It’s amazing to think that any one game could have a dedicated convention, let alone one that’s not from one of the big five publishers, but Warframe has done just that. TennoCon is now in its sophomore year and its 2017 incarnation was by all accounts a smashing success. Hardcore Gamer was able to make the trek out to sunny London, Ontario to take part in all the festivities and given exclusive access to many from the Digital Extremes team. We caught up with the ever popular Rebecca Ford — Live Operations and Community Producer for Warframe — to chat with her about what Plains of Eidolon means for Warframe, the future of the series and TennoCon as a whole.
[Hardcore Gamer] First off, congratulations on another successful TennoCon.
[Rebecca Ford] You’re probably going to have to pinch me that we got this far through the day.
It had been about five years for Warframe. Did you ever think it would become this big, let alone have its own convention?
Blunt honestly, speaking from the heart, this is the most surreal experience of my life. I have been working with Digital Extremes on Warframe for years and the fact we’re here in this building with thousands of fans, it feels too good to be true. I’m just happy.
What would you contribute this success to?
It comes down to the game being fun at its core. When you’re playing Warframe, you’re playing a casual game with your friends, you get really good feedback. You’re shooting, you’re moving faster than any other game right now, at least in terms of action games. And that is kind of a delicious sensation when you’re playing from there, you take the core and build a universe on top of it that has great art and is cooperative. You mix well with people who are there for the same goal.
I think right now we have this world and idea of procedural levels, and these characters that are really strong, and now we introduced questlines where you learned who you really are. You have quests of intense loss, sacrifice and choice, and I would like to see us take those RPG elements, those story elements, but also social aspects and turn it into a new world that we can continue to make. It might have something to do with what we have tonight.
OK, let’s talk about the big announcement for later today: Plains of Eidolon. What makes it the biggest update since the game’s initial release?
It is legitimately true. Warframe is a game made of these tiles. People who went to the tile demonstration know how the game is made, how pieces are streamlined together, and you follow a path and you get to where you want to go, and it’s always very linear, more or less. It’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s beautiful, but you’re used to it. If you begin to wonder what’s next. No one is expecting this which to me is the most exciting part about it.
We’re about to give them a landscape and they’ve wanted that. Even if they didn’t know they wanted that, the way they give feedback in level design, you can tell they’re itching for space. They want more.
How long had this been in development for, even from a conceptual level?
So, we started early this year, probably between three and six months from idea to pen on paper. We essentially started the year off with the biggest problem of all: what are we going to do to keep our veterans happy? We can write a quest to keep them happy for a week, or can think what’s the next push. We’ve pushed in all sorts of directions and they all have given us different results, mostly positive, but you can see when something doesn’t have that staying power from someone who loves our game for it’s core, that fluid gameplay and stuff, but in this case, this caters to that too a degree you can’t get any idea. We’re about to put their skills to the test.
Why now? Why such a dramatic leap in game design?
I think it’s vital to our survival. We’ve only survived because we pivoted. You can only pivot so many ways before you go back to where your started. If you keep tearing down existing systems, you’re never growing, so you have to add to make that move into content that is surprisingly shocking because I don’t think [fans] think we have it in us (laughs). I think our players underestimate us at this particular time and I think it’s too our advantage as I don’t think they’ll see this coming.
How will Plains of Eidolon affect mission designs going forward?
I think it will affect it dramatically. So much of the game is built around the core that we have, and it boils down to a player going out and getting resources and finding stuff. We’re still going to have that there, but it’s executed in a more… A way where the player has more agency to go visit and go back where there’s no jarring transition. You’re going out into the plains and you can find resources and interact with the environment in, well you saw the fishing. All of these are going to amplify the current gameplay. You’ll be able to kill things in cooler ways which is usually what they’re looking for.
It was mentioned there was a day and night cycle. How does this affect adventuring and gameplay elements? Are there specific specific quests that occur in the shade of darkness?
Yes. Right now the player is faced with a faction called the Grineer, who’s largely the first fraction you encounter in the game. So, a new player is familiar with them. In the daytime, new players will be very comfortable, learning things about the world. But at nighttime, the Eidolon comes out and that is an enemy that can only be encountered by someone that has the gear and the progression in the game to do so. We’re talking hours into the game to unlock different quests to give them access to the Tenno, your operator, so that’s a progression lock, more or less. This “kaiju” we call it, can’t be countered by someone who hasn’t progressed far enough. So it’s an end game version of nighttime.
So can people who haven’t reached the “end game” go out at night at all?
At this particular time, we’re debating what we’re going to do – if we’re going to let them. It’s most likely going to be a no because that’s a certain gameplay hook needed ahead of time, but the struggle for us is we’re a free-to-play game; we want as many people to play the new stuff as soon as possible, so if we release this awesome update that takes you twenty hours to get to, that’s a problem. Luckily daytime is a solution but nighttime is in its own easy enticing, so we’re trying to figure out exactly how to hook someone in to communicate this is what night is for if you’re new. Which is something we struggle with a lot.
Talk to me about the first settlement, Cetus.
Cetus is the first colony we’ve ever seen in Warframe. It is a group of Ostrons who are scavengers. They are hardy and they tear down relics of the Orokin era, which is sort of Romans of the future of the past. A little bit of mental gymnastics there. They’re welcoming to you. They’re willing to trade, they’re willing to share their technology, but of course a price is involved. But they’re there to let you explore what they built for themselves.
What sorts of inspirations went into constructing this colony?
I think it was just, how do you make scavengers feel ancient but futuristic at the same time. So that was a huge struggle. We had our concept artist really work on our off character designs to make sure we had something that was obviously a competent scavenger. So these people work hard, they have unlocked a way to survive on this very, very treacherous planet because you have all the military Grineer.
Does this leave room for additional settlements ?
We are pretty receptive to first reactions, that social group is pretty good for us, so we’re expecting a reaction tonight to solidify future plans. But, we’re waiting for that six o’clock to start so we can commit.
I hope so! I’m starting to get a little scared people will be like ‘I don’t understand what’s going to.” But I hope it will be good.
Looking back five years ago, did you ever expect Warframe to turn into what it is today?
No. Never. It feels surreal. Every part of me wants to somehow… How it’s this still going? It’s too good to be true, but everyone cares so much and they’re willing to pour their energy, time and life keeping this game alive, and what the community had made of it is so rewarding for us that I never want to stop.
As someone who came back to Warframe around six months ago after a couple of years off, I felt overwhelmed with all the new mechanics and content. It was mentioned some quests like Chains of Harrow are like 100 hours in. How do you balance and remedy new and returning players so they’re not lost?
It’s the hardest question to answer because there is no perfect solution and rely on our community being helpful in a coop game which can only get you so far. The design elements for returning players, figuring out what is going on is really making sure tutorials are accessible and actually interesting to engage with. We’ve added things to make the elements of the game more visible, we’ve simplified the UI in many ways to ensure you’re only seeing what’s relevant to you, but at the same time the systems are very hard to explain because you have access to them right away, so it’s a constant struggle.
We just did a huge revision pass for the new user experience with update 21, Chains of Harrow. We consulted with external companies and went through and really helped us simplify and enhance what was already there.
When can we expect Plains of Eidolon to release?
It should be this year.
Thank you for your time.