FireFall at PAX East 2013: Getting the Suck Out

Red 5 Studios discusses the third major gameplay overhaul for FireFall this weekend during PAX East 2013, and the current focus on expanding the core PvE experience.

FireFall at PAX East 2013

At this point in the ballgame, we’ve come to expect that each event outing for FireFall tends to focus on some sweeping new changes to the game, and PAX East 2013 did not disappoint in this regard. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen some pretty major overhauls to core systems, such as character progression, crafting, and an ever-growing focus on creating meaningful PvE gameplay.

While the idea of your combat abilities and role being linked to the battleframe you’re actively using has remained a constant, pretty much everything else has just undergone another massive overhaul with the latest major patch. During his upbeat presentation highlighting the most recent changes, lead designer Scott Youngblood referred to this process of refinement as “getting the suck out”.

FireFall Garage

This is par for the course during the beta cycle for any major MMO, but Red 5 has repeatedly stopped only a few steps short of doing the kind of massive reboot that eventually led Tabula Rasa down its ill-fated path. As noted by Youngblood and CEO Mark Kern, this third major rebuild of core game systems really boils down to listening to the feedback provided by its continually growing player base.

Unlike most MMO betas with strict NDAs and somewhat shorter cycles, Red 5 has taken a few pages out of the Google playbook, in particular its extended beta cycle for the original launch of Gmail. Players were let into FireFall very early on in the process, and have been a driving force behind how the game has been refined over the past couple of years.

For example, the current focus for Red 5 is to continue building out more PvE content based directly on player feedback. PvP is continuing to be refined of course, but the persistent world aspects have been pushed pretty heavily. This has allowed FireFall to avoid the fate of being a shallow experience that’s more of a graphical lobby to muck around in between PvP matches, and evolve into an increasingly deeper and more meaningful triple-A MMO.

FireFall Battle Lab

The systems overhauls shown during the presentation look to be building on the positive momentum FireFall has continued to gain over the past couple of years. It will be interesting to see if these recent iterations will stick this time around, or if we’ll experience another, similar presentation in the future.

That’s one of the tricky things about being so public with gameplay details over extended periods. It can be easy to have a game sink its hooks into you based on key elements in the base stock, but if the game has changed too much by the time you get to taste the soup it can leave a sour taste in your mouth.

I suppose that’s a fancy way of saying it’s much more difficult to manage player expectations by going this route. At the same time, Red 5 has been very up front with gamers all along, rather than attempting to keep everything shrouded in mystery, or use beta as a thinly-veiled marketing tool.

Still, eventually the persistent beta will have to give way to what’s considered a release product, or else FireFall may end up alienating entire generations of fans rather than building upon a core base that has a better understanding of exactly what to expect when they log in from week to week.

FireFall New You

So far this balancing act has been managed fairly well, and truth be told the more drastic changes to gameplay in FireFall have been largely positive up to this point. Things like a proper tutorial intro, richer and more dynamic PvE content, and a much more robust crafting system have all been welcome additions to the base game. Meanwhile, the core combat and Swiss army knife approach to having a single character that can fulfill multiple roles have been stable anchor points that keep getting better with each major overhaul to other aspects of the game.

We’ll be meeting up with Red 5 later today to discuss the most recent gameplay changes in more detail, and hopefully gain some insights as to whether or not we can expect a fourth major rebuild to FireFall, or if they anticipate that three will end up being the magic number.

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