Preview: Firefall Takes a New Approach
How does a game that gets so little publicity score as the Most Anticipated MMOG of 2012 in Ten Ton HammerÂs ReadersÂ Poll? In this case, it was through the strongly motivated and organized voting efforts of fans. HereÂs what they know that you may not yet: Red 5 Studios may not be advertising the fact as well as they should, but Firefall has a great story written by Sci-Fi superstar Orson Scott Card (author Enders Game); an idea for deploying content that flies in the face of the accepted standard; an interesting approach to balancing PvE and PvP; and, as if the rest wasnÂt enough, itÂs all free. Yeah, these guys are crazy. Crazy like a fox.
The basic story is set years in a future after humans have discovered a substance called crystite, which allows them to fold space-time in such a way as to transport a city-sized ship to its destination instantaneously. The maiden voyage of the ship went horribly wrong, creating a tear in space and allowing something called the Melding to spread across the Earth, warping or killing everything it touches. Our story begins in the aftermath of that catastrophic event.
FirefallÂs complex and involving story is first on my list of things Red 5 should be advertising (but arenÂt). Orson Scott Card a master of Sci-Fi fiction, is writing the storyline for Firefall and his daughter, also an accomplished author, is assisting with a manga, planned for pre-launch release, to explain the story and lore in a unique way. Together theyÂve created a storyline and lore that adds a great deal of depth to the game. A lot of that lore can be found on the gameÂs website, with more to come in the pending manga.
Another aspect of the glorious experiment that is Firefall is equally hard to find mention of. The world of Firefall will be revealed with something Red 5 Studios is calling Staged Content. Staged Content is a system of releasing content based on the actions of the in-game community. Where this really spits on the accepted norm is that--get this-- the reserved content is ready for launch.
Yeah, you heard me. Despite the current trend of dumping every bit of semi-finished content on the player base at launch in hopes of not paling next to the amassed might of World of Warcraft, Red 5 is intentionally not releasing content thatÂs actually already finished and playable. Additionally, theyÂre not really advertising the fact that they have more of the in-game world ready to play. The idea is that as players accomplish certain objectives new areas of the world open up. (For more information, take a look at our in-depth PAX East video interview with Firefall's Matt DeWald.
There is an oft overlooked need for dynamic content if a game is to have sustainability with hardcore gamers. Tired and entirely unimaginative mechanics like endlessly running scripted dungeons for random drops of loot and Battleground-style PvP that has no direct impact on the story is just too simplistic to have any real long-term meaning.
Frankly, IÂm stunned that, with examples like the Realm vs. Realm of Dark Age of Camelot, and the economic and political goldmine of EVE Online, game developers have consistently failed to deliver truly dynamic player-driven content. Red 5 Studios went 90 degrees from what might have been expected, but I think thereÂs real chance of success here. Rather than creating a sandbox that allows players to create their own content, Firefall will allow players to unlock additional story as they reach certain milestones. IÂm impressed with the concept, and at the fact that it allows for dynamic and developing story, without breaking into the lawlessness and cutthroat savagery of a true sandbox.
So, IÂve established that Firefall is unique, but IÂm not finished yet. Firefall has two components: the PvP side of things, which is being built from the ground up to allow for inter-Army rivalries and competition, and the PvE side of the game, which is where the crafting takes place, as well as the developing story.
Players of games like Team Fortress and Quake will appreciate the fast-paced PvP in Firefall, and I think the competition promoted between Armies will add a great deal more depth to it as well. Unlike other games using the same instanced PvP mechanic, the PvP in Firefall has the added dimension of Inter-Army ladders and competition. You could say that Firefall is a Third-Person Shooter that happens to have a PvE component, but that would be entirely inaccurate.
The PvP will be fun, but itÂll be supported by a PvE environment with some incredible depth and very interesting mechanics. YouÂll find all sorts of throwbacks to some of your all-time favorite books, movies, and games. The jet-packed equipped armor reminds me a great deal of HeinleinÂs Mobile Infantry from his book Starship Troopers, and the hordes of bugs make the comparison even better.
YouÂll find where to harvest resources by using a hammer that creates a field of waves in front of you, changing height and color based on the presence of various minerals. The system feels a lot like the one used in Star Wars: Galaxies years ago, only newer and nicer looking. Harvesting minerals requires the use of a device called a Thumper, which, like itÂs counterpart in Dune, attracts all sorts of nasties from the general vicinity and must be defended as it does the harvesting. Resources are dynamic, can be over-harvested, and arenÂt always found in the same spot.
The community will need to work together in order to push the Melding back over time. This will reveal more of the world and in the process move the story forward in a way that should give the players some ownership of the world and where itÂs heading.
Now, if your jaw hadnÂt dropped enough, wait until you find out that these guys intend to release their game using the Free-to-Play model. This game is built by gamers, for gamers, and they know thereÂs nothing worse than a Pay-to-Win scenario. Once again, the guys at Red 5 didnÂt take the route you might have expected. You can play the game and be competitive without spending a dime. As you would expect in such a system, youÂll be able to purchase some cosmetic options, but a lot of the revenue needed to fund a game like Firefall will likely come from Armies.
In Firefall, players can form Armies (in lieu of guilds, as in other games. As Armies desire access to perks like Army colors and personalized logos, theyÂll need to purchase access to them. The perks will be mostly cosmetic, though. Red 5 has stated their desire to ensure nothing purchased gives any player or Army a direct competitive advantage over another.
Unfortunately, FirefallÂs website doesnÂt do the best job at informing you about the game, how it plays, or what its best features are. ThereÂs no FAQ, no easy-to-read details or wiki about the gameÂs mechanics. But donÂt let that stop you. The great thing about belonging to a community like Ten Ton Hammer is that weÂre here to give you the details you might have missed elsewhere.
FirefallÂs creative solutions, in a market saturated by imitators, are going to make for a fascinatingly unique game. TheyÂve set a very high goal, but I think thereÂs a good chance theyÂll succeed thanks to things like the deep and superstar-powered storyline, usage of Staged Content, interesting balance between PvP and PvE, and releasing it at no initial cost to the player. Good luck, Red 5. This guy and many like him are pulling for you.