Chris Whiteside is best known in the gaming industry as the former Lead Producer of ArenaNet on Guild Wars, then the Design Director for Guild Wars 2. After roughly five years, Chris decided to part with the Bellevue, Washington developer. He went into consultancy, but that only lasted a little bit as one of the companies he consulted for was Red 5 Studios, makers of hardpressed but excellent MMO Firefall. In short, the studio’s been working quietly to not only find its groove with Firefall, but move into other areas as well. We caught up with Chris to chat about Red 5 and the future of his new studio.
Chris started by noting that there’s no doubt the Firefall team has been through a great deal before finally finding exactly where they wanted the game to go last year. One of the things that drew him to Red 5 was the sheer amount of design and boundary-pushing going on behind closed doors at the studio. The team, which is still growing every day is very collaborative and eager to show the world that they’ve got a game everyone should be playing.
They know this is a big challenge, but Red 5 and Chris knows they can deliver.
I asked Chris what he and the team think Firefall is at its core. Quick and to the point he replied: it’s an MMO. It’s a world. He continued, “We’ve done a lot of work to make the shooting side of things as tight and responsive as they need to be. The minute to minute gameplay is there and solid. But now we want to push the social side of things, focusing on the Army vs. Army, the Guild vs. Guild, alliances, grouping, and more valuable and easy to discern open world content that gets people together.”
I asked Chris to draw parallels to Guild Wars 2, because the open world content is kind of their hallmark, to which he said, “What we’re trying to do with Firefall is a lot like the stuff we tried to do [at ArenaNet]. The ‘Golden Path’ story content has been fine-tuned and works really well to drive people through the narrative these days, but our core concern going forward now is the open world system and its content. We want to make the world feel more alive and have it gel to draw people back in on a daily basis.”
To that end, you can expect to see the next few months of Firefall updates bring in systems that pair people together easier, without hassle. There will be big UI improvements, new big fights, and loads more dynamic content all coming. Going forward Red 5 will also be opening up a shared development path, similar to what Planetside 2 does with the roadmap of design points and letting players decide where and what to work on next.
Chris said that with, “The next big update, is a sort of “Re-Master”. The basic open world, refinement of the core experience, and social systems are all being evolved. There is a huge revamp on top of the initial experience. The community has been noticing our meandering direction with the pillars of the game, and we’ve noticed it. We’re working on polish, narrowing the focus down to what works. You have a frame, you’re a hero, and you’re working with others and focusing on the story that drives the world after the Firefall catastrophe. And to really do that as best we can, we need to make the entire game feel more social.”
Chris went on to explain that Red 5 is making progression and rewards feel more impactful. Itemization is getting tweaked to feel like it matters more, alternate advancement is in the planning stages, and progression is finally about to make you feel more powerful. Not just more powerful stat-wise though, but with more meaningful and situational abilities and weapons. They want players to push strategic shooting and attacks over just firing away at tons of bullet sponges.
To that end, I asked Chris is Firefall was the only project in the works. To which he replied, “Firefall is currently the only game in development, but we’re looking at expanding into more intellectual property that we can create internally. We have more stories to tell, but there’s nothing official to announce just yet.”
He went on, “We’ve been through the fire, and we’ve grown close. These guys have bonded into a truly collaborative business, and our overall plan is to become the best online world building studio in the business. We know what people remember from our checkered past, but we know we can prove we’ve come through the fire and controversy ready and raring.”
I wondered then aloud, what about Firefall on Xbox One or PS4? Coyly, all Chris could say was that he’d be happy to answer that in the upcoming months, but no comment for now. But boy, wouldn’t Firefall on the PS4 or XBone be something special? Wink, wink.
To end our conversation, Chris seemed pretty amped for the next few months, “It’s an exciting time. We’ve got a lot to prove. But at the same time, there’s almost less pressure now. We don’t mind having to prove ourselves, but we’re glad to have the support from our financiers over the long period. We’re staffing, building, and working away to make Firefall exactly the game we know it can be. We’re pretty sure the players will be happy when they see what we’ve been building.”