About the Game
Studio: Red 5 Studios
My Role: Game Designer
Engine: Offset (custom)
Concept: Firefall is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online shooter, set in a world under siege by the Melding – an energy storm that destroys or corrupts everything it touches. Players suit up in a class-based Battleframe to defend the last remnants of humanity, push back the melding and unlock the Earth. Firefall features deep crafting and character progression mechanics, as well as a host of dynamic content to keep players on their toes.
About My Role: Game & Content Design
Much of my work on Firefall has revolved around defining new types of content with qualities that both fit with and strengthen the core vision of the game. This is followed by implementing content which fulfills all of those qualities, often as an example for junior designers to follow. Over time, my responsibilities have stretched to include light systems work, such as the design of our campaign progression system. Much of my time is also spent coding in Lua, our primary tool for implementing new content.
I am a firm believer in the potential of the MMOFPS genre, and am constantly seeking opportunities to push Firefall forward with the ultimate ‘fun’ cocktail of innovation and polish. Thus far, my contributions include:
ARES Missions: Replayable Dynamic Content
These missions take place in non-instanced mini-dungeons throughout the world, and take into account both their type of environment and the faction of the enemy NPCs occupying it to determine what challenges a player encounters. To keep things interesting, the difficulty level, enemy placement, and the placement and number of objectives can all change between each mission. We’ve also added mutators as an additional dynamic element, which can surprise players with a rare miniboss or environmental hazard. With the support of a technical designer, I designed the majority of ARES missions, which currently serve as the core content of Firefall.
Process: How an ARES Mission Spawns
The actual Lua code of ARES Missions has no intrinsic, hard-coded knowledge of any of the mini-dungeons they might occupy. Rather, a parent encounter feeds it a variety of designer-annotated XML data such as the zone it’s placed in, the type of space it is (a cave vs a military base), placement of trigger volumes and so on.
The ARES Mission encounter then interprets this data and uses the constraints to cook up an appropriate encounter for players to encounter here. This process starts from a high level and works downward. Examples of questions the encounter code asks the XML data tables include:
– What is the zone ID? We don’t want difficult encounters in newbie zones, or easy encounters in end-game zones.
– What type of dungeon space is this? We use this to constrain what variant of mission should spawn, based upon what the enemy race’s intentions would be. If it’s a cave, for example, the Chosen probably wouldn’t bother to plant a bomb in it, so the “Defuse” mission wouldn’t spawn here. They may use it as a hidden staging area, however.
Other critical data the encounter looks at is the placement of trigger volumes and anchor positions in the space. While our geometry is not procedurally generated, our enemy and objectives are dynamically placed.
A recursive Spacegraph algorithm executes at runtime to provide the encounter with depth information about each room in the mission space. Some missions care more/less about depth space than others. In a “Data Freeze” mission, for example, players need to interact with a number of hacked terminals. No one terminal is more important than another, so no bias is necessary in their placement.
In the “Defuse” mission, however, there is a primary objective in the form of a Chosen energy bomb. This is always placed in the deepest room available. If there are multiple rooms that share the maximum depth value for that mission space, one is selected at random. Then, supporting objectives – the keys players must use to defuse the bomb – are scattered throughout the rest of the dungeon.
Reimagined New User Experience: The First Hour
In the interest of maximizing player retention, the new user experience must be as fun, polished, and breezy as possible. This arguably goes double for free to play, where new players haven’t invested anything beyond the few minutes it took to download and install. I worked with a team of designers to determine what experiences and lessons are crucial to easing a player into Firefall, while implementing tutorial content that incorporated these with minimal user frustration.
Story Missions & Campaign Progression System
As a vehicle to deliver highly polished story content, I pitched and then co-designed Firefall’s concept of a campaign progression system. Players earn Campaign Points simply by taking part in any open world activity in the game. Upon reaching certain numerical thresholds, new missions and rewards become accessible. And, because we put so much love into our story missions, we wanted to ensure players felt encouraged to experience them again and again. I factored this desire for replayability into the first UI design, which I then passed off to a UI artist who produced the final concept. I am currently working on unannounced campaign content.
Coming Soon: Pending Projects
Some of my proudest contributions to Firefall are not yet available to the public, so unfortunately I can’t share any media of them at this time. In a few broad strokes, here’s what’s coming down the pipe:
Co-Op Campaign Instance
I designed and implemented a cooperative campaign instance for 1-5 players, which averages 30 minutes in length. It features several Firefall ‘firsts’ both in terms of tech and content design, including dynamically scaling difficulty and a few special wow moments I worked closely with AI and vehicle programmers to achieve. The instance has consistently received fun scores between 9 and 10/10 in internal playtests. We can’t wait to share it with our players.
Large-Scale Open World PvE Battle Encounter
I designed and implemented an open world, dynamically scalable, multi-phase battle between Chosen and Accord forces. It supports anywhere from 3 to 30 players, after which the difficulty level plateaus. The encounter code accurately tracks players across 4 POIs in a square kilometer as they wander into the battle zone and choose to become activate participants or leave the area.