“You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?” – Capt. Malcolm Reynolds
The Firefly series was under the threat of cancellation pretty much from the outset.
It can be argued that the tension of being under a poised axe actually helped make the show special — everyone brought their best efforts, to every minute. And ideas and scenes that might have been used later in the show worked their way into the early episodes.
And to ramp up the drama and the sense of the crew being all alone, the series early on introduced many threats: breaking down and going on the drift, Alliance patrols, various crime bosses, the Men with Blue Hands, pirates, Reavers. In fact it seemed that, with the brief exceptions of Monty the smuggler and Amnon the postman, our crew didn’t have any friends at all, only enemies. It wasn’t until the Serenity movie that we saw them being welcomed by a group and mention was made of anyone who could be considered friends or allies: “Get on the Cortex, wave Li Shen, the Sanchez brothers, anyone who has ever sheltered us after a heist. Tell them to get out now.” Friends. (After the fact, since we know what happened to all of those folks…)
It’s interesting to ponder this friendless state, considering that there’s a major — some would say, primary — theme in Firefly: the need to be part of a group to survive. Loners (even Jayne, who actually has a deep need to be part of something, which is why his famous t-shirts feature corporate and team logos) have a hard time surviving the hazards of the Verse. You need to be part of a crew. Or even, however dysfunctional it may be, a family.
Isn’t that why we love Firefly so? Sure, there’s the clever writing, the science-fictional setting, the capers. But really isn’t our fondest moment, the thing we would most like to experience, isn’t it those folks sittin’ around that big ol’ wooden table and just being like a family? People from all different backgrounds — soldiers, rich kids, ranch and small town folk, hired guns, heck even folks who favored Unification — somehow all living and working together to get by.
And the Verse isn’t just hazardous, it is very big and it can be lonely out there in the Black. Even control-freak Malcolm Reynolds realizes he won’t make it alone, to the point where against all practicality he takes in strays just to make the family bigger. (That’s in the series. Mal’s views on family from the movie, well, I’ll just consider those an anomaly, like a bad dream.) Another special moment: everyone is around the table and getting along, talking and laughing; cut to Mal who has a rare tender little smile, like a dad watching his kids.
Firefly is about finding your crew so you can be less alone in the Verse.
So it’s not surprising that, twelve years later, there are still clubs and active websites where Browncoats gather looking for crew. Also not surprising that there is now a steadily growing group dedicated to the upcoming Firefly Online game.
But there’s one big difference between the websites devoted to FFO and all those other Firefly fan sites:
Look at the other fan sites and you will find good folks sharing their love for the Firefly ‘Verse, sharing sightings of the BDHs and collectibles and someone’s latest version of Jayne’s cunning hat. And you will see some version of “They brought back <insert name of lame show> but they won’t bring back Firefly?” And every single memorable quote from the show (which, admittedly, is most of them) put with a variety of images.
But as much Browncoat love as you see out there, it’s all basically recycling.
Sure, I get a warm fuzzy knowing that if I make a Vera reference everyone will get it. But as beloved as all of this material is, we’ve been in reruns for a decade, folks.
The people following the Firefly Online FB page — and, especially, the Serenity Valley Smugglers Association page — now have something wonderful: the joy of looking forward to new material. And the Smugglers are not just waiting passively for this new stuff — they’re jumping right in and coming up with their own. There’s a community a-buildin’, to share information and speculation and just the sheer joy of the thought of getting more Firefly. And we’re already getting to know each other, and building networks.
And support. A list of friends to call on.
Andy Gore: It’s also true that each captain can set up a list of other captains you’re friends with. It’s not as formal as a guilding system but it does have a nice little feature which is, if you get in too deep in something, you can call on your list of friends to see if they will come and give you a hand.
We each celebrate a little when someone hits a BP milestone, or opens a bunch of crates. We all daydream together about the wonderful goods that we might find on the shelves of Mr. Wu’s celestial emporium, and work all the harder to earn Long Marks to shop with. We toss ideas around and get interesting feedback.
(And there are many of us who would like to see Shang Hai get his Skyplex, not just because it sounds like a great place to get some R&R after a job but because he is so obviously having a blast lookin’ over the blueprints.)
Backstories? You want backstories? You got ‘em, so many and so detailed that it is hard to keep up. Each Captain making their own little canon, so when the game cranks up their character will already have some mileage and be ready for the task of selecting The Perfect Crew and setting them loose on the Verse.
The quality of the fanfiction set in the Verse is gorram impressive, and a reflection of how much thought people have put into spending time there. You get the sense that some of these stories have actually been building over the last decade, lived by the characters, just waitin’ for the chance to come out and be heard.
Smugglers are not just waitin’ around. They’re busy gettin’ ready to do the job.
I was at Comic-Con just before the Serenity movie came out and the Browncoat energy was marvelous to see — everyone was smiling and dashing about and making new friends and generally jazzing up the scene. And with good reason: they had done the mighty. Browncoat energy is a marvel to behold.
And now we have someplace new to direct that energy. Where others lovingly but somewhat wistfully recycle the past, we can look to the future with eager anticipation.
After all this time, that’s quite a gift we’ve been given: something to look forward to. A new start.
More of the Verse.
And a renewed sense of community.
It’s evident that the game devs have all of this in mind:
Adam Cogan: The one that I am most excited about is the job tool. Which lets you create your own version of a job, you write the dialogue, you decide what kind of job it’s going to be, what they’re going to be doing, and then you put it out there and other people can play it. That’s my favorite thing and I really think that it kind of epitomizes what we aim for with this game. We want to have other players take up the mantle and be part of the ‘Verse. We want them to be making the game too.
There’s the sense that they’re not just making the game for us, they’re making it with us, with the same interests and goals. There have been several mentions of down-the-road brainstorming sessions, to get input from players. And their involvement with the folks on the FFO FB page and with the S.V. Smugglers helps them keep their finger on the pulse and get the smell of the zeitgeist.
(Have you ever been to one of those cons that are not run by fans but are obviously just to sell merchandise? The ones where some of the dealers act like carnies, and we are just marks? I call this process of loveless sales “milking the geeks”, and there is a strong barnyard stink that comes off of it. I am happy to say that I have not caught even the faintest whiff of such from our BDDs. They just smell of good honest Browncoat.)
We’ve all heard Nathan Fillion say, when a fan is bemoaning the cancellation of the series, “I understand, because the only one who is sadder about that than me, is Joss.” I think the flip side of that can be applied to the Big Damn Developers — however eager any of us are to get in the game they have to be even more so, to have it shared and enjoyed. And appreciated, for the hard work they’re putting in to get all of the details right. (For Browncoats are easy-going, but not shy about speakin’ their minds when they see a problem…)
The devs have shared enough with us, and the fans with the devs, that it feels like we’re all on the same boat planning a big job together. Or if you think that game developers responding to FB posts and doing Q&As, or Smugglers sending game developers pizza and brownies, don’t fall under the definition of “crew”… well, somebody sold you a broken dictionary.
I’ve always been forthright about flying my Browncoat colors; it’s not unusual to see me in public wearing my Firefly ballcap or “I Aim To Misbehave” t-shirt. (I’m particularly fond of my QMx screen-accurate Blue Sun shirt, though I need to get back to liftin’ weights before I can do justice to cutting the sleeves off.) And after cosplaying Mal and realizing that I like the cut of those duds, you’ll see me wearing the tightpants and suspenders to work. I’m always grooved when a fellow fan recognizes the represent.
But now I am freakin’ evangelical about representing Firefly in the world, to get the news out about Firefly Online. ‘Cuz there’s Browncoats longtime and potential who need to hear the word.
Case in point: I was at a sporting goods store the other day and the young woman helping me at the counter noticed my Firefly gear. “Oh, I loved that show!” she said. Then her face fell. “I was so sad that there weren’t more.” So I told her about the prospect of FFO and she listened with genuine interest and before long her wistfulness had turned to anticipation. A new-recruit Browncoat’s day made better by getting something to look forward to.
Firefly is set hundreds of years in the future, but for a decade we’ve been living in the past. It’s high time to look to the future again, and I am almost embarrassingly grateful and excited that Firely Online is giving us the chance.