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Behind the Community Team’s Curtain

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Recently I had the privilege to visit Red 5 Studios to talk with their community team, hear about what’s coming up next for Firefall, and see what goes on behind the curtain. I have never been particularly fond of shooters, because there was never an open ended story-mode where I could realistically carry on my own version of my character’s story in my head.  I have always been more of an RPG or MMO guy. When I first tried Firefall two years ago, I was impressed with its level of detail, but its lack of simple vertical scaling and the complex grind of the game drove me away. The game was too complex for its own good and showed an insane amount of detail that was unnecessary and required too much time away from the story of its world. 

So when several of our podcasters at Sitting on a Couch emailed me that Firefall was patching and going live in just a few months, I could only shake my head sadly at what I perceived would be an ill-fated first step.  Then I saw the patch notes, and was blown away at the level of change that they were incorporating just before launch.  Vertical scaling, simplified missions, ability unlocks at progression, and a full on end-game raid! Yes, Please!

A month and a half has passed since the final release of Firefall, and while many companies would be happy to rest on their laurels for a few months to allow the initial game to hit as many people as possible, the crew at Red 5 did not even waita week before patches, updates, and things that were removed prior to launch were reintroduced into the game.  The development team and community leaders reached out to the forums, Reddit, twitter, and critical review community to look for ways to fix what was deemed a pretty flat launch. 

I have been impressed and gotten to meet quite a few community managers from several games, and while many of them have been incredibly awesome to deal with, few have impressed me more than the Red 5 crew.  From their attention to even the smallest Youtuber who makes helpful videos, to their constant vigilant twitter that retweets or favorites any and all streamers have been a welcome rebuttal against the more restrictive communities that only seem to care about the “big guys”.

This brief look at the game prompted me to contact the dev team and reach out to talk to them directly about their vision of the game.  I wanted to know why they made the changes, what was their goal, and did they really care about the community or would I be able to see through it as simply a facade erected to fool the gaming public while milking them for all they can spend?

When I heard back within a few hours of emailing them to setup a live interview at their studio (I live nearby), I was impressed. It took less than three emails for us to lock down a time and place, and so Friday, Sept 12th, I left my humble abode in Escondido and drove the Red 5 studio lot. 

For those who are wondering, the studio is much smaller in person than it seems on Firefall Live. While the studio itself was not much to speak of, Sarah and the rest of the team immediately greeted me, and went to great lengths to explain inside jokes that were shared between them so I did not feel ill at ease.  They finished prepping for the show, and while the show was live I sat in a director’s chair off to the side feeling all powerful, and randomly commenting on the twitch chat about how uncomfortably hot it was in the building. 

(Red 5 if you are reading this, get some air conditioning or fans in that place). 

There were several things I took away from watching them prep, setup, and perform the show.

One: the hosts are exactly who they seem to be.  The same humorously awkward banter precedes, and continues after the show has ended. There is nothing on the show that isn’t their real personality.  Two: Sarah wears the most colorful shoes I have ever seen, and loves to be known as the destroyer of worlds.  This is both scary and a source of comic relief because of how small she is away from the camera.  Three:  these guys read every source of chat, Twitter, Facebook, and social media post that ever comes out about Firefall.  It was incredible that during the show they were keeping up with questions and comments from everywhere. So while they may not answer or comment on your post rest assured they are reading it.  Finally it was good to see that even the bigger productions have the same mechanical issues that yours truly faces as he preps for another wonderful podcast.

Once the show was over, and we could leave the sweatbox.  Brandon aka Branflakes, took me on a guided tour of the Red 5 headquarters.  I got to see the ever expanding support team, the incredibly gifted and insane QA people (I could have stayed there watching them test the game for hours), the amazing creator of the Hazardous event, and the always entertaining Community team with the one and only Mikamunster.  Yes, her hair is even purpler in person, and she really does look like a Pikachu. 

The tour and short historical look at Red 5 was a welcome and insightful tour.  I got to peek at the project board for the rest of this year when Brandon turned away for a second. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you about any of them, as my life would be in danger due to the NDA I signed when entering the lot. What I can tell you, is that they have this year and some of next year already mapped out with a lot of fun and exciting events.  One of the most impressive parts of the tour was seeing the artists of the game at work.  I watched one graphic artist working on a chosen soldier’s template, and another cleaning up some visual buggy beaches.  I love great art and watching them work was incredible.

As the tour ended, the community team and I went to BJ’s Brewhouse for lunch.  It was here that I finally got to sit down and talk with Frank “FadedPez” Lettieri, Josh “JBWill” Wilcox, Brad “SkaDude” Buller, and Brandon “BranFlakes” Felczer.  We got the chance to discuss everything there was about the game.  I did not record the exact answers so each answer is a paraphrase of the conversation we had regarding the game.

Firefall at launch is nothing like Firefall during beta.  Was it a conscious decision that there was no way the game in beta would be profitable or played in its old state?

Frank was most open here, when he agreed that while Firefall beta was enjoyable to an extent there was no way it could have been a great launch.  It was too complex and the grind was too extensive that it took away from what they wanted the game to really be about. Shooting in an open world and having fun with your friends. The beta version was so grind worthy that it missed the run around and have fun portion of the game. 

What is the basic design plan for each Battleframe in your mind?

This question was actually brought about by a comment that Frank had made in passing about how the Assault was designed as the mobility frame and that if they added more mobility to another frame this would take away from the archetype that is the Assault.  Here is the archetype and design basis for each frame according to Red 5.

  • Dreadnaught Frames = The Pusher - your job is to soak damage and push the enemy in the direction towards your team or away from it.
  • Assault Frames = Mobility - Highly mobile aggressive players will flock to this as the design is to move quickly around to attack.
  • Engineer Frames = Point Control - With Turrets, fields, mines, Stationary shields, and the design is to protect and control a specific point.
  • Biotech Frames = Medic - Yes the recluse doesn’t quite answer this one, but you still have the option to add some healing in the recluse frame.
  • Recon Frames = Snipers - Long distance assassins was the main design feature and is why they are the single hardest frame to balance.

Will we see more advanced frames added or is the focus more on improving the existing under-played ones?

I am not sure if this is good or bad news, but the good news is they plan on adding more fun abilities to the game, while the bad news is no new frames anytime in the near future.  Frank stated, “We have one or two frame ideas, but they are just possible thoughts.  We have no plans on implementing them anytime soon. Our main goal is to keep adding more abilities and prefix weapons.” 

The general feeling is that you can keep the unique feeling that you get when playing a “new” frame by simply swapping new abilities to engage your current frame in a new playstyle.

Why can’t the Accord frames have access to advanced abilities if you have unlocked them on the other frame?

Unfortunately for all of you standard frame lovers, the future won’t change.  The Accord frames are simply designed to be your basic learner’s permit of the game.  They are there to encourage you to try out the other advanced frames. If they add this ability in they feel it will take away any incentive to try out a new frame and explore other playstyles.

Is there any thought on moving overclock station and other immobile abilities in a game that forces you to move constantly?

This my friends was where intent and implementation don’t always come in, and where Red 5 immediately answered that they were well aware that while the intent of the immobile abilities was to allow you to use different abilities for specific purposes the implementation of that aspect of the game wasn’t quite there yet.  They are working on fine tuning some of the more annoying quality of life changes, and giving you fights and events that benefit those specific abilities.

Any future option for more customization, such as getting to choose the hues and dyes used instead of the standard models?

Unfortunately, for those artist and lovers of full customization, this question met with a “No”. The simple answer here is it’s simpler for them to simply add new standard frame warpaints then to keep up with the hue and dye system.  There was a lot of talk about the design of the game being built around warpaints, but sometimes the simplest answer is best.  In this case, the simplest answer is it’s easier to maintain if they don’t add it in.

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Guest Writer