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Beau Hindman's MMO Thoughts

My name is Beau Hindman: a freelance writer, developer, artist, drummer and gamer from Austin, Texas. I've been gaming since '99 and writing about them since 2006! This is my blog about ducks. I mean MMORPGs.

Author: beauhindman

Now THAT was a helluva lot of fun, Firefall

Posted by beauhindman Tuesday December 9 2014 at 3:21PM
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Live events are just not something we see much of anymore. When I first played MMOs (starting in 1999) it seemed as though you would see a GM or developer interacting with players all the time. If not, you at least saw wonderful semi-scripted (and loosely controlled) events that were put on by the game-makers. I remember the “old man” from Ryzom, the visiting king from Ultima… relics of gaming’s past?

I’m not so sure. There are indie titles and MUDs that continue the live event tradition, but so many developers are afraid of angering any player -- at all -- that they would rather go for safe, scripted events that offer everyone an equal chance at a prize or title than risk a live event that is timed, and only able to catch those players who could log in. It all feels like modern childhood events where all players get a standardized “You participated! Good work!” prize. But, instead of something designed to boost the self-esteem of all involved, the more modern MMO live event feels redundant. Why play fair inside a virtual world? Why does everyone get an equal chance at something that might represent a chaotic attack? That’s like two levels of “fair for all.” Great in real life, not so neat in a videogame.

Anyway, I truly enjoy events that seem to alter the world they occur in. Firefall is a great game for live events because the layout of the land is so ripe with potential for hiding, running, jumping, exploring, picking off bad guys… due to the fact that the game relies on height as much as width, if not more. The in-game landscape is populated by massive buildings on stilts, cliffs and other great big things that are perfect for anything from aerial assaults to close quarters mayhem.

Recently, developers Red 5 Studios kicked off a live event and told players to defend massive towers from enemy invasion. Sure, it sounded similar to past live events, but that doesn’t mean this one was any less fun. The idea is that the Chosen, the main baddies in game, have taken over key towers. They have also erected protective fields that can be taken down only if players activate and defend 3 smaller towers that surround the main target. And, oh yeah, there will be dev-controlled “Super Chosen” peppered throughout. I am not sure if I came across one or not; it was pretty nutso in there.

What tended to happen is that players spread out, thinned their numbers and then died a whole bunch until they learned to work together against the waves of enemies. It’s a similar mechanic to the rifts you’ll find in RIFT or arkfalls in Defiance or in other MMOs that feature “drop in” content, but in Firefall it feels more urgent and frenetic. The fact that the game is not only a shooter but also a shooter that relies on vertical spaces makes it so dynamic and much more “realistic.” (That is, if you know what it feels like inside a laser beam fight against monsters.)

I play a sort of medium-ranged sniper fella, so I would usually go straight towards the enemy, use my stealth ability and then suddenly jaunt to the side, finding a nice spot to shoot from. More often than not it would come down to me and a half a dozen other players in a group, and I loved seeing all of us come together almost subconsciously as we learned how to break the enemy’s concentration. Even then, the enemy would break off a few melee character and would send them after me. If I wasn’t careful I would wind up getting hit by some nasty characters because I wouldn’t look up from my scope.

Every character has a sort of “mega power” that can be released every once in a long while, and mine is a bombardment type of deal; I lay down a marker and a few seconds later the area is peppered by deadly incoming bomb thingies. I usually save it for when the enemy became especially tight, then I would hit stealth, run into the middle of them and set the thing off. I got so many achievements for murdering groups of NPCs at once. (As I type this, it occurs to me that I might be able to throw or launch the marker, avoiding direct contact with the enemy. I’ll check that next time I log in.)

We took over all three smaller towers eventually, clipped off the shield from the center target and rushed in. Luckily by then my mega-power had recharged and I blasted the nest of enemies to valhalla. I literally clapped in excitement when we took the objective back from the grody hands of the enemy.

As if that wasn’t enough, a developer named Slippy or Snippy or something similar charged in, taunting players as he went. When I eventually found him, there were dozens of players attempting to kill him. If you were a particularly good player, the GM would taunt you specifically, telling the other players how much they sucked. Finally, we brought him down and then I noticed that I received an achievement for being logged into the event for an hour. I got a cool title, a neato pet and some other stuff. On top of that, I leveled twice and had an inventory filled with deadly shinies.

I was a bit chuffed (but only a bit) when I found out that there would be no special prize or title received for helping to down a dev. The website said something like “Because we will probably not be able to visit every server, there will be no special prize or title for killing a dev.” I understand the reasoning, but I felt a little burned by it. Was it more important to burn those who were left out or burn those who participated?

Still, I didn’t lose any sleep over my lack of special “Dev Killa’” badge. In fact, I have some awesome screenshots and video (although the in-game capture results in some sort of weird video file that I do not know what to do with) to remember the event by. It was incredible fun.

Unfortunately, players seemed to lose interest once they defeated the towers. I logged in the next day and -- although it might have been the time of day -- no one seemed to care. I felt like screaming “But, the enemy! They’re back! C’MON!!” to the entire server, instead I just got myself killed over and over while trying to save humanity.

I know I will not see many true live events in mainstream MMOs for, well, forever. Events like the one in Firefall are not so much live as they are generally scripted activities, but luckily the wonderfully chaotic gameplay of Firefall adds spice to almost any event. Would I like to see more developers log in as a character, even if just to roleplay with players?

Yes, yes I would.

In the meanwhile, I’ll settle for my participation ribbon. And I still had a ton of fun.