Exclusive Firefly Online Developer Interview: Andy Gore Of Quantum Mechanix Talks Cast Reunion, Cortex App, Cross-platform Support And Gorram Price
Quantum Mechanix unveiled some new info about their highly anticipated new game, Firefly Online while at NYCC this past weekend. We sat down with Quantum Mechanix's CEO, Andy Gore to get a little better look at the first new Firefly since 2005.
We found Andy chatting up customers at the QMx booth on the show floor. A fully to scale replica of the Serenity, which lit up and had a meticulously crafted galley section (despite no one ever being able to see it) was on display, as was a very, very expensive replica of the USS Reliant, the ship commandeered by Khan in Star Trek II. They had already sold a bunch of the latter. If you're a Firefly collector, and you had a lot of money to spend, QMx was the place to be.
The interview can be found below, but here's the quick summary:
Don't call it an MMO. It's a single-player experience with multiplayer elements. It will be cross platform on PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices. There will be an app, called the Cortex, released soon that will allow players to experience certain parts of the game before the full release in late spring. Yes, the entire cast is returning, even Wash and Book. No, Joss is not involved. No, no price was announced, but it will be priced like 'an indie with high production values'. There is a new crime boss voiced by a famous actress.
So what is Firefly Online? Is it a MMO?
Kind of. It's an online RPG. I don't like MMO because that's come to mean a certain type of gameplay. MMO stands for massively multiplayer online and [FFO] is all those things. However, it is not a traditional MMO. The gaming experience is much more single-player. You take on missions, you go out and have adventures, you get into various kinds of hot scrapes and then what decisions and how you play those scenarios determines how you move on in the story.
It's going to be all AAA level stuff, we have a great organics artist coming in who's doing all the character models, so there'll be full blown cinematics. We have amazing, talented wonderful people doing the voices and we think it is a great story. All the original actors have come in, they all read the script before they agreed to do it, and they all agreed to do it. In fact we even have Morena [Baccarin, who played the companion Inara Serra), who in the video said, "This sounds just like us! This is so cool!" I don' t think she is the kind of lady who says 'This is cool' very often.
How will the game play then?
In terms of the gameplay, it probably feels a little bit more like a traditional roleplaying game. We had several of our favorite games in mind as we developed the game. Fallout was one. If Fallout was made in 2014 instead of when it was actually made. Also Freelancer!
Firefly is such a unique property. We had to build a unique game for it, so it's a little hard to put in a box. There is a pretty significant multiplayer aspect to it in the sense that you go on missions, and a lot of things can happen to your gameplay that is affected by other people's decision making.
I'll give you a simple example: if you've hired a crew full of NPCs and they're all goodie two shoes and you're the 'shoot first, ask questions never' type captain, you're probably going to have a problem with your crew. Now all the NPCs are real living breathing people in the system, they're not generated for your entertainment. So let's say, you have a mechanic who doesn't like how you are as a captain and quits your crew. Well, not only do they take away all the work you did to build them up experience-wise (skills, equipment) with them when they quit, they now go back into the pool of available NPCs and another player can hire them.
So, Diane Drake in a bar hires them, so not only does that player benefit from all your hard work, but the NPC can talk jack about you and they can even if you sufficiently pissed them off they can start a Revenge mission on you.
Well, do you remember the derelict scene you saw [during the panel]? The odds of actually running into a derelict in space just randomly, while not impossible, is pretty small. More than likely someone's going to give you this mission, they'll say 'Hey we know about this derelict ship at these coordinates, go there and see what's there and bring it back In exchange for the coordinates, you're going to relinquish half the proceeds or whatever.' Now there are hundreds of jobs like that in the game that are totally legitimate. Now, no one employer ever you the whole story, there's a reason why they didn't go themselves to get it. But that's sort of part of the gameplay.
But, it's equally possible that if you have an irate crew member who left you, this could be an ambush. And when you get there, the player who got your new crew member who is on the Revenge mission, it's their crew that's waiting for you on the ship."
How can players go about setting up those kind of missions?
There's a job board people can post jobs. A player can say "Hey listen, I really really need those compensators, will you fly out to Ezra and get them for me? If you do, and report them back to the Cortex, I'll pay you x number of credits for it." So there's in-game player based economy. In fact, the best paying missions will more than likely be from other players. And players can do more than just say do more than go to point x and get me y. They can actually build a little story around it if they want to. And we're going to reward points, a grading system, so people who build good stories get really, really high grades, they get more points to make more stories.
Tell us about the Cortex, the standalone app.
If I'm playing Captain Tightpants (the name of his character used at the FFO panel) at the computer at the office and I go home and the family is watching a boring tv show I'm not so interested in, I want to be able to sit on the couch with the tablet and pick up where I left off at work. Same character, same scenario, everything the same. We already can do that. It is working right now, and the Cortex is the Trojan horse for that technology.
So what happens is sometimes in the next 45 days, we're going to release the full version of the Cortex. It's a standalone app, it will run on all the platforms the game runs on, iOS, Android, PC, Mac, basically it's free and the new Cortex lets you do a whole lot of stuff you couldn't do before. For example, there are a hundred activities in there, you can read news stories, like the video you saw of Morena. We got twelve more of those in development. The best part of that is is not only can you go there and get interviews, see gameplay demos and interviews with the game development team, even general Firefly news. Every time you read a story or watch a video, listen to a podcast, you earn Brownie points, which you ultimately collect and can trade in for crates. The crates have Firefly loot in them. Principally in the form of collectible cards. There are three classes of card: normal, rare and epic cards. The epic cards will actually have production art, things like that that were never shown publicly. When you complete a series, there will be a special thing in the game unlocked.
A lot of people seem very interested in flying a series 1 Firefly ship. Which is the original ship designed by Tim Earls that would have appeared in the show if the show had carried on. We actually built a 3D model of it, and you can fly it as a starter ship. Anybody who registered the game before August 31, got the Kepler, which is a science vehicle which was converted to a transport. It was the first new ship that Tim Earls has designed for firefly in like 15 years. Actually, he did design another one, but I can't say much about that.
Firefly had a lot of sets in Northern Hollywood. Dusty, terraformed. Are you expanding on the types of locations players can travel to?
One of the things we're trying to do in the game is think "What would Joss have done if he had had five seasons?" One of the things we're pretty sure he would have done was have something other than desert planets. So no it's not just desert planets, it's forests, it's swamps, it's floating cities. Niska's space station is in the game and other places to have adventures in. There will be a variety of environments that are procedurally generated. It isn't all going to look like the Encino Hills.
It sounds like a big story. How long can players expect to play before they get to the end of it and what do they do then?
We're going to make sure that we have sort of a story mode in the game. Because we realize not everybody's in it for the game. Because this is going to be the first Firefly story since 2005 and some people are going to get this game because they want to experience this story. So we will have a mode of play where the gaming elements are de-emphasized and it's really just about a cool story. Still making choices that will affect the story outcome and alternate paths, but more principally it's going to be there more for people to hear their favorite actors play their favorite characters.
We saw Morena in the video. Who else is in it?
Morena, Nathan, Alan, Summer, Jewel, Ron, Shaun. We also Michael Fairman back who played Niska. Lovely man, absolutely lovely. Alan Tudyk plays two characters, including a new one."
And where does the story take place along continuity?
Between the series and the movie. It was actually one of the first questions Alan asked us: if he was dead or not. "No you're not dead." "Okay good!" but then the second one...
The second character. Can you tell us about him?
The second character is a new character, he's very important to the story and it's a very dark character. He did an amazing job. First time he did the part, we did that jaw drop thing. Seeing Alan Tudyk do this other character was the most amazing thing. Because this other character is almost the anti-Wash, everything that Wash is, this character isn't.
Has Joss Whedon been involved?
He's very, very aware of the project, we send reports over to his folks, his agent, whom we've talked to several times. Mostly he's been too busy getting Avengers 2 done. He's been nice enough to let us proceed. And I think that if had the time he'd be much more involved, but you know, he's just too busy!
Nothing is ever going to be as good as Joss, but we're doing the best we can to honor his work and to make it something the fans really enjoy. I will tell you, one of the great things about those actors is you know, they make good work great.
Any fond stories of the actors during their recording sessions?
My favorite story from the recording is not of the big game heroes of the story. One of the things we're trying to do in the game is we're trying to carry forward the things we knew were important to Joss. Like the fact that the Firefly verse was equally founded by the Chinese and the Americans, and the original show they never had time to do a lot with the Chinese characters and so we decided for this version of the game we thought this was a great opportunity to bring in a competing crime boss on Persephone, and her name is Whisper Lo Pan. And she is played, I have to say rather brilliantly by the amazing Kelly Hu.
Her character is a strong, independent woman, picked herself up. Runs a very tight ship. People are afraid of her like they should be of any crime boss, but in a different way than they're afraid of Badger. One point in the script refers to Badger as a blunt instrument, where she's more of a scalpel, and I think that's pretty apt in their differences in personality and their approaches to their work. Whisper tries to keep more of a low profile.
When Kelly started doing the part, she was trying to get the hang of it, like hey, what was the voice you were looking for? We said, do you know any Tiger Moms? And she immediately knew what we meant! She banged into the character and it was frightening. It was all of a sudden and it was like "Oh my god, I am terrified of this woman!" And she's like the sweetest, nicest person you ever met.
Hu is no stranger to video game acting. She has voiced characters in many games, including Sleeping Dogs, Red Alert 3 and the upcoming Battlefield: Hardline.
This is the fanboy in me asking. Will we be seeing any of the Blue Hands?
Oh yes! Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely! They play a major role in the story in several places and one of them is even voiced. You can even become, we've come up with a name for the organization the blue hands belong to and we call them the CSS.
How long do you see the game lasting in terms of players using it?
As long as there are enough players who love what we're doing and want to see it happening, it will continue. I mean, we're not, we're definitely not 1.0 and gone, I mean look at us we've been supporting the license by making collectibles for, it'll be 10 years next year. So clearly we are kind of in it for the long haul.
When we come out with the Cortex app, if lots and lots of people get on there and use it and enjoy it, that's going to be very reassuring. Even if they don't spend a penny, even the idea that they're there and they're engaged, that's going to be the most encouraging thing this team could possibly ever have. I don't want people to feel obligated to pay, I just want them to come and interact with us. That's the only thing I want, as long as that's going on, our team will continue to work our asses off to make this the best game for you.
Has it been fun making the game?
Making games is hard. Making good games is really, really, really hard. At the end of the day, fans will decide what we did. We made the game, did we make a really good game? I'm not in control of that, I'm just doing the best job I possibly can.
For me, the satisfying thing is knowing, absolutely and without a doubt, is that if we weren't doing this, it would not happen. I've been waiting ten years for somebody to step up and do a Firefly game. We finally decided to go and do it because we realized no one else would. And we felt obligated to make the game. Firefly has always been an important part of the company, and there was a time when Firefly was our principal source of revenue. It will always be our most important property. We will never forget the debt we owe to the Browncoats and this is our way of saying thanks.
I don't have 250 million dollars to make a Firefly movie, so I'll make a Firefly game. Doing what I can. And it's my way of saying thank you to all the fans. It's funny how many people come up to me and say, "Do you think they'll ever be more Firefly?" I say, "Yeah, we're making a game." "No, no, no, but will there ever be any more Firefly?"
Who hasn't asked themselves that since the credits rolled on Serenity back in 2005?
What will the price be?
We're going to see where the market is at towards launch. We will be a reasonably priced, we will be an indie priced game when we come out. If you look at other indie games with high production values, imagine that we will price along that. Not gonna be 50 bucks.
The other thing I should mention and it's impossible for us to do a multi-platform sale, so people will have to buy the game separately for each platform they want to play on. There's no way for me to sell you a Mac version of an iOS game through the iTunes. So I can't bundle the Mac version with the iOS version. You think, duh. Can't do it. Can't sell Windows to Android, or Android through Windows. If you're doing Steam, Steam is Steam and Google Play is Google Play. So that's the other reason why we're going to try to price it as low as we can because we realize if people want to play cross-platform, they're going to have to pay for the game a few times."
(He also adds that he is vehemently opposed to IAP as it is implemented now, which is why they have decided on a premium pricing model for the full version of the game.)
When is the release date?
Probably late spring. I think it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said no great work of art is ever finished, it's abandoned. So I think that's very true of game development. There's a point in which it's finished because it needs to be finished.
I think until people see the game, they will not realize how close this is to giving them what they asked. I will never pretend that we are anything close to what Joss would do. Joss is a genius and we are bare shadows cast from that. We have a wonderful template to work from, an amazing talent that is his talent, so we are literally standing on the shoulders of a giant. But we're still standing there, we're still telling a good story with wonderful actors.
To say that people will be anticipating Firefly Online is saying like people get 'sort of worked up' over the Superbowl. Browncoats are very...vocal about their baby. Andy knows he and his company have a long uphill struggle.
See you, space cowboy.