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How Daybreak Games brought PlanetSide 2 to PS4 (and where it's going next)

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It's Wednesday night during E3, and the employees of Daybreak Game Company (née Sony Online Entertainment) are gathered in a Los Angeles bowling alley having drinks, hanging out. They're smiling, sampling hors d'oeuvres, talking about the biggest week in video games.

Director of development Andy Sites is on a brief break, sitting on a low, red leather couch. It's loud, he almost has to shout to explain that, with less than a week to go, Daybreak is still awaiting certification to bring PlanetSide 2 to PlayStation 4. He's not frustrated, and he's not nervous, but you can feel a bit of tension between the excitement and the anticipation.

That's how it works on consoles. Platform holders like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony must approve the software that runs on their proprietary systems. Daybreak and every other developer has to pass certification before release. This is kind of new for Daybreak.

In its two decades of existence, the company that used to be SOE before it became independent earlier this year, has focused almost exclusively on PC games. Over there, it's the Wild West. Nobody owns the PC. Nobody's there to certify anything.

"Are we good?" somebody asks him as we speak.

"Almost," Sites says. "I'll tell you after this."

"You'll tell me after this? Yes or no?"

"Not yet, but we're getting close. We're getting close."

"Good."

"Sorry," Sites says to me. "That was my boss. And his boss with him."

He's on break, remember. Earlier in the day, he was working on PlanetSide 2 for PS4. Tomorrow, he'll fly home to Daybreak headquarters and continue the race to certification, with the rest of his team. He's confident. He's not worried. But time is running out.

THE SAME GAME, EXCEPT FOR ALL THE PARTS THAT ARE DIFFERENT

The process of porting the massively multiplayer first-person shooter from PC to PS4 has been underway for a while. PlanetSide 2's PS4 beta just wrapped up in mid-June, a week before the full launch.

The engineering, Sites says, wasn't so bad, thanks in part to the PS4's PC-like innards. It's running at 1080p with high-resolution textures. It can get up to 60fps, too, provided there aren't too many on-screen explosions. If this were the PC version, he said, it'd be on some seriously high settings.

"It's really been super easy and straightforward," he said.

Instead of the technical side, Daybreak spent much of its time figuring out how to translate a game from the language of PC to the lingua franca of consoles. They fretted over it, but the feedback they've gotten from the beta indicates good things.

"Believe it or not, the majority of the time that we spent was getting the control set feeling good from being on a keyboard and a mouse down to a single controller," he said. "That was really where we spent the most time. Because it wasn't just that. It was the UI and everything. We weren't gonna just try and cram the PC UI onto it. We didn't want it to be just the standard port where we just went, 'OK. It's running.'"

One of Daybreak's chief concerns was the feel of the game. And they knew they had to nail it.

"We were super concerned that getting the controls from the PC onto the controller was going to be a crap shoot," he said. "Like, we could really screw this up, because it's hard to get that same feeling on there. And we managed to get the feeling good."

In other words, the core game is the same, but the "user-facing elements," as Sites calls them, are quite different. That's dictated by the hardware. What works on PC doesn't always work on console.

At launch, there will effectively be two version of PlanetSide 2, one for each place it lives. But the goal is to be in "lock step," he says. Hopefully about a month or so after the PS4 version's launch, everything will be the same on both systems. They won't prefer one to the other, he's quick to point out. They'll use and test them as appropriate, a strategy that's already in pace with the PS4 version's tailored early game content.

Daybreak created a starting area where players hang out up until level 15, with the goal of easing players into the massive worlds and battles in PlanetSide 2. Daybreak tested it during beta, and it seems to work. And if it works well post-launch, Daybreak wants to bring it to PC.

PLANET HOPPING

Sides is honest: It's not like bringing a game from PC to console is a breeze.

"It's definitely been a challenge," he said. "You know, we're used to being PC developers, most of the time, where we can say, 'Alright, we're ready. Let's do this.' Whereas, when we're doing console work, we have to submit to another group that has to review everything."

But he has no real complaints. It's different, but he understand why. The work is worth it because there is a plan. PlanetSide 2 on PS4 is just the beginning. And the more he thinks about it, the more his position seems to soften.

"It's really not that big of a challenge," he said. "It's just an adjustment to the way we do work. It's a logistical adjustment. It's not something we're super concerned with. It's just something we have to do."

As Daybreak president John Smedley told Polygon earlier this year, opportunity was a big part of the reason that Daybreak went independent. Back when it was SOE, it focused on PC and, sometimes, PlayStation devices. Becoming Daybreak means they can do whatever they want, wherever they want … within reason. And that doesn't stop on PC or the PlayStation 4 version set to be released today.

"Right now, our focus is PS4, but we're absolutely looking at Xbox One," Sides said.

"Once we get PS4 done, we're going to start working on Xbox One work. We would love to do it all at once, but we want to get PS4 out first."

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Polygon Video: PlanetSide 2 PS4 beta