This applies to the setting: “Warframe” is a unique, meat-mechanism-driven twist on the sci-fi genre; “Soulframe” will be an appropriately weird take on fantasy. It will also apply to the game.
“Where ‘Warframe’ focuses on shooting, this one focuses on melee,” Sinclair said. “While ‘Warframe’ is super fast and high speed, this one will be much slower and heavier. But it still has a lot of similarities to the genre that we have experience with.”
Even in the era of endlessly updated live service games, “Warframe” is a unique success story. Released in 2013 to little fanfare and middling critical reception, the game nonetheless found an audience after Digital Extremes added numerous ambitious updates to it, creating the Frankenstein monster of the online gaming world. Slowly but surely, a humble co-op shooter gained an emotional story, complex character progression systems, first-person murder mysteries, huge spaceships you can pilot with friends, catchy musical numbers on 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 that have also been running since 2013. The result is a live service game guided by the whims of developers and players. equally, with the question: “What is the best we can do here? at the center of countless decisions.
But no game is unlimited. Developers eventually need a blank slate. For Sinclair and company, “Soulframe” represents an opportunity to venture into a familiar yet fresh member and see where it takes them.
The world of “Soulframe”, as it is proposed, could be its most interesting character. The game will focus on themes of nature, restoration and adventure inspired by works such as “Princess Mononoke” and “The Neverending Story”, specifically, the collision between industry and nature. In service of that, the world will show its displeasure towards the players who occupy it.
“The concept [in ‘Soulframe’] it’s that the world itself is a little bit angry about what’s been done to it, and the underlying motives tend to change throughout the day,” said creative director Geoff Crookes. “So there will be proceduralism within the networks of caves and rifts and such under the world.”
Meanwhile, the hub world will be open, more akin to the open-world planets recently added by “Warframe” than its initial base of corridors and space stations. Crookes wants “Soulframe” to have a focus on exploration that “Warframe” never had, so that players feel more alive in each moment.
“I’m chasing that ‘short session but high immersion’ thing where you check in and walk out of your yurt and you’re back where you last logged out,” he said, “but the world seems like it’s been going on without you.” . . ”
While the combat will be slow paced and melee focused, and the game is literally called “Soulframe”: Sinclair and Crookes stressed that they are not trying to make a game in the vein of From Software’s genre-first Souls series, which includes the 2022 mega-hit “Elden Ring.” Or rather, they didn’t go into the project with that in mind.
“I think it’s certainly not an inspiration for the initial ideas or what we wanted to do,” Sinclair said. “Ironically, other titles that maybe borrowed from ‘Warframe’ could have been some sort of reverse influence. But ‘Elden Ring’ has absolutely been a topic of some conversation: maybe it has to do with the camera, maybe how great his combat pacing is. And you know, fuck those guys, because damn, [‘Elden Ring’] it was absolutely fantastic.”
Sinclair and Crookes weren’t ready to discuss the exact details that distinguish “Soulframe’s” melee from the Souls games, and there’s a good reason for that: “Soulframe” is still very early in development. The basics for the game began floating around Digital Extremes in 2019, but only a very small team, mostly artists, had been working on it as of February.
So why announce it now, when there’s hardly anything of the game to show? Sinclair acknowledged that it’s become a “meme” when companies reveal games with vague CG trailers and few concrete details, but above all he wants to be honest with players.
“Our work has been extremely community-driven,” Sinclair said. “It feels fake not to say [players] about the changes and who leads ‘Warframe’. It’s too early to announce ‘Soulframe’! But in terms of transparency and making sure they understand how we think, we tend to be a lot more open…than most studios.”
But Sinclair and Crookes aren’t planning on announcing “Soulframe” and then retreating to a secret development lab that’s all metal bars and tinted windows. After finding success with regular “Warframe” behind-the-scenes Twitch streams, they plan to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at “Soulframe” as soon as possible. Ideally, that process will start as soon as possible, and Digital Extremes fans will be able to play a version of “Soulframe” a year from now.
“What we want to try is to do something similar to ‘Warframe,’ which is, ‘Hey, watch how we make the game and get your hands on the rough parts and tell us how you feel,'” Sinclair said.
This strategy may sound ill-advised at such an early stage, but Sinclair believes it’s not that far removed from what Digital Extremes did with “Warframe,” a game that is now completely unrecognizable compared to its launch edition.
“Doing it is like discovering it at the same time,” Sinclair said. “In my mind it’s like, well, if it doesn’t work, you keep going until you die or it works. There are a lot of things in ‘Warframe’ that were abject flaws from a design perspective. And we just said, ‘Okay, well, we’re not going to do that anymore.’ Just fix it and redo it.’
“It is exhausting and difficult. You get the thing where someone made a spreadsheet of promises that you broke. But I think with ‘Warframe’ we were able to turn some people into champions. [of the game] speaking to them in a less guarded, less polished way.”
Sinclair also chose this time to announce “Soulframe” because “Warframe” is about to receive a new open world expansion, “The Duviri Paradox”, and he wants to show that the game is in good hands.
“A decade into ‘Warframe,’ all the people in leadership positions having been there for 10 years, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for other people to step into leadership roles,” he said. “I wanted to get a little bit out of the way and get some fresh ideas — to have a chance for the next generation of our great team to flex.”
That said, after so many years dedicated to the project, it hasn’t been easy for Sinclair and Crookes to let it go.
“It feels like leaving home for the first time. It’s exciting, but it’s also a little bittersweet,” Crookes said. “Even though we’re leaving, I can’t see us completely ignoring ‘Warframe.'”
“We’ve been slapped a few times already,” Sinclair said with a smile. “I haven’t been able to help myself to interfere, and it has created a conflict.”
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