The beloved sci-fi series Firefly plans its return as a massively multiplayer online game.
Wired.com, Dec. 7, 2006
Like Capt. Mal Reynolds stumbling in after a bar fight, the short-lived but much beloved sci-fi series Firefly will soon make an unexpected return, not as a TV show, but as a massively multiplayer online game.
Now that’s shiny.
Multiverse, maker of a free MMO-creation platform, plans to announce Friday morning that it’s struck a deal with Fox Licensing to turn the show into an MMORPG in the fashion of Star Wars Galaxies or Eve Online.
The “Browncoats,” as Firefly‘s most devoted fans are known, have been campaigning to bring the show back almost since the moment it was canceled in late 2002. Now they’ll get their wish, albeit in a new form.
“We see virtual worlds as an extraordinarily promising new entertainment medium,” said Adam Kline, Fox Licensing’s vice president of media enterprises in an e-mail. “We believe Multiverse can deliver an experience that will remain true to the original series, while enabling a whole new level of personal involvement for fans.”
Canceled in the United States after only 11 episodes, Firefly has become the Star Trek of 21st-century sci-fi fandom: a show that seemed to remake the genre even as it stayed faithful to the conventions of “hard” science fiction, like engine room problems and menacing hordes lurking on the edge of known space.
What made the show special was the wry, often self-deprecating humor of its characters, from the captain with the checkered past to the unwittingly sexy engineer, the dull hunk of a mercenary with a girl’s name, and the mysterious young woman passenger with special gifts.
The online version will move away from those central characters — after all, there’s only one Mal Reynolds. In an MMORPG, “everybody has to have their own story,” says Multiverse co-founder and executive producer Corey Bridges.
“Television series can be really good properties to turn into MMOs, because when you make a TV series, not only do you need great characters, but you need to create a full, rich, compelling place,” Bridges says. “If you’re doing science fiction, you have to really think it out and create an incredibly rich environment that is compelling in its own right, and worth exploring and going back to week after week. That’s what Joss Whedon did with Firefly.”
The universe of Firefly and its spinoff film, Serenity, featured everything from Old West-style towns to futuristic urban environments, gritty spaceships and pastoral retreats — freedom fighters, oppressive government agents, smugglers, outlaws, mercenaries, trader, townsfolk, futuristic geishas and a race of corrupted humans known as the Reavers.
Bringing those environments and character types to life as an online game will be a challenge: Multiverse is not a game developer, but rather a platform provider whose product is still in beta. Instead of making the game itself, the company will hire a development team that will craft the virtual galaxy using Multiverse tools.
“We want to find someone who wants to do something unique and fun and interesting, not just a re-skin of World of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies,” Bridges says.
Because the underlying technology is already in place, “I feel confident that we’ll see something the public can play sometime in 2008,” he adds.
Founded by several early Netscape employees, Multiverse hopes to do for virtual worlds what Netscape did for web pages: provide a universal browser that lets users access any world built on the Multiverse platform using the same client software.
Already, some 7,000 development teams have registered for the Multiverse beta, according to Bridges, and more than 150 are making MMOs and non-game virtual worlds on a full-time basis. The tools are provided for free, with Multiverse taking a cut of revenue only if developers charge for their games, or for virtual items available within their worlds.
Landing Firefly on the Multiverse platform would seem to be a sure-fire promotional move. But satisfying the show’s committed fans will not be easy. Online communities like FireflyFans.net, the show’s premier fan site, have generated an endless stream of fan fiction, art, blogs, pod casts, meet-ups and even a fan-produced documentary, Done the Impossible, which briefly broke into the top 1,000 in DVD sales on Amazon.com.
The announcement comes just in time for this weekend’s second annual gathering of Firefly fans at the Hilton hotel in Burbank, California. The “Flanvention” has already sold out, with 500 prepaid attendees signed up.
Bridges shrugs off the pressure; he just wants to make “something worthy of the show,” he says. “This all springs from the genius that is Joss Whedon. It’s rewarding beyond words to be able to hopefully be a footnote in the history of Firefly.”