PlanetSide, peace in Auraxis?
When TOG opened it’s doors online gaming was very heavily focused on FPS, and since FPS online games remain very much dependent on latency TOG was very much an Australian community in it’s early stages.
MMO’s like Ultima Online never really saw much following outside of the US but things were about to change slowly at first but certainly at lightning speeds very quickly after.
MMO’s were coming and MMO’s are probably amongst the biggest contributors to TOG ‘s large membership base, not only large but also international.
In TOG’s infant years we had one person playing an MMO, our still active admin Rickety. The whole MMO concept was very unknown to me but since Ultima 7 is still one of the best single player experiences in my gaming history the idea of being in a living breathing world with other players sounded very fascinating to me. I remember discussing Rick’s MMO’s experiences at TOG drinks in Melbourne and we all gathered around his tales of Asherons Call 2. The MMO market was so US focused at the time that he had to jump through a lot of hoops in order to be able to play the game from Australia as it only accepted a US based credit card, MMO publishers weren’t interested in any other market at that time amazing as it sounds in this day and age.
Then the announcement of Star Wars Galaxies came and even before the game was released we had a few individuals joining TOG to be part of our community and find future SWG players.
Then something came out of the blue, totally and utterly unexpected, an MMOFPS called PlanetSide, the game was not particularly well marketed or at least it wasn’t outside of the US. If it wouldn’t have been for this word of mouth I probably wouldn’t have heard about it even till well after release. But one of our US based members was so good to get me a key and here I was finding myself for the first time ever in this big open MMO world, so believe it or not my MMO virginity was lost to an MMOFPS not an MMORPG.
And till this date it’s my best MMO experience ever and the recent retirement of TOG Planetside really is a moment that brings back some of the best memories in my multiplayer enjoyment history.
Like any gamer we all have memories of those great moments of playing multiplayer games. I remember the days when friends or my brother feesless knocked up with the computer and we would hook up em on a local LAN and play the likes of Quake and Red Alert from the hours of the morning till well into the night.
Hell I even remember playing Doom with a serial cable hooking our PC’s together.
But back to PlanetSide, I can say that my memories of PlanetSide will well and truly be with me as being one of those times. And even till this day I am yet to see anything that manages to do what Planetside did for the FPS genre.
So what made Planetside so much better then any other FPS? A consistent world to start, a consistent world where the effects of your actions remained permanent. You didn’t just play a map with a score in the end. Planetside was made up of a series of interconnected planets, upon the game’s launch they were initially continents on the same planet for which I always believed to make more sense but getting sidetracked here.
Each planet had its own distinct look ‘n feel, some were deserts, some were tropical, some were vulcanic and mountainous and some were covered in snow and ice. One of the more amazing features was that the size of these environments was absolutely huge even by today’s standards. Each planet housed a certain set of what were known as “facilities” or “bases”. Each base had its own distinct set of functionalities and were interlinked through war gates, the more facilities you managed to get under your Empires control the more benefits you were given as a result. And your war effort was very much dependent on how much of these benefits you had available to drive your war machine forward.
If you wanted to be able to build Galaxy Class Dropships for example to move your army around through air then you had to have at least the base that could build them, otherwise you had to fly them in from home base which took time. Capturing facilities had to be done in a certain order and had to be very carefully orchestrated team effort. And that brings me to the second thing that made PS so great, the size of your team was simply massive and very impressive. I have never been big on vehicles in FPS games myself as most FPS games tend to implement in such a way that the large majority of the combat action becomes vehicle based, this is purely a matter of personal taste off course. But again PS struck the balance just right, capturing a base was very much a vehicle effort, tanks rolled in, air support would come in varieties of bombing runs and rocket attacks. Small ground jeeps would race around taking out infantry. It made for some very exciting and spectacular battles being part of this a full scale attack on a base.
But before you even were able to launch attacks on a base you first had to take over it’s surrounding watch towers which were spawn points for your troops and you very much wanted to control the surrounding towers so you could at least keep rolling in the infantry. But let’s not forget the little mobile spawn buses you could bring in and cloak as well, another great twist to the combat plot.
Just conquering one of these towers was sometimes a battle that could easily last an hour or more but it was oh so much fun.
But no matter how much vehicle combat was happening eventually you had to stand on your own two feet and get inside that base, thats where the whole vehicle combat turned into a typical shooter man against man. And even here PS shone with a wide variety of roles, engineers, soldiers, hackers. Your character was able to learn a certain set of skills which would decide the types skills he could use when on foot and the types of vehicles he could drive or fly and as your character gained experience you could then keep adding these skills to your character. Eventually you had to get to the heart of the base and put your hacker to work for 15 minutes before the base was finally under your control. In the mean time the war kept waging outside as the enemy tried to recapture the inner courtyard again and hopefully get back inside to disrupt your hacking attempts. The successful capture of the base was sitting on the edge of a knife plenty of times.
But the cleverness of the game design even went beyond that, this one was always a favourite of mine. Facilities relied on warp field energy particles to operate, and I mean every single function of a base relied on this energy and every either a vehicle or infantry got spawned it would drain this energy down.
he only places that were able to provide this energy were the warp gate bubbles that could be found in limited places on the planet and the only vehicle that was able to resupply a base was this small vulnerable unarmed vehicle called an ANT. It was the achilles heel of the game and an absolutely brilliant idea with the overall balancing design of PS.
Getting the ANT between the base and warp gate was a fantastic challenge in the game. You had to get a good escort to protect you or ideally you could get the ant airlifted via a dropship escorted by plenty of air support. After all the carnage caused by the firepower used to capture a base in the end it all came down on ensure that your little ant survived its trip to ensure that your base had energy.
If a base ran out of juice it meant disaster or opportunity depending on how you looked at it. WIthout energy it could not spawn troops but it also meant that it could not be hacked and taken over. Starving a base and stopping ants from resupplying it could be just as effective as a full scale assault. But even if you were able to roll in the guns due to starving the base down you still had to get your own ANT in in order to supply it as well before you could take it over.
PS also brought the concept of commanders to FPS games for the first time ever, not only could you gain battle rank but also command rank which then allowed you to communicate with your empire across the world and organise the next attack wave, surprisingly enough it actually worked quite well and we had some people at these ranks even in TOG.
And although the war in PS never stopped it was great to see that there was an actual purpose to it, trying to capture as much terrain as possible and the base you captured last night which took you hours to do may still be in your control tomorrow and will be as long as your Empire does well in its war efforts, this little concept is what made PS so great and even beats a standard MMO where your efforts really don’t make any permanent difference to the world you play in .
I can keep going out PS for a while but I’m rambling on a bit off course but for those who never played PS it will give them an idea of what an FPS can be like. And till this day I firmly believe that my experiences with PS leave me very unsatisfied with MP FPS games. Despite all the graphical improvements and realistic settings and environments all the leveling, rank and weapons upgrades still seem so insignificant in what is just playing the same map over and over, I miss fighting for something that is just that little bit more permanent and lasting throughout the gameworld then just winning the round for your team. I miss the depth and clever overall design that PS offered.
Planetside also had its faults and frustrations at times, to keep the game fresh there were somewhat frequent updates on new vehicles and the likes, mech type robots were introduced which was probably the most popular ones but the main problem with PS has always been balancing and the introduction of a new set of war machinery always caused these types of issues.
But overall PS was in my opinion one of the most revolutionary FPS games in the concepts its introduced and in how well it managed to execute it. But for some reason the MMOFPS genre has received very litlte industry attention, the only other MMOFPS that comes to mind is Huxley but there hasn’t exactly been a whole lot of news coming out.
I was convinced that a PlanetSide 2 most certainly would have been on the cards if not already in development but the PS team is working on another game called The Agency. On GT4 they interviewed one of the PS designers who claimed that there simply was no market for MMOFPS games, a statement I find absolutely amazing and would have to disagree with. I would say that PS was very successful given the amount of players it had. Lets not forget that MMO games hadn’t quite become that popular worldwide as they are today, nor did I see much marketing for PlanetSide either outside of the US.
I have no doubt that the MMOFPS genre if executed as well as PS was could draw the attention of every FPS player out there and no one can deny that that is a very large potential market out there.
We keep seeing one MMORPG designed after another, most of them chasing the same WoW player. And looking at how many of them actually fail it suprises me that there is still such a will by publishers to force development in this genre.
PS proved that an MMOFPS works, and that with the ideas, technology and player base I certainly hope that we will see the light of Planetside 2 one day and if not that another developer looks at this more closely and see an opportunity to do something new in the MMOFPS space rather then come up with the same difference in the MMORPG one.
Auraxis, time to say goodbye but not to worry you have made into into the history books of many gamers out there who will always look back at PlanetSide with nothing but the best memories.