Upcoming free-to-play shooter Firefall has made a myriad of substantial changes to its design and mechanics, developer Red 5 Studios has announced.
Nearly everything from the way level progression works, to special abilities, load out customisation, mining and crafting, the way shooting feels and hit-box detection have been radically altered, as detailed on the official blog.
"The internal joke is it's more like Firefall 2," said Red 5 CEO Mark Kern in a Skype interview with Eurogamer earlier today.
So why all the changes? "It was all player driven," explained Kern. "A huge thing for us is we don't want to create game in a vacuum. We don't want to spend millions of dollars making the game and then ship it and realise 'oh, we liked the game, but the players didn't like the game."
"So we decided to open our beta very, very early and this was very unusual because most betas are when you're content complete, feature complete and there's no time to really change anything except a couple of numbers here and there. We decided that we wanted to actually mitigate our risk, get to the fun quickly and find out what's working and what's not with our customers as soon as possible."
"Because it was so early we were able to make huge substantive changes within the game which I think people are going to be really thrilled with."
Not everyone likes change, though. Particularly those who were already winning. Kern predicted an initial backlash.
"We changed everything, so whatever you had that was a favourite, we've likely changed it so that it's not as favourite as it used to be for you. In which case there's going to be a very long thread in our forums about how everyone hates the game for at least a week, I'd say."
Following that initial shock, "I think people will settle into it, give it a chance and try other things. A lot of that people will discover, 'Hey, if I'm willing to change the way I play or I'm willing to try all these new features I'm going to find something else that I love even better."
Kern went on to explain the challenges of balancing a shooter with an MMO so that people would gain experience and want to keep playing, yet it wouldn't be impenetrable for newcomers.
One of the changes is that levels are now tiered rather than granular like most RPGs. Get to a new tier and you can equip different gear.
"What we're trying to do is provide more tactical options to players. More ways to play their class and use their skill to figure out which style of customisation of their battleframe suits the way they want to play. That is much, much more difficult than simply increasing the amount of damage and health at every step."
"Having worked on WoW and having worked on this game, I can say that this game is far more challenging to balance."
Elsewhere in the interview Kern confirmed that there won't be an open beta. "We pop out more and more invites until we've reached a large population on it... One day we'll drop the beta tag and then anyone can download it."
The reason for this is mostly technical. It's easier to grow the system bit by bit than bite off more than you can chew all at once and get slammed with technical difficulties. "That way we don't have the huge surges... By the time you hit open beta you're just letting a huge number of people in all at once, which is very challenging for any system. We prefer to grow more organically." He then explained that they only add a group at a time so they can stabilise the system as they go. Having 500,000 new players all at once "can quickly turn into a technical nightmare."
The new version of Firefall will be playable at Gamecom on 16th to 19th of August in Cologne, Germany where the Electronic Sports League will run the first European Firefall beta tournament culminating in a grand prize of €10,000.
Find out more details here and pick up beta invites at the Firefall booth.