If there's one thing that fans of the TV series Firefly have never been short on, it's enthusiasm - even when content related to their fictional universe has been hard to come by. While reports of a video game based on Joss Whedon's take on space cowboys circled for years, it was just this summer that Firefly Online was announced to be in development by Spark Plug Games and Quantum Mechanix.
But with little to go on besides an announcement trailer, and word that the game would only be supported on mobile devices and tablets, responses were mixed. Now that a PC and Mac version of the game have been confirmed, and more details have been released, Firefly fans may have more to look forward to than they first assumed.
It's easy to understand why word of a "social mobile game" being the approach taken to adapting the TV series - and its corresponding feature film, Serenity - was met with mixed feelings. After having to fight for respect for Joss Whedon's TV series (cancelled by Fox in its first season) for years, the fan community could only take solace in the fact that Whedon proved his talents by writing and directing The Avengers.
So when word arrived during San Diego Comic-Con 2013 that the world of Firefly - wide open for any number of video game genres to utilize - would finally make its video game debut as a social-focused game on mobile devices, some felt cheated all over again.
But perhaps it's too soon to write off the game entirely; especially now that the game's developers have announced a PC and Mac version of the game as well (a feat possible since it's being built using Unity). Along with a host of new details courtesy of io9's exclusive, Firefly Online is shaping up to stay true enough to the source material to warrant a bit more attention from the Browncoat community.
For starters, new players will be required to design their very own player characters, their very first crew member and ship, and set out into the universe to assemble a larger crew, and customize their ship along the way. That's all well and good, but what does that mean in terms of gameplay? Especially given the early plan of launching only on iOS and Android.
Navigating the in-game world of over 200 terraformed planets with actual control over flight - as opposed to hopping from hub to hub - might seem like a longshot, but the developers seem to view their "Free Flight Engine" as particularly promising (a snapshot of the mode is embedded above).
Described by the developers as a "multi-user strategic roleplaying game," the official website states that Firefly Online is absolutely a singleplayer experience, first and foremost. And with the 'verse laid out before each player, a general idea of the overall experience and gameplay systems is beginning to emerge.
Once the player has acquired their very own spaceship - either a Firefly-class vessel, or any other competitors - it's time to start taking on 'Jobs' - the term used for player missions and quests. Designed by either the developers or even other players with their own story and requirements, completing each quest earns players the ability to outfit their crew members with better equipment, goods to trade, or even upgrades to their own spacecraft.
Customization seems to be the key word here, from fixing certain bits of machinery to your spacecraft, to decorating your personal bunk. With a crafting and trading system that seems open to the player's imagination, the developers seem to be counting on enthusiastic users to help shape the game world into its best possible form. And given the dedication of Firefly fans, that's a safe bet.
[gallery columns="2" ids="210489,210487,210490,210488,210484,210485,210486,210491"]
The developers have also released a look at the male and female character portraits being designed for the game, reiterating that although these images are not final, they give a sense of the style and variety being pursued. There is no question that the designers entrusted with the property are themselves devoted fans; a fact obvious to anyone who peruses the game's official site.
But living the life of a space outlaw isn't all fancy flyin' and trading. So Saloons in the game will not only offer a place to order a drink and sit a spell, but engage in the game's turn-based combat. Granting the player control over each member of their crew, the concept art released for the combat mode hints at a 3D, isometric view growing more and more common each year.
Violence isn't always the answer, of course, meaning players may want to outfit their party with a member gifted in resolving conflicts with word, not bullets (like a Companion, perhaps?).
The developers at Spark Plug and Quantum Mechanix may still have some work to do convincing the show's fans that Firefly Online will be more than "just a mobile game," but there's one thing we can say for certain: the more they keep showing of this game, the more our curiosity is piqued. It's hard to say for how long that will remain the case, but it's certainly showing some promise.
What do you think of the new screenshots and concept art? Are you Firefly fans looking for a chance to captain your very own ship, or were you hoping for a larger, more expansive adaptation? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Firefly Online will be released in the summer of 2014 for iOS, Android devices, PC and Mac.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.