PLANETSIDE 2: Evolution of an Online Shooter

The battle for the alien world of Auraxis is renewed in Sony Online Entertainment’s Planetside 2, a massively multiplayer online class-based first person shooter that is set for a free-to-play release on or about the end of this year. Pick one of the three warring factions and a class then set about fighting a never ending battle across a massive open world to capture checkpoints and expand your faction’s dominance and influence over its rivals.

One of the people in charge of boosting 2003’s Planetside, which is still up and running almost ten years later is Tramell Isaac, the sequel’s Senior Art Director. Newsarama caught up to him among the throngs at the recent Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle to ask about the experience of bringing the sci-fi shooter up into the present.

Newsarama: Is this your first experience with the Planetside franchise, or are you returning to it?

Tramell Issac: I worked on the original Planetside, starting about nine years ago. I worked though all its expansions, left [Sony Online Entertainment] for a while but when I came back I started working on Planetside 2. I’ve been with SOE for a while.

Nrama: What was your goal visually for Planetside 2? What did you see, or not see, in the original Planetside that you wanted in the sequel?

Issac: In the original PlanetsideI think the characters and the world were fairly well rounded and familiar to people because we based them on natural environments. We didn’t want to go too crazy with it being too alien and too unfamiliar to people getting into the game, [we wanted them] to feel kind of at home when they got into the game. We are extending that in Planetside 2 by bringing the next generation of technology that allows us to have worlds that are more ‘alive’ [featuring] a full day/night cycle. ForgeLight, our in-house engine that we built Planetside 2 around, allowed us to do that. The original Planetside was more of a stepping stone to Planetside 2. We took what we had and brought it to the next level.

Nrama: Planetside 2 revolves around a conflict between three factions, each with its own design ascetic; can you elaborate on the influences of each one’s design?

Issac: The original game was the groundwork for Planetside 2, but when we created the original factions they were all based on basic shapes; the Terran Republic is circles, the New Conglomerate is squares and the Vanu Sovereignty is all triangles. Each is based on those basic shape languages so you look in-game and see a Scythe, you know it’s a Scythe based on the silhouette you don’t need to wait to see what color it is, you can tell by the shape of it. You can tell a Reaver is a Reaver based on its shape, same with a Mosquito. Those distinct shapes, you’ll never be able to confuse those regardless of what time of day it is or whether or not you can see the stripes or the paint color. So that’s distinctive itself and we wanted to make sure that they players could not only identify each faction and separate them via color but by the shape languages that we put in [the game].

We wanted to accentuate that in Planetside 2 by taking the Vanu Sovereignty to another level as far as making them more alien looking in their armor, vehicles and weapons; separating them completely from the other two factions. Then accentuating the New Conglomerate, giving them harder edges making sure that are separated among the three. So you’ll get three distinctive shapes throughout the game, something you won’t get from any other first person shooter.

Nrama: Were there ever any conflicts with those working on the gameplay mechanics? Say if you made a ship too ‘sleek’ it would become harder to hit and give an advantage to one faction?

Issac: Well, it’s the same kind of thing we had with male verses female player characters. Some people like to play the female form thinking that it’s going to be harder to hit because its thinner, but we wanted to make sure those kinds of things were taken into account when we were talking about vehicles. They [all] pretty much have the same “mass” for the most part, for example the Scythe is a little bit longer but the main body of it is the same size as a Mosquito. Mosquitos are a lot smaller, but that’s the advantage they have, they are a lot more maneuverable. So some of those things are actually built into the design, so as far as us making an art call by saying ‘well, we’re going to make this a really thin vehicle’ that goes along with the design as well. We were really all on the same page, I take my cues from [the design department] for what they need and I embellish on that and make sure it fits within [the faction’s] visual style.

Nrama: Finally is there any single unit you worked on that you are proud of?

Issac: All the Vanu Sovereignty, that’s my heart right there. I played Vanu Sovereignty since day one, it was the first faction that I worked on when I got on the original Planetside team and all the Vanu stuff is totally unique. When you see a Scythe flying through the air you know exactly what’s coming after you, I’m really proud with how the Vanu came out.

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