Every once in a while if I'm talking to someone I don't know well, the topic often moves to gaming, and will include the question "What's your favourite game?"
To which I always reply "PlanetSide. And I'm really looking forward to PlanetSide 2." Usually a short period of silence will follow, perhaps three or four seconds, ended by the inevitable "PlanetSide? What's that?"
Thus the cycle begins anew, and I have to explain that PlanetSide was the first (and basically only) MMOFPS, released waaaaaaaaaay back in 2003 by Sony Online Entertainment. It was a futuristic sci-fi shooter in which hundreds of players could be on the same continent / map simultaneously and had three factions that you could choose to play as: the militaristic Terran Republic, breakaway New Conglomerate or technological Vanu Sovereignty. There were common vehicles and empire-specific vehicles you could use, including tanks, jeeps, assault aircraft and troop carriers, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses.
Sadly a combination of a buggy client, unstable servers, rampant unchecked hacking, an almost complete lack of marketing for the game as well as a rushed and poorly-received expansion pack (Core Combat) helped to essentially sabotage what could have been a slam-dunk for Sony. Instead, the game started to haemorrhage players (it had maybe 100,000 active subscribers at its peak, shortly after release) until a year or so later there were only a small amount of hardcore players left. Trying to play an MMO where the selling point is shooting people in the face, without many people around to shoot in the face, was a difficult prospect, and its slow death began.
It's still around today (at full whack too, if you feel like giving Sony $15 a month to try it out), but that's not why you should care.
In late 2009 rumours began to swirl of a possible sequel being hinted by SOE. Many former subscribers received an email survey from Sony asking what features in particular they would like to see in PlanetSide 2, should they decide to go ahead and make it. Nothing was heard for over a year, until John Smedley confirmed to The Escapist in a late 2010 interview that PlanetSide 2 was on its way.
Fast-forward to now, and PlanetSide 2 is still under development over at SOE (having benefitted from the cancellation of The Agency), although information is slowly beginning to trickle out. The game was "officially" revealed at SOE's Fan Faire earlier this year in July and http://www.planetside2.com is now live (it was previously registered by a fan who sold the domain to SOE a while ago, fueling talk of a sequel). As of a few weeks ago we know the game will be free-to-play with some kind of cash shop utilising microtransactions. The three original empires will be returning, alongside many (but probably not all) of the myriad of vehicles you could drive / pilot / ride from the original. Instead of being able to simply train in whatever certifications you liked as in the original game, the sequel will see you select a specific class and then develop it through a skill tree, although you will be able to change to different specs on the fly whenever you respawn.
Why should you care? Because this could be Big. Certainly franchises like the Battlefield series and Modern Warfare would not exist in their current forms if it were not for the influence of PlanetSide. And when you think about it, when you consider that FPS games are the most popular game types played on online services like XBL, PSN and Steam, then shouldn't an MMOFPS be the next logical step in their evolution? A world in which there is persistence and where your choices matter? Do you defend base X and risk letting the enemy surround you, or do you go on the offensive but risk losing your route of escape? These are all questions that PlanetSide asks.
The only game that has tried something even remotely close to the scale of PlanetSide is MAG on the PS3. While a solid title, that still caps out at 256 v 256. I have been in some epic PlanetSide battles where it was over a thousand people duking it out at the same time. You finally manage to fight one faction off only to be assailed from the opposite side by the third faction, and it begins all over again. Global Agenda promised epic gameplay but did not deliver, and through careful Xen training and meditation I have managed to forget that the name Huxley ever existed (if you don't know what that is then for God's sake don't look it up, you are better off not knowing).
The devs have recently said that they hope to get the beta of PlanetSide 2 up and running before the end of this year, with a view to release Q1/2 next year. For me and for many of my friends, it cannot come soon enough.