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Gamescom: Firefall Interview With David Williams

24. August, 2012Tags: Firefall, Gamescom, Interview, MMO Blog

Firefall Interview David WilliamsIf you have been following Red 5 Studios's open world shooter Firefall in the last couple of years, you should know that the game has undergone several changes, and it just goes on. With the most recent update being the biggest one, the developers called it almost a new Firefall. The Free MMO shooter is still in Beta and it still doesn't have an exact release date. We have been playing it since the early days of the beta and we had the chance to take another look at it at Gamescom 2012. While we were there, we also sat down with lead class designer David Williams and talked about Firefall's past and the future. 


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FIREFALL INTERVIEW - with David Williams

To find answers to our own questions, and also some of our readers on Firefall MMO, we talked to David Williams, lead-class-designer of Firefall at Gamescom 2012. We hope you can find some answers to your own questions and enjoy this interview. Let us know if you have other questions and we will try to get answers to them as soon as we can.


Firefall Release Date

DevilsMMO: We expected Firefall to release earlier this year, and there’s still no info on when the release date is. Can you talk a little about that?

David Williams: Well, the thing of it is to a large extent in our minds we’ve already released. As soon as we had people outside of our company [play the game], we released. We’re not going to have a traditional release date, per se. We’re going to keep adding players through invites, as well as some directly from our forums. So if someone wants to sign up for our game, they can go to our forums, and that’s essentially a request for Firefall beta.

Especially now that we’ve got this new patch out, we’re ramping up the invites again (we froze them to get some fresh feedback on the new things), so now its add more players, add more features; add more players, add more polish; add more players, add more features…it’s just back and forth with that.

It’s sort of the Gmail approach, where we roll out for a certain number of players so that our server load is always stable, rather than having a day-one rush. There just won’t be a day one.

"One day it just won’t be a beta anymore. In our minds, it’s a fully featured game at this point and we’re just polishing it at this point."

Firefall - It's dark

Firefall v2.0

DevilsMMO: We know about the recent drastic changes to the game.

David Williams: Yes.

DevilsMMO: So the beta launched pretty early…you could almost say the game launched while it was still in alpha, and it’s just been updating and updating as you just said.

David Williams: This is absolutely a true beta. We’re making lots of changes to the game as we go through the game and through the process, and frankly we’ll be doing that forever. We intend to just keep changing and improving the game as much as we can…that means improving the game, adding things, and fixing things as they come up.

Firefall Beta Forever?

They love the jetpack, so do we!

DevilsMMO: Okay, but do you think that the current user base of testers…so you don’t even look at them as beta testers, you look at them as current users?

David Williams: Both really, right now. They’re quite literally both. Certainly clients or users, but they are Firefal beta users. There’s no question that this is a true beta.

DevilsMMO: So that kind of puts a damper on this question, since you’re always updating, but…do you think that Firefall Beta is too complex for casual users?

David Williams: Interesting…certainly we want to make sure we can get…as large [a piece] of the pie as we can. We haven’t developed our introductory experience yet...that’s something we’ll be working on for the next milestone. It’s on our active to-do list. And that’s one of the great things about being a free-to-play service, a free to play game: we can treat the game as a service. It’ll never be done. We have this magnificently long list of features that we’ll work on over time, including a ton of super crazy stuff that I’m not even close to being able to talk about. But what that means is that there’s always something at the top of the list, the next thing we’re going to work on.

We’ve got a bunch of new maps that we’ll be adding – those are all being played internally. We’ve got the next two tiers that are in development. And the new player experience. These are all things that have bubbled to the top and when we knock something off the top, something else rises. So it’s just a matter of every time knocking something off the top of our to-do list.

Lee Reherman in Firefall

Our Favorite MMO actor: Lee Reherman

Firefall's Lee Reherman

DevilsMMO: What happened to Lee Reherman?

David Williams: Lee? He’s here!

DevilsMMO: We haven’t seen him lately in the YouTube videos, and he’s great.

David Williams: You’ll be seeing more of Lee. He’s hanging out, mocking people at the booth.

DevilsMMO: Yeah, well we haven’t seen enough of him.

David Williams: Oh yeah we love Lee. He’s fantastic. There’s a whole lot of video stuff that’s coming from Red5, believe me. And he’s in many of them.

Shoot it now?

E-Sports & Firefall

DevilsMMO: Perfect. The E-sports tournament and the E-sports toolkit…I mean, you guys have a big interest in E-sports.

David Williams: Absolutely.

DevilsMMO: Does that mean there is going to be changes in gameplay that haven’t been previously planned, but with E-sports in mind will go into effect?

David Williams: E-sports has always been part of our core beliefs. We’ve just sort of refocused on it lately, and I’d say a lot of our core gameplay mechanics have changed lately. We wanted to make sure the skill ceiling was high enough for E-sports players. It was one of the advantages of the tier system in our minds. A good example of this is the assault weapon. The plasma cannon has that splash radius, it’s pretty straightforward to use. But in the higher tiers you’re going to see something called a fusion cannon. The fusion cannon doesn’t have the splash damage of the plasma cannon, but the projectile travels faster and hits harder on a direct hit. So you’re trading off that splash for a higher precision, higher damage weapon.

When my girlfriend plays, she’ll be using that tier 1 plasma cannon, whereas some of the guys in the office won’t use it when they have the option.

DevilsMMO: So the better skill level you’re at, not the better chance you’ll have to use the [fusion cannon], but the more useful it’ll be for you.

David Williams: That’s exactly right. The plasma cannon doesn’t have a wide range of skill. The fusion cannon has an incredible range, from much lower than the plasma cannon – if you can’t get a direct hit with the fusion cannon, you’re getting nothing, you can’t even splash at the guys feet anymore – whereas at the opposite end, it’s much easier to hit guys mid-air. A really big advantage. And the reason we went to this tier system is so that we could keep the game straightforward for a new player, and hopefully even someone who has played a lot of shooters before, but then in the higher tiers and in the tournament tier, we’ll be able to give very high skill, high reward levels. And abilities.

Firefall Manga will continue

Firefall Manga

DevilsMMO: The Firefall Manga has been a really successful addition to the game. Following that release, are you going to keep going with it? Is it possible that we’ll see it featured in the game?

David Williams: I hope so! It’s gorgeous, it’s one of those things we really like to do. I honestly don’t know, and we can find out.


Firefall v2.0 Feedback

DevilsMMO: Some of the players couldn’t understand what was changed with the updates. Like classes…there were some questions around biotech and it’s healing abilities, and a few other things…should we expect changes in the future will be like that, really slight?

David Williams: I don’t expect that we’re going to have any big, sweeping changes like we just did. Which isn’t to say that we won’t do that, I just don’t expect it. Having said that, I’m not sure that I expected us to do this a year ago, so who knows what the future brings. I personally would expect that the classes you see now are what we’ll have going forward.

DevilsMMO: So it’s just a matter of updating and making sure that they are streamlined properly.

David Williams: Moving weapons up in tiers, moving abilities up in tiers…that’s probably the most drastic thing we’d do. I would expect to see much more moderate changes moving forward.

Firefall Characters

Firefall's Crafting Tree 

DevilsMMO: Is there a way to take the talent and crafting tree to a new level, better than what it is today? Do you guys have a way to improve that?

David Williams: What we have right now on the crafting side is kind of tip-of-the-iceberg-y. What I mean by that is what we’re doing now is giving it away for free. The plan down the road is to actually have a true crafting tree, where you can unlock this so you learn how to make this. By doing that we can also roll out a lot of our ideas that we want to see with the crafting tree. If you want to spend some time or money unlocking this weapon or side here, maybe you’ll unlock an extra manufacturing slot. That’s how you’ll unlock a faster crafting time.

So we’ll be able to do passive bonuses along those lines. Right now we’re just handing everything out to everyone because we don’t have that crafting tree ready to go. Fortunately, if we built out this whole back-end system to build out the tech trees for the battle frames, we’re able to use something almost identical mechanically…we’ll present it differently, but mechanically on the backend we can make the crafting tree about the same way. That’s actually one of the things we’re pretty actively working on. It’s towards the top [of the to-do list].

DevilsMMO: Do you have a time frame for when it can be expected?

David Williams: I don’t want to promise anything…like I said it’s pretty high on the want list, but I can say I expect it to be on the next milestone. If not, on the one after that. It would either be a month and a half, or three, best guess.


Firefall Only

DevilsMMO: Besides for Firefall, do you guys have anything else in development?

David Williams: Nope. Firefall is it. It is what we do, it is what we are.

DevilsMMO: So as a studio you’re going to continue focusing on the shooter MMO range?

David Williams: Yes. Firefall, as we see it, is a 10-year product at least. We’re going to be working on this game for a good long time. Like I said, we’ve got this big list of things we want to make. There’s no end to all the features we want to add to Firefall.

DevilsMMO: So how do you have that? Do you just have a whiteboard with just a list of “this is what we want this year, next year, the next year…”?

David Williams: It’s a Wiki actually, and it’s kind of…some things are kind of big bullet points. Like this one will take us six months, that sort of thing. But we know we’ll want to do it. We’ve already shown off the start of vehicles, but you know where that can go in a shooter. As a for-a-big-example, there may be a big 6-month block, much to do with vehicles, for example.

Firefall looks to good to be f2p? Well, it is f2p!


Free to Play Debate

DevilsMMO: Ha, subtle! Totally noted. What do you think about the debate on the free to play model? Especially with games like Star Wars: The Old Republic going F2P –

David Williams: I don’t think of it as much of a debate, personally. I’m not alone on that. There are some people who aren’t totally enamored with F2P. There’s plenty of ways to do F2P wrong, but I think F2P is a completely proven model. It’s really good for the gamers, really good for the studios. The only people it isn’t good for is the distribution channel, because it sort of ignores them entirely, and I’m not going to be shedding any tears for that. I absolutely love F2P, I play a ton of F2P games myself, and absolutely believe in the model.

But like I said there’s plenty of ways to do it wrong. You can do pay-to-win, you can do velvet roping, and where you can only play with your friends if everyone pays the same amount of money…there’s lots of ways to do it wrong. If you give games to gamers to try out for free, and they like it, they’ll spend money on it. Our hobbies are what we spend our money and our time on. It’s really good all around.


Subscription model for Firefall

DevilsMMO: But have you guys ever considered using a subscription-based model?

David Williams: Many years ago we talked about it, and when we made the call to go F2P it was considered revolutionary. Like, ‘oh my god, this is crazy’. It’s an AAA F2P game, like, no way. And then over the past couple of years…

DevilsMMO: It’s proven to be a great model.

David Williams: It absolutely works. It doesn’t just have to be a match game with a lobby, and that’s one of the most exciting things that we’re showing, that it doesn’t just have to be PVP matches with a lobby. It can be a full-featured MMO…sure, we’re a shooter with PVP, and all these things, but it doesn’t have to be as limited.


Online Gaming Technologies & Firefall Engine

DevilsMMO: Let’s switch tracks a bit. What about technology like Umbra 3? Do you think that Firefall’s engine is good enough to support good gameplay?

David Williams: Firefall was originally built with an engine, whose name I won’t remember…that quite literally no one has used and no one else will use because they got bought out by Intel. It was built from the ground up to have many, many players and creatures on a screen simultaneously at fairly low render costs. Even back five, six years ago when I started on Firefall, we had hundreds of characters on screen, shooting each other, with effects and everything. There’s always improvements you can make.

You can run our game completely maxed out with top-end cards right now. I’m not super knowledgeable on the technical side…
The interview gets interrupted by William’s Firefall character, which he left in-game on a TV during the interview. The character was first attacked, and then another player online came over, killed the monster, and walked away.

David Williams: I do know we can render hundreds of characters on screen at once. The engine was built to do that.

Firefall map


Games They Play & Inspired by

DevilsMMO: What…this is just one of the things the guys want to know. What are the games that you guys, play, besides for Firefall? What other MMOs?

David Williams: Across the design team and across the office…we play a little of everything. There’s a lot of WoW getting played, a bunch of guys playing World of Tanks, a bunch of guys playing League of Legends pretty frequently, DOTA 2. A bunch of us are pretty excited about Guild Wars 2, and the one Carbine’s working on…[Wildstar]. We pretty much play everything when it comes out, just to check them out and to see what cool ideas they’ve had, if for no other reason. If all you get is a month out of it, eh, okay, that’s worth the $60.

DevilsMMO: Are any of those MMOs, or any games since you guys are working on a shooter, that you would say inspire you to look at Firefall differently? Any games you could pinpoint?

David Williams: Oh, I don’t know…Team Fortress 2 is one of our favorites. They have incredibly well-developed classes. All the big ones…games get big because their good. World of Warcraft has a lot of things that we learn from. Even though we’re not an MMO[RPG] fan, we can learn from the way they introduce players to the game; introduce new abilities, new features… There are absolutely things we can learn from a game like that. That would be the big thing, at least for us among designers. It’s more about the processes of introducing players to the game that we look at it.

And shooter-wise; There’s obviously a lot of Tribes influence. We just love jetpacks completely. And that original team-play from Tribes, it’s one of the things we’d love to see more of in games. That ability to change frames, in the middle of a match…that sort of tactical changing on the fly is a lot of what we like about team-play shooters.

DevilsMMO: Great, thanks David! Looking forward to more of Firefall in the future!

David Williams: Thanks!

For more information on Firefall, visit our Firefall section and visit Firefall's official site

© 2012 -

interview by James Pikover 


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