Firefall interview: Red 5 Studios discuss its groundbreaking shooter MMO
Red 5 Studios’ VP of Development James Macauley discusses the studio’s explosive MMO.
James Macauley: As a robust shooter, do you think there’s a growing desire for more traditional gaming experience within the MMO genre?
I think players are ready for something new. Certainly there are elements from more traditional MMOs that we have all grown to love and appreciate. But there are plenty of opportunities for something fresh. For Firefall, we set out to build the next generation of online shooters. We started with making sure it felt great to wield and fire a gun. We then built out from there, making sure movement and AI combat offered a compelling experience. Instead of focusing on building out static quest hubs we invested heavily in building a world that is dynamic and ever-evolving.
With every step we took, we added to the core shooter experience. We then reached a point where we were able to bring in features from other genres that we felt had an important role in the future of online shooters. These included some of the more traditional MMO type features such as squads, armies, friends, chat, character progression, equipment customization and a massive shared open world.
What has been the most fundamental change the studio has made since the Beta feedback?
We are always making improvements to the game based on our community feedback. The largest scale change came about last summer. We had heard loud and clear that though our efforts to make the game more approachable to non-hardcore shooter players worked, we had inadvertently lowered the skill ceiling for those more experienced players.
Our goal was always to offer an experience that was easy to learn and hard to master. Our beta feedback was indicating that we really needed to evaluate making Firefall more skill-based and harder to master. So, we made the very hard decision to question everything surrounding our core combat experience.
After multiple weeks of internal discussion, we flew in some of our most active community members. We pitched our ideas and received immediate, in-person feedback. We then proceeded to touch every single weapon and ability in the game. We increased run speeds by 20%. We increased jump height. We gave jetpacks longer burn times and faster recovery times. We even removed one of our core battleframes, the Medic, and introduced a new higher-skill battleframe, the Biotech. It was an incredible milestone that led to some major improvements in the game. All of this was possible because of the strong support of our community.
How will the monetization system work? Will it be tailored towards cosmetic, or will players prepared to spend extra money be rewarded with extensive enhancements?
Our monetization strategy first and foremost is to build a fun game. We subscribe to the Field of Dreams model where we believe that if we build a fun and engaging game we will be able to generate revenue to support ongoing development of content and features.
When we sat down to list out potential monetization options for Firefall, we listed out something like 187 different virtual goods and services that we could consider building. We broke these down into 5 categories – coolness, power, convenience, content and services. Immediately, we removed all things in the “power” category. We want Firefall to be a skill-based shooter and do not want to dilute this focus by selling “I win!” buttons or more powerful weapons and damage boosts than non-paying players have access to.
Instead, we have focused much of our efforts around monetizing coolness and convenience. We put things like hair styles, voice packs, hats and facial accessories in the coolness category. We also have explored a handful of various consumables and deployables. My favorite is our tiki torch, a deployable tiki torch that throws an instant luau party for nearby players. Another popular option has been our battleframe warpaint system which allows you to customize the colors and patterns on each of your battleframes.
Convenience items are more focused on saving you time. These include things like XP boosts and the ability to instantly complete manufacturing jobs.
It’s all about jetpacks in Firefall: did you always intend them to be such a defining feature of the game?
Jetpacks became one of our game-defining features the day Scott Youngblood, our lead designer, joined the team. Some of you might recognize Scott as the lead designer from old school Tribes. It was there that he sank his teeth into the juiciness of high-action, jetpacking, first person combat and there was no way he would allow Firefall to launch without it.
I recall Scott coming to me on his first day in the office saying, “James, where are the jetpacks?” It was clear that no delay in adding this functionality would be acceptable so we made way and started in on some of our core action and movement systems.
What sort of changes is Firefall currently undergoing?
One of the biggest changes currently being worked on is the introduction of stock battleframe loadouts for competitive play. Once we are done with this change, players in PvP will enter into battle with predefined sets of equipment. The desire is to make PvP more competitive by having stock gear with known sets of weapons and abilities. This change should allow us to then offer greater latitude to what players can craft in the open world without creating a vertical power curve for PvP. This also will allow new players to jump straight into PvP without being under-geared or at a great disadvantage.
You’ve spoken in the past that the game’s enemies, the Chosen, can actually take over the world, kicking players out of the server. Do you feel there are a lack of stakes in other MMOs?
We have always been pretty big fans of giving players opportunities to make their mark on the world. We wanted to make your efforts matter on a large scale. And what better way to make a player’s efforts matter than to have a very real threat always on the horizon that the player can keep at bay?
We are upping the ante for players by making them realize that, hey, you can lose the war. The war with the Chosen isn’t some perpetuating background scenery just to set the mood – it’s an actual war. The Chosen will attack various objectives and outposts, which, if ignored, will have serious consequences.
It also helps us to ensure that our world constantly remains feeling fresh and alive, no matter what else is going on. You have this ever-present threat, and if you don’t do your part to keep it at bay, it will overrun you.
With the vibrant art style and battleframe structure, are you welcoming comparisons to Borderlands?
I don’t mind comparisons between Firefall and Borderlands, but I do see them as two pretty different games. I think the two biggest reasons we are most often compared to Borderlands is the overlap in our art style and the fact that we are a class-based shooter in a non-linear world.
How are you balancing the e-sport PvP side of the game and the expansive PvE elements?
With the changes we are making in this current milestone, designers will be building stock battleframe loadouts for each battleframe that players will have access to in PvP. In this way, we will be able to fine tune the balance of battleframe stats, weapons and abilities for competitive play while still allowing players to fully customize their equipment with crafted gear in PvE. When players unlock new battleframes, they will automatically receive both the stock PvP loadout as well as their standard, customizable PvE loadout.
Read more about Firefall in games™ issue 133 in newsagents and digital stores 14 March.