Skip to main content

"A homage to Children of Men that fits the weird Warframe world" - Warframe creative director speaks on latest narrative rollercoaster

Rebecca Ford sits down and speaks on the latest story bombshell dropped ahead of TennoCon.

Warframe Jade Shadows Stalker baby
Image credit: VG247

In case you weren't aware, Warframe has recently released an absolute belter of an update. Titled Jade Shadows, it includes a new quest, a new frame, three new weapons, and a new mission type. It's packed full of delicious content - but even now it's the quest, with its narrative twists and turns, that's stuck in my head. It has caused much debate among the community, super-charged with speculation and emotion.

I wanted to dig into the Jade Shadows quest a bit, which is why I sat down with Warframe creative director Rebecca Ford to speak on how the quest came about, the inspirations for its story beats, some of its key features and a few fun curveballs along the way. It should go without saying but consider this a spoiler warning for Jade Shadows from here on out.

VG247: The Stalker is a legacy character in the game, and as part of this update the team went back and added a lot of characterization to him. How did you approach that task?

Ford: "We knew we wanted to do a Stalker quest, because The New War ended and there was still some unfinished business there. The Stalker was, in our opinion, so instrumental with his turning point in The New War. He was there when you took on the Archons, he gave you Nataruk, he really had a role to play. So we really were pinpointing what the Stalker thought about what happened in The New War, and where does he go from here."

"So the ideation came, we were churning and churning, and then our principal character artists Michael Skyers was pitching this warframe. He had already done the concepts and was sending mood boards over, and said he really wanted her to have an old school astrologian globe as a belly, and I think we should try that. Two trains crashed into each other, like oh my god, of course. This warframe is the key to the Stalker narrative future. It just went so fast from there, once those two orbits collided it was an unstoppable force of how to do this right, and it took a year and a half, two years almost."

VG247: It's a powerful narrative twist, adding a new layer to his character motivations. How did you make this work?

Ford: "When we saw the frame and we saw the artistic approach to it was going to be very Warframe, using light and glass, we said okay, we can go abstract on a warframe level and very human at a story level. The Warframe would be jade, glass, light, choir and cool. But the Stalker perspective on it would be very grounded, there'd be a character done to support this lifeform there is that happens as a result of the quest. In short, we were able to pull two very different approaches: the abstract and the literal."

Warframe Jade Shadows, Jade and Stalker ship
This image was the first glimpse we had of Jade, back turned to hide the big story spoiler. | Image credit: Digital Extremes

VG247: Among the community there's a shared sentiment that it's a very sad quest. In terms of hitting those notes, what were the most important goals for the team?

Ford: "The first piece of art we saw when figuring out what this looks like, what The Stalker being a father looks like. The first piece of art was The Stalker tenderly holding a baby! We went, okay. That's something, there's something there for him as a character to have this. When we say this, there was also a sense of loss in that picture, as she wasn't in that concept. That wasn't a direction thing, it was just the first thing that made sense to put into a sketch, and him standing alone with the baby was going to be tragic. The Orokin would certainly make sure of it. We realised in so many layers, of course Balus would experiment on a pregnant woman, and turn a pregnant women into a warframe, not caring about the consequences of that. And of course, Stalker would see the true evil of the Orokin empire through that lens."

"So we had this tragic first pass, then we did story beats over and over again. We went in so many different directions, and people fell in love with those different directions, but in my perspective when we saw that first picture and that power it showed us about how The Stalker is going to get over thinking anything other than the Orokin were evil. It needed that."

"It's tragic, it's sad. But there was a lot we wanted to say there, and I'm not a huge movie buff, but I will say my favourite movie of all time is Children of Men. When I first saw it over 10-15 years ago it haunted me. I was just on the cusp of developing taste because I was 16, 17. It destroyed me. Knowing we could make a homage to Children of Men that fits the weird Warframe world... I became a feral dog. The team were too, we were a pack of feral dogs. How do we land that? What was the music going to be? What is the cinematic moment going to be? Everyone brought such care to that final scene."

Warframe belly of the beast gameplay
A long elevator up ending with a slow walk through enemy forces is very Children of Men.Image credit: Digital Extr

VG247: It comes off very Children of Men, especially that last 10 minutes.

Ford: "It has to be, I think! What is happening in a world where you've only known war and this happens? Of course you're going to want to know what kind of world this child is being born into."

VG247: There's also some interesting characterization for the Corpus in that scene! The faction has already been expanded a lot with Parvos in recent years, and other main characters too. Talk me through your approach to painting them in an interesting light.

Ford: "It does resolve itself for her (Captain Xeto) as a character. As you're going up the elevator she's saying, 'The sisterhood doesn't give second chances', so you know in that moment she has killed her career to let this go. We'll talk about that in a future update, maybe. But you know in that moment she chose the enemy and its chance rather than her own career."

VG247: You mentioned other directions during development. Can you expand on some of those?

Ford: "Yeah! Some of the first drafts, there was no Jade. So Stalker after the quest, he had him going on this kind of side adventure, but when Jade entered the picture it became clear that Stalker needed to become a father. That was the first line. But then the questions started coming in like, does he actually have a family? What role would Jade play in the family for the player? We discussed it at length about where we could go, and it was really a choice between the father moment, a family moment, and we ended up taking the riskier choice. Some people might agree with that, disagree with that, but it's up to the players to let us know what they think!"

Stalker in Warframe
Everyone's favourite keyboard warrior. | Image credit: Digital Extremes

VG247: That final moment of the quest, you get to choose the name of the baby! I noticed it has an interesting twist from the Warframe classic black and white choices, where it's red and green for Stalker and Jade. When did that pop up?

Ford: "Oh, okay! This is going to sound crazy, but as we were developing the quest, I can actually give you the timeline on that. I was driving in to work and I saw Steve (Steve Sinclair, now CEO at Digital Extremes), and I think this was the week before the quest launched. It was on June 6 - the last thing added to the quest was the baby name. The only thing that was missing from the quest was The Stalker making a choice. On June 12, I did the worst mockup of all time with random names I thought could work - the narrative team did a pass on the names to find some that would work."

"When I'm in a dilemma like this, I asked Steve if it was appropriate to ask the team to do something at this time. And Steve just looked at me and said, you have to do this. You have to let them name the baby. Within a day it was in. So, everyone rallied around it like yes, okay we get it, we see what was missing in this quest. I'm so glad, so so glad we added it. We had to contact Giani, the voice actor, because it would be so much more impactful if he said the baby name."

VG247: Which of the names are winning out right now? Are you tracking it?

Ford: "We are tracking it. It isn't 50/50! In The New War quest where people pick between Drift and Operator, that was shockingly 50/50. For this choice, it's about a 65/35 split right now. I don't want to say which is which because I don't want to make anyone feel like they were wrong."

Warframe Helminth
We don't know how the baby's story will proceed, but we all know where it will end. | Image credit: Digital Extremes

VG247: Onto some fun ones. Roughly a year ago, someone asked on a devstream if warframes could get pregnant. Your reaction was pointed out recently as being quite shocked. Was that due to the nature of the question or..?

Ford: "Steve knew! Jade was well into development by then! Steve knew exactly what he was doing and he did that to get a reaction out of me. Knowing that, I believe the entire team, was already on board and determined not to spoil this in marketing art. Steve read that question, looked at me, and he knew. I could have screamed, I have no poker face at the best of times, so I went crazy!"

VG247: Hunhow's on his own!

Ford: "I know!"

VG247: All of his family is gone, Stalker is gone. Is he just going to be stuck there now?

Ford: "I can't say. Time will tell. But he's a grandpa now!"

VG247: Can we expect The Stalker to be a bit nicer in emails from here on out?

Ford: "No, no. Never! Never. He has them on auto reply unfortunately. He's such an old man that he doesn't even know how to. He's never updated his out-of-office."

Read this next