Firefall, Risen From The Ashes

As my terrible Bizarro weekend lurches inevitably into the grind of another few days of work, I sit here having just invested some 13 hours reacquainting myself with Firefall and wanting to commit a few words to my blog so that I might at least say I did something passably productive.  You may be hard pressed to find a more common motivation to blog.
How does Firefall actually play?  If a picture speaks a thousand words, this GameSpot video should speak millions.

In that case, I suppose what I'm going to say is that it's been a rather bittersweet reunion.
  • The sweetness is in seeing Firefall's marvelous game engine realize something that is far closer to the open-world dynamic narrative PvE game I want to play than 99.9% of games that exist, while playing great (it's mostly Tribes at heart).  About the worst thing I can say about Firefall is that the NPC polygons look a little pasty and there's the rare crack in the world geometry.  Overall, there's not all that much wrong with it, and Firefall deserves as many players as its single server Free 2 Play architecture can endure.
  • The bitterness comes from seeing that the core fundamentals of Firefall remain the same as the game I played quite some time ago, so developmental progress must have been quite slow.  They simplified the GUI, got the game stable and mostly without geography bugs, and are now ready to push it out the door for its July 29th release.  And yet, it seems as though it could have been so much more.  
The heart of my complaint is that I was really hoping Firefall could be the MMORPG that demonstrated a 100% dynamic event driven virtual world was the wave of the future.  In other words, gut the idea of old fashioned quests entirely, replace everything with a more realistic reacting to actual tasks and getting rewarded for contributing towards shaping the world.

They got halfway there.  There are indeed quite a few dynamic events you can interact with spontaneously and be rewarded for completing.  You can even see all this going on in the zone map, players rushing around doing stuff, and that's pretty cool.  However, there's a dreadful dearth of dynamic event variety; I've had to fix too many broken thumpers.  Although there are more dynamic events than just fixing broken thumpers, they're spread too thin!
I suppose quest boards are better than NPCs with exclamation points over their heads... but they're not far enough removed for my liking.
This missing half falls off into a big slew of old fashioned quests you can take from a quest board.  The quest board generates things out in the field to do, which is better than no dynamic content generation mechanic at all, but it's still bass ackwards: the quests should be generated to match what need doing in the world, not the other way around!  Besides, what they have here was already done in Star Wars Galaxies over a decade ago.

In terms of realizing a dynamic event driven environment, I would say Firefall got about as far as Guild Wars 2.  There are some things that Guild Wars 2 does better along these lines (mostly in terms of the quality and quantity of the dynamic content) and some things that Firefall does better (mostly in terms of how events seem less scripted and more immersive as a consequence).   But Firefall's dynamic events, as implemented, were at least this ambitious a year ago in beta, they should have been able to go further than that, so what the heck happened?
It turns out that making things like this generates evidence of ambition run amok.
A probable answer can be found with a little Googling: Red 5 Studios was suffering from serious internal problems.
  • An anonymous Redditor (who could just be a troll) wrote a lengthy tirade that put the blame for FireFall's delays at the feet of Mark Kern, the CEO of Red 5 Studios.  Kern swooped in and saved FireFall when it was in dire straights, and was given full creative control over the company and the game in return.  An inauspicious start; if I had a dollar for every time somebody was mistaken in believing earning potential represented skill in running a company, I would be part of the problem.

    If alleged accounts are to believed, Kern wanted to do everything with the FireFall IP except finish the game.  For example, he preformed extravagant themed customizations to real life vehicles.  He had movie-quality costumes created.  He planned to make a spinoff mini-series and actually develop it in-house on high-grade production equipment.   As artifacts of these things can be found, they did indeed happen.  While all of these were cool ideas, they disrupted the efforts of Red 5 Studios staffers and sapped funds that were intended to develop the game.

    Personally, I believe the truth of most matters cannot be found in individual accounts but rather somewhere in the middle.  I would postulate that Kern's ambition was not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering rival game Defiance went ahead with something similar.  However, his alleged mistreatment of his employees hints that it may have progressed past ambition and into something worse.  Mark Kern was eventually voted off the company by the board of directors in December 2013.
  • There have been several waves of layoffs at Red 5 Studios. Glassdoor reviews of Red 5 Studios shows a great deal of disgruntled former employees leaving shortly before Mark Kern did.  Shortly afterward (February 2014), there were Twitter advertisements from Red 5 Studios promoting extensive hiring for many core positions. 

    Put those links together, and it would seem that there was barely anyone left at Red 5 Studios around the beginning of the year, and this latest round of hiring was probably a move to take the developed assets of the game and bring them to into a state that can be presented to market. 

    I have to wonder how much of the old guard remains or has returned in this subsequent hiring cycle.  It's possible that Red 5 Studios no longer has the talent needed to add more dynamic events of significance, which would certainly make me significantly less interested in playing Firefall in the long run.
Clearly, development of Firefall has been incredibly rocky.  All things considered, we gamers are very lucky to see this game release at all, and I really hope this new Red 5 Studios development team is successful in bringing the game forward instead of what they've largely done so far, which is batten into release shape what they have.
http://wildstarradio.com/2014/05/19/episode-49-joe-rides-his-rowsdower-into-the-sunset/
Chua in a nutshell.
On an unrelated note, more related to my personal aims of further procrastination, I think perhaps I have thrown in the towel too early on WildStar.

While it is true that I screwed up in my constant rolling alts until I have largely exhausted the entertainment potential of the lower level game, perhaps a valuable life skill can be had here.  Perseverance; playing WildStar not because it's perfect, but because it is close enough that I ought to learn how to accept a little imperfection in my creative endeavors in order to see them through to the end.

"Keep playing WildStar."  I tell myself.  "It'll build character."

Oh, how low I am able to set the bar for it to qualify as self-improvement.

Besides, these two games are different enough from each other that they really are completely different play experiences.  There's a certain tactical gameplay depth in WildStar that you won't find in Firefall but, at the same time, I would say that Firefall demands more hand-eye coordination.   This could turn out to be a stimulating mix of games to play.

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