Tag: MMO

The Path to Playable Mockup

It’s been a swift and incredible journey to go from a humble petition to reboot Firefall (and create a new, unique style of multiplayer game), to a over 600% fundraiser, a website, forums, concept art and thousands more signatures.

The fans have shown incredible support for creating an MMO that never got a chance to launch: a open world, horizontal, go-anywhere, dynamic event driven game based on resource collection, customize everything, and open war against an alien race. Basically what Battlefield 1942 or 2142 would have been if it was turned into a bigger concept. A game that my World of Warcraft team wanted to make after WoW, and that was attempted by Blizzard with the now defunct Titan project (whose remnants became Overwatch).

We have the idea, we have the hard lessons learned with Firefall (and Titan) that will allow us to avoid all the past mistakes and focus on what worked and worked well. But how do we get from here to game? How can the fans help make this popular idea a reality?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” is an old proverb. But we’ve taken it to heart here. We’re creating a process for crowdfunding that is similar to what publisher do for games: milestone based funding.

The problem with most crowdfunding is that it is billed as a one-time event, where backers pledge and wait years before seeing any results. A blind fire, hope and pray method for large projects. Milestone based funding, on the other hand, breaks up the goal into smaller pieces, delivered quickly. Each milestone is evaluated by the ones funding it before the next is approved.

We are doing this for crowdfunding. We’re taking our game, Ember, and dividing its funding and its playable deliverables up into small steps. By delivering tangible, game advancing goals that backers can judge for themselves, we can build a trust, a momentum, and a growing game step by step. You, the backer, will get frequent updates that let you decide if we are on track and growing the game.

Backers can do this for as little as $1 to participate, all the way up to larger rewards and perks. You won’t wait years for the results, as we plan to deliver milestones at least every two months.

The first milestone was:
* Launch a community and forums for Ember (DONE, and thriving!)
* Create key concept art (DONE, Thumper, Omniframe and Alien Tsihu DONE)
* Prepare for 3D modeling of THMPR (DONE, orthographics completed)

IMG_1573

We completed this milestone in record time and with very high quality equal or better than larger game studios. We exceeded 600% funding and used the funds to create all the key artwork we needed to start developing the game.

You’ve shown the demand is there for this game. The petition did its job and the fundraiser showed you were serious about Ember.

So what’s next?

We’re Committed. We’re Building the Game.

We’re going to build Ember. We’re going to make it real with your help. You’ve show we can do this, and we’ve shown we can deliver with our first, out-of-the-park, milestone.

Now we need to start the second milestone. And the secret is we’ve already started! Modeling of the THMPR has begun, and we’ll post some video soon when we release Milestone 2 funding goals on IndieGoGo.

I believe in this so much that I’ve started to fund the second milestone out of my own pocket, and we’ve started building it, confident you will be there with me. So let’s do this.

Here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve been working on:

Let’s Build a Playable Mockup

The ultimate goal of the current milestones is to build what we call a playable mockup. The mockup is meant to demonstrate the potential fun, marketability and playability of the game. We’re going to take one encounter, the iconic “thumper” encounter and build it to a high degree of polish in Unreal Engine 4.

In the playble mockup, backers will be able to suit up in an jetpacking, gliding, Omniframe with a default loadout of weapon and abilities. They will be able to call down a THMPR MEK-A and start mining for resources while waves of xenomorphs and the Tsihu attack to try and stop you. When the THMPR is finished it will run back to a target area where you will have to escort and defend it along the way. When it reaches its destination, the resources will be deposited as your “score” and the mockup will end.

This mockup will only be available to backers, but backers will be allowed to take screenshots and stream it to help build public support. This support will be used to fund our main Kickstarter to launch the company full-time.

Playing the Mockup in Just a Few Milestones

We’ve broken up the ultimate playable mockup goal into several funding steps. We may split or combine these steps into various funding goals depending on momentum and complexity.

Step 1:
Develop Key Concept Art – DONE

Step 2:
Model the THMPR mining MEK-A and get it into Unreal 4 with PBR shaders. Create and illustrate “vision book” that will define and guide the game’s development. (This will be the current funding round).

Step 3:
Model the Omniframe and player Character and get it into Unreal 4.

Step 4:
Model the Tsihu and get its shapeshifting working in Unreal 4.

Step 5:
Build a playable mockup using the assets we built in prior steps. Players can thump, pilot Omniframes, and fight Tsihu using the Unreal Engine.

We are going to try to get each goal done in 1-2 months from completion of funding. We do this by actually starting on the next goal before the last one completes (as we have with the THMPR modeling), and by taking on additional part-time staff. We want to deliver rapidly and keep the momentum up.

These mini-goals will be on IndieGoGo, until:

Have Playable Mockup, will Kickstart

Once we have a playable mockup of the THMPR encounter, we will prepare and launch our largest goal, a Kickstarter to launch the company that will build the game, full-time. By using screenshots, videos and streams from YOU playing the mockup, we hope to build enough momentum for a very successful kickstarter and start a real live game company, together.

Step 2 Funding goal and campaign will go live on Monday, Aug 29. Hold on to your butts, its going to go fast!

The Omniframe – A M.E.K. Battlesuit

UPDATE: These frames are *fast*. They move like Firefall characters. They do not lumber like mechs. Just and FYI for those wondering.

This is the Ember character as it will most commonly be seen, sporting an Omniframe MEK (Mechanically Enhanced Kinetics) Battlesuit. Players can jump in and out of the suit to get to other vehicles in the game such as aircraft and ground vehicles, but the suit is always summonable and ready to go. It is the primary means that players will fight alongside T.H.M.P.R. mining MEK-A and other encounters.

The Omniframe contains jumpjets as well as glider wings, allowing it to jumpjet over obstacles as well as glide from high points to more distant locations. It does not, however, fly under power. The entire suit is actually very light, being composed primarily of aerogel titanium reinforced at a molecular level with an energized integrity field. This make it light enough to glide, but strong enough to break through a brick wall.

This is the Omniframe without the pilot. It is made of Titanium Aerogel and supported by an integrity field.
This is the Omniframe without the pilot. It is made of Titanium Aerogel and supported by an integrity field.

The pilot sits exposed, but protected by energy shields. This is a what I like to call a “design conceit.” I wanted a way for players to fully customize their character and not have it hidden by a an armored suit all the time. Yet, I still wanted the feel of a MEK you can ride and customize like a car in a racing game. A classic problem with mech designs is how dehumanizing they are, reducing the connection between player and character. By keeping the character visible, you can identify with it more and form a closer bond to both your avatar and your personalized Omniframe.

Both the Omniframe and the character will be customizable. The Omniframe can be improved with crafted components both internally and externally. You’ll be able to give it additional functions and abilities with crafted upgrades, improve its jumpjets and glide capability, sensor arrays, replace heads, wings, armor plates, etc. You can create stealth versions, heavy armor versions, mobility based versions, and specialize your Omniframe for any given role. You can collect more than one frame, customize them for different roles, have them in you garage and switch between them.

Both Omniframe and the player's avatar can be customized in a variety of ways.
Both Omniframe and the player’s avatar can be customized in a variety of ways. These are color examples, but armor plates, heads and wings can be interchanged.

Both the player avatar and the MEK can have a variety of cosmetic options. In addition to swapping out components of your Omniframe, you can add custom paint and decals to achieve a variety of looks. The player character can also be customized in clothing and colors, from casual to fully armored looks. Character will have morphs targets in places like facial features and body sliders, but height and proportion will likely have to remain fixed so we can make sure you fit in your Omniframe properly (and other vehicles). The plan is to have both male and female models available.

EmberCharactersShaded
The player character can be customize with sliders and clothing. You can wear as much or as little body armor as you like.

The combination of player and frame is an interesting one. While no design is set yet, one idea I’m playing with is to have the player have skills and stats that can be improved (such as piloting skills for different vehicles). These skill would be improved by use and practice in the field. The Omniframe abilities, on the other hand, would be dictated by internal and external crafted upgrades. Abilities and features would reside in the Omniframe. Some features and abilities would only be usable by players who have attained enough skill in the relevant areas to use these features.

Once again, the basic principle of horizontal progression is the goal. As you improve you expand your options and capabilities, but the power curve is shallow compared to a MMO. Your skill as a player should be an integral component to how well you do in Ember.

Ember Update & Poster Art

(It’s late, so sorry for any typos. I’ll edit as I re-read, but I wanted to get this out there as promised, once we hit the 500 signature mark.)

Here we stand at 600+ signatures. More than twice what I thought we would get. It may not be enough yet, but its amazing and still growing. It’s nice to know there are people out there the still love the game as much as I do. Players who remember what it was like to gaze out on the landscape while a thumper signals ominous doom approaching and thinking “this game is unique.”

How we lost our way since that early beta…from the early PvP in OCT to the tiers and the constant chase of rare resources, or even the sheer mayhem of xp valley. You don’t have to remind me of what we’ve lost, or my role in it. I’m too painfully aware of what could have been. You all have lost a game you believed in, and I’ve lost a very personal dream. It was my goal to show that online games (I hate to call them MMOs) can be different from WoW…stand on their own, and give back some of the magic we thought we lost since we first played Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, Everquest, Anarchy Online, EvE and yes, even WoW. I still believe that.

I’ve read all your comments since I started blogging about the lore of Firefall, its original vision, and the Ember teaser we put together. I’m deeply grateful to my friends Tommaso Renieri (recon and T.H.M.P.R. artist) and Laura Post (Aero!) for their help in creating the video. When I first finished putting it together I must have watched it dozens of times.

It’s from your comments that I know I am a controversial figure (to put it mildly). But I think you should also know that I feel a profound sense of responsibility for what happened to Firefall, and the gamers who believed in it. If you didn’t believe so passionately in the promise of the original game, you would not be so angry at me now for its failure to materialize. For my own anger, directed most often and intensely at myself, I’ve tried to channel it here: To allow myself a second chance which I still don’t quite believe I deserve.

Maybe I don’t, but you do.

You, who played for hundreds of hours, who lined our booths at PAX, who bought hundreds of dollars worth of founder’s packs and grabbed all your friends to play alongside you…you deserve that second chance.

But Ember is like Tinkerbell. She’ll fade away unless you clap and truly believe. That’s what we’re doing on change.org by signing the petition, we’re believing again. And maybe, if enough of us clap, I can give you my apology. My apology in the form of the game that you all signed up for in the first place, the one you deserve.

It won’t be easy. Even Blizzard had to cancel Titan and give us Overwatch instead as they too tried and failed to tame the elusive Shooter MMO. And yes, it will take years to do right. But to me, the years I would put in would be worth it, if I can see that game again, but complete and whole and with thousands of happy fans.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Anyone who tells you they can fund an MMO with a single kickstarter is full of shit. Even if you raise 1.5 or even 3M dollars, you’re an order of magnitude off base from what it will cost to complete. At least, that’s if you’re trying to create a traditional MMO. But what if there was a way to get there in stages, starting small and growing the game, perhaps episodically, funding each stage as you go. Companies that are most successful serial Kickstarters do this. Their first game raises tens of thousands, then hundreds, then millions as they prove they can deliver. Only, what I’m proposing here is funding a series of playable milestones over the course of a few years. Each funding milestone would build upon the last, and have higher and higher fund raising goals as it proved its worth. (I highly recommend spending time on kicktraq.com for those into heavy analytics)

Even then we’re going to have to run lean. Just like Matt Damon in The Martian, we’re going to have to shed “a little weight” off the MAV launch vehicle. First, no marketing except word of mouth. Every dollar has to go to development and keeping the lights on. Riot has a (famously) framed check for their first marketing budget for League of Legends, which they never spent, for just about $10,000. They didn’t need it. The game spoke for itself. That’s what we have to do with Ember too.

Second, we’ve got to run remote offices, people working from home, and temporary and contract employees instead of huge offices and a gigantic full time staff. We’d keep a very small, tight knit permanent staff to keep the vision of the game centered and do the key lifting.

Third, we’re going to manage our scope carefully. For example, starting small and proving each step as we fund and go. The first milestone could be to fund a prototype of resource gathering being fun, with a smaller map, a single frame, and our new T.H.M.P.R. MEKA and a couple of baddies that work together in interesting combos. Prove things: show we can procedurally generate waves and scenarios that are interesting by themselves. Next milestones would be more and more ambitious and expand the on all the previous ones.

Fourth, no overhauls, no wasting work, no huge revamps. This was the biggest mistake on Firefall and one that I’m personally done with. Some of this is unavoidable, for example if we have a badly received milestone, but at all time we have to stick to the true core principles of the game, and not drift over to “WoW with guns” again.

Fifth, listen and work with our players. How many times has the community shouted at the screen collectively, like an audience in a horror movie, about what to avoid, what was working, and what wasn’t? But who to listen to when the community itself is divided? Ultimately I can only tell you that I would have to decide what is right in those cases, but by looking at the original vision and values of the game and staying true to them. It also has to be the game I was dreaming of creating, or there would be no passion upon the creator to make it, and you would get lukewarm results. If you buy into the game as I describe it, and stay true to it, then your feedback can help us achieve that game.

So, these are some initial thoughts. I think we can develop these milestones in parallel to the tabletop game, which will also provide a lot of the backstory and lore of Ember. Since people wanted a place to discuss it, I’ve created a group on my other site, www.leagueforgamers.com, where people can post, follow each other and comment https://leagueforgamers.com/group/ember Please let me know what you think there. I’ll be responding actively.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this large, poster sized version of the art you saw in the teaser video. Use it. Put it on your website, print it out, distribute it as you will. Just link back to the petition, okay? https://www.change.org/p/crixa-labs-make-ember-a-spiritual-successor-to-firefall

EmberPoster

What Firefall Was Supposed to Be

UPDATE: After being asked, yes, I am willing to repurchase Firefall from The9 if they are willing. I want to deliver the Firefall that vets deserve.

[Note: This is not about Crixa, my tabletop miniature space opera RPG, but about the previous video game I worked on that I was not allowed to finish]

People regularly pop into my Twitter feed and ask me what “my” vision for Firefall was going to be. My feed asks this because when I was ejected, and prior to the game shipping, the executive team scrapped the game I was working towards and replaced it with a traditional level based MMO grinder. As we know, that turned out to be a complete disaster. The game went from a promising beta during my tenure with nearly 20k concurrency (prior to Steam launch) to…well this:

Screenshot 2016-05-06 17.06.20

I’m writing this to satisfy a little of the curiosity out there that I receive on a weekly basis via Twitter. “What WAS Firefall supposed to be?”

Fun fact: Firefall was originally going to be a WWII MMO game set in a fantasy alternate reality with Hilter pursuing occult artifacts. This was back when we were just getting started with three of us and no funding. But after beating my head against the design, I felt it wasn’t going to work. First, we could not maintain enough accuracy to history and maintain some sort of power/equipment progression without pissing off WWII enthusiasts. Second, I wanted much much more flexibility to design player abilities and mechanics, and even straying into the Hilter occult power stuff was not going to help the Allies’ side much. It would be too difficult to design and satisfy the WWII flavor…it would morph into something NOT WWII.

At that point I proposed to take the game Sci-Fi. It would still be a wargame, but set in a sci-fi invasion of Earth. Sci-fi would give me all the leeway I needed as a designer to include better tech and weapons and abilities to aid progression, without worrying about staying true to any form of WWII history (even an alternative one). We all agreed and “Invasion Earth” is what was pitched to investors and accepted by the original publisher (Webzen) as well as from venture capitalists like Benchmark Capital (backers of eBay, Uber) and Sierra Ventures.

The game was to be a combined arms simulation. We wanted players to fly vehicles, drive tanks and fight on the ground. The plan was always to have it be a MMO simulation of a war. At that time we arranged it into seasons, where the war would be fought by all sides in areas of the world that would open up over time and leading to a final victor, whereupon the game would reset and a new season with new maps would be available. It was pure PvP, with no PvE at all. The game at this point was called “Terrafire” and here is some of the pitch art we made:

Screenshot 2016-05-19 06.20.35          Screenshot 2016-05-19 06.20.23

Things changed, and investors changed. By the time we were in full swing again with new investors (The9), we had a much more developed concept, but it had expanded in scope (while at the same time collapsing from 3 playable player factions to just 1 vs AI). The game would still be a war simulation, but the alien enemies would be AI driven instead of player driven, and we would not have seasons fighting over zones that came and went, but an open world where the battle against the AI could ebb and flow with the push/pull mechanic of the Melding. Alien territory was behind the Melding, a vast energy swarm that engulfed the Earth that was semi-sentient. The Aliens were psychically sensitive humans who were lulled into the Melding and converted to its cause. The NPC Aliens would attempt to push the melding into human territory, and the humans job was to push it back and beat the Aliens over the course of several expansions/updates.

It was at this time I knew we wanted a resource based game to drive sandbox building features. War needs factories, bases, defenses, aircraft, tanks, and weapons. I came up with the idea for Crystite as the energy source for all this tech, and also came up with “thumping” as a fun way to find and procure Crystite in the game. Thumping was taken from the book Dune, where small devices were planted in the sand to attract giant worms. I wanted that sense of danger to the resource collection in the game, and the noisy extraction of Crystite attracts hostile creatures and the Chosen (Alien troops) to your location.  Thumping was meant to have progression, from the small, individual thumpers we had in beta, to allowing players to upgrade them into giant refineries. In fact, our earliest playable prototypes had players fighting over these “giant thumpers” that were as big as buildings. Thumper progression was a vital part of the design that, unfortunately, was never implemented.

To have a war, we needed something to fight over. Instead of having standard MMO zones restricted on leveling and with static quests that happened in the same place all the time, I wanted us to move to what I termed “time based domain” gameplay. You see, up to this point, all MMOs were static and firmly attached to their locations in the world “geographically based gameplay.” Even GW2’s dynamic events were the same things happening in the same places on the map. I wanted to move away from content being tied to physical places, to events that could unfold anywhere, with the AI adapting to whatever location it spawned into. This tech was deemed impossible at the time, but eventually we did it. Our system let us set up encounters and the server AI could “drop” them anywhere on a map and dynamically find spawn points for everything and even change what enemies you’d fight depending on where the encounter happened and who was fighting. To me, this was essential for a simulated war that was truly dynamic – because I was building a war-game, not an MMO.

The entire game was supposed to be about The Chosen Invasion(tm). Human territory had been pushed back by Melding storms into small remaining pockets of livable territory. The war effort, lead by Admiral Nostromo (a nod to one of my fav movies: Alien), was to have the humans being given dynamic missions to acquire resources with increasingly bigger thumpers, deliver them via convoy routes that would need to be defended to processing plants, and then using those resources not only to improve personal battleframes, but also build entire bases (we had several base prototypes up and running with capture mechanics), turret defenses, and also war vehicles: tanks, planes, you name it. It was going to be Battlefield 1942 (a game we played to death while making WoW) in an MMO setting with aliens and shit.

To oppose the humans, and direct the flow of gameplay, I was working on an AI game director of my own design, and later supplemented with ideas when I was beta testing Left 4 Dead in the original Turtle Rock team’s offices (which were located in the same building prior to Valve buying them). The Chosen would be lead by a NPC General (Graves) who would actually have real AI on the servers that determined where the Chosen would attack based on what players were doing. It would find the weak spots and determine the most fun way (for the players) to attack them. Thumpers, convoys, bases under construction, finished fortifications, essentials like food and water…ALL of it was to be fought over. The humans were supposed to defend and build all this while pushing back the Melding and reclaiming more territory from the Chosen. Every quest, every dynamic event, was supposed to be built around this war story theme. Our entire technology of the engine was built to be able to do all this (including dynamic pathing recalculation for when new buildings were put on the map – it worked!). The AI was also supposed to “watch” players like it did in L4D, to determine the best points of tension to entertain them with a new unfolding event. Unfortunately, this AI director/general was never made a priority to implement, much to my constant frustration for over a year and half.

The world was build upon a 1/10th scale of actual NASA data. It was never meant to be completely seamless or “zero loading screen” as this would have been too risky to do from a tech perspective. Instead you were to hop between these pockets of human territory surrounded by Melding, “dropping into” areas on the globe map as new warfronts opened up. Pushing back the Melding would enlarge pockets, but after a certain size you’d have to port into the other pocket of the Earth that needed expanding.

Crafting and sandbox building was to be the core of the game. I called Firefall “minecraft with war.” Gathering resources with bigger and bigger thumpers, building war machinery, bases and vehicles and defending all this from an AI driven opposing General, while constantly unlocking new zones/warfronts, was what I had wanted for Firefall.

Of course, what shipped with Firefall was a compete redo of my original game (they spent six months undoing my game and implementing their own version prior to ship). The Firefall you can play now is level based, more about progressing your character than fighting a war. In fact, I think the war parts (like the Chosen invasions we had) are completely gone. Thumping is gone, crafting is gone, and dynamic quests have been replaced with traditional static quest givers, or job boards. Its pretty much a standard MMO now, instead of the simulated massive war game that I had always wanted to make. It’s really a shame.

Hope that answers some of your questions about what I was trying to accomplish with Firefall and what the original vision was. I think you can see I was pretty consistent in that vision, even from the very beginnings of the game. I’d still like to make it one day.