Just over a month ago FireFall officially launched, adding Steam as a new way for players to get into the game. It’s been a long time coming; Developer Red 5 has been through some turbulent times, effectively going dark at the beginning of the year. But the studio has pulled through, making promising changes and nailing that PvE experience. Bill Murphy’s own review-in-progress cites the improvements made to this much-improved MMO shooter.
During Gamescom, I caught up with Red 5’s David Williams. His business card calls him ‘Lead Class Designer’, but his involvement with FireFall is actually much more extensive. Over the years, he’s touched on combat, crafting, encounters, itemization, monetization, and more besides. During the interview we caught up on a number of topics, including the new Campaign system, PvP, raids, and general streamlining. And although the studio’s focusing on promising less and delivering more, I got a few hints on what’s coming down the pipeline.
Why did the studio go through nearly half a year of darkness? According to Williams, it began with focusing on some of the strongest feedback they’d seen during beta. “As you know, we had a very long beta. There are goods and bads to doing that. One of the really good things about that was that it gave us time to talk with our community, talk with our players and find out from them what parts of FireFall work well, what parts they really enjoy, and what parts really needed work.”
“The two things we heard over and over again, were that a lot of our systems were too complicated and hard to understand, and also that there wasn’t enough content. So we worked really hard; we basically went silent at the beginning of the year, and focused on those two things. We added some other things as well, but the two things we really focused on were adding content and streamlining some of our core systems to make them easier to use, easier to understand and easier to get started with. That starts with progression and crafting; we went from the constraint system that was hard for people to understand, to a straight leveling system that people just get instantly.”
“The character customization now comes in the form of modules and perks and the ways you want to upgrade your gear. It gives pretty much the same level of customization as players had before – you’re making the same tradeoffs: do you care more about rate of fire, do you care more about maximum clip size, do you care more about splash radius – but it’s now a little more granular. You’re making singular choices about which module to use, rather than at the crafting level with ten thousand knobs.”
“The other side is the content. At the end of beta, if you looked at our map, we had one area of playable space. We now have three areas that are that size, all playable, all fully populated. So we have three times the PvE playspace, and forty times the number of encounters and content as before; it was really a monumental task that the encounters team took on and drove themselves into the ground to complete.”
“And it goes back to that simplification process. We worked really hard to make FireFall a very dynamic world, with things just constantly happening around you, but there were players that would log in and not know what to do. So we built the new job board system so players will always have something to do and just get going. The dynamic world still exists, the world’s still changing, encounters spawn all over the world all the time, but now players have that choice: do they want to go wander out and experience this organic world as it’s changing around them, or do they want a very directed experience?”
That old playable space of New Eden’s Coral Forest is for players up to level 24. After that, Sertao’s desert plateaus and mesas is the first of two new zones, bringing players up to level 36. The second new zone is Devil’s Tusk, with content to finish the climb to the level cap of 40. Only part of the volcanic former-Hawaii is accessible at the moment, as players fight to push back the Melding and unlock new areas.
“In Devil’s Tusk, players are quite literally gathering resources, and putting them into a melding repulsor to push back the Melding. They have already done it twice since launch, and discovered new content, new creatures. When they got the second pushback in Devil’s Tusk, and this was about a week ago, that’s when they opened access to Baneclaw and Kanaloa [two new raids]. They’ve already done it twice and they’re working on the third one right now, and there’s cool stuff available once they do that next pushback. Including another raid that I don’t think the players know about at all right now, a bunch of vendors, a bunch of new missions, so there’s a bunch of cool stuff just waiting for that next push back.”
“The pushback moments, they are so cool. I am going to give credit to a couple of our designers, particularly a guy named Tomoko [Ruiz], he’s the primary driver on this pushback, and it is just a super-cool epic moment, where the Melding wall slowly pushes back, and there’s this huge Accord battleship that’s driving it forward, and the area is overrun with Chosen, and the players are swarming into the new areas. It’s super epic and just feels so cool. You really feel like you’re part of a moment in the game’s history when it happens.”
“And frankly, any time we do new content, this is going to be the way we deliver it. The players push back the Melding, open up more of the world, and reclaim more of Earth. It’s central to the story of FireFall, and it’s a lot cooler than just ‘OK everybody, download the new stuff!’”