Interview with Scott Youngblood, Lead Game Designer of Firefall

scott-red5After my Firefall review, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the game developers from Red 5 Studios. Scott Youngblood, lead game designer of Firefall, took a moment to answer a few questions about Firefall, explained some of the mechanics and intentions of the game, the true meaning of Free-to-Play and Firefall being the only FPS MMO on the market now:

Nerd Reactor: In regards to a lot of online MMOs, especially Free-to-Play MMOs, do you feel like competition may be too stiff for a game like Firefall?

Scott Youngblood: What other competition is out there that is like Firefall? We kind of created our own pattern of a skill-based MMO. There is nothing out there that does the same things that we do. There is a reason to that because it’s incredibly hard to do; doing a skill-based MMO shooter, it has to feel like a shooter and how do you do that in an MMO environment? And in order to accomplish that, we had to basically build everything ourselves from the ground up and that’s why it took almost 8 years to get to this point.

Random events are just that, random, and can occur anywhere.

Random events are just that, random, and can occur anywhere.

NR: Honestly, it shows. It’s well thought out especially with the environment. You can play on your own, you can play with groups, especially with the random events which really put a nice touch to the game itself.

Scott: Ya, we’ve always been a fan of letting the players do what they want. Firefall is a game about freedoms: freedom of movement, free to play the battleframes they want, free to play the way you want to play and it feels pretty good. If the game is awesome and it’s free to play, the players will come. That’s kind of our philosophy, we don’t road block sections of the game and say, “You can’t play this unless you pay money.” That’s not the point. We want it to be accessible and fun.

NR: I agree, and there are a lot of games out there now that are Free-to-Play that turn out down the road to be Pay-to-Win.

Scott: That’s something we spent a lot of time, let me use the word ‘agonizing’ over pay-to-win in our design. We wanted to make sure you couldn’t pay to win, you know. Life isn’t all about inequalities, especially when it comes to money; the last thing we wanted was that inequality inside the game.

NR: One thing I did note about the game in my review was that almost anything you can buy in the game with red beans (Firefall in-game currency) you can actually earn it. You can build your way to get the battleframes, you can try to win them with tokens in the slots and it’s possible to work your way to become one of the top elite players rather than just buying your way there.

Scott: And that was intentional. By design you can be the hero of Firefall. If you don’t have the time, that’s where the red beans come in which can help improve your use of time and that’s where we choose to monetize it and making your experience more efficient.

NR: As I was playing Firefall, I felt like some elements felt up in the air storywise. We know about the Arahnas, the Chosen, the Bandits, and then there’s the Melding. Based on research I’ve done, a lot of forums are trying to figure out what the Melding is. We know where it came from and how it engulfed the planet. Is there a concrete answer to what the Melding is?

Scott: There will be, that’s part of what players will get to uncover as they progress the world of Firefall. As a few areas become online, more of the story will unfold and actually the players will have a hand in pushing the story forward. We are starting to demonstrate this now in Devils Tusk with the pushback events, which is our first example of how players are shaping the world.

NR: Since you mentioned the game was built from scratch, were there any challenges that Red 5 has come across?

Scott: Constantly. Non-stop challenges. What we’re doing is unlike any other game out there. We had to build this technology from the ground up. Running the game the way we do, it’s a marvel of technology; it’s really cool seeing it working the way that it is. It took us quite a while to get everything worked out so that you can enjoy the game the way you do.

Jet packs change the way you play a FPS game.

Jet packs change the way you play a FPS game.

NR: One aspect I do like that does stand out mostly from most open world games I have played is the jet packs. That itself really changed the game especially when I first played it in the Copacabana. Everyone is running around and players realize that we can fly and go on roofs. I think it’s a game changer, especially with MMOs like WoW and others where the sky is always a no-fly zone. Battles are always on the ground and the jet packs add a key element that I haven’t seen myself.

Scott: Jet packs are a hell of a lot more fun than walking. We had to limit it to some extent or everyone would be flying all the time and it would be hard to shoot at them. So the jet packs are a nice balance of you can do it, but you can’t do it. It resembles a little over from a game I used to work on called Tribes. That was a game that also had jet packs and it made the freedom of movement awesome because the player wasn’t restricted to just walking on the ground and being told where you could and couldn’t go. Once you have the freedom of flight you can do what you want and also opens up a much more interesting possibility for combat, since once you’re fighting in the air, you can do a lot more than what you can on the ground.

NR: Right, and as I previously mentioned, I used to play WoW for about 4 years and they kept adding elements to the ground for combat but never in the air. I think the added jet packs are a nice touch to the game itself.

Scott: Have you played with the glider wings?

NR: I have, I end up crashing a lot. I keep trying to find the highest spot I can find and glide as far as I can. But when you’re up in the air, you see the world. A lot of games restrict flying to higher levels but in Firefall, you see a launch pad, you can fly even in starting levels.

Scott: Yup. Freedom of movement is important to Firefall. That’s the foundation of fun that we built the rest of the game off of. If it’s fun to move around the world, anything that we add to it will be fun.

NR: Since the recent update, how often do you see new updates coming along?

Scott: We try to do them pretty regularly. We are on a 3-week cycle now. We use a method called Scrum to build our game and we used to do 3 week sprints, so roughly every 3 weeks to come up with new content update. we also do patch the game when necessary with hotfixes, so if we have a bug we didn’t catch, we can fix it in real time.

NR: Now that Firefall is live and can be considered the only FPS MMO out there, do you feel like there are a lot of roadblocks moving forward?

Scott: There aren’t too many roadblocks. Luckily we were able to cement most of them. Making a game feel like Firefall in an MMO setting was the challenge, but our networking strategy and the way we simulate the world enables us to have a shooter feeling game. I figure that moving forward you’re going to see more games emulate what Firefall is doing because the feel of the game is superior than a game with attack targeting because of the player experience. You feel more rewarded, you feel like you did it than just pressing a button to get that spell; you have to aim to make that shot. And these games provide an experience you can’t get in a traditional MMO. So going forward you’re going to see more adopt this style of technology.

NR: Some of the founding members of Red 5 were originally from Blizzard that worked on World of Warcraft. Do you feel there is some influence from WoW that transitioned to Firefall?

Scott: I would say so; we’re a level-based game. We have quests that give rewards; that right there is Vanilla WoW mechanics. We’ve been influenced by just about anything out there. If a mechanic is fun and makes sense for Firefall, we try to emulate that but in the game, if that makes sense.

NR: Open world PVP right now is only accessible at level 40. Do you see PVP migrating down to lower level tiers?

Scott: I would love to be able to open it up to players sooner and if it’s your choice to level up playing PvP then who are we to say it’s wrong. We still have some work to do to get the open world PvP stuff to scale down to players, but that’s definitely something I would like to add down the road.

NR: Do you feel like there is too much of a grind to level up the different battleframes, which in my past experience with WoW became a tedious task?

Scott: Our game, unlike WoW, you get a different experience with every single battleframe. The way that frame plays will offer different weapons and abilities and how you use those can be dramatically different from the battleframes. Like for example, when I leveled my Mammoth to level 40, he plays a very specific way but when I was doing my Firecat to 40 I was playing different. I find that the archetypes of the battleframes in the way that you play them offer an enough freshness that when you switch to one and play that for a while and stick to another and play that for a while, you kind of change up your experience to have fun for whatever you’re feeling in that particular moment.

Though you can play alone, sometimes teamwork is the key to success.

Though you can play alone, sometimes teamwork is the key to success.

NR: I can see that when testing out the different battleframes. My preference in FPS games is sniping, which led me to focus on the Recon battleframes. One thing I noted in my review was that the Raptor battleframe was one of the hardest battleframes to level up due to the Charge Rifle. Was that intended for the Raptor?

Scott: I think it was more of a byproduct of us playing with the Raptor and tuning his weapons and abilities different from the other recons. The Raptor is an interesting case since his abilities are mostly PvP specific like the SIN Scrambler is great for PvP, but who cares if an Aranha thinks you are on the other team.

NR: I did have fun with the SIN Scrambler by having a main boss get attacked by all the other Aranha’s, though I do see its PvP uses since in Firefall everyone is immune to friendly fire, though with the SIN Scrambler that won’t be the case.

Scott: Right. Like all the other advanced frames, even if we don’t like the abilities that come with the Raptor or Nighthawk, you’re free to substitute to the base core Recon ability and its weapons as well. And if I find something hard to level, either a weapon or ability, I’ll usually switch to the Accord version while I’m leveling and switching back when not doing leveling activities.

NR: I noticed that while leveling up my Bastion battleframe that I was still able to use the basic engineer abilities as well.

Scott: That’s part the flexibility of Firefall. You can use any of the base abilities or base weapons on the advanced frames. Part of that flexibility we’re going for is we give players a lot of mechanics but really how they choose those mechanics is up to them.

NR: Back to the battleframes. Is there a specific reason why the Dreadnaught have 4 frames while the others only have 3?

Scott: That’s just where we chose to add an additional frame. We originally had 15 frames total and when we were looking to add another frame, the Arsenal was the one we chose to add next. We do have other frames in the works, but it’s to be determined when those will be made public.

NR: So moving forward, say 2 years from now, 16 battleframes may not be the minimum?

Scott: Ya, I mean, we’ve got to keep adding more to the game: battleframes, new areas of the world, new weapons, new abilities, you know. Players need more and we tend to give them more.

NR: Going back to the Raptor, mentioning that some abilities are great for PvP, are there going to be battleframes that excel in PvP environments?

Scott: You can almost say that’s the case now, seeing that some of the Recon frames are definitely better for PvP than PvE, but we need to make sure that the frames are viable for leveling up in a PvE experience. I don’t really see us creating battleframes that are only for PvP but there may be things coming, weapons and abilities, that have a focus for PvP.

NR: Are there plans to switch battleframes on the fly rather than at a Battleframe Garage?

Scott: Um, probably not. The reason that I say that is there is a certain expectation of when you see it, especially from a Player vs Player environment, that if you can switch your battleframe out in the world, that can occur at a time where maybe it wasn’t appropriate like if someone was shooting at you for example. We do offer deployables that you can put up in the world right now that’ll allow you to change your battleframe using one of those. There is a rechargeable one in the marketplace and a single use battleframe station that if you do want to change your battleframe out in the field, you can use one of those deployables and you interact with it and choose your frame, but that requires you to basically stop and it puts you at risk while doing that activity.

NR: Though you can change weapons and abilities anytime, you are unable to during combat. Is that an intended mechanic?

Scott: Ya, I mean, if you think about it, when you are fighting an opponent, you want to be able to recognize what that opponent can and can’t do, so you can build a responses to it and if you allow that opponent to change what you can do in the middle of combat, it kind of put that other player in a disadvantage on how to deal with that player.

NR: Following up with that question, is that how the Dreadnaught Arsenal battleframe came about? In regards to switching weapons on the fly?

Scott: Ya that was kind of the schtick in the whole class. We wanted to come up with a heavy class that featured a lot of gunplay that was different than the other gun players. So giving him a different style of weapon and secondary weapons as well as abilities that swap out his weapons on the fly makes the Arsenal very situational useful. And playing that particular frame you feel smart like when you hit your shotgun ability and run around and use effectively.

NR: Is there anything you would like to say to the readers and players of Firefall?

Scott: Well, the one thing I definitely would want the readers to know is that this game is their game. We’re making this game for the community, we listen to them and we do things based on the feedback they give us. That’s not to say that it’s designed by committee and we take the popular rule; we definitely are making something that is for them, and we want to make sure that they’re happy with. So feel free to give us feedback, if there is something in the game you love, tell us. If there is something that you hate, tell us. This is how we will continue to make the game better.

[End of interview]

I would like to thank Scott Youngblood for his time and everyone at Red 5. Be sure to check out my review.

Firefall is Free to Play and available at firefallthegame.com and through Steam.

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