Creative Director Rebecca Ford on the State of Warframe on iOS, Update Plans, TennoCon 2024, FFXIV, Frieren, and More – TouchArcade

After a long wait, Warframe (Free) on mobile was a reality earlier this year. Read my review of it here. Back then, I spoke to Rebecca Ford (Creative Director, Warframe) of Digital Extremes and Jussi Elonen (Product Lead) at Nitro Games about the game and the mobile launch. Read my interview here. This past week, I spoke to Rebecca Ford once again ahead of next week’s major Jade Shadows update leading into TennoCon 2024. We covered the state of the game on mobile, Jade Shadows, merchandise, Final Fantasy XIV, coffee, Frieren (yes), and much more. This interview was conducted on a video call. It was then transcribed and edited for brevity in the case of some portions.

TouchArcade (TA): Since Warframe hit mobile back in February, it has gotten quite a few updates bringing it up to speed with all the other platforms, and to improve the mobile version in general. How has it been for the team to not only ship updates on all platforms simultaneously, but also deliver feature updates to mobile?

Rebecca Ford (RF): So yesterday was June 11th, and we kind of hit a point where we thought about what we are doing with the playability on the iOS platform. We have all these optimizations and improvements that just haven’t shipped yet like auto aim, performance improvements, and we’re trying to decide to make the best next swing for the mobile client. Is it about content parity or is it about all these optimizations? We’re making a plan right now to make sure that even with something like Jade Shadows and with all the stuff that’s for TennoCon, that we’re not ignoring some of the core playability problems. We still have a team cracking away at it. We’re working with partners and we’re working with getting everything going so it’s just a bit more approachable.

TA: How has it been for the team looking at the response from players on iPhone and iPad specifically after launch?

RF: It’s kind of been all over the place. You have a 10 year old game that suddenly launches on a new platform, and I think I have a bit of a veteran problem where I know what I use it for which is, login and grab my systemic things, but then you have this opportunity of an entirely new market that have an entirely new experience with the game, and it’s kind of exposed some problems in Warframe’s early game. We always get exposed to that, but it’s done once again, and it’s kind of put me in a position just as an individual where now I actually am playing more mobile games just to understand them better.

I can’t look at Warframe as anything other than Warframe. For instance, I’ve gotten really into Honkai Star Rail just to understand. I’m not looking at it for anything other than the mobile client. It’s not like we’re gonna add gacha to our game or anything. It’s kind of radical and eye-opening in terms of the usability differences in a game like Honkai Star Rail where you just tap and it’s so well optimized and beautiful, and then you have Warframe where you really asked to touch a lot all the time to play the game. We had someone on our team do a spy mission and it was a radical paradigm shift mentally still I think.

TA: Have you had a chance to try out some of the recent big iPhone 15 Pro ports like Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4 Remake?

RF: No, but god’s willing I will as soon as possible, because Resident Evil 4, especially the remake, is one of my all timers right now. Playing that as soon as possible, would be incredible, but no I haven’t touched it. Have you?

TA: The reason I bring it up is Capcom is going to launch Resident Evil 7 biohazard in a few weeks on iPhone and iPad, and they seem to have done an actual new interface for the mobile version. Resident Evil 4 and Village just had a ton of buttons on the screen which was a mess for touch controls. I think they probably just had to ship those for folks who don’t use a controller. This is the first time they seem to be doing something bespoke for the platform. I was just wondering if you tried them. You know the Backbone controller, right? Everyone uses that on their iPhone. When they shipped a special Death Stranding Edition controller, I thought it would be a really nice experience on the phone in general, but it is a mess for touch controls. Thankfully, Warframe is good with touch controls.

TA: Speaking of the Backbone controller. Are there any plans to do a Warframe themed Backbone controller?

RF: I don’t know (laughs). I wish I knew.

TA: Before we get to Jade Shadows and TennoCon, the big question everyone is asking about mobile is what about Android? Back in February, the plan was to have it go into testing on Android this year. Can we expect a date for that at TennoCon?

RF: We are pretty aggressively reviewing the mobile version as it is on what’s already out there. As a team, as a business, we have to decide what state we want mobile to be in before we add more. We’re very bullish usually about getting everyone in and getting going. I think by TennoCon we will have decided which is usually a good sign that TennoCon forces us to make decisions in a good way. So we will know by then. I don’t have anything to announce right now, though.

TA: Next week’s Warframe Jade Shadows update is a huge one for the game. How has it been for the team through the last week and leading into launch next week?

RF: It’s gonna be a very cathartic update for us because this is one of the longest concept to execution updates we’ve ever done. We were talking about Jade shadows as far back as late 2022 and early 2023. We actually intended to ship this last year, and then with some delays and with the scope of Whispers in the Walls, we had to move it. We did intend to ship it last year. So for me, I’ve been waiting over a year for players to experience this in some way. The feeling for the team is, “it’s finally here!”. We’re actually excited to time it, at least I am, to TennoCon because having an update before that, while difficult to achieve in terms of development, it’s great for the community because it gives you such a touch point to talk about something that just happened, and then look to the future. Everyone is very excited, nervous, and a little bit terrified because of some of the places that this quest goes narratively, so fingers crossed.

TA: I’m glad you brought up the narrative. I’m not up to speed with the latest Warframe story and updates. When I talked to friends about the game, and brought up Jade Shadows when it was dated, they all told me to stop reading about it and just go play the game to get caught up for spoiler reasons. Even the Jade Shadows website has a spoiler warning. How do you deal with updates like this and for folks who are either still early into the game or new to Warframe in general and was there any consideration for making this quest approachable for newer players as well?

RF: Yes, and no. We were deciding whether or not we would put it right after The Second Dream or right after The New War, and then we made the decision to put it after The New War because we wanted to go a little more heavy, I think, with themes that might be a little off-putting early on in the game especially with just some conceptual themes that we were exploring. So for us it was important to put this a bit later, but we do trust our community to follow our lead and not spoil it. We hope that works out usual. There will be some cases where things get spoiled, but ultimately we made the decision. It has to be later in the game. It’s a shorter quest, but it pays off a lot more if you’ve built up a relationship with Stalker to that point. So that was one of the more important things.

TA: Jade obviously has an amazing design, and you said you were waiting for a year for players to experience this quest. I wanted to know how Jade compares to your favorite Warframes in the game right now.

RF: I will be fully honest. The reason this took such an endeavor to release was because of Jade’s visual design. Our character artist, Michael Skyers, came up with this Warframe. We saw what we were working with, and we just went okay now is the time to do a Stalker quest because there’s such opposites. Stalker is this vampiric edgelord and then Jade is this Angelic presence with all of her nuances. For me, the fact that she can fly around puts her top rank right now in terms of actual play design, but once you play the story it’s gonna be pretty hard to dethrone her for me for a long time. She’s my tentative current number one Warframe for lore reasons, as well as her kit. So in this regard, it’s gonna be hard to dethrone her.

TA: Another question I asked you last time was about more Warframe merchandise. Jade’s design is perfect for a nice statue like the OverWatch collectors edition one. Is that something we can expect at TennoCon because I saw some merchandise teases on the website?

RF: For merch for Jade there’s some surprises. There is a Stalker statue and there’s a Stalker ball cap. I will say the one thing we did do, (at this point Rebecca showcased some art via screen share on the call), and have coming in Jade Shadows, is we worked with an artist whose art I have in my house. We have this artist that we reached out to, Eileen Kai Hing Kwan (shown below), and she does this beautiful artwork and we worked with her to do three custom art pieces for this quest that we will also be selling in limited editions at Tennocon. They’re gonna be beautiful prints of art pieces from the quest. She is a fantastic artist, and they will also be available for free in game. We’re giving these posters in-game for free, and then we’re doing a limited edition series of prints for them at TennoCon. Her work is just incredible, and I’m so excited that we get to put her work in the game and my house is decorated with this as well as you can imagine.

TA: You mentioned you’ve been waiting a year for this update to ship, and it’s a big one. I wanted to know if you could share some interesting anecdotes from development leading into launch next week.

RF: Both of these anecdotes will make sense after the quest. The first anecdote, so in 2023, Steve said something publicly that was a direct reference to this update, and players have no idea. It’s haunted me ever since. I have been haunted by Steve saying something about this and that is horrifying to me. For a year I’ve lived with this nightmare.

The second anecdote is that Megan sent me a video of her watching the quest playthrough, and it was just 90 seconds of her crying. I’m not laughing at that, I’m laughing because hopefully players see what we were going for, and fall in love with the story as much as we did making it. Steve has haunted me for a year and Megan’s reaction to the quest was a 90 second video of her watching it and just crying, and that’s a true story and I have the video as proof.

TA: What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy XIV: Dawntrail so far without spoilers?

RF: It’s gonna be a pick-me-up update it looks like. It doesn’t seem to be super high stakes, which I actually really like. So it’s very much the beginning of a new adventure. I love the world, the tone, and the theme. The Pictomancer looks super cute, the Viper looks super badass. I looked at some gear sets and they look pretty cool. I haven’t read any of the previews from the level 100 job changes. I haven’t looked at any of that. I’m a Black Mage main and it seems like it’s pretty intensely being discussed right now. So we’ll see how I feel. What about you?

TA: I’ve been avoiding the story stuff because I’ve been slowly making progress into Heavensward’s patches and I finally reached and put in about 15 hours into the main story of Stormblood on Steam Deck which is really cool. I’m very interested in the new visual upgrade, and to see how it runs on Steam Deck and consoles, also for new music from Soken of course.

RF: I’m actually going to Japan to see The Primals. I’m so excited for Tokyo Game Show. That’s gonna be fun, or I’m hoping to go I should say. The graphic stuff is really interesting, because in a work capacity, we have a really similar problem to them where we have a 10 year old game. We have PlayStation 4, but they are clearly much more complex with their MMO, you have to load so many player avatars, where we have a maximum of 50 in our relays. Looking at their graphics update stuff has been fascinating. I sent it to Steve Sinclair who was a graphics programmer, he’s now our CEO. I was kind of asking him about the graphics overhaul, you can see what they’ve done with character models and lighting, and everything. We were looking at it, because we’re coming to a point now where we need to be looking at some of our graphics like our operators for instance. Those are now 10 years old so the texture work, and the rendering and everything we used for those, I would love to revisit in the same way. We already did an engine overhaul. We enhanced our renderer and we support GI lighting as recently as last year. So we’re always updating our graphics engine and programming, and all those things, but there are pieces where it’s gonna matter a lot to the players when it comes to their characters. It’s a shared struggle across long-running games.

TA: Have you been playing anything else aside from Final Fantasy XIV and Warframe lately?

RF: Honkai Star Rail. I’ve literally been playing it because I am just fascinated by it. My dearest colleague, AKA my work wife Pablo, is a die-hard Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail player and plays them so much. So finally, I decided to play Honkai Star Rail because whatever, and I’ve been playing every day. Just to see and learn. Balatro, I play until I fall asleep. I play Balatro so much. It is the best. Balatro is probably my most played game of the year, which is saying something. I’m obsessed, it’s so good.

TA: When I was watching one of the recent Devstreams, you mentioned Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I’ve had loads of people tell me to watch it. Why do you like it so much and why should I watch it?

RF: You should watch Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End because it is a beautiful reflection on what time passing means to your identity, and what it means to the life you can live. It is pure art, and I love it so much, and I tried to tell someone in the office to watch it, and I couldn’t stop crying as I was talking to them. It’s got it all, Frieren is the best, and she’s so cool. It’s not what you expect because it’s so much more than just an anime. I love it so much. It’s just so beautiful.

TA: Okay, I’ll try watching one episode this week.

RF: Watch the first two episodes. You have to do it back to back. That’s it.

TA: As usual, for my last question, what coffee Are you drinking today?

RF: I had an iced vanilla latte with oat milk. It’s hot here. I’m sure it’s hotter where you are, but it’s hot here. I had my ice vanilla latte with oat milk. I made it over in our little cafeteria.

I’d like to thank 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 M2 discussing shmups and more here, Digital Extremes for Warframe mobile, Team NINJA, Sonic Dream Team, Hi-Fi Rush, Pentiment, and more. As usual, thanks for reading.

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