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Sony explains lack of Planetside 2 PC and PS4 cross-platform play, teases character transfers

Creative director Matt Higby on porting to PS4, DualShock 4, Oculus Rift and more.

Sony is exploring the possibility of letting Planetside 2 players transfer their character between the PlayStation 4 and PC versions.

While Planetside 2 will not feature cross-platform play, the developers at Sony Online Entertainment are trying to work out how the two versions of the free-to-play shooter can link up.

In an interview with Eurogamer at the SOE Live event in Las Vegas, Matt Higby, creative director of Planetside 2, said all PC content patches will appear on the PS4, but with a slight delay for approval - and it's this delay that means cross-platform play isn't possible.

"Because of the update cadence, and the additional steps you have to go through to be able to release an update on the PlayStation network, we're not going to be able to keep our servers in sync, so you won't be able to just play with the same people," Higby explained.

"They might be a week behind in terms of patching, or a day behind or whatever it ends up being, and we can't really have that.

"But we're also talking about having character portability, so a PC character, you could transfer it to PlayStation 4, and then back. The character format's the same on both, it's just purely a matter of the server updates."

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The PC version, which released in November 2012, has been heavily optimised since launch, and Higby said the PS4 is in some regards easier to develop for than the PC because it's a fixed platform.

"To engineer the game for the PS4 is a lot easier because you have a consistent set of hardware that you're optimising against," Higby explained.

"It really is a challenge to optimize high-end PC games to be able to work on the pantheon of hardware that's available to players nowadays, it's just insane.

"The PS4 is a much more consistent, stable platform for us to be able to develop for. The big challenge with the PS4 is its AMD chip, and it really, heavily relies on multi-threading. We have the exact same kind of Achilles heel on the PC too. People who have AMD chips have a disadvantage, because a single core on an AMD chip doesn't really have as much horsepower and they really require you to kind of spread the load out across multiple cores to be able to take full advantage of the AMD processors.

"Our engine sucks at that right now. We are multi-threaded, but the primary gameplay thread is very expensive. The biggest piece of engineering work that they're doing right now, and it's an enormous effort, is to go back through the engine and re-optimise it to be really, truly multi-threaded and break the gameplay thread up. That's a very challenging thing to do because we're doing a lot of stuff - tracking all these different players, all of their movements, all the projectiles, all the physics they're doing.

"It's very challenging to split those really closely connected pieces of functionality across in multiple threads. So it's a big engineering task for them to do, but thankfully once they do it, AMD players who've been having sub-par performance on the PC will suddenly get a massive boost - just because of being able to take the engine and re-implement it as multi-threaded.

"I'm very excited about that because I have a lot of friends, lots of people who are more budget minded, going for AMD processors because nine times out of ten they give a lot of bang for the buck. Where it really breaks down is on games with one really big thread. Planetside's probably a prime example of that."

"We're also talking about having character portability, so a PC character, you could transfer it to PlayStation 4, and then back."

Planetside 2 creative director Matt Higby
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Sony announced the PS4 version of Planetside 2 at E3 in June, but it has yet to confirm a release date. While multiplayer gaming on PS4 requires a PlayStation Plus account, Sony has confirmed free-to-play games such as Planetside 2 do not.

One of the jobs the development team is working on as we speak is how to best make use of the PS4's unique features, such as the motion-control enabled DualShock 4 controller and its touchpad.

"Motion control for things like the flight model is going to be in there," Higby said. "In terms of things like the light bar I'm not sure exactly how we're going to use it. But we have talked about having things like using the microphone and the speaker. We've talked about having things like your squad voice over IP coming out of your controller, and then you have the sound of the game coming out of here. For people who don't want to use a headset maybe, it's kind of a neat thing.

"And then yeah, the touchscreen," Higby continued. "Since we haven't done our UI revamp to be able to get the game a bit more console-friendly, the touchscreen right now allows us to use it in the user interface and we'll have some of the same functionality."

The development team is yet to complete this user interface revamp, but Higby said it will be the biggest change to the game - beyond under-the-hood engineering. Indeed the new user interface is what PC players will notice first when they give the PS4 version a whirl.

"We need to optimise it to work with a controller," he said. "Being able to have that touchscreen on there, it gives us the option to be able to allow players to activate that and navigate that way too - take a few shortcuts if they want to, which is really cool.

"I'm pretty excited about that because I feel like it kind of gives you the best of both worlds, of being able to quickly select stuff, or, if you want to have some more advanced drag and drop. Drag and drop on a console's very hard to do, but with a touchpad where you can drag stuff it's brilliant."

Utilising these new features is not the result of pressure from the higher ups at Sony, Higby insisted. Rather, it's the result of a drive from the developers and an expectation from players.

"It's pressure not necessarily from Sony, it's pressure from us and from the players," Higby said. "When a new console comes out and it's these five new kick-ass features, players want games that take advantage of that kind of stuff, so that they can see what it is. Whenever you're looking at a new piece of hardware like that, you're always trying to figure out how to take full advantage of it. What interesting ways can I integrate this piece of technology into our game?

"It's not like Sony coming down and saying, 'Hey guys, use the light bar in the game.' It's all of us being excited about it as a new thing. If you're a game designer, you're always looking at what tools the players have available, and what cool stuff you can do with it.

"When you get some new piece of hardware, our eyes light up too... 'Alright, cool, what stuff can we do with this now?' It's pressure, but it's not like mandated pressure, it's more of just all of us being excited about the possibilities."

"When you get some new piece of hardware, our eyes light up too..."

Elsewhere, Higby said there may be a port of the companion iOS and Android Planetside 2 app for the Vita, but Vita-specific functionality is yet to be decided upon.

"Well, the main thing that we're doing is just the linked play so you can actually play on your Vita," Higby said. "In terms of Vita-specific functionality, we haven't really talked about doing anything yet, but we do have some ideas for doing kind of companion games that you could have. Either being able to navigate the map, or set missions and stuff on your Vita."

He added: "You know we have iOS and Android apps right now that have some pretty cool functionality that allows you to see the map changing in real time, allows you to use VOIP via the application, so all these things are totally fair game for us to developer a Vita app to do to. I can't really commit to it [but] it's one of the things that we've definitely talked about and are excited about. I think the Vita's a pretty cool piece of hardware."

And here's an exciting thought - you may one day be able to play Planetside 2 with the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. Higby said the development team has added compatibility for the eye-catching device, but right now, with the consumer version of OC without a release window, this functionality may not come to market.

"We have it implemented at work and we've used it - it's actually pretty amazing to be flying around a big-ass battle in Planetside and looking around like this in your cockpit," Higby said.

"So I mean, we've got it, and it works. It needs a lot of tweaks, you have to change a lot of things about the way your UI works, and right now the versions that we have are running at pretty low resolutions, so it's hard for us to figure out what we need to do to optimise for the final hardware that comes out."

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