FireFall Interview

FireFall Interview

Written by Charles Husemann on 12/3/2010 for PC  

We were intrigued with FireFall when it was first announced.   Then Sean got to play it at PAX earlier this year and interest turned into near obsession.  Luckily we were able to setup this interview which I think will help others understand why the game should be on your games to watch list.

Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? How long have you been in the game industry and why did you decide to make a career out of creating video games?
My name is Scott Youngblood and I’m the Lead Game Designer on Firefall. I’ve been in the industry since 1990 where I accidentally got hired at Dynamix (a Eugene Oregon Based game company) as a Network Technician. I worked my up through the ranks at Dynamix over the next 10 years before leaving to pursue other interests.

It took my parents about three years of asking me when I was going to get a real job before they realized that gaming was going to be my career. I’ve always been passionate about games and it’s a wonderful life experience to be able to craft entertainment for other people.


What’s the backstory on Firefall and how important is the story to the game? How did you come up with the name “Firefall”?
Firefall takes place on Earth in the year 2233. The planet has gone through a drastic change due to discovery and global overuse of a new clean energy source called Crystite. The overuse of this extremely efficient energy source has led to the disastrous arrival of a violent energy storm called The Melding. The Melding has transformed nearly all of Earth leaving only a small haven for humanity within the eye of the storm.

A mysterious and hostile race called The Chosen have recently appeared out of the Melding. We're not sure what the Chosen want, but it is very clear that they want humanity destroyed. Players must unite to fight against the Chosen and fend off the Melding from consuming Earth.

The event that preceded the arrival of the Melding is known as Firefall, thus the name of the game.


Why did you go the free to play route? With the proliferation of other free to play games, how do you make sure your game doesn’t get lost in the shuffle? How do you compare your game to other free to play online shooters like AVA and Combat Arms?
Red 5 Studios believes in this game and we want as many players as possible to experience Firefall. The industry landscape is changing, and we want gamers to try out the game – with no velvet ropes – and see for themselves how much fun Firefall is. We believe firmly in the quality of game and making it free to play ensures that as many people as possible will have a chance to see for themselves how much fun Firefall is.

Firefall is a competitive game. The more players there are to play against, the better. This also helps to decrease queue times for matches and allows the option for better, more accurate skill-based matchmaking.

AVA and Combat Arms are great games, but we feel that we have created the ultimate team-based, action shooter experience that combines a large co-op campaign with deep character progression and competitive multiplayer gameplay. We’re pleased with how many gamers commented at PAX and in our forums that this game has all the polish, and feel of a retail game. Free-to-play isn’t a bad thing, and we’re going to prove that.
Since nothing in life is free, what kinds of things are you going to be charging for? How do you balance the need to get people to pay to play the game vs. keeping the game balanced and fair for everyone?
We believe that if we make fun and compelling gameplay, we will be able to sell certain items or perks that will give us a sustainable source of revenue that will allow us to continue to make great content for gamers in years to come. While we're not ready to talk about the details of our micro-transaction model, we do want to be very clear skill-based gameplay is very important to us. We will take the appropriate steps to ensure that we do not compromise our skill-based gameplay via purchased items. Even though we feel that the micro-transaction purchases will help to enhance the game, anyone will be able to play through the entire world without spending any money.


Firefall is drawing a lot of comparisons to Borderlands; did the game have any influence on the development of the game? What other games did you take inspirations from?
Borderlands is a great game. Many people see the cel-shaded graphic style of Borderlands, and the Manga-inspired style of Firefall and they see similarities. It helps that they are also both shooters that feature non-photorealistic art style.

It is important to remember that Firefall has been in development for more than three years, long before we ever had a chance to see Borderlands. Inspiration for Firefall comes from many other games: Starsiege Tribes, PlanetSide, Quake, Half Life… pretty much any great shooter out there has had some influence on what Firefall currently is or what it will eventually become.


Could you talk about the art design for the game and the look you are trying to go for? From the videos we’ve seen it almost looks like the characters are cell-shaded...is that accurate or are we missing something?
As we were setting out to define the look and feel for the game we wanted to make sure that Firefall had great ‘over the shoulder’ appeal. That is, when you walk up behind someone playing Firefall we wanted you to be immediately drawn to what you see on the screen. In addition we wanted that look to be something that really stood out on its own and wouldn’t be easily confused with another game.

In addition to high visual appeal we are also building a game for the world market, so we wanted to make sure that our art style will have world-wide acceptance. We are fans of Manga and Anime and we wanted to bring our own signature style to the game. Graphics are an important part of a player's gaming experience and we feel that the custom "Manga" shader we have created to achieve the visuals you see in the game captures the essence of Firefall perfectly. The best part of making a game is to do things you and your team enjoy – that’s what we’ve done with Firefall.


Did you roll your own engine for the game or are you using an existing technology (Offset engine)? The huge world seem to load seamlessly, is that something that was baked into the engine or something you added?
The engine we’re using was at one time the Offset engine. In the course of developing Firefall we have modified, rewritten, and gutted most of the original code. It’s highly customized to handle the things we need – you already mentioned load times, but also frame rate and latency and most importantly high player counts.
We’ve seen some fairly cool visuals so far, what kind of hardware are we going to need to run the game? Will the game be “Netbook friendly”?
We honestly haven’t nailed it all down yet. We want as few barriers to entry as possible, but we’re still optimizing everything and haven’t finalized the specs yet. The game needs to be compatible with not just upper end systems, but also with internet café systems that can be found across the world.


What different missions and activities will players be doing in the game? Could you talk about how some of the types have evolved as the game has been developed?
Firefall incorporates co-operative and competitive gameplay within enormous sandbox environments, and we’ll have a large variety of missions for players to experience.

We designed dynamic missions within the game that can be initiated by the players themselves, as well as by the computer AI based on criteria such as location, time of day, season, and player population.

Another major part of Firefall is the social features built into the game. We've built an army system and an army tech tree where your social group will work towards unlocking new pieces of tech that can be used in and out of combat. There will also be ladders and tournaments to show off your Firefall skills.


Is the multi-player strictly co-op (PVE) or will there be PVP elements as well?
Firefall will have both cooperative (PvE), and competitive multiplayer (PvP) content. We all love jumping in with our buddies and kicking a little ass – be it computer enemies, or other players. We’ll have tournaments and competitive clan support right out of the box, so it should be easy for players to really find out who’s the best of the best in the game. Players will have choice over how they want to participate in the content, but ultimately for the most rounded experience players will want to participate in everything.


Could you walk us through the different classes that are in the game? Are you going with the standard ranged, medic, engineer, tank, soldier setup we’ve seen in other games or something different?
In Firefall, the class system works in what we call "battleframes" and is defined by the equipment that you wear. Each battleframe can be independently leveled and grants you access to a range of weapons, abilities, call downs and other tech upgrades. This system gives the player a wide assortment of options so that they can customize their character to match their play style.

At PAX 2010, we shared a glimpse of two of our battleframes: the Medic and the Assault. These battleframes were examples of a range of mechanics for players that prefer a more twitch-style of combat. There will be other battleframes that will reward more strategic gameplay and enable users to customize weapons, backpacks and abilities with modules that create unique game play experiences.


What RPG elements can we expect to see in the game? What kinds of things will you get to unlock as you play the game?
The largest aspect of RPG gameplay within Firefall is the customization. As you progress through the game, your character's battleframe will level up and earn you experience points. Each frame can be leveled independently, and switched out at any battleframe terminal. This means that a player won't be locked into one class. In addition to the frames themselves, players can also unlock new modules that can be slotted into their equipment to add / change functionality of that equipment. Players will have a high degree of choice with how they modify their frames. Building that perfect Battleframe for just the right situation is something that we hope player will enjoy doing.


Will players be limited to playing on your servers or will you be allowing folks to setup/configure their own servers?
To insure data integrity, to minimize exploits, and to ensure a level playing field, players will connect to, and play on, our servers for Firefall.


Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
We are obviously very excited about Firefall and we want to hear from the community. We would love to have people join us on our community site. Please join our forums at http://www.firefallthegame.com. You can also sign up for the beta there right on the website.

We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Also, those that register on the forums will be automatically registered for beta selection, when it begins. We'll be updated our community site with more information over the coming months, so stay tuned. We hope to see you all late 2011 when Firefall releases.

We'd like to thank Scott for taking the time to answer our questions as well as CPal for hooking us up with the interview.
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About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom.   I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.
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