and want to try something out and it’s just amazing to be able to get 100 people to come over. We’ll do a broadcast and say, “Hey, can you all come over here? We want to test out tanks over on the plateau,” or something like that, and everybody is really responsive. It makes life so much easier and actually makes it more fun when everyone is so positive and helpful.
Franklin: Is there anything you guys didn’t know about before testing, such as how people reacted to things?
Hackney: We learned more about how people play and how they disperse and congregate. I think right now, being in beta is the time for the tuning. There are certain things you can do as far as the moment to moment mechanics and weapons for instance before jumping in. But all the meta-game, how people deal with different lockdown mechanics and capture points and connectivity of all the terminals and spawn points, it changes from how you think it’s going to be when you put a thousand people on a server and you see how they play together. It keeps going back and fourth; every week we’re adding new functionality and adjusting how capture points work. That’s really what we’re working on the most.
Franklin: I know that lately with platoon and squad sizes there has been a lot of controversy and you have been changing it back and fourth a lot because it is a very controversial topic. How do you find that right balance between what the community wants and what you, as developers, think is best for design?
Hackney: A lot of the time we have an idea of what we think it should be. The design group in general spent a lot of time in the original game and took a lot of time looking at that. Sometimes we’ll look at what’s out there, and then finally just getting in there playing and seeing how people work together and interact, that’s probably been the biggest thing. All of our designers actually spend time on the forums and look at their particular portion. If they’re looking at the interface or the class systems, they jump in there and they respond and they review. Plus, we have a really great community team that actually, on top of what we do, goes on the forums and correlates all the information and allows us to go “Okay, here’s the top thing that they’re talking about.” When you hear enough of that stuff, you start responding. You’ll see the develops jump in the game or the develops actually post, you even see Smed (John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment) asking questions, “Hey, we put a new beta version out, we did this to squads, what do you guys think?” It’s a hard challenge. You can’t please everybody all the time, but you do want it to feel right, and I think most people, what you get is that “it just feels right”, or “it is what it is but its okay” because it so much stronger in this other area. It’s that aggregate feeling of yeah, it all the sudden starts gelling.
Franklin: I think that is the thing that I’ve noticed, and I think a lot of people have noticed, that your community team, your developers, everybody is so connected and is listening to everybody and we really appreciate that.
Hackney: It’s important to us. I think that, contrary to some of the other games that are going out there, for us it’s not about … trying to get all our money back in the first day. Our dream is that in 10 years from now we’ll be back here at PAX talking about what the latest update we just put “PlanetSide 2” was and you guys will be asking us about space combat or whatever the heck we add in.
Franklin: Did we just get a tease for space combat?
Hackney: We have reams of ideas that we want to do in some patch. Individual space, 4.5. It’s everything from that, to creating bases and all kinds of things that we want to go ahead and look at. One of the things that we’re going to be doing—I’ve mentioned this before, but hopefully the community sees this—is we’re going to be talking and seeing the direction that we all want to take the game, because it’s about keeping the community happy and making sure that we’re all having fun with where its going, rather than some general idea where some designer somewhere wants it in the game and that’s going to be the end of it and everybody else will have to deal with it. It’s a majority discussion.
Franklin: With eSports related stuff, do you have any plans with that, is it all still in the planning stages?
Hackney: It’s in the planning stages. I can’t say the times that it’s going to come out, but it is definitely high on the list; very high.
Franklin: We’ve seen Higby running around with a developer camera, is that something we could see in the eSports options?
Hackney: Yeah, that’s one of those things, there’s some functionality we have to put in the game to make sure it works well. A good spectator mode, without a doubt, we want to put that in for a couple other reasons. At some point we’ll put in a really good spectator mode, it just depends on when we get to it in development. We’re adding so many things left and right. It’s one of those things that will get in there but there’s a whole load of things before we’ve got to get done.
Franklin: Do you guys have any plans to develop the story or is it going to be like “PlanetSide” where it never really went anywhere after launch?
Hackney: It’s a mix. We’ve got a couple of ideas but obviously with any MMO, you want some of the story to come from the engagement of the players—what they do and how they do it. We don’t have anything we’d like to announce right now.
Franklin: Along those lines, will we ever see alien tech come back in a big way, things like the Switchblade and what not?
Hackney: Always a possibility, always a possibility.
Franklin: It was worth a shot to ask.
Hackney: A lot of the things people are asking to come back, as far as vehicles and weapons, it’s just a matter of time before we get to them. We picked and chose the things we thought people would really want to play with and as we move forward, we’re going to be adding more content in.
Franklin: Coming from a college newspaper, the majority of our readers are going to be students. What would you say is the one or two major reasons college students should be excited about “PlanetSide 2?”
Hackney: It’s free. It’s also great for social interaction. You can frag your friends or you can play together. It’s definitely a place for interaction. It’s great. If you go back to the first game, the sense of community was so huge and people still have that. You can see it already on the forums and in the game. It’s not you stepping away and playing solo and putting blinders on; it’s an opportunity for you to play with other college students or other people around the country. There’s no reason an entire dorm can’t make a guild or have fights between different people from different schools. It’s a great opportunity. If you’ve got 600 friends and you want to play on the same server, you can do it.