Creative Director Rebecca Ford & Mobile Product Lead Jussi Elonen Discuss Bringing the Massive Game to iOS, Controls, Cross Play, FFXIV, & More – TouchArcade

By admin Feb20,2024

The road to Warframe () on mobile has been long, but the massive free-to-play online action RPG from Digital Extreme is rolling out now on iOS. Ahead of today’s launch, I spoke to Rebecca Ford (Creative Director, Warframe) of Digital Extremes and Jussi Elonen (Product Lead) at Nitro Games about all things Warframe mobile and quite a bit more. We covered a plethora of topics including touchscreen controls, translating a huge game to the small screen, cross platform progression, Final Fantasy XIV, merchandise, and a lot more. This interview was conducted on a video call. It was then transcribed and edited for brevity in the case of some portions.

The first part of the interview focused on Rebecca followed by Jussi and then a few questions for both of them.

TouchArcade (TA): I wanted to know how your journey has been since you started at Digital Extremes and where you are right now. It has been quite a journey.

Rebecca Ford (RF): Yeah, I actually started as an intern back in 2011. So before Warframe existed even as a concept. I was part of the boxed product era with The Darkness II and other games. Then Warframe became a reality in 2012 and we needed to do it all ourselves so I took on a lot of the community and support and anything that was web infrastructure. Making sure we had a way to get players the game. Then fast forward many years from community to community to community, a lot of different paths along the way. Two years ago I got offered the creative director position for the game Warframe. Here I am. I started as an intern and now I’m the creative director with a great team and we are growing ever so ambitiously. So it is very exciting.

TA: I’m not too deep into Warframe right now because I just played it on Switch when it came out and I’m looking at getting into it properly right now. I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV as a newcomer to that because despite making my account in it back on PS3 and still going through the game slowly, it got me to thinking and I wanted to know how you make Warframe accessible to new players when it comes to the story and stuff like that.

RF: I’m not sure if you’re aware of how big of a Final Fantasy XIV fan I am, but if I pan my camera to the left (Editor’s note: this was on video call), I have their exclusive wine glasses, and if I pan it to the right, I have every book they’ve ever released. So when it comes to new player accessibility, we kind of have a rule now where every single major update we do, we need to make it easier to get to the latest content. Whether that’s reducing a timer, a grind wall, a prog choice, it’s really something that we try and endeavor to improve with every single major deploy. So even as recently as the update launch we’re doing for the iOS platform, we’re giving players more tools earlier just to get them more powerful quicker. We created a new mod for a player to have more power early in the game so they don’t feel that they are hitting a progression wall early. It’s really just improvements by a thousand cuts rather than Death By A Thousand Cuts and we’re just constantly thinking of ways to make that Journey better. Whether it be gameplay, story, gear acquisition, it’s like the Sisyphus Boulder never ends.

TA: Is there anything specific done on the mobile side for people who will be beginning their Journey with Warframe on iOS?

RF: We have a couple little perks for starting when you hop in. We’re giving away an affinity booster which will let you get a little bit of experience faster. There’s gonna be free ramp-ups for players that want to get in early and get that affinity quicker. Of course you can grab those boosters anytime in the game, but if you jump in early, you’ll be getting a cosmetic as well. So you can look a little cooler and progress a little faster as a bonus for the launch.

TA: One of the standout features has been cross-save and shipping cross-save is a monumental task by a thousand things compared to any other update which any live service developer does because of platform specific politics, regional storefronts, shared wallets, and more. It is a complete mess. Shipping that a few months ago was just insane, I’m glad y’all did that because, it’s been so much easier for me to tell people if you want to play Warframe on anything, you can just pick it up on anything. That was a huge milestone for the team, and the next step is mobile. Since shipping cross save, have you noticed a massive uptick in engagement?

RF: Yeah, it’s crazy, and the condition for shipping mobile was always that we wanted cross-platform save out first at least tested, and since we launched cross-platform save, I think over 400,000 people have used it in just two months, which is crazy. Our support tickets also went a little crazy and we were holding off on promoting it until we had tickets better under control because we didn’t want our support staff to get the avalanche with no reprieve. In terms of engagement, I would say absolutely. We had a flag yesterday from our IT team that said, “is it normal that this much bandwidth was spent on downloads”. After doing a bit more science, we’re supposing that yes, actually cross-platform save has radically increased, in this short window, the amount of people downloading our content, because they’re one person can now play the game on up to five platforms when mobile launches. In that regard, we’re serving a lot of data, and content. We’re seeing impacts in almost everything we measure be it bandwidth, daily active users, unique users, all of these things.

Everyone’s attributing it to the bigger picture of how great December was for Warframe. We had a really strong update in terms of narrative and gameplay and things to do which is always nice. We also released what I think everyone would agree is the most requested feature of all time, which is cross platform saves. Both of those things happening together and then ending it with Gauss Prime launch and now mobile, it has been very hectic and off the charts as they say. I like to think that cross platform save given that it took us years to do and is such a technically challenging thing, it is a politically challenging thing, and I like to think it was worth it, and that’s why things have gone so well for the past little while. Mobile will only benefit from all of this because now if you’re like me, you’re always on your phone, and I can just grab a couple Warframe grind items on the go which is how I like to play.

TA: So did the Warframe for mobile project start before the Switch version shipped in any form.

RF: So the Switch version shipped in 2018 I think. It was November 2018. I think we branched the mobile idea at the same time. It was around the same time that we felt that if we can do Switch, we should also really be considering the mobile marketplace. I don’t know when the first branching happened with the actual cluster setup, but it wasn’t far off. I know for sure that we showed playable Warframe for mobile in 2021 or we announced it in that era. It has been in the works for a while as an idea, but it really obviously took off when we partnered with Nitro. It’s been a while, but now it’s finally here.

TA: Obviously shipping on iOS made the most sense because less devices to work with, and an easier platform to work with at least based on what I know from talking or developers. Was there any specific work done on Apple side like to use any of Apple’s technology like Metal upscaling in Warframe for mobile?

RF: For digital extremes, This is our first time working with Apple in a game launch. We have a companion app that people could use to manage their inventory, which is a lot different than what we’re talking about today.

Jussi Elonen (JE): When it comes to technical stuff, we haven’t done anything like any specific stuff with Apple.

TA: I know that the shared wallet system was obviously one of the big hurdles with cross save, so how is that going to be handled on the mobile side? If someone buys platinum or something on Switch, could they carry that over to mobile?

RF: We have a 30 page FAQ with every nuance I think, and even though I’ve read it, Yeah, I don’t remember the answer. I know that some things are economy bound for those wallet reasons, but we do have that in an FAQ. I honestly don’t remember offhand.

TA: Shipping on iOS is the big thing right now, and Android is coming eventually. Do you have a rough time frame? Should we expect it next year or sooner than that?

RF: I think we’re aiming to launch at least some tests this year. We want to at least be testing on the Android platform this year. As far as I am aware that’s well within reach, that’s not just a hopeful statement. We’re getting there.

TA: You showed me the Final Fantasy wine glass which you have, and I also wanted to talk about Warframe merchandise.

(Editor’s note: At this point we discussed Final Fantasy XIV merchandise like the Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker soundtrack.)

TA: Final Fantasy XIV has a lot of nice collector’s editions for expansions. Is that something that Digital Extremes has considered for a major update, like doing a retail box which has some in-game currency, special cosmetics, and such for platform-specific launches?

RF: We have one merch person that has an intern and as far as I know Square Enix has a multi departmental team. So our one merch person is doing great work with pairing merch with launches. One thing we will see this year is with TennoCon we will talk more about Android at TennoCon as well. I’m not sure if we will do merch to do a platform launch, we’ve actually never done that before even though we’ve launched on every platform. We will probably do something more general but timed with bigger launches just because we actually have never done a platform specific merch launch.

TA: The artbook looks amazing.

RF: Yea that sold out, and I think there’s more to come at TennoCon with what we’re gonna do with it being sold out. That was the first artbook we had ever done in 10 years and it was huge.

TA: With Warframe coming to iOS, there will be lots of people who already play it that will try it on their phone. Do you foresee it being a way for people to do their dailies on the phone while traveling, and then they get home to do the bigger more involved stuff?

RF: Yeah, I do. It’s one of those things where I have to look at the customer experience as a first-time mobile user and an only mobile user versus someone who’s been playing for 10 years that really just wants to go. For me, I can see a lot of the veteran players using it for that convenience, and for the times that we have limited things, they can just go into our weekend vendor. We have a void Trader who shows up. If they can’t get to a computer, they can just use their phone, go shop, go do relay activities, social things, and then of course they can play anything and everything. But if you’re like me and you’ve been playing Warframe on an ultrawide monitor for years, you adjust and you figure out what you’re gonna do on what platform, so I already have this with the Switch. I’ll play upstairs when I don’t want to be sitting in my desk chair to open some relics, but if I want to do a 30 minute rail Jack mission, where am I gonna do that? That all depends on the player. But the point is you can do it anywhere now.

TA: I hope you don’t mind me bringing it up again, but that’s kind of how I play Final Fantasy XIV. When I’m doing the story, I’m playing it on PS5 to play on my big monitor at home. If I’m just helping my friends grind through stuff, or just exploring and doing nothing serious, I just pick it up on Steam Deck.

RF: I totally get that. I have a Steam Deck as well, and we won’t talk too much about it, but I actually tried doing Final Fantasy XIV in VR in my Quest just to see. It’s fun with all this tech. I think Warframe is such a community friendly game, that you can kind of experience all of these things we are talking about on any platform, and get something out of it. It is a game that you can login every day and at least do something, if you don’t want to spend two hours in an endurance mission, you can do that anywhere and now, it’s really up to the player with this cross-platform tech, cross platform play, to choose how they want to do their Warframe social activities, hardcore grinding, it is their call.

TA: Warframe is Steam Deck Verified now. Did Digital Extremes do specific work with Valve to optimize it for the Steam Deck?

RF: We had a list of things that we had to make sure worked and it was control setups. Yes, we are verified but we also know that there are one or two problems. We still get the odd compatibility thing that isn’t game breaking at all, but is a feature that needs some more polish, but we worked within their guidelines and shipped.

TA: Hypothetically, with no strings attached, if you could pick any single IP in the world to do a collaboration with inside Warframe, what would it be?

RF: Is that a joke? You already know the answer is Final Fantasy XIV. (Everyone laughs).

TA: What was your favorite song from the NieR concert?

RF: Oh my gosh. I’ve gone to two concerts for Nier. The first concert back in 2020, when they did Grandma, that was my favorite. The one I went to last week, I think my favorite must have been ‘A Beautiful Song’. When you’re fighting the amusement park lady. Both singers were there for that. It was so good.

TA: What is your favorite game from 2023 and what are you playing right now?

RF: Baldur’s Gate 3 and Baldur’s Gate 3.

This part of the interview was focused on Jussi.

TA: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Nitro Games?

JE: I actually started in gaming only a few years ago. My background is in sales. I was in the financial field here in Finland, and then decided to found a 3D animation company with a friend of mine. A couple years ago, it started and I wanted to work in games. So I applied for a job here at Nitro and got a job as a producer, and then I’ve been a producer for a couple years. Now I’m like, the product lead, is the internal title here at Nitro. So basically I’m responsible for anything with Warframe on Nitro’s side.

TA: Was Nitro involved from the start of the project for Warframe mobile?

RF: Nitro onboarding was last year, 2023

JE: Yeah I think it was June last year.

TA: So Nitro publishes a lot of free to play games. What expertise from everything you’ve done so far did you bring to the Warframe project.

JE: We have two sides to Nitro. We have our own games business where we create and publish our own games like Autogun Heroes which is the latest one. Then we have the service business side where we can work on basically any sort of game. We have been working on multiplatform games on mobile and we have a lot of guys in our team with experience on cross-platform mobile, PC, consoles, all of those. Our main expertise is on mobile, but we also have a lot of expertise and background in PC and console so we understand both worlds.

TA: Did you have any specific references in mind for translating the controls because despite it obviously having controller support, there are going to be a lot of people who play it as a touch only game. So how did you translate the full controller interface or how people play on keyboard and mouse to a touch screen?

JE: Obviously we did have a lot of reference games that we looked into. Warframe being a very fast-paced parkour like movements, that’s the key to what the game is about so that’s what we focused on mostly. Obviously we took some industry standards on how others implement those into touchscreen, but we also did a lot of research on how players play on different platforms. How people play on PC, how they play on Xbox or PS, and simply just tried to find a way to implement that into touch screen and obviously that was a huge challenge, but I do believe that we have done quite a good job.

Jussi also confirmed controller support is included for Warframe on mobile here.

TA: Has there been any specific optimization done for the iPhone 15 Pro and like Apple’s M1 and M2 devices? should we expect something there? I played some games which target 120 FPS like Honkai Star Rail and Genshin Impact. So can you tell us a little bit of what we should expect on the performance targets for modern iPhones?

At this point Jussi confirmed that Nitro worked mostly on the UI and UX side.

RF: In terms of perf and what we’re looking for for optimizations, we kind of have approached it from two ways. How well can we compress the game so that you can play it quickly? Warframe is known as a very well optimized game. 37 GB on PC. We managed to have the partial downloader on mobile now so you can just do the 4GB tutorial or 10GB for the whole game.

TA: I’m glad you mentioned the size because I have Death Stranding Director’s Cut on my phone for review and that’s about 55GB which is the biggest game I have on iOS.

RF: That’s not surprising. That game is huge and beautiful. For us we got the incremental downloads in mid last year to see how a player can just be served the tutorial, still be able to play, and then let the download happen. That’s all brand new tech that mobile has allowed us to make, so and again, the compression is just incredible. I think the latest dev build I was playing with was 4GB for the incremental download, and then 10GB for the full thing, but I’m not sure what the final size is.

At this point Jussi said it was around that size for the build he has as well.

TA: That brings me to the last question. How do you like your coffee?

RF: In this case, I am drinking a black coffee with a splash of oat milk, and that’s it.

JE: Just black.

Warframe is rolling out now on iOS worldwide.

I’d like to thank Jussi Elonen from Nitro Games and Rebecca Ford and Tatum from Digital Extremes for their time here.

You can keep up with all our interviews here including our recent ones with Team NINJA, Sonic Dream Team, Hi-Fi Rush, Pentiment, and more.

By admin

Related Post