DarkCryo’s Craig Redl talks FireFly Universe
This week saw the announcement of the fan driven MMO FireFly Universe. We have had a chance to talk with Craig Redl, one of the many people behind this project. So check out the interview below!
SGGI: Can you tell our readers who you are and a bit about Darkcryo?
CR:There is no DarkCryo, only Zuul. A dare from my daughter, but seriously not too far off in the legal sense. Don’t think of DarkCryo Entertainment as a corporate entity, instead as a network of industry professionals with day jobs ranging everywhere from gaming and motion picture studios to the technology sector. It’s a good guess some of the stuff sitting on the shelf behind you right now has their name in the credits somewhere. Speaking for myself, I degreed at MIT, contracted to the film and gaming industries for 5 years, dabbled in reverse engineering, and eventually to interactive environments for the past 10. I’d offer everyone’s resume to calm the fears of our competency, but then again we prefer the trolling. We officially stepped out of the shadow as DarkCryo just this spring, and really for no other reason than a realistic shot in hell at this IP.
SGGI:How did the idea of taking up a FireFly mmo come about? Are you scared at all that it might not live up to what fans expect?
CR:George Lucas was simply making a movie he wanted to watch, we’re simply making a game we want to play. Okay I’ll admit I also fell in love with Joss, not sure exactly how that happened. We watched as Serenity came and went, Multiverse came and went, fan-films came and went, indie game hopefuls came and went, oh and of course all the C&Ds came and went. What’s more, I was sick of watching Sci-Fi titles get continuously scorched over by Medieval Fantasy. We found a lore that already had an existing fan-base, an IP that was being neglected, and a Director that deserved our lives for the next 5 years. So it was decided.
As for living up to fan expectation, all the fans seem to expect right now is a C&D, I’m fairly confident we can live up to that. That being said, this time its different. DarkCryo does not claim ownership of this project, nor is DarkCryo dictating how this game is designed. We have over 200 submissions to our Big Damn Hero program to-date, whereby a fan can sign up and have their efforts included into the release. FUO is being made step-by-step with fan input, from how the galaxy should be laid out to how they want to fire their weapon. I’ve personally seen 3D model submissions that are better than the Serenity motion picture, fanfic quests that will blow World of Warcraft grinding out of the sky, and multiuser socketing code that could run the Sony network without a packet loss. The fans humble us everyday, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be corrected by them. Regardless of the studio that attacks this endeavour, the general consensus with the critics is that the crew of Serenity made this film loveable, and that there is not enough canonical data to support an MMO release. In fact, you cannot find a forum where at least one post isn’t pleading for us not to make this title. Our response is to let them wait for the RPG from Fox, we’ll play this in the meantime.
SGGI:So the game is being made without the license and under fair use. Are you in talks with 20th Century Fox to get official backing? and how have they reacted?
CR:Reacted? Hard to say, Canada Post is currently on strike so they may not know to FedEx the C&D. Seriously, we have announced our intention to pursue endorsement, yes, but I won’t kid you Hollywood really is a small town. We’ve been in contact with CEOs whom have an excellent working relationship with both Fox and Universal, and they can’t even get a call back. Current Firefly licensees have expressed their interest to act as our publisher in this regard, so far the negotiations had been limited to an offer to develop an interactive title based on an alternate IP from Universal. DarkCryo already has many titles in development, we respectfully declined. We’re not here for handouts, we’re here for Firefly.
We would be happy for even a simple “understanding” than an actual license at this point. Fox set precedence by giving this license to Multiverse years ago, and then another, with no results. It is our position to simply implore upon Fox the moral obligation to either enforce these licenses or put them back on the market for Developers with honourable intentions. Likely the largest obstacle we face here is in 20th Century mentality, the retro days where quality interactive titles were only produced by giant Hollywood gaming studios, somewhat a hypocritical standpoint given the questionable history of this license. Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Apple, Google have all evolved and opened up their platforms to us, IP holders need to embrace the new world as well. It will happen, its just a question of who will go first.
SGGI:Has Joss Whedon heard about the project and been in contact and any other cast or crew from the show?
CR:Joss is a fairly busy guy, and extremely tough to contact, I wouldn’t be able to speculate. I believe some of the fans have solicited Nathan for endorsement, I am to understand he’s a core gamer. We’d love for him to contribute in any way he feels most comfortable. Hopefully seeing his likeness as a 3D avatar on the Browncoats page of the FUO website doesn’t freak him out. We are close to launching the IDENT sections for players to begin picking their gamertags, and have already reserved the names of all cast members, hero and villain, should they decide to join at a later date.
SGGI:With the game are you opting for a sandbox universe or something instanced?
CR:We don’t want players to get aid from a hundred Browncoats if that’s not in the script, sometimes we’ll need them to really be in the Black. If it is too easy for three crews to infiltrate a Skyplex, or worse an armada of Reavers raiding Ariel, ya no. Joss wouldn’t be too happy about that. At the same time, the element of RP is too extremely important to the fans of this lore to cut them off from the masses through instance. I can tell you that we’re coding for a tillable, seamless galaxy, which means sandbox. Personally, every time I see a loading screen it loses the immersive qualities. While these are all great concepts on paper, the final verdict will really be left up to the fans during Alpha; again, its their game.
SGGI:Right now it seems story wise you can’t really say what is going to happen but can you give us an idea of when it will take place?
CR:This is probably one of the more sensitive topics, and why we’re awaiting Joss’ feedback before getting into non-canoncial scenarios. Joss reserves the right for creative direction with all aspects of storyline, regardless of licensing, should he so choose. We are sensitive to the fact that this is his creation, his genius, and he would want to tell the story himself. This is not to suggest jobs aren’t being freely developed by our fan scriptwriters, just so long as we keep the butterfly effect out of the Casts’ lives. If timeline ends up in the hands of the fans, we’ve heard really three scenarios; Independence War, The Series, and immediately following Serenity.
SGGI:How far into development are you and how big is the dev team?
CR:DarkCryo is comprised of a crew of around 200 souls in all disciplines, across a network of 13 countries worldwide. Thank goodness for Google Translate, otherwise we’d never be able to understand each other half the time. Remote employment as such may seem like an odd concept, we live on the edge.
We’ve gathered assets in the thousands, and script clusters for almost every intuitive feature you can find for an MMO. We have to compile all the code together into one project, socket the multiplayer support, A.I., and of course polish. We could probably release a sandbox on Persephone tomorrow, have 600 Browncoats walking around aimlessly with nothing to do but hide in stacked boxcars at Eavesdown Docks. I’m guessing that’s probably not good enough for an Alpha.
SGGI:It seems you have not settled on an engine yet. What are the main contenders?
CR:Flash FTW. Actually, we have spent the better part of 2 years looking into this. We had a peek at the Multiverse platform, however they expressed no interest. BigWorld contacted us last week with intrigue. We played with their engine a few years back already, the price tag was deep into the six figure range although I’ll admit their recent offer has become much more appealing. Unity is where most of our experience lies, its a quality engine, fairly priced, and its portability to PC/Mac PS3/XBOX/WII is unrivalled. We could easily port a single realm across multiple platforms without issue.
SGGI:What is going to make this game unique compared to other games on the market?
CR:I don’t even know where to begin, we’ve tried to find time to write about it under the EXPERIENCE section of the website to no avail, we’re in the process of a complete web makeover as it is. If I could pick the top four:
#4. A.I. Storyline Adaptation
We all hate stupid NPCs. The first thing we do when battling an NPC, or Boss, is to analyze its pattern before we even attack. We also know how to reset the aggro of an NPC. This is not realistic at all. I do not have a pattern, nor will I be your best friend if you hit me and return. A player that blatantly attempts to outwit an NPC through glitch or routine, will trigger an escalating response. You can rest assured that each NPC will have soft-coded pathfinding, good memory, and an excellent learning curve.
#3. Butterfly Effect Gameplay
Do you know why you’re stuck on Persephone with no money? Its because Badger didn’t pay you. Badger didn’t pay you because he read your fugitive status in the Bulletin. You were in the Bulletin because you rabbited from an Alliance patrol. Of course, he would have overlooked all that had your reputation score with him not drop last transaction. It wouldn’t have dropped if you could RP with him without sounding pretentious. You see where this is going..
#2. Intuitive Quest-Giving
Lets keep the grinding to the Medieval Fantasy genre where it belongs, same goes for the dozen NPCs standing around with exclamation marks over their heads. While each faction is unique, they will all share one common trait; life in the ‘Verse is not easy. As a Browncoat, one of the most complex playable factions, finding a job requires a little more effort than simply right-clicking an NPC, then returning to “hand it in”. Quests are broken into four parts; Finding the job, being awarded the job, pulling off the job, and offloading the job. Players need to figure out how to complete all four if they want to get paid.
#1. Role-Play XP Levelling
Arguably the most important element for this lore, and a breakthrough concept for any MMORPG that has ever hit the market. NPCs will require interaction from players, in the form of text, text-to-speech, and emotes. Understanding that offering a /rude to an Alliance soldier, or “GIMME THE F#$%IG JOB LOLZ” to Mr. Niska, will immediately and severely alter the course of a player’s story. Think we’re joking? Try it, just not on your main. While interacting with players may be somewhat flexible as compared to NPCs, players will still be required to stay in character at all times. Doing so will level your character, increase faction and territorial reputation, and open more opportunities for you. How can the game tell? Its a secret. Time to put those Goldshire skills to good use.
SGGI:Will Wash be making an appearance as well as the Derrial Book?
CR:We’re happy to say that the Serenity crew is intact, regardless of timeline, along with several other corpsified cast members. Afterall, who doesn’t love Crow?!
A huge thank you to Craig for taking the time to answer our questions.