Firefall ThumperWhen former World of Warcraft team lead Mark Kern and other developers from Blizzard Entertainment left the company in 2005 to form Red 5 Studios, it was because they wanted to create their dream game. Now they’re showing it off. Meet Firefall.

“We wanted to build a kick-ass, online, team-based action shooter,” James Macauley, executive producer of Firefall, recently told GamesBeat at PAX East, where we got a preview of the game.

Firefall, a massive, open-world PC title expected to launch later this year, takes place on a future version of Earth where faster than light travel has been discovered but not quite perfected. A ship called the Arclight crashes during its maiden voyage and opens a portal that unleashes a huge energy storm called the Melding. Out of the Melding comes the Chosen, an evil alien race hellbent on destroying humankind.

“We don’t know why,” said Macauley. “We don’t know what their motives are, where they’re from — but they’re very aggressive towards humans.” Discovering these things will be part of the game’s story-based campaign, which was penned with the help of Ender’s Game sci-fi author Orson Scott Card.

Firefall’s class-based combat is centered around the concept of Battleframes: powerful exo-skeletal armor that determines what loadout and tech abilities you bring into battle. If playing a support role is your style, you can choose to be an Engineer and deploy turrets or heal teammates as a Medic. Those who favor offense can choose between the stealthy Recon, the bullet-soaking Dreadnaught, or the destructive Assault.

If you’re not sure what to pick, don’t worry. While many players will no doubt find a favorite and stick with it, Battleframes can be switched out at any time at certain locations scattered throughout the game world, and each one levels up independently.

Although the city of Copacabana and its surrounding areas are reminiscent of Borderlands’ Pandora, Macauley said its real influences are anime and manga. Many shooters can be gray and gritty, but Macauley said Red 5 wanted to create something that is very beautiful, approachable, and welcoming. “We really want the world to feel colorful,” he said.

It is also an environment that encourages exploration through its emphasis on gear customization, resource gathering, and crafting. Each Battleframe is equipped with a jetpack, and Macauley said the development team has spent a lot of time working on the game engine so that it can support concave terrain.

“A big part of the game for us is making sure that the world feels like a toy. You want to play with the world. You want to go explore it. Our artists, our world builders, oftentimes put little rewards [out there]. If you go exploring, you might find a little cave with a treasure chest or something special.”

Firefall Glider Wings

During the PAX East demo, I spied a large vertical cliff in the far distance that could have easily been dismissed as just background dressing. “Can I go there?” I asked as I pointed to it.

“Absolutely,” Macauley said. “We really want to make sure that you can get anywhere you want to go.”


Red 5 Studios is focusing heavily on player-versus-player (PvP) combat and is adding many support features for Armies (aka Clans) who wish to square off in one of the game’s multiplayer maps. There will be Spectator and Referee modes, tournaments, leagues, leaderboards, and stats. Armies will be able to select their own war paint colors and standards and can work together to unlock special abilities for use in both PvP and player-versus-environment (PvE). The developer says it also has plans to add the ability to record and replay matches post launch.

Firefall MedicThose uninterested in PvP can partake in dynamic missions and world events that will continuously unfold based on things like player activity and time of day. All of it is overseen by something called GAIA (Global A.I. Architecture) or, as Macauley put it, the “fun coordinator.”

“The Chosen will spawn in drop pods that will have an Arc portal on them, and they will slowly teleport in a couple Chosen at a time. Eventually, when enough Chosen spawn, they’ll have the confidence to go explore and look for objectives,” he explained.

If left unchecked, these events can spawn into full-scale invasions. Entire cities and outposts can become closed off if overrun, which would remove access to amenities like vendors, manufacturing terminals, and upgrade centers.

Although it’s tough to definitively judge a game during a 30-minute demo in a noisy, packed convention center, I’m excited by what little I’ve seen. I would ask Red 5 Studios to please take my money now, but that’s the best part — Firefall is totally free.