Tag: Red 5 Studios

A Gift for Firefall Lore Hounds

Many of you have asked about all the missing original lore in Firefall. I wrote this lore with Orson Scott Card and had great help from Richard Pearsey in bringing it to life. Richard wrote the original Blackwater Marsh Anomaly mission, which I’ve always felt was Firefall’s best in-game lore work.

I’m writing this as notes from the point of view of someone already familiar with Firefall in order to keep it brief. Writing it all out would take volumes and wear out my typing fingers.

If you’re unfamiliar with Firefall lore, I suggest starting with the original manga, written by Orson Scott Card and his daughter Emily Janice Card, who did most of the heavy lifting. 

Then you can watch the video of the crash of the Arclight, which I wrote and directed.  This piece is the defining moment of the first story arc of Firefall.

Firefall’s original story is really a story about Nostromo vs Graves, the leader of the Chosen. Admiral Nostromo is wracked by guilt at choosing the death of his own family in order to save millions by diverting the crashing arclight away from Rio.

Nostromo blames the Melding–and more specifically the Chosen and Graves–for his loss. The fact that the Earth was lost to the Melding and that his choice mattered little is too much to bear. Nostromo is slowly going mad and becoming more authoritarian as the days progress. His rivalry with Graves is like Capt. Ahab chasing Moby Dick.

But more on that later.

Graves is an affinite, joining a number of humans who had begun to develop mental abilities far surpassing baseline humans. Smarter and more physically attuned than most of humanity, he can hear the call of the Melding.  He is consumed by its promise of unlimited power. He and the other Chosen believe themselves to be masters of this new power source. They do not realize that they are being manipulated by a sentience vastly outweighing their own.

The Melding itself is from a bubble universe, one of an infinite number of universes that, along with our own, exist separately and simultaneously. The universe of the Melding has been dying for some time, undergoing “heat death” where the very atoms of matter cease their vibrations and the energy of the entire Universe slowly decays to zero.

In order to survive, the races of the Melding’s universe collapsed into a singularity. All sentient beings were uploaded into a energy matrix, and all remaining matter was consumed to power that matrix.

Now, the Melding is time slicing, powering itself only intermittently in ever decreasing bits of time designed to preserve energy while giving the illusion of continuous thought and life. It cannot last forever.  The thought of its impending death, combined with the countless melded sentient minds of an entire Universe, have slowly driven it insane.

When the Arclight inadvertently punched a hole from the Melding’s depleted universe into our own matter-rich bubble universe, the Melding took note. It hungered for more matter to convert to energy. The path provided by the Arclight promised renewed life, and something else–something new. Crystite.

Crystite changed the Earth, raining down in a huge asteroid bombardment lasting weeks.  

It was named “Firefall.”

Firefall was an extinction-level event, wiping out much of the Earth’s population at the same time as it left it’s prize. Crystite offered boundless energy.  The very substance that nearly destroyed the entire planet was the key to Earth’s renewal.

New, advanced technologies were now possible thanks to the unique properties of this new element. Humanity rebuilt itself and thrived. Earth terraformed into gardens and peace.  The small remaining population settled mostly into towns that harmonized with nature instead of living in the monolithic cities that had choked the planet prior to the Firefall event.

But to the Melding, Crystite was a mystery. Unlike ordinary matter, Crystite was the first substance it could not absorb and break down into energy. Crystite was also unapproachable. The Melding couldn’t come in physical contact with the element. The crashed Arclight itself, its dimensional shift engines still running and projecting an amplified Crystite STIZ bubble, created a shield so strong it protected all of Fortaleza from being absorbed by the Melding.

Humans adapted this effect into portable units called Melding repulsors, which could temporarily push back the Melding or be carried by small groups into the Melding itself for exploratory purposes, surrounding them in a small envelope of protected space.

Even though it repels them,  there is one, extremely important aspect of Crystite that makes it essential to the plans of the Melding–Crystite’s ability to create an arcfold…the tunnel that brought the Melding through in the first place, was the key to bringing the rest of the Melding into our universe.

You see, the Melding was weak, only a fraction of it had transferred through the original arcfold. It only possessed a base level of consciousness, incapable of direct communication and unable to completely absorb the Earth or move beyond it into space to devour the rest of the universe. In order to reach its full strength and unstoppable sentience, it needed to bring the rest of itself into our universe. This meant creating another, more powerful arcfold, and gathering the tremendous amounts of Crystite necessary to perform such a feat.

Not being able to approach Crystite, the Melding had to get creative. It found the affinites.

The Melding had encountered affinites, psychically attuned humans, when it first fell to Earth. Affinites could perceive and respond to the Melding’s weak, subliminal messages. Since there wasn’t enough of the Melding on Earth to allow it to be fully conscious, direct communication was impossible. Instead, the Melding transferred suggestion, emotion, desires, and base-level brain instincts and needs deep into affinites brains. The first instinct the Melding created in affinites was the desire to bond with the Melding, to walk into it and to be absorbed. And many did, by the thousands. Graves was among the first.

When affinites are absorbed into the Melding, they are disintegrated, stripped down to elements and energy, and their consciousness uploaded. The Melding then feeds them just enough power to allow them to reconstitute themselves. The strongest affinites are able to regain their individuality, but are reborn as Chosen, infused with the desire for Melding power and driven by the darker nature of humanity. Those who are not strong enough become the Tortured Souls, mindless fodder for the Chosen, incapable of thought, not much more than shambling, violent husks of meat and bone.

The Melding feeds the base desires of the Chosen, filling their minds with visions of power and a new humanity. It drives them to do what it cannot, enter the STIZ bubble and acquire everything it needs to re-open the arcfold: scientists, resources, human technology and, of course, vast quantities of Crystite.

The Melding intends to build a second arcfold engine, one that will create a portal big enough to bring the rest of the Melding to our universe.

The Chosen are unaware of the Meldings true agenda.

To them, the Melding is not a sentient being, but the power to create and to destroy–their power. The Melding allows the Chosen to create whatever weapons and armor they need out of pure Melding energy.  They can even create clones of themselves to send into Battle. Chosen Prime, the original humans that were absorbed by the Melding, are loath to leave it. They bathe in its energies and are protected by its presence.

To face the armies of the humans, they would not only need a way to project their forces into human territory, but also increase their numbers.  There are few Chosen and many human survivors. Chosen Prime use Melding energy to replicate themselves and send their clones into battle. A Prime can create and control a number of clones at any given time, depending on his or her mental strength. When a clone dies, it is simply recreated after a brief time inside the Melding, before being sent out again to wage war.

And so the Melding feeds the Chosen dreams of power, driving them with base instinct to invade and wage war against the humans. The Accord, what remains of the human military, oppose them under Admiral Nostromo’s leadership. Nostromo is driven by a quiet rage at the destruction of his planet and the dreadful cost of the sacrifice of his own family. He seeks to utterly destroy the Chosen and drive back the Melding at any cost. But others in his command and in the populace feel that the Earth is a lost cause, and that war is futile. Instead, they believe they must hold out only long enough for the Aegis to arrive so that they may flee the Chosen and the Melding.

The Aegis will not arrive for several years, and the humans are slowly losing the war. Without enough trained troops, Nostromo orders the creation of Ares Teams – independent mercenary conscripts that he pays and  provides with weapons in exchange for running the Accord’s most risky missions.  Ares teams are often called upon to gather the Crystite and resources needed for the war effort.

This is where the player comes in. The player is a leader of an Ares team, a high-adventure, motivated, mercenary force that undertakes risky missions for the Accord and Nostromo. As the player progresses through the game, his team is supposed to grow stronger, and his relationship with the main characters of the story, closer.

The inspiration for the Ares teams was from when I played Chris Robert’s “Strike Commander,” which featured a group of fighter plane pilot mercenaries. I wanted that same feel with the Ares teams, so I also called the operators of Battleframes “pilots” as a sort of homage to Roberts. Ares teams were to be full of life, a mix of military bad-ass and frat-grade partying, a Top Gun vibe of elite men and women living in dangerous times and living life to the fullest because death may come at any moment.

Team members Oilspill and Aero comprise the player’s small Ares team. Oilspill and Aero represents the two sides for every narrative or moral issue presented in the game. Oilspill’s character is playfully cynical, driven by greed and fun. Aero does the job for the good of humanity, always doing what’s right. Mechanically, Oilspill handles transport and logistics, while Aero deals with information, communication with the Accord, and tactical awareness through the SIN, or “shared information network.” Typhon is another Ares leader, with Mourningstar as his second in command.  He plays a pivotal role in the story as the Typhon’s team and the player’s team increasingly work together through the campaign.

SIN was to be an important part of Firefall’s story. A huge theme of Firefall’s original lore is transhumanism which I took to mean post-singularity humanity–and non-humanity. Each faction in Firefall was a different approach to the pros and cons of a transhuman singularity. The Melding was one approach: take all the minds of an entire universe, upload them and meld them together into a single personality.

For the humans, it was the use of SIN through devices implanted in every infant that allowed them to communicate and share information collectively without giving up their individuality and privacy. They would use it to lay that information over the real world in an augmented reality. For the affinites, it was the emotional as well as an informational bond between them. And for the Ascendants, a planned future faction, it was a machine hive mind approach augmented with artificial intelligence. The factions’ different approaches to the Singularity were supposed to provide a way to explore these deep themes from different perspectives.

The initial story arc for Firefall involved Graves and another Chosen faction fighting for control to unify the Chosen under one banner. Until that point, the Chosen are divided and therefore easier to repel. Both Chosen factions are raiding New Eden are kidnapping affinites to make more Chosen, stealing and thumping for their own Crystite, attacking human fortifications and defenses, attempting to steal scientists and technology used for arc-folding, and generally causing a lot of mayhem.

The Accord, meanwhile, is commandeering all civilian assets for use in the war effort, such as taking over the Copacobana resort to create a forward base. These moves are not popular with civilians, many of whom are increasingly dissatisfied with war and simply want to hide and wait out rescue by the Aegis. Nostromo and the Accord say they must have control if they are going to be effective at repelling the Chosen.

In addition to fighting the war and protecting what remains of humanity, the Accord are trying to establish contact with the rest of the world to search for other survivors, mine extensively for Crystite and Crystite hybrids to use in the war, find the Chosen stronghold inside the Melding so they can wipe it out, and also search for the Arclight’s Star Chamber.

The Star Chamber was an interesting side story that was meant to eventually explain the arrival of the Ascendants, a third major faction that was slated for an expansion. The Star Chamber was the secret navigation system of the Arclight. When you can travel faster than light, you have no accurate information about what you’ll see when you arrive. This is because information from telescopes, via light, is years out of date. There could be an asteroid or nova by the time you fold into that distant part of space.

The Accord needed a solution, and that solution came from two sources. The first was a young girl, perhaps only 7 years old, an affinite of exceeding ability who had the power to do “remote viewing” or seeing distant places in her mind. The second was Ascendant technology, which was discovered in the ruins of Firefall asteroids, and allowed the Accord to create the Star Chamber to amplify the girl’s powers to reach light years away. The existence of the Ascendants technology, as well as the girl, was a tightly controlled secret. When the Arclight was knocked out of orbit during its fold, it ejected the Star Chamber for safety and to preserve a valuable, irreplaceable, military asset. The Chamber landed in Fortaleza, but because the Arclight’s fold engines are still running, it’s in an out of phase state. It’s warping in and out of random locations. The Accord have to build a facility at one of its “appearance points” to stabilize it and try to rescue the girl. Eventually the players would be enlisted in this quest to track it down and hold it in place long enough to recover the technology and the young girl. Unfortunately, once the players open the chamber, it would be revealed to be empty, with only a little stuffed teddy bear left inside–seeds for future story arcs.

But back to the first intended arc for Firefall, where I planned to have the players eventually discover that the Chosen were not aliens, but human beings. Typhon’s team is ambushed in the Melding, just like in the Blur cinematic of the game. Typhon is taken and is transformed into a fierce Chosen warrior. Players would encounter him as a mini-villain before ultimately capturing him so that Dr. Bathsheba can attempt a cure. The cure works, but only halfway, leaving Typhon in a half human, half Chosen state (his portrait for this was really cool in the game). Dr. Bathsheba is sure that, with a little more time, she could have a 100% effective cure that could save the Chosen and end the war.

With the player’s help, Nostromo finally locates the large Chosen city inside the Melding.  He orders a nuclear strike on the location from the Arclight itself. The players literally “push the button” by issuing the call-down to complete the strike. The entire Chosen city goes up in a fireball and everybody thinks it’s over.

Except it’s not.

Nostromo and the players have destroyed the only major faction that had opposed Graves. Graves, with his nemesis out of the way, then proceeds to unite the Chosen and begin the real war against humanity.

The culmination of the nuclear strike would have launched the second story arc of Firefall, which would have included much more of Pilgrim (Grave’s daughter), discovery and introduction of the Ascendants, and growing unrest amongst the humans who learn of the cure and are appalled at Nostromo’s actions which have not only killed thousands of humans who could’ve been saved, but also inadvertently united the Chosen and ignited a full scale war.

This would’ve been really fun if I had gotten the chance to finish it. At the end of that arc, I had Nostromo blowing the Aegis out of the sky to “burn the boats” and force the humans to stay and fight to reclaim Earth.

Ultimately, I don’t know why Red 5 spent money on redoing the lore of Firefall, going so far as to change very complicated missions like BWA–and even the logo. These changes cost months of developer time and millions of dollars. They didn’t affect gameplay, and would not have interfered with their new “WoW with guns” plan. I can only imagine it was done out of spite, which would be truly unfortunate.

I hope you enjoyed this lore drop for Firefall. I hope it answered some of questions about why this or that was in the game and filled in some missing pieces for you.

I have more of my thoughts on Firefall to share with you. Stay tuned.


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.