Splash Firefall Feathered

About the Game: Firefall

Studio: Red 5 Studios
Role: Live Game Designer / Content Designer

Concept: Firefall is a free-to-play, massively multiplayer, online shooter set in a world changed by the crash of the Arclight that brought forth the Melding from another dimension. Players take on the role of ARES pilots and suit up in class-based battleframes to defend the last remains of humanity, push back the Melding, and take back the Earth. Featuring crafting, open world PvP and PvE, dynamic content, campaign missions, raids, and more, Firefall engages players through a unique blend of shooter, RPG, and MMO gameplay.

About My Role: Game & Content Design

My work on Firefall has revolved around designing new core and live content while also developing underlying technology and content systems. These systems focus on enhancing the gameplay experience while ensuring easy and consistent content creation and alteration with minimal onboarding and process changes required. My responsibilities have expanded to being a multi-role designer who can provide reliable, high quality, on-demand work within many fields such as in Lua for content, our proprietary design tools for systems and technical work, and other discipline toolsets.
In addition, I have been frequently called upon and entrusted with providing training and tutelage for new hires and prospective internal design candidates. As a firm believer that great products come from great people and great teams, I am constantly seeking to encourage growth, innovation, and quality within my colleagues and the product we work on. I also believe that a healthy dialog between developer and player is crucial to long term success and have sought to assist the community team with engaging and retaining players.
You may read about some of my contributions to Firefall below.

Conductor: Building Live Services for an MMO

Conductor is a content management system and event calendar used in Firefall to handle live content, UI updates, and a number of other services for the game. I was responsible for the design and technical implementation of the player- and designer-facing aspects of Conductor while collaborating with web developers and other programmers on the web-based frontend and web-to-game data pipeline.

The lightweight, robust, and extensible solution I created:

  • Incurs a minimal one-time event setup cost
  • Remains intuitive and easy-to-learn by designers
  • Maintains safe processes and code that can fail gracefully
  • Establishes a flexible system that can handle arbitrary types of content
  • Supports ease of hotfixing by only needing to change a few simple XML file
  • Provides an extensible platform that allows for easy to maintain event management
  • Allows for events to be turned on at arbitrary times without server downtime or patches
  • Eliminates unusual or risky production practices by allowing testing in advance of the event itself
  • Avoids spending unnecessary and costly amounts of resources on numerous unique event managers
  • Minimizes the scope and complexity of specialized knowledge required to update and maintain events

Event Creation Process:

Creating an event in Conductor is as simple as creating any other type of content with the added addition of defining metadata. Once created, administrators can use Conductor to schedule that event and the system will process all the relevant actions it should take to run that event.

Event handling process

The components responsible for in-game content relies upon a combination of an XML-based data files and Lua libraries to create descriptive metadata about any given event and the actions needed to run, maintain, and clean up that event. These actions can include signaling and making requests of other content systems, applying or removing global status effects, altering reward tables, and managing encounter spawning behavior on a per-server and/or per-player basis. Event designers can also create customization options in the Conductor frontend that will be passed into underlying components.
By keeping this metadata and event behavior independent from the event itself, any associated content can assume they are only active when they are suppose to be. Additionally, content built for other systems and even specialized content systems themselves can utilize Conductor with minimal resources and specialized integration. This allows designers to maintain their creation process and fully transfer their knowledge and skill from team to team or content feature to content feature.

Content Systems and Tech Design: Building the Tech for Fireworks, Racing, and More

Translating one of the more popular features in Firefall into a successful live event requires building a flexible and powerful content system. Once this was built, designers could begin creating additional tracks and modes within days of being introduced to the system.

Super LGV Challenge Live Event

I am an advocate for extensibility of content and it is a concept I teach to the designers I train. Crafting a strong technical framework that can handle variation in content, support future mechanics, and allow the content to exist multiple environments is a difficult requirement to meet. The long-term result, however, is faster turnaround time for higher quality content which relies upon proven tech. Using this process, I have created such systems as a fireworks system, a track/racing game mode system, a PA system, and a polymorph/ornamentation system. More significantly, these systems provide the options for other designers to quickly create additional content within days of introduction and easily insert new functionality.

Some of the questions I consider when creating and maintaining content systems are:

  • Where does this content fit into the rest of the game and does it even need to a system to be successful?
  • What elements will a designer want to manipulate? What about other disciplines such as UI, art, and sound?
  • Should a given feature be standardized for the content?
  • If something is exposed for editing, how could that break the system and how should I reduce those risks?
  • Is there a clear and easy-to-control process for producing and editing content?
  • What friction points or workarounds are designers using? How can I mitigate those and make the process easier?
  • How readable is the underlying tech? What portions should focus more on efficiency and what portions on readability?

Read about: Content Toolkit

Content Toolkit
Concept: The Content Toolkit was a culmination of several major factors: a need to identify all content in the game for the Bounty/Group Bounty systems, a need to seamlessly mutate purposes of live events, a desire to provide an integration point for future systems and systematic adjustments, and a long standing goal of streamlining the content creation process. I spearheaded creating the Toolkit as part of my work on the Bounty system. Even during the initial development process, the Toolkit quickly proved it’s value by supporting new requested features involving content and systems.
As the Toolkit was entering the lifecycle of a game in active development with a wealth of past content that was already created using established processes, one of the major pillars of the Toolkit was providing a framework that was simple to use and simplified complex tasks. I wanted to avoid disrupting existing workflows and excessive retrofitting of old content. Most importantly, I wanted to avoid the need for hyper-specialized knowledge that content creators had to be aware of while at the same time providing easy systematic means to adjust content in broad strokes.
Key Features:

  • Provides a central interface between content, systems, and programming
  • Reduces bug count by relying upon a continually improved and tested codebase
  • Encourages and allows ease of code and feature sharing by all types of designers
  • Creates a space for extensible technical space and high-level design implementation
  • Powerful framework that streamlines universal tasks, mundane tasks, and one-off code
  • Decreases inconsistencies in encounters by creating a single point of high level design control

Core & Live Content: Populating an MMO with Games-as-a-Service

Players love gliding as a high skill activity that offers exceptional exploration of the world. We built the Glider Challenge to support and reward this fan activity.

Glider Challenge Live Event

Creating content for an open world – live events and core content alike – poses unique challenges. Open world content can be approached from any direction, can have an arbitrarily high number of players, and may take place in arbitrary locations, just to name a few of the potential pitfalls. And in Firefall, players also possess a high degree of mobility with a high skill factor build into the game. One method of creating tension and challenge is asking each player to perform one more action than they can comfortably handle. This split focus allows for a controlled pacing that does not overwhelm or use intrusive mechanics to impede the players.

Read about: Hazardous Research

Hazardous Research Event
Concept: As Firefall‘s first post-launch Live Event, Hazardous Research included two brand new dynamic encounters, achievements, and event-specific rewards. In one encounter, players must collect samples from a toxic aranha nest. In the other, the player must defend a hybrid crystite shard until it can be arcfolded into containment for study. Each encounter scaled in multiple ways to provide both challenge and reward across a range of player levels and skill. I designed and implemented the event including creating achievements and narrative theming.
Hazardous Research was an event where I applied the idea of tension to create challenge by supplying multiple objectives which required player attention. Adding tension was a matter of pacing objectives organically while the amount of objectives allowed for control over difficulty across high and low skill caps. Removing tension used equally subtle gestures – rewarding players for playing successfully through buffs and negative feedback loops to counter-act tension enhancers.
Key Features:

  • Event-specific rewards such as unique weapons and pet
  • Generated a +18% increase in peak concurrent user count
  • Exclusive achievements including hidden ones with unique titles
  • Two brand new encounters building upon existing gameplay with added tension mechanics

Read about: Firefall US Launch: Beta Resource Migration

Resource Migration Event
Concept: In preparation for the US launch of Firefall and a revised crafting system, I was tasked with creating an event to drain old crafting resources out of the game. In the event, players donated their old resources as well as crystite to earn personal event rewards such as a in-game title and unique pet. In addition, there were communal where the total donation amount across all players would unlock rewards for everyone and competitive rewards where players could try to out-donate one another for customized rewards. In addition to the design and implementation of the event, I also scripted the in-game UI used in the event.
The event was highly successful with nearly 5.5 billion resources donated over the course of the event with nearly the entire active player base participating.
Key Features:

  • Unique rewards based on personal donation levels
  • Personalized event tracker accessible with custom UI
  • Donation leaderboard to incentive competitive participation
  • Communal Kickstarter-like rewards to incentives continual positive donation

Read about: Wintertide

Concept: Wintertide was Firefall‘s winter season holiday event. The event featured three themed pieces of content: a whack-a-mole inspired mini-game, a new wandering encounter, and a PvP snowball fight. I was responsible for the PvP snowball fight as well as creating the event rewards and reward system.
Key Features:

  • Encounters for solo and groups, PvPers and PvEers
  • Event-specific rewards based on daily participation
  • Over 40 different achievements across the three events

Read about: Sunken Harbor Carrier Challenge

Sunken Harbor Carrier Challenge
Concept: The Sunken Harbor Carrier Challenge was a PvP-oriented live event. The game mode was a free-for-all survival mode with a simple objective – hold on to the ball for as long as possible! Points were scored based on carry time and boosted through power ups around the arena. As the ball carrier, players could not use their weapons or abilities but gained a mobility buff to aid in evasion. As an added menace for carrier and hunters alike, hostile creatures also spawned.
Key Features:

  • Fun non-competitive event that attracted PvPers and PvEers alike
  • Event-specific rewards based on performance such as unique weapons and pet