Video Games I’m Playing: Firefall

Firefall Engineer My very first career goal was to do something with computer games or computer graphics that made games possible. I worked in the video game industry for a while, then found that I didn’t like them as much as I used to. That was about 15 years ago, and while I am still not keen to work on video games anymore, I still am drawn to them as vehicles for immersive storytelling. There has been something of a resurgence in “PC Games”, which are played on powerful personal computers as opposed to console games. I like having a full keyboard and mouse control over gamepads, and PC games are technically more of an open platform where anyone can publish without interference from a controlling company. I like that.

Anyway, I thought I’d talk about the games I’ve been playing recently. The first game I want to talk about is my high school friend Mark Kern’s current endeavor Firefall, which is currently in “Open Public Beta”, meaning that it’s soft-launched with some preliminary content though there is much in development. In a gamer-friendly lingo, I’d describe it as “powered armor suits in a persistent open world shooter with dynamic story-driven world events.”

Admittedly, a lot of my interest in the game is from having a personal connection to its creators, but it’s also fascinating to see how transparent that Mark’s company, Red 5 Studios, is being with its player base. For example, they launched what amounts to its own gamer television station which also is a platform for independent filmmakers. It’s damn cool. Red 5 employees refer to themselves as “The Tribe”, because of the belief that they’re not just a company but a family; it’s one of the founding principles there. You can see it reflected in the many videos that they release about the ongoing development process.

Anyway, the game itself is Firefall, a “persistent multi-player online skill-based first person shooter”. What that means is it’s a virtual world rendered in 3D graphics on your screen, and you run around this world shooting things. It’s “skill-based” in that you have to aim your weapons with accuracy to hit anything like the game Call of Duty. It’s also built, though, to be an open world environment that you can explore with other people to see what happens. It isn’t a “set-piece” game, with pre-scripted encounters that unfold like a movie (again, like Call of Duty type games).

Firefall’s central game mechanic is the use of “battleframes”, which are powered armor suits that you can use to explore the land. They all have jumpjets, meaning you can fly for short distances, which is pretty cool. All the frames are currently combat-oriented with a mix of powers and unique abilities. If you are the type of person who likes plinking bad guys from a distance, there is the “Recon” class armed with a scoped rifle. If you like getting up-close and dirty, there’s the “Assault” class. I’ve recently been playing the “Engineer” class, which I didn’t think I’d like, because I can deploy miniature gun turrets that shoot the various mutated creatures that inhabit the land on my behalf, and this is surprisingly fun. It’s like having minions, and the gameplay then becomes a question of how to effectively deploy them for maximum gain. There are 10 or so battleframes, all quite different in their play mechanics, currently available in the game. I’m surprised at how much I like all of them, though I seem to have a preference for healing and defensive class play.

There’s a lot of work that Red 5 is still pouring into the game, and it’s been fun for me to watch them bootstrap the game from the very basic shooter mechanics they started with. They are now in their story pass, adding more depth to the world and polishing the user experience. You can find me in-game under the handle “Rageweed”.