This applies to the setting: “Warframe” is a unique meat-mech-powered twist on the sci-fi genre; “Soulframe” will be an appropriately odd take on fantasy. This also applies to the gameplay.
“Where ‘Warframe’ focuses on shooting, this one focuses on melee combat,” Sinclair said. “Where ‘Warframe’ is super fast and insanely fast, this one is going to be a lot slower and heavier. But it still has a lot of similarities with the genre we’re experienced in.”
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Even in the age of endlessly updated live service games, “Warframe” is a unique success story. Launched in 2013 with little fanfare and mediocre critical reception, the game still found an audience after Digital Extremes sewed in numerous ambitious updates and created the Frankenstein monster of the online gaming world. Slowly but surely, a humble cooperative shooter gained an emotional storyline, complex character progression systems, first-person murder mysteries, huge spaceships you can pilot with friends, catchy musical numbers about labor rights, open-world planets, hoverboarding (with tricks), pets, and fishing .
Fans have been able to witness and help shape the creation of many of these systems through development streams on Twitch, which have also been running since 2013. The result is a live-service game driven by the whims of developers and players alike, with the question, “What’s the coolest thing we could do here?” at the heart of countless decisions.
But no game is limitless. After all, developers need a blank slate. For Sinclair and company, “Soulframe” represents an opportunity to step onto a familiar but fresh link and see where it takes them.
The world of Soulframe, as suggested, might be his most interesting character. The game focuses on themes of nature, restoration and adventure, inspired by works like Princess Mononoke and The NeverEnding Story – specifically the collision between industry and nature. In service of this, the world will show their displeasure with the players who occupy them.
“The design [in ‘Soulframe’] is that the world itself is a little angry about what has been done to it, and the reasons underneath tend to shift throughout the day,” said creative director Geoff Crookes. “So there will be proceduralism within the cave networks and crevasses and so on under the world.”
The hub world, meanwhile, will be open and more akin to Warframe’s recently added open-world planets than its early formation of corridors and space stations. Crookes wants Soulframe to have a focus on exploration that Warframe never had – to make it feel more alive for players from moment to moment.
“I’m following this ‘short session but high immersion’ thing where you log in and you come out of your yurt and you’re where you last logged out,” he said, “but the world feels like they go on without you.”
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As combat progresses slowly, focusing on melee combat – and the game literally “DrunkFrame” – Sinclair and Crookes emphasized that they are not trying to make a game in the vein of From Software’s genre-breaking Souls series, which also includes 2022’s mega-hit “Elden Ring.” Or rather, they didn’t go into the project with that in mind.
“I think it certainly doesn’t inspire the original ideas or what we wanted to do,” Sinclair said. “Ironically, other titles that might have borrowed from ‘Warframe’ might have been sort of a reverse influence. But ‘Elden Ring’ was definitely an issue some Conversation – maybe with the camera, maybe with how excellent their battle pace is. And you know fuck these guys ’cause damn [‘Elden Ring’] was absolutely fantastic.”
Sinclair and Crookes weren’t ready to go over the exact details that differentiate Soulframe’s melee combat from Souls games, and there’s a good reason for that: Soulframe is still in the extremely early stages of development. Basic concepts for the game started floating around at Digital Extremes back in 2019, but only a very small team – mostly artists – had been dedicated to the work as of February of this year.
So why announce now when there’s hardly anything from the game to show? Sinclair acknowledged that it’s become a “meme” for companies to reveal games with vague CG trailers and few concrete details, but most of all he wants to be open with the players.
“Our work was extremely community-oriented,” Sinclair said. “It feels disingenuous not to say it [players] about changes and who runs ‘Warframe’. Actually, it’s way too early to announce ‘Soulframe’! But in terms of transparency and making sure they understand how we’re thinking, we tend to be a lot more open… than most studios.”
But Sinclair and Crookes don’t intend to announce Soulframe and then retire to a silent development lab of metal bars and tinted windows. Following the success of regular behind-the-scenes Warframe Twitch streams, they plan to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at Soulframe as early as possible. Ideally, this process begins as soon as possible, and die-hard Digital Extremes can play a version of Soulframe within a year.
“We want to try to do it similar to Warframe, like, ‘Hey, watch us make the game, get your hands on the rough bits and let us know how you feel,'” Sinclair said.
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That strategy might not sound advisable at such an early stage, but Sinclair believes it’s not far from what Digital Extremes did with Warframe, a game that’s now completely unrecognizable compared to its launch edition .
“To make it is to discover it at the same time,” Sinclair said. “My opinion is, well, if it doesn’t work, you just keep going until you’re dead or it works. There are many things in Warframe that were just pathetic bugs from a design perspective. And we were just like, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do that anymore. Just fix it and rebuild it.’
“It’s exhausting and difficult. You get that thing where someone made a chart of promises you broke. But I think with Warframe we were able to turn some people into champions [of the game] by speaking to them in a less reserved and less polished way.”
Sinclair also chose this moment to announce Soulframe because Warframe is getting a new open-world expansion, The Duviri Paradox, and he wants to show that the game is in good hands.
“A decade on Warframe, all the people in leadership positions have been there for 10 years, there haven’t been many opportunities for other people to take on leadership roles,” he said. “I wanted to get out of the way a bit and get some fresh ideas – give the next generation of our amazing team a chance to make some kind of movement.”
However, after so many years on the project, it wasn’t easy for Sinclair and Crookes to let go.
“It feels like leaving the house for the first time. It’s exciting, but also kind of bittersweet,” Crookes said. “Even though we’re going, I can’t see us ignoring ‘Warframe’ completely. ”
“We’ve had our hands slapped a few times,” Sinclair said, laughing. “I couldn’t help but get involved and it created conflict.”
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