In the wake of the apparent complete emptying of the Red 5 Studios offices this week, former Firefall founder Mark Kern is forging ahead on his own reimagining of the game with a new title called Ember.
A bit of context: Kern is a decidedly controversial (his word) figure to MMORPG genre veterans, to the point that when his name is mentioned in an article, we will invariably have commenters requesting we not cover his games or activities. His chief claim to fame is as an original developer on World of Warcraft, which he repeatedly slammed after his departure from Blizzard. Though he founded Red 5, he was forcibly removed from the studio in 2013 following a round of layoffs and the suspension of PvP in Firefall; in the months that followed, former employees called his behavior as CEO “erratic” and “destructive” and mocked his infamous e-sports bus project. Somewhere in there, he founded and raised seed money for a VR MMO (which doesn’t appear to exist now) and became involved in promoting bizarre petitions against mainstream gaming websites. More recently, he marched into the drama surrounding the now-closed Nostalrius vanilla World of Warcraft emulator, insisting on hand-delivering a player petition to Blizzard at a meeting with his former bosses during which he advocated for vanilla servers.
When Firefall began to falter this past winter and spring, Kern volunteered to purchase the game if it sunsetted, denouncing what shipped after his removal from the project as “a complete disaster.” The9 hasn’t made any announcements about the present or future of Firefall yet, but in the meantime, Kern’s got another related project on tap, and that brings us back to Ember.
A month ago, Kern began polling followers for interest in Ember, the “spiritual successor” to Firefall based in the lore of Crixa, a tabletop RPG he’s also building. Apparently, interest was sufficiently displayed, as Kern has now opened a growing forum for the game, and when 600 people had signed to support the game (it’s nearing 2500 now), he posted a lengthy update about his goals for Ember, acknowledging his role in Firefall’s problems in the middle of it all.
“You don’t have to remind me of what we’ve lost, or my role in it. I’m too painfully aware of what could have been. You all have lost a game you believed in, and I’ve lost a very personal dream. It was my goal to show that online games (I hate to call them MMOs) can be different from WoW… stand on their own, and give back some of the magic we thought we lost since we first played Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, Everquest, Anarchy Online, EVE and yes, even WoW. I still believe that. […] It’s from your comments that I know I am a controversial figure (to put it mildly). But I think you should also know that I feel a profound sense of responsibility for what happened to Firefall, and the gamers who believed in it. If you didn’t believe so passionately in the promise of the original game, you would not be so angry at me now for its failure to materialize. For my own anger, directed most often and intensely at myself, I’ve tried to channel it here: To allow myself a second chance which I still don’t quite believe I deserve. Maybe I don’t, but you do.”
Kern’s plans for Ember involve multiple rounds of crowdfunding — serial Kickstarting, he calls it. “Anyone who tells you they can fund an MMO with a single kickstarter is full of shit,” he says. By keeping a lean budget, remote offices, contract employees, carefully managed scope, no overhauls, and community engagement, he says he hopes to do with Ember what he couldn’t do with Firefall. “At all times we have to stick to the true core principles of the game, and not drift over to ‘WoW with guns’ again.”
Firefall forumgoers are also receiving this message from what has been presumed to be a player in their inboxes on the official forums, though it’s not being received particularly well on Reddit, whose posters are generally hostile to Kern and who have expressed doubt about the letter’s claims regarding the community, Red 5 dev involvement, and the end of Firefall:
Hi there, fellow Firefall veteran!
With last Red5 Studios employees fired including our beloved CM FadedPez, Firefall has reached its ultimate end. We were promised a game that would be unique, shooter first, open world, sandbox MMO like never seen before. We could all see ups & downs during its development as management and investors were at each other’s throats fighting over direction, but in the end that originally promised game was never delivered.
The community that once supported Firefall has moved to a new project called Ember. Fusion of community effort and former Red5 & Firefall founders and developers, this game aims to bring back the original vision of Firefall to life and we’d like you to be part of it.
Crowdfunded with small step milestones
Unreal Engine 4
A shooter first, with great movement, guns and abilities. Skill matters. Progression is horizontal, opening up more options, abilities, and gameplay
Mining and gathering resources with the aid of huge, autonomous mechs. Resources matter, and finding and gathering them is fun
Build and customize your own “omniframe” suit and weapons system. Customize them to your unique needs and the role you want to fulfill
Sandbox world. Terraform the planet over time, create pockets of habitable areas and build refineries, defenses, and bases of operation
Play a simulated world, with dynamic events. Go anywhere, do anything. Events will unfold around you as you play — perhaps even war.