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Keeping something as complex as PlanetSide 2 gameplay balanced is a tall order for anyone to fill. Players and developers both have ideas which sometimes don't always mesh, creating a war of words spanning various internet battlefields. Josh Sanchez fights from the trenches of this on going conflict to ensure the game has both equilibrium and fun.
We sat down with him to learn a little more about what he does and how the most recent balance update came about:
Tell us what you do as a Game Designer on PlanetSide 2.
I work on the gameplay side of PS2. In general that breaks down into two parts, planning out upcoming gameplay-related features and guiding them to completion, and watching the live game and balancing things as needed.
New features start with me (or another designer) fleshing out the general design and figuring out all needed functionality. For example, we’ve been working on getting wieldable melee weapons into the game, so the first step is figuring out everything that needs to exist for this to happen. Things like how the player chooses to equip the melee weapon and how attacking with a wielded melee weapon works are documented and broken down into tasks for all the individual disciplines (art, code, etc.). I then work with the artists and coders to make sure that those tasks come together to make the completed feature while balancing things like weapon stats along the way.
Working with others to keep the live game balanced is the other part of my job. We collect a lot of data and player feedback and make adjustments to keep everything competitive and fun. Balancing PS2 is a constant job because new features and weapons are always being introduced to keep the game fresh.
Well speaking of constant, we had a recent balance update on a lot of vehicles and weapons. What do you feel is the biggest change? What is really going to impact the game the most?
I think the changes on the armor side will have the biggest impact on the game. We took a look at the ground armor game and attempted to plug a few holes in the secondary weapons so that the ground game is more varied. Anti-air options have been lacking on ground vehicles so we gave them noticeable buffs, anti-infantry weapons gave up too much for what they gained so they got improvements against things like light armor, and anti-vehicle secondary weapons got small adjustments here and there so that they’re all closer to the baseline. It’ll take some time but I think we’ll start seeing more varied ground loadouts on the battlefield, which should ripple out and cause more variety on the other side because now things like air vehicles will have to worry about tanks having anti-air on them.
Removing the delay reductions on Nanite Auto Repair is another change that we expect to shift the armor gameplay in subtle ways. Right now, armor can often reach a state where one side can’t output enough damage to get the other side to feel threatened enough to move, which can lead to stalemate situations or one side reaching a point where the other side cannot fight back. We didn’t want armor to die faster, but we did want more opportunities for one side to do some damage and create openings because the other side has to pull back and repair. Adjusting Nanite Auto Repair should help with this while also creating a more ebb and flow feeling in vehicle combat.
You guys obviously have to make some very tough calls when making these types of changes. What was the hardest one to make?
In this particular update converting the Terran Republic’s Lynx carbine over to a different damage model was the most debated change we did. Changing the functionality of something already live is always a hard choice to make because there is usually a group of players who like the existing functionality, so typically we would rather add something new to fill any gaps in a faction’s gameplay. In this case we decided that two existing weapons were too similar so converting one over was the better route to take.
How much player feedback was taken into account with these changes?
Player feedback is always taking into consideration when making changes. The best example in this update was the new carbines. Our goal with these new weapons was to plug some holes in the faction carbine spreads, and the feedback from players after releasing them to the Test server was that our initial set of new carbines didn’t accomplish this for the TR and NC. We revisited the stats for those faction carbines and adjusted the weapons to be more in line with where players thought their factions were lacking.
I see questions all the time asking how the team determines what needs to be balanced. Why vehicle weapons over carbines or ESF?
At this point in the game’s lifespan its mostly comes down to how long it’s been since related things were last introduced or adjusted. Players have developed strategies for dealing with things and they have found weapons that they’re comfortable with, so it can take weeks to months to see the full impact of any particular change or newly introduced feature. For example, a newly introduced vehicle weapon may seem like it’s too strong at first, but this can just as easily be caused by the players on the other side not knowing how to deal with it. Balance changes need time to settle and newly introduced mechanics need time for players to develop counters against them.
For this particular update we looked at what’s had time to settle and where the biggest performance gaps were, and we attempted to even out things there. This is why there were bigger changes in categories like ground vehicle secondary weapons and certain infantry weapon types, while other areas only got small adjustments or none at all. We’re keeping an eye on the other areas of the game and will make any adjustments in the future if needed.
Thanks for this for Josh! We look forward to seeing the impact of the recent update and I'm sure there will be plenty of feedback to follow.