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Warframe New War Interview - the long, Covid hit road to release

We sat down with Rebecca Ford to discuss the update's three year journey.

Warframe, the sci-fi action game from Canadian developer Digital Extremes, is getting a huge new Quest update later this month. The New War update has been in the works for a while now, first revealed all the way back in 2018 to the game’s community.

However, that was certainly a while ago, and The New War has warped and shifted quite a bit since we first heard about the dramatic conclusion of the Warframe story as we know it. To find out exactly what has changed I sat down with Rebecca Ford, live operations and community director at Digital Extremes, to find out the journey the quest has taken, how development faired over COVID lockdowns, and how the team behind the game are feeling with the most anticipated content update nigh on release.

VG247: The New War was announced back in 2018, can you talk me through how the original scope of the update has shifted into what we’re seeing later this month?

Rebecca Ford: Oh the initial scope! It did shift quite a bit. I think with our initial announcement back in 2018, anything you saw then, the DNA is the same. The characters, the world were always meant to be what they were. Naturally, when we first teased it back in 2018 there have been things to move the lore along, whether it be the state Vallis is in, the introduction of Erra. That’s always been planned of course, but the scope of the actual quest itself changed pretty dramatically when we realized we wanted to go bigger.

VG247: So what did the initial update look like back in 2018? It’s obviously vastly different now, but what were we looking at back then?

Rebecca Ford: If I were to use a literary analogy, we were looking at a poem whereas now we are looking at an epic. The original scope was very poetic, it was very much an exercise on the poetry of the relationships in the world. Now, we have ourselves the more epic approach. Where the pieces that fell into place back in 2018 merit a much more epic exploration, and that’s what we set off to do in a way that I think no one will be able to see coming.

VG247: In what ways has it gotten bigger? More content coming in the update? The size of the quest itself?

Rebecca Ford: The quest itself. When we look at telling a story through our single-player quest experiences, we always make choices right? Like for instance in The Second Dream, it’s set in the Uranus Sealab, then you move onto a new place - Lua. Each of these places are like a footprint for the work involved and the scope. So while you can set things in familiar places, sometimes it can be more interesting to go somewhere new with new things. By that virtue alone the scope grew, and it grew in a way that will very clearly set the expectation of where we’ll go next after The New War.

It’s kind of self-defeating to tell this four hour story, and instead of focusing on that, point to what comes next, but realistically it’s all there. You know once you’re done with The New War what we have in store for 2022 - it’s based concretely on what is teased in the quest.

VG247: Awesome. So the quest is called The New War, which implies the start of something big, so is it fair to say that this quest is a big milestone in terms of the narrative of Warframe? That it’s important in setting up what’s coming next and the future adventures the player will be going on?

Rebecca Ford: Absolutely. It’s so weird for me working on this game for so long to have those definitive progression points. A lot of Warframe’s content releases over the past couple of years has been a ‘choose your own adventure’ for players. A player doesn't necessarily have to engage with XYZ, and your friends could have a totally different experience without touching the same type of content.

So for us to have The New War be this new progression point is very promising, just in terms of dev mentality on how we’re going to treat the time that follows. It’s so rock solid, like yes you’ve hit The New War progression point, we can easily design around that experience from that point onwards. Whereas right now, you can only design around fragments of experiences. Like if you play railjack, an update could be for you, but some people don’t even play railjack.

VG247: Right so it’s like a bottleneck? From here on out, updates kick off from The New War.

Rebecca Ford: Yes! The best positive bottleneck!

VG247: Is there a sense of relief that there will be this kicking off point from here on out? That if you do a future update from 2022 and beyond, that every player can get into it?

Rebecca Ford I don’t think there are words in the English language for me in my role specifically that can properly celebrate having these unified story points. I think for everything I do, and as much as I’ve worked on this game, to see that all roads lead to New War. To be able to have those progression points so the player experience can be unified for all Tenno that you’ll ever meet in game is the invisible currency of Warframe community building. It’s the reason people actually want to play Warframe.

Like sure you can tell your friends you’re playing this cool space ninja game. That it’s four-player co-op and they should come shoot some stuff and grind. That’s reason enough to talk about Warframe, but for The New War it’s something that indirectly unites all the content we’ve done. It’s a story, it’s cinematic, it’s beautiful, and it’s our way of progression marking the player's content. I’m now in a position where I can say it’s easy to make post-New War content, because once someone’s hit it everything is so much simpler.

There’s nothing wrong with players doing their own thing all the time, that’s a perfectly healthy way to live, but you need these rally points to make it all worth something I think. To make your life easier as a developer, it’s great to have a situation where you can go “hey, we've got this new thing, all you need to do is hit New War."

VG247: Following the 2018 reveal, we didn’t get a good look at what The New War would become until Tennocon 2021, where you showed off the update and the decision to start it off as non-player characters. How did the team react when the community seemed to be excited by the direction after all those years?

Rebecca Ford I will never forget the ominous sense of “have we misstepped, should we have done this?” up to the minute we showed off the demo live. We didn’t know if people were going to dig this, or who even wanted this. Then, watching people react to the journey we took them through between the three characters - the moment Teshin showed up and we saw [Twitch] chat explode! I literally remember staring over at the people sitting down at the couch, and the relief that it worked even in that small setting was like a thank god moment.

The war is about you and your character, but to be able to sprinkle in these new characters I think was important for the story we’re trying to tell. Even though it is a story about you and your Tenno, getting that initial war punchy-ness is going to set the tone.

VG247: When COVID hit, everything got thrown up in the air for developers all over the world. Can you tell me how that impacted the development of The New War? I know the team transitioned to working from home…

Rebecca Ford: It stopped. The New War’s development virtually ended. We went “what are we going to do, how do you make a quest without a team together? We need to come up with a plan B for 2020." There were explorations into The New War in 2020, but there wasn’t your traditional quest development until mid-year. So I’d say we straight up lost six months total. We really did lose time - fully lost it. Just because we didn’t know what to do, and were all traumatized, scared and having to work still.

That led to us trying to figure out a plan B. So Tenno Con 2020, the Heart of Deimos update and the infested open world, was born of a track switch away from The New War. After that we realized we had to focus back onto The New War, so we did.

On the question you asked earlier on how the update changed back in 2018 - Kahl and Veso (new characters introduced in The New War) didn’t exist in 2018. It wasn’t until things really got refocused on The New War that we took that direction of telling the war from the story of the Grineer, the Corpus, and Teshin. So in a way, I’m very grateful that we got more time to work on it, because I almost can’t imagine The New War without them now! They only exist because we had so much time to work on it, so that’s sort of a silver lining I suppose.

VG247: So I take it that - with the journey through COVID in mind - that there must be a massive amount of personal investment in this not just from yourself but a lot of the team. What is it like to finally get his big milestone release out there after all this time?

Rebecca Ford: In many ways it's been the only thing to look forward to in the pandemic, so that’s probably in need of deep psychoanalysis on its own! I think my favourite points of working on this game has always been when we’re able to tell a story. To do it in a way that’s curated as an experience and reflects our skills as a developer. To have our interests reflected in a work of art for me is… it’s awful! It’s terrifying! Like, what if people hate it? What if, what if, worst case scenario.

But at the end of the day, I can’t not look at the work that has come together for The New War and think to myself that we were meant to get this out as a team. You get one chance in life to make an impression on people, and we’ve made a deal with the void if you will on the number of chances players give us. I feel like this is, for all my rationalisation and work, what makes everything worth it for me.

I can’t talk too much about what I’ve done for it specifically, because even that alone is a spoiler. To say “Oh I’ve voiced some stuff” would raise questions about whether Lotus is in it, whether she isn’t in it, how much I voiced? All I can say is there’s been no shortage of literal tears.

VG247: How’s the team feeling right now? Obviously a mix of super nervous and excited, but what’s moral like at Digital Extremes?

Rebecca Ford: Right now, I think people are starting to play it for the first time, isolated from the work involved. I think people are seeing aspects of the quest come together for the first time, that they’ve only seen in isolation, and I think people are probably crying at their desks!

I think people are terrified of what comes with the changes that we’re doing and everything. It really is a marathon - not a sprint - we have to be very tactical with the release. You only get one chance to release The New War, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure your first time through the quest isn’t going to break anything.

The New War is launching on all platforms December 15. If you want to know more about what is coming in the update, we’ve got a write up of everything coming in The New War update here. If you want a deeper look at the New War quest itself, we’ve also got another interview which takes a closer look at the narrative and gameplay of The New War.

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Connor Makar avatar

Connor Makar

Staff Writer

Connor is VG247's roaming reporter, with 3 years' experience in the field. A passionate fighting game fan, he is glued onto the genre and its community. He is tragically a grappler player. And likes gacha.