"It's really become an art for the team" — How Warframe's 50th frame reflects current day Digital Extremes
Pablo Alonso and Rebecca Ford talk about Styanax, their goals for the frame, and how it reflects nine years of experience.
It’s a massive day for Warframe fans out there, in fact, it’s kind of like Warframe Christmas right now. The Veilbreaker update is launching with Protea Deluxe, a new single player quest featuring Kahl with additional Kahl missions landing in-game very soon, and perhaps most excitingly, Styanax is here.
A free gift to players (for a limited time) to celebrate the 50th frame added to the sci-fi MMORPG, Styanax marks a major milestone in the ongoing journey Digital Extremes has ventured through over the last few years. Going from hail mary release of Warframe back in the day all the way to recent months as it expands its tendrils into a multi-game developer and publisher.
To find out more about the design of this new frame, its conception, and how it reflects a newer and more contemporary Digital Extremes, I sat down with lead game designer Pablo Alonso, as well as newly-pink-shorted creative director Rebecca Ford (which apparently don’t even fit. Ford later informed me that a pair of sparkly pink boots will make an appearance on the next Dev Stream).
To start, Rebecca Ford emphasised that to celebrate the occasion, the team “wanted to do something special” with a frame that both looked and played like a Greek Hoplite. The theme for the frame was her idea, and the design based around that theme was nailed down roughly a year ago - way longer than the usual development cycle for a frame, this gestation period was necessary due to the animated trailer which was released for Styanax a month ago.
As for the inspiration for the Hoplite, Rebecca Ford credits the idea to a mixture of fan-desire and her own Greekiness at the time, brought out due to a certain brilliant Rogue-like. “It may have been Hades! There have been so many fan concepts for spear users, hoplites or centurains. So now we have what is probably one of the more classic warframes we’ve released in years in terms of just sheer punchiness, execution of abilities, and the gameplay loop.”
Speaking of that gameplay loop, how exactly did the team bring that spear-and-shield combat fantasy to Warframe, so players can live the concept as they play through missions and grind out rivens. Pablo stepped in to cover the two main aspects they wanted to nail: the precision of the spear and supporting your party. “It was important that the spear and shield were integrated as much as possible. One issue we had was that single target abilities in Warframe weren’t particularly useful. But with a spear, something that requires precision, that’s just not strong enough. So we had to find a twist, when you hit them with a spear and they hit a wall, an AOE vortex triggers. It was also important for us that Styanax was aiding the team, providing shields and energy to your team.”
One addition to Veilbreaker that may fly under the radar (for many uninitiated in Warframe) is an overall change to how armour works on enemies, and the new-found abilities that players can use to strip that protection away. Styanax also features some dedicated armour-shred, allowing them to rip through it like no other frame can. According to Pablo, it was via Styanax’s development that the team learned a wider gameplay adjustment is needed: “So I go to slap a guy, and he still has armour. That just does not feel right. You had to literally hit them seven times to remove armour.”
Apparently, this isn’t the first time a new frame has led to sweeping changes to the game, Pablo followed up by remembering the release of Harrow, and how their headshot-reliant frame led to improvements to that system as well.
If there’s one element of Styanax that showcases a shift internally at Digital Extremes, it’s a newfound ability to give away more substantial rewards that would have been major sources of income in the past. “5 years ago, if I had pitched giving away our brand-new headliner frame completely for free, I’d probably have been speared myself!” Rebecca Ford exclaimed. “We were still working out our monetization, trying to figure out the most important thing to do in the first 2 weeks of fair and free monetization. We are now in a position where we can give away a frame for free as a celebration, rather than coming up with an alternative way”. Now, with optional monetization focused on “fashion frame” — the customisation and personalisation of a players’ suits of space murder armour — opportunities to give out cooler stuff to the community.
However, Styanax also represents a longstanding and historically successful practice of pulling ideas from internal staff who aren’t directly tied to the design team. While Pablo is the creator of the vast majority of frames, other developers passing their ideas his way is a continued process that remains intact under Rebecca Ford’s leadership. Rebecca aims to keep this going, stating: “Pablo is behind what comes next, but we also have a lot of hopes that as the team grows others can contribute ideas as well. A lot of our popular Warframe ideas have come from other staff members that have brought them to the table. Like Gauss, who was brought from someone outside of the design team.”
Finally, according to Rebecca Ford, the process of creating a Warframe is an opportunity for the team to come together and show their expertise nine years after launch. “It’s really become an art for the team. Everyone’s ready, the sound, the art, the animation. It’s one of the update types that’s so tight that everyone can show their experience.” That’s why you see special, unique bits and bobs on frames, Styanax has a unique audio effect on their walk, making them sound more like a centurion warrior.
Styanax represents a lot of things for Warframe. It’s the cake at a big sci-fi party, it’s a chance for the team to flex their development muscles, it’s an indicator of better financial stability at Digital Extremes, and a new deadly toy for players to play and eventually subsume. With the above in mind, Styanax stands out as a reminder that Warframe remains in good hands.
If you want to learn more about the Veilbreaker update, you can check out our overview of everything coming in Veilbreaker here!