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PAX East Overview

William Murphy Posted:
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Firefall is an odd beast.  An odd, but so far exciting and fun beast.  It’s part TF2, and part MMO.  Like Global Agenda before it, Firefall seems to be pushing the envelope in a lot of ways that should make fans of both online games and shooters very excited.  At this year’s PAX East, I had the chance to meet up with Scott Youngblood of Red 5 Studios and dive headfirst into one of the game’s many competitive PvP maps.  For those not familiar with the title since its debut at last year’s PAX Prime, Firefall is aiming to blur the line between MMO and FPS (or TPS really) and it plans on doing so completely free of charge with both fully-featured PvE and PvP modes.  That’s right: Firefall is going to be free to both download and play.  Read on to see how I fared in the death-match combat and what Scott Youngblood had to say about Firefall.

As our own Garrett Fuller hopped onto the machine and began to fire his way through one of the ongoing PvP matches that were running at the show, I had a chance to speak to Scott Youngblood about what I was watching.  The booth was set up to have multiple 5v5 games running, and Garrett had just hopped in on the Blue Team playing as an Assault character (aptly named AngryPigeon) in one of the game’s many team-based PvP maps.  Scott told me that there was definitely plenty of PvE content in the game where you can group up with your Army (guild/clan) mates, do missions, gather loot and resources, and advance your character and gear as well as that of your Army.  And then from there you’ll take all that you’ve earned into the PvP areas of the game and put them to use for all to see and (hopefully) fear your Army. 

The game will sport a familiar match-making system that allows players to queue as an individual or an Army into one of many different modes.  What was being shown at PAX was a good ol’ fashioned team death-match where the sole purpose is to kill the other guys as much as possible.  Scott was quick to point out that each Army will be able to design their own logos, pick their own colors, and so forth.  During the show, the game’s built-in spectator camera was up and running demonstrating a feature that many shooter fans have come to love in an e-sport sort of way.  I asked Scott if the team was targeting the e-sport side of things and he nodded and said they most definitely were hoping as much.  Basically the team’s split the game into two halves.  There’s plenty to do for those who want a co-op experience, and then there’s the whole competitive team-based and Army-based side, and no matter what you do you’ll be progressing your character and helping your Army.

I asked Scott if this meant that Firefall was going to have two different sets of gear for players to chase after, noting that it’s often contentious that players have to straddle two different games in essence.  He quickly said that this won’t be a problem in Firefall.  Everything you do in either part of the game will help you perform better in either the PvE side or the PvP.  That said, Scott did say that players will want to obtain multiple types of gear, as the weapons and upgrades in Firefall aren’t about stats, but about functionality.  It’s a skill-based game, with no dice rolls performing the hits and misses.  It’s a shooter and action game, but one that includes character progression through the different types of functions your character can perform.  Some such items drop in the open world, some will be crafted, and even more are from completing missions.  Again, items in Firefall aren’t about boosting stats, but rather about boosting the types of things your character and Army is capable of doing in battle.  Scott went on to tell me that Firefall is a lot like the kind of game he always wanted to make when he was Lead Designer on Tribes 1 and 2, but was never able to because of tech and resources. 

The game has three announced frameworks (classes) to choose from, with more to come: the assault, the medic, and the recon.  I took my turn behind the controls, and was quickly hit with the opposing Recon’s “Resonating Shot”.  Resonating Shot is one of the Recon class’ modifications (skills).  Basically it’s a bullet that sticks to the player, can be stacked with multiple hits, and after a short few seconds of beeping blows up with a satisfying effect.  I was lucky enough to only have one shot on me, so I didn’t die from the hit, but one can easily see how a good sharpshooting Recon would be a team’s worst nightmare.   

But I got back on my feet after a few seconds, spawning in our team’s safe house and charged back into the fray.  As my team’s main damage dealing heavy, I quickly learned that the modification known as “Crater” is a force to be reckoned with.  I charged into a group of unsuspecting opposing players and pressed the corresponding key only to watch my character launch himself high into the air and come back down with a resounding force that killed one player and sent the other two sprawling.  They’d been hunkered down behind some terrain and this little action gave my more fragile teammates time to come in and finish off the stragglers. 

The game’s UI is fairly straightforward; your health is displayed along the bottom of the screen, along with your equipped modifications.  Right now it seems like players will be able to have three mods at any one time, so obviously picking and choosing those which work best in situations will be of the utmost importance.  I had another that acted as a buff to my damage and another that launched me in the direction I was aiming at a high velocity.  If I connected with the latter, I could send the enemy flailing and do some fantastic damage to boot.  Like Tribes and Global Agenda, players all have jetpacks and can satisfyingly hover and cover large distances by jumping with the spacebar and holding it to glide until the pack’s out of power.  It recharges quickly, but the short time you have is obviously intended to make sure the game doesn’t all take place in the air. 

I asked Scott if he was worried about the amount of importance placed on skill, since they were hoping to attract a wide audience with the game.  Would casual gamers be too afraid to step into the competitive nature, and so on?  He said their goal is to make sure that each Framework gives something for players to feel competent in doing.  He noted Team Fortress 2 as a game that allowed casual shooter fans in on the fun, by not making it so that everyone needed to of high twitch capability.  He noted that he was very optimistic that Firefall’s blend of co-op and PvP would go a long way towards attracting many kinds of shooter and MMO fans.

I then asked the loaded question: when’s it coming out and what’s the revenue model going to be like?  Expecting a dodge instead of a full-frontal assault, my eyes popped open when Scott said Firefall will be releasing in Q4 of 2011 and it will be completely free to download and play for as long as you like.  Obviously learning from some of the hurdles of other MMOFPS, Red 5 Studios wants their flagship title to send a message of value to players.  The main revenue for the game will be coming from cosmetic and convenience purchases, like war-paint, and different boosts or upgrades but nothing that players won’t already be able to get from just playing the game.  In short, the purchasable items will simply be a way for those with less time or less drive to keep up with their Army.  I asked if there were any plans to charge for additional content like maps and so forth, and Scott told me that their goal is to never segment the game’s population in terms of content.  If they start to make some new maps or content exclusive to paying players, then it’s only going to split the population.  Take that for what it’s worth, but it sounds like Red 5 is committed to adding content post-launch without picking the wallets of its players.

In the end, I left impressed by the studio’s vision and addicted to the action of the game.  I’m still not 100% sure how Firefall’s PvE and PvP will blend, as I’ve not yet experienced the co-op side of things for myself.  But if what Mr. Youngblood says rings true, Firefall is bound to be one of online gaming’s more ambitious F2P experiments.  I barely had time with the title, but I can tell there’s focus on polish and playability.  It plays remarkably smooth and really looks fantastic at this early stage.  But I’m curious to see how the MMO side of things plays out, and how the whole PvE experience factors in.  It’s a very fun game, but there’s still a lot left to explore.  Still, with beta nearing it won’t be long before we know more about Red 5 Studios’ freshman release.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.