Last month Daybreak released free-to-play game Planetside Arena into Steam Early Access for the first time, letting fans try their brand of multiplayer action. After all, they have experience in the field, having worked on H1Z1, and we recently caught up with Andy Sites, executive producer on the Planetside franchise, and lead designer Tony Morton about some core elements of the game - the vehicles and the weapons.
"Every class has access to a personal vehicle that you can select, there's two to choose from," Morton said about the former. "You have a Flash, which is a more conventional vehicle, it's like a quad or an ATV. Then you've also got the Tempest, which is a personal hovercraft, and so the two big differences between those is the Tempest, since it's more of a hovercraft, you can do things like strafe."
"The quad excels at doing things like full sends and stuff off of jumps and it really does get a lot of air and you can cover a lot of ground with it; it's a lot of fun to drive around on. The personal vehicles operate essentially on a cooldown, so when you're in a match you can press X to bring it back up [...] If you take a fireball on it, you will get knocked off, and then once you either dismount or get dismounted from enemy fire, it goes on a short cooldown and then you can call it again. Both of those vehicles have boost or turbo as well as air controls, so you can do things like flips and stuff, so it's fun."
These provide plenty of ways to get around, but with a game described as a "massive multiplayer sci-fi arena shooter," there are plenty more options available to you if you want to traverse the map.
"There are two person vehicles, if you're playing teams or squads, you can have a teammate riding shotgun with you," Sites adds.
"Outside of that we have the Harasser," Morton continues. "The Harasser is a three-player vehicle; it has a driver, a gunner, and a passenger in the back [...] The Harasser comes in two different flavours, one of them has a machine gun on top and the other has a rocket launcher - or a Halberd, is the name of the gun - that is more of an anti-tank vehicle. We use different variants of that in teams versus squads. The one with the rocket launcher on top of it is used in squads and the main reason for that, is because in squads we use the Vanguard."
"The Vanguard is a three-person tank - it has a driver and then two gunners; one gunner operates the main cannon while the other gunner operates the machine gun. We kind of have this vehicular system, if you will, between vehicles and infantry."
"We have the Decimator, which is a single projectile that is slower-moving but high punch that is designed for anti-tank, and then we also have the Lancer, which is a rapid-fire, high-speed projectile that is meant for more on the Harasser side or on the back of a tank for its weak spot."
"So, infantry can essentially attack either one of those two vehicles, or then the tanks are really good at taking out Harassers, Harassers are very good at running interference on infantry but then also getting good shots out on tanks with a rocket launcher."
"That's what's going to be there at launch," Morton adds. "We're currently exploring and looking into aircraft, to see what kind of role aircraft have in the game. We've got a few different types that we're playing with, whether they are troop transports or more light reconnaissance vehicles, but one of the big things that we want to make sure of in Planetside Arena with aircraft is you know that aircraft aren't completely dominating."
"It's one of those things that can be very difficult in a game to balance when you bring aircraft in, so we're making some changes right now. And you know in the Planetside universe, there's quite a lot of aircraft that can hover that have forward-facing guns, and they can just sort of rain death, so we're trying to steer clear of that and make sure each aircraft has a clearly defined role and function that doesn't mess with the eco-system of combat. And that'll be for a future update."
With all of these vehicles thrown in there, great and small, we had to ask the team about how much they can impact gameplay. After all, they're more than just a means to get from A to B, and it turns out that can dramatically influence the tide of battle, depending on how you use them of course.
"So, it depends on which vehicles right," Morton said. "Your personal vehicle is critical because one, it just makes sure traversing the world is a hell of a lot more fun than just running, and then also just kind of getting in and getting out of combat; your personal vehicle is pretty critical."
"The one thing we wanted to avoid in the team's mode was the use of Harassers just kind of dominating the battlefield. So, in teams, it's much more about your personal vehicle in your team of three's ability to rotate positioning, and so vehicles don't play a huge role in gaining the upper hand, they are more for mobility. However, right now in squads, tanks have a phase essentially, right, and so, what we're working with and what we're playing with is when the game starts, there are no tanks available, but a few phases in, the tanks actually spawn, they become available, and by that time, players typically have anti-vehicle weaponry in their loadouts via super weapons. Players hop in tanks, tank battles start, which you know they are a lot of fun because there are a lot of tanks out on the map but they tend to get eaten away pretty quickly, and then by the time the later zones come in and they get so small, people start abandoning tanks because now they are just a target."
"So, we've actually created phases inside the game that go from infantry, to vehicles, then back out to infantry to wrap up so that the game's got a pretty good ebb and flow in terms of where vehicles are important, to the point where vehicles are probably more of a death trap. We're kind of playing on that side but right now for the launch mode the goal is at least at the very end across the board, it is more or less infantry on infantry, and then in the squads mode, vehicles are kind of the meat and potatoes in the middle segments of the match."
So there are certainly weapons available to take out the vehicles in the game, but what about weaponry? A multiplayer game like this lives and dies on the weapons available to players and the balance between them, and Morton told us that there are a lot of options already in Early Access:
"We use airdrops to deploy a lot of the more higher power weapons in the game, in terms of Super Weapons, and so for context, one thing we've added to the game that to kind of roll into the weapon aspect is a full loadout system."
"We have a lot of plans [...] in terms of what we want to do down the road, whether its tournament modes or temporary modes [...] But for now, while the modes are BR-based, one thing we want to do is kind of turn it on its head a little bit, right. So, we figured, why not give the players a loadout, let them bring the guns they want to bring with them into the game, and then they upgrade those guns over the match."
"So, what you do is you actually drop into the match with two primaries and a sidearm, and then through airdrops you'll pick up super weapons, which are you know sniper rifles, different kinds of rocket launchers, there are different kinds of energy weapons, things like that, that allow you to kind of change your playstyle if you will depending on what you've got in front of you.
"If you've got a whole lot of infantry, then sniper rifles or energy weapons may be what you want to bring, if there's a bunch of tanks out there, then Decimators or Lancers are what you are going to want to bring with you, and you kind of change your kit that way. Then on the loadout side of things, all the weapons aside from pistols and scout rifles have under-barrel attachments once you upgrade them far enough. So, while you may drop in with weapons, we wanted to maintain the progression sense you get in more traditional BR games with weapon progression."
"So, let's say you drop in with an assault rifle and, you know, you pick up an assault rifle rare upgrade that's going to give you a stock and an upgraded sight. If you go for an epic upgrade, that's going to give you an under-barrel and then you can get the legendary, which continues on afterwards with different laser sights and different kinds of magazines, but the big thing is the weapons, in terms of anti-vehicle, the under-barrels on the machine gun and the light assault rifle excel at anti-vehicle as well. So there are a lot of things in your arsenal to go up against vehicles, even if you haven't found a super weapon, and so we're trying to keep all of that in mind when we balance things to make sure players have options while they are out there on the battlefield. "
When you're not in a vehicle you don't just have to stick to running either, as there are jetpacks that change the way you approach the map. In fact, Morton told us that these kind of movement options are important for them, especially when it comes to verticality in these maps.
"We gave every class jetpacks and so the one thing that we wanted to do was, we didn't want one class to walk up to a PUI or a rock outcropping and be like, one class can fly up to the top and the other is stuck looking for the stairs because its just not fun, right," he said.
"So, to add to the progression and looting cycle as well, every class has got your weapons, your shield that recharges, your jetpacks that recharge, and then you've got your ability or utility. The jetpacks are key for us because they allow you to pretty much remove verticality as an obstacle and use it as a tool and so as you go throughout the match, and you upgrade your jetpacks, you essentially increase the size of your fuel tanks, and so you can jetpack for longer and farther. If you are not in a vehicle, now you've got your verticality element for traversal, and so the game just has a lot of movement to it.
"And then on top of that, there are map elements as well. We have jump pads, we have grav lifts - the world is sci-fi and so we really kind of look at it like a big playground and just give players more ways to interact with everything."
"I don't want to say we made things with an absolute ton of verticality [...] but what we didn't shy away from was if we wanted to build something that was tall or on a ridge side or whatever, there wasn't the... we didn't have to make any sacrifice in terms or, well how is someone going to be able to get up there on foot because everybody can fly up to it? Then, in terms of, we wanted to do things like larger canyons or ridges or whatever, that's when we put in jump pads or grav lifts or whatever to help people cross those bigger areas."
"One of the biggest things I learned when I was working on H1 back in the day was, when a team or group of players has the ability to move and rotate in a stressful situation it can be one of the most satisfying things, and as odd as this is going to sound, right - in a shooter, shooting someone needs to feel good, and I think that's known for just in general, but being shot at and the ability of having freedom of movement is just as important because it's what's going to happen most of the time. You're going to be getting shot at, you're going to be getting forced to move and so we wanted to make sure players have the options that were satisfying to do so, since that is what you are going to be doing for a lot of your time when you are inside of a match."
"Sure when you shoot someone that needs to feel good, that can go on being unsaid, but it's kind of why we lean into the freedom of movement with personal vehicles and the jetpacks, with the grav lifts and the jump pads, really with all of it, to just give players options to get around the map and not feel like they are hindered or screwed because they ended up in a bad spot. You should always have an option to do something to see if you can secure a successful future."
We finished off with one last question about the options available while playing. All of this sounds quite loud and explosive, so we wanted to know whether stealthy players had options available to them, to which Morton said:
"In terms of if you wanted to be more of a stealthy player, a Solid Snake if you will, there's no prone on a hilltop, but there are certain factors that come into play. So, when you mount on a vehicle, whether it's a Harasser or your personal Tempest, you show up on the radar for everybody. So, anytime you decide to use that to move around, you're going to be a target."
"Oddly enough, what we've found is that in teams and even in squads, smaller groups can successfully flank really well if they just kind of stay on foot. It doesn't sound overly stealthy or overly sneaky, but with as much stuff that kind of goes on in Planetside Arena, the simple solution of actually just kind of running around or walking somewhere tends to work really really well. With the radar going off, you know ping yourself when you shoot, you're on the map when you mount a vehicle, it really does kind of let you get away with a lot more when just on foot."
"With that being said, future classes for future updates we have planned, some of that is based around information. We have looked into a little bit of stealth and I don't want to say full on cloak or what not, but it will phase to allowing players to move a bit more undetected, but then also give other teams the ability to detect them. We never really want you to go full invisible and just kind of chill out but at the same time, it should be a game of cat and mouse if you will."
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