In the middle of a very busy TennoCon 2017, the convention dedicated to Digital Extremes’ wildly successful game Warframe, we were able to have a chat with Studio General Manager Sheldon Carter. Read below to glean some information about what to expect with the newly-announced expansion, Plains of Eidolon, as well as take a glimpse into the studio’s creative process, in our interview below.
PlayStation LifeStyle: Describe the Plains of Eidolon in one sentence.
Sheldon Carter, Studio General Manager: It is a brand new gameplay space for Warframe, that both is going to challenge our veterans, but bring new players into the game.
PSLS: Where does the name Eidolon come from? The term appears to be Greek in origin, and means phantom or ghost, so…
Sheldon: There’s a lot of that feeling from the idea, I think when [Director] Steve [Sinclair] was showing you guys the [early-morning] demo, he kind of showed you the husks of the Sentients, from the Sentient battles, that were out there. So, there’s kind of a mysticism around this ancient battleground that the Ostron, the people that are in the town, have built up. So, I would say that that kind of feeling of ghosts, comes from that. On top of that, like I said, at night, things change, things rise from the waters, and that’s literally ghosts. So you can see where that kind of came from.
PSLS: It was mentioned during our demo, that what we saw today was the result of a couple months’ work, is that right?
Sheldon: With Warframe, we’re always looking at how are we going to broaden the game, right? What’s the thing that we’re going to change? And this year started, 2017, started with us looking at what we had, and saying, what are the things, where are the places that are ripe for an expansion? What are the things that we really want to do to make sure that the game does not go stale? And so, I would say that this level, this idea for the Plains of Eidolon and for even the Cetus village, those things came up in January. Now, it took us a little while to kind of get started on it, to concept it out, and really understand it. So, to say “a couple months,” I’d say it’s more like, you know, a six-month timeframe of a lot of different work. Maybe the actual, okay, we started building it? Yeah, a couple of months! One of the big parts of it was putting cultures into the game. Not having people that you shoot. That idea, is long. That idea, we’ve had for a very long time. It was just trying to articulate that in-game. What is the way that we were going to do it? I’d say that’s when we really realized it, was December/January.
PSLS: How has the development of this expansion benefitted the Evolution Engine?
Sheldon: That is a good question! Well, I mean, all the tech that we have, we had to put in there…To be fair, I can get a PR guy to hit you with like, here’s the exact tech, but I would say, what we were really trying to do was go from an engine or, go from the way we did games, which was a procedural generation of large levels, to wide-open spaces, that could easily stream in tons of content. So it was a huge change.
PSLS: Can you describe a bit more what Ostron society is like?
Sheldon: The Ostrons are interesting, because they are scavengers. But they scavenge things that the rest of the factions of the Warframe universe hold too sacred, or are too worried about, to handle themselves. So they let this kind of peasant, well I wouldn’t quite say peasant, that’s a bit of a stretch…But these scavenger people that are tough and hardy, able, [the rest of the factions] let them “mine” the stuff, extract it, so that they can benefit and trade.
PSLS: We saw that there’s a day/night cycle going on. How long does that last?
Sheldon: We’re going to try to have it so that, again, it’s enough of a time period that when you do have those new players there, they’re going to know that night’s coming. They’re going to know to get out. So, we’ve experimented with a few different things. I think there’s a few places in the game, that we have a day/night cycle already, not quite that – more like, you go to the level, and it could be night, or you go to the level, and it could be day. That’s what we have right now. So I think we tried to pretty closely mirror that, but that’s all going to depend on once we get players involved. This is what Warframe is, right? Warframe is: we come up with an idea, and then we put it out in the community, and see how they feel about it. Then we tweak! That’s our advantage, that we’re always updating the game.
PSLS: We saw during an art panel earlier, that [Community Manager] Rebecca [Ford] was taking notes, and saying “OK, we’re going to try that,” or “we’ll try to actually implement your idea, because it sounds great!” So would you say that’s kind of unique to your team?
Sheldon: I really think, you know, I have seen a few teams that do that as well, so I don’t want to say we’re the only one, but we definitely try hard for that to be a thing. So many of the developers on the team…this is our own proprietary tech, that we’ve built from the ground-up, to be able to quickly iterate. One of the first things we did was to try to make gameplay out of that. [Thinking] “Oh, how are we gonna prototype a gun really fast?” And now we’ve just extrapolated that to a game. So, you could be like, “Hey, I’m really interested to see what would happen if we could combine weapons.” Cool, let’s do it!
PSLS: How long will an average fight [against] those massive Spectral Sentients last? Can you describe the flow of how that kind of battle’s going to go?
Sheldon: So, to be frank, that’s still TBD [to be determined]. So, we have a design for it, how we want it to feel. I think, Steve alluded to it in his remarks, kind of like, the best parts of Monster Hunter are those battles that [have] phases. So, we really want that to have an impact. But, you also have to add the fact that we’ve got Archwing, that you can add into that. And, you’ve got your squad of four. So, that’s still subject to balance, which probably goes back to that previous question, that we’re gonna try one [length]. We’ll probably go too hard, that’s my guess! My guess is it’ll be too hard, and we’ll get feedback, we’ll understand what it is, and we’ll tweak it. So, the design goal for it, is probably to feel like something equivalent to some of the bosses that we have in the game.
PSLS: You mentioned the Archwing, that adds a whole different dimension to combat. [Will players] have access to all traditional combat while flying?
Sheldon: You can do all the things that you could do in your Archwing normally, like when you’re in space, while you’re [fighting in the Plains]. You might be using one that can shoot missiles, all those same tools when you’re in your Archwing are at your disposal. And then, because it is the way the game works, then you can instantly jump out, and then have all your other arsenals. So it’s basically like you’re packing two arsenals, when you’re going into a mission in there!
PSLS: Can you describe some of the discovery that players will be doing?
Sheldon: Obviously, the easy, low-hanging fruit there is the stuff with the fishing, which I think is going to be really cool – things that you can go back and trade into the town. But then, we’ve got whole new sets of wildlife, whole new sets of plant life that players can go and scan; that’s a huge component of the game is getting codex, and understanding new resources, in order to build the things in the Ostron town, in the Cetus village. So, you’re going to be out there hunting for resources that you’re going to be able to use in the town, to build these new weapons that are modular, and you can assemble. At the same time, you’re grabbing stuff that’s going to help augment your operator, and you’ve got these new places to find that are going to have caches of resources when you’re flying up to new places in your Archwing. So, there’s a whole bunch of different resource exploration that’s planned for this.
PSLS: You just mentioned this in passing, but there’s going to be a crafting system now, correct?!
Sheldon: Yeah, which is really exciting, because it’s something that we always wanted to have. Something that would be modular, like, imagine you have a handle, a blade, and a hilt (or thereabouts), and you can interchange what all of those different things are, to make your own new weapon that’s going to suit your playing style, and that is unique only to…the only place you can get it, the only place you can farm components for it, and the only place you can actually make all those items is in the village. So it’s kind of like a game within a game!
PSLS: Spec-wise, will those weapons be comparable to what you could find in the market?
Sheldon: Yeah, they’re going to have their own specialties, and their own little things that are kind of better for using there, but they’re definitely ones that you could still take out and use in the rest of the solar system.
PSLS: What new Warframes are coming our way?
Sheldon: There’s always new Warframes! I think in the art panel they previewed the high concept for the next one, which is…wait, actually, that’s not true! The next one is not that one, but I can talk about it. The one after [the next Warframe] is going to be a glass-based Warframe. I just love the idea of literally exploring a glass cannon, and how we can twist that idea. It’s got its own special weapons, like it has this awesome shotgun, that I think all Warframes will be able to use, but it’s one that’s kind of built the same way that that [Warframe] is. That’s one new Warframe, the other thing we announced is that Hydroid is going to get Primed, so the Hydroid Warframe will be our next Prime. He’s one of those ones that’s always been, I think, interesting to players, because that was the first time we were like, “Well, shit, we can make a guy turn into a puddle of water, and people like that?!” So now you’re going to have a Prime puddle?! So Hydroid is exciting, because, I think, him, with a little bit of the oomph that they get from Priming, I think is going to make for a pretty spectacular Warframe.
PSLS: Speaking of Hydroid Prime, a while back [Digital Extremes] tweeted out a picture of a river, and people thought Hydroid Prime was going to be this year’s big reveal. So, how did you guys keep this megaton secret so secret?
Sheldon: I literally don’t know. We’ve been so terrible at it previously! There’s been so many times where we just wished we hadn’t given a preview, and built expectations in a different way, and this time we just…I think we just all knew that it was going to be so big for the game, that we were like, you know what? Let’s just figure out other ways to talk about this stuff.
PSLS: So you kept the focus elsewhere, then?
Sheldon: Totally. We had Harrow, we had another new Warframe, we had a few other little events. Things that were just enough that our community was like, “oh yeah, they’re still going.” And we always alluded to the fact that we were working on something big.
PSLS: What’s your personal favorite Warframe?
Sheldon: Mine’s definitely Valkyr! I’ve always had the kind of…I’m like a Spider-Man addict. So, I love being able to zipline around, or rip-line around levels, and on top of that, I have “God mode,” just in case I’m in trouble, Valkyr’s always been my favorite.
PSLS: How about your favorite loadout for Valkyr?
Sheldon: Ooh, that’s interesting. Can I remember the augment’s name? I love, obviously, having an augment that just allows me to rip-line more, that’s where I’m always going. Just looking at efficiency, so that I can hold on to Hysteria for as long as possible. Weapon-wise, I’m really just a casual when it comes to what I pick for my loadout. I have certain weapons, like I’ve always loved the Soma Prime, so I’m always going to take that, no matter what I’m doing. Then, just because it’s Valkyr, I’ll put Venkas on for melee weapon. Sidearm, I’ll mix-and-match. And what’s better than having the cat frame with a cat? So I’ll take a Kavat with me!
PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Sheldon Carter for taking the time to speak with us, and to Digital Extremes for reaching out for the coverage opportunity at TennoCon 2017. The Warframe Plains of Eidolon expansion is set to launch later this year.