Archive for April 10, 2012
Update: I found a link on the forums that’s basically a comprehensive guide to the game. Check it out.
Double Update!: Here’s a FAQ on the game itself. Arm yourself with knowledge!
Firefall is a multiplayer shooter from Red 5 Studio, one of those “supergroup” developers whose members hail from the bodies of other, lesser studios (Kidding! We’re talking Sony, NCSoft, Blizzard…you know…lightweights). I was aware of this game from PAX East 2011, but didn’t get to play until PAX East 2012, where each participant was enlisted into the beta program. I liked the game so much, I actually wanted to get the hell home from PAX so I could install and play.
The story behind Firefall, as it’s currently completed, is that sometime in the 22nd century, the Earth was decimated by a shower of asteroid fragments – the Firefall. After a series of events where humans were being humans, involving a lot of warfare and general dickery, a Japanese billionaire discovered Crystite in the asteroid fragments. This material could generate enormous amounts of energy, which the fragmented planet desperately needed. Of course, humanity then went to war over the Crystite until everyone realized that some day, the Crystite would run out. They needed to find it’s source, so they put down their guns and created a series of interstellar missions that tracked the source to Alpha Centauri A. Colonists were installed, and shipments of Crystite were sent to Earth. The history ends with the priming of the CMS Arclight, a massive warship-slash-mail truck that can use Crystite to fold space, shortening the time to Alpha Centauri. The company which controlled the Crystite flow realized that at some point, the colonists in Alpha Centauri will try to throw off the Earthling yoke in a bid for independence, and the Arclight is as much a show of force as it is a technological achievement.
But in the game, you blow shit up.
The best way to describe the game in terms of other games is that it’s a combination between the tactics of Tribes, the art style of Borderlands, and the multiplayer world of Global Agenda. You play one of five classes, which are dictated by your “frame”, a powered-armor suit. Any player can choose any frame by visiting a frame selection station, and each frame has it’s own level. Use a frame to level the frame, and with each level comes different unlocks, allowing you to use better weapons and better gear.
You collect Crystite, which is the currency of the game. You also collect a lot of other types of materials which are used in crafting. You can create your own gear from schematics that you find (or eventually buy on an auction house, I assume). The interesting thing is how you get the materials. I love this part.
It starts off with a scanner hammer. Yep, it’s a hammer. You hit the ground with it, and you’ll see a blue waveform shoot forward over the ground. This will reveal the location and concentrations of different minerals. Find a place to harvest, and you switch over to deploy a thumper. This self-contained harvester drops from orbit into the ground, and starts hammering the hell out of the ground, pulling up the materials into it’s hopper. Once it’s full (or whenever you decide you need to leave), the thumper folds up and rockets away into space.
Right now, players start in a PvE zone. I’m not sure what the plan is, but I think I’ve reached a limit of the NPC provided quests. But one can still go out into the wilds (the wilds of the Brazilian coastline, that is) to harvest – and to kill the natives, which are in the form of alien insects that somehow made it to Earth from Alpha Centauri (here’s where the lore shows it’s incompleteness). There’s also some humanoids-maybe-actual-humans that you fight on occasion, if you enter their territory. Use of the thumpers will bring out the waves of enemies of all kinds, and it’s your job (and your team’s job) to defend the thumper until it’s full, as the enemies can destroy it if left undefended.
Right now, the game is obviously in beta. The aformentioned lore isn’t officially fleshed out on the site, in the game a lot of the key-binds aren’t working for some reason, there’s lag and rubber-banding, and some of the female vendors in town have gruff male voices. War is hell.
Expect to hear more about Firefall from me in the future, because I really like this game. I spent 2 hours with a PUG that was scanning minerals and defending thumpers, and it was a total blast, literally and figuratively.
Here’s some video of the scanner hammer in action (although I didn’t find anything except a world of hurt)
Many gamers hate Michael Pachter. It seems whenever there’s some high-level analysis that needs doin’, there’s a quote from Pachter. A lot of times he can be pretty brutal in his assessments, statements, or predictions, and if there’s one thing that many gamers don’t take kindly to, it’s being told anything contrary to their rosy opinions on gaming. The problem is, Pachter doesn’t talk to gamers, he talks about gaming, and he doesn’t talk to gamers, he talks to investors. It’s his job to tell people outside the gaming industry who want to put their money into the gaming industry where to put that money…or where not to put that money. Investors aren’t there to just hand out freebies, after all. They want to know where they can put their money so that it makes them even more money, and where not to put it where it won’t lose them any money. That’s Pachter’s job: to analyze not only the past and current financial numbers in the industry, but to extrapolate where the industry is going (prognostication is never an exact science). And like it or not, it’s also Pachter’s job to comment on the state of the consumers within the industry. It’s the consumer’s behavior that’s the real driver of industry performance. Hardware and software are neutral; opinions and spending habits are not.
Many gamers will still only attach to controversial statements, however, instead of the man’s actual task.
When one is on the ground and surrounded by…things…it’s difficult to have perspective. I remember when I was in New York City for the first time, I had no idea how big the Empire State Building really was. It just kind of tapered off into the sky. But when one takes a real sky-eye view of the landscape, things become clearer. This is the Achilles Heel of all opinions: the closer one is to the subject matter, the less clearly the person can see the forest for the trees. In the case of Pachter’s latest statements, I’m certain that there are many gamers who will quickly agree that dubbing EA “The Word Company In America” is a no-brainer, mainly because of the Mass Effect 3 dust-up, but the same crowd will take umbrage with Pacheter’s calling them out as “whiners”, or his deflection of the Worst Company label for EA.
I agree with what Pachter says, because it’s his job to represent investment opportunities to non-gamer Moneybags. He needs to soften the focus on EA and to bring to light the bad behavior of the consumers that have driven the award to EA’s doorstep. It’s not that EA is a “bad company” – certainly not when compared to companies that have wrecked world economics. It’s that this “vocal minority” has raised a stink out of all proportion to the size of their numbers…why, exactly? Because they didn’t like the product they bought? Who hasn’t bought a product they were less than happy with? I know I have, and my response is either to return it, or if that is not possible, to shrug and to try not to make the same mistake again. Quietly. But some will say that the outrage over ME3 actually “did some good”. I disagree:
“Unfortunately, appeasing the whiners here will only encourage fans to be even more vocal next time, so the lingering issue is that gamers will feel even more entitled and empowered than they have in the past, and will be even more demanding about changes to future games.”
BioWare is doing angry ME3 players a solid by “fixing” something which technically doesn’t need to be fixed, but is more about giving people what they want. I agree with Pachter’s assessment that this is a bad precedent. No novels are written by consensus. No movies are created by consensus. Therefor, no games should be created – or altered – by consensus. What if one day a game is released that you’re perfectly happy with (or ambivalent about), but which some “vocal minority” dislikes? What if the company changes the game out from under you to keep those people quiet? Your game just got re-written by a committee of people that you might not agree with, and was done specifically to shut them up. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and considering the tendency of the gaming community to splinter along some very fine lines, I think that any company that back peddles on it’s decisions is training consumers that if they bitch, they win. It really doesn’t matter that the ME3 “fix” will be optional; that the company bowed to the pressure, and still earned the Worst Company award is a tea-bagging from the community.
As consumers, we like to think that what we buy is what we want, or else we wouldn’t buy it. Games are kind of weird, though: we don’t want endings spoiled for us, but we feel that we need to be personally satisfied with the game itself or else it “sucks” or is “broken” when it’s simply that “it’s not how we felt it should happen”. Well, that’s life, kids. In the end, will this hurt EA or BioWare? I doubt it. People will still buy their products because gamers have soft memories, and they actually thrive on being part of a controversy. For some, they’ll continue to take things to extreme because they think it’s appropriate, their duty, or because it’s their right as a consumer (like going to the FTC), and for most the next time a Dragon Age sequel comes along, or when the Baldur’s Gate version for iOS is released, they’ll be throwing wallets onto the stage.
Really, I couldn’t care any less about ME3 specifically. If people don’t like it, that’s fine. People have expectations in their heads, and rarely does reality live up to expectations, so I have no beef with people who can rationally explain their dissatisfaction with the game (and thankfully, that has been the majority of my personal interactions). What’s left, then, is the sorry perception of the consumer from outside the industry. A lot of gamers would say that they couldn’t care less how the outside perceives them. Those people are assholes, because when they act like herds of spoiled brats, and when that gets the attention of people outside the industry who know nothing about what goes on inside the industry and who are quick to paint the unknown in whatever caricature presents itself, that means that I can’t be proud of myself as a gamer because someone didn’t like the product they got, threw a public fit like a 4 year old in a department store, and made us all look bad.
Jazz of Girl Vs MMO brought up the topic of “dissatisfaction with the MMO genre” this weekend at PAX, and wrote about it yesterday. In the post she stated that: “I’m not quite sure what this [boredom] says about me or better yet the future of MMOs in general.” That line stuck out for me, because although I have no evidence to back it up, I’m pretty certain that the statement is a distilled essence shared by many MMO gamers.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game
Games are entertainment, and part of what makes “entertainment” entertaining is that it’s fresh. We like the discovery and the excitement and the terror of not knowing where our entertainment is going. We don’t get excited over commuting to work every single day, but if one day we suddenly had to dodge explosions, dinosaurs, and zombies, it’d be a different story because those things are new and out of the norm (although not necessarily entertaining). The more we get of the same old, same old, however, the less exciting they are to us, although there’s certainly the possibility that sequels in a movie series, or a set of novels, can offer excitement. Familiarity with the characters or settings can lead to a greater chance of diminishing returns on excitement. We’ll never get the same high from The Matrix or Star Wars as we did the first time we saw them, for example. Chances are we didn’t get the same excitement from the sequels, either (especially in the case of the the sequels to The Matrix).
So like the Highlander, there can really be only one, that first time we encounter something that really blows our socks off. That doesn’t stop others from trying to bottle that lightning, though, so as soon as some movie or book series, or MMO excites us, we see an endless parade of other, eerily similar offerings looking to get a piece of the zeitgeist. Mostly we see products that ape the popular original. After all, if people like vampires, zombies, kid-wizards, or a game with hot-bars, mini-maps, trash mobs, dungeons, raids, wall-o-text quests, and push-button crafting, then giving them more of the same is going to appeal to them just the same, right?
Problem is, we’ve already played that game. We want to be entertained and excited by the new experience…not just catered to.
There comes a time in every MMO gamer’s life…
It’s “understood” (by me, at least) that the MMO genre is basically represented by two games: World of Warcraft and EVE Online. WoW’s success was due to a “perfect storm”.. Blizzard had a powerful following in the fans of Diablo, WarCraft, and StarCraft. They launched at a time where there really wasn’t a lot of choice in the MMO market: Ultima Online, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars: Galaxies, Asheron’s Call…certainly others, but when it comes down to honest-to-goodness alternatives, many people wouldn’t consider anything else. It’s rampant success was only partly due to it’s execution, but in my opinion it had a hell of a lot more to do with when it released, and the MMO environment at the time.
Of course over time, publishers felt that replicating WoW’s mechanics, with their own veneer on top to make it seem “different”, would be all that’s needed to get their name on the board. History has proven otherwise, as no one has ever been able to reach WoW’s numbers, and with all of the games we have now, it seems more and more unlikely that not only will no other game topple WoW’s record, but with the current design trends still chasing the same design tropes as a way to attempt success, each and every game released going forward is going to have a tougher time convincing MMO gamers to chose it as their “home game”. Anyone who thinks that churning out similar products allows them to find their own slice of success within a trend, is ignoring the fact that at some point the consumers will get tired of being provided with products that exist only to feed the trend.
That’s where many of us MMO gamers are now: We’ve reached the saturation point of the trend in MMOs. For those of us who feel tired with the MMO genre, where we question every new release with an ever-increasing skepticism, it’s really not that the genre has failed us; we’ve just out-leveled this zone.
The immediate counter-argument would probably be that yes, the industry has failed us by not innovating enough to keep us interested, as if “innovation” is hiding under the couch cushions waiting to be discovered. I will admit that it’s rapidly approaching the point where the lack of innovation leads to malaise. The question is, when will the developers and publishers realize it? It’s difficult for them, though, since at the point of concept their ideas might sound very unique and exciting. Two or three years down the road, when a lot has changed industry-wide, and when competitors have maybe launched their own products, the end result doesn’t look as hot as it did on the back of the napkin, all things considered. It’s a moving target, combined with the fickleness of the gamer population fueled by cheap Steam sales, consoles, handhelds and, yes, mobile. Everyone is leveling up their ADHD these days.
So MMO gamers who feel distanced from the genre: I think we need to accept that the genre just isn’t offering us enough excitement – which I think we have realized. It’s not that the genre is trying to move in a different direction that we don’t agree with, and it’s not that our tastes are changing. We’re bored with the familiar systems that will always have a special place in our hearts, and we’re just saddened that we don’t get the same level of excitement with each new release that we used to get, and it’s very likely the case that we won’t see anything on the horizon that will renew our love for the genre. In the end, we may just need to come to grips that our only options are to adjust, and to try and find enjoyment where we can in this sea of sameness, or to adjust, and elevate another genre to our primary interest. The optimal resolution would be for the MMO developers to really take the bull by the horns and do “something different”, but I think we’ve heard enough about games that propose to “be different” to disbelieve anyone who claims that to be the case about their game.