Interview: Digital Extremes' Steve Sinclair

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Company's creative director discusses past failures and future successes.

There's no doubt that Warframe has a history, that a good deal of time has been invested here. I've played the closed-beta pretty extensively over the last few months. My recent article explains how I feel: this is a game to look out for. Not only because of the quality of the game on show, but because of the sheer amount of love the developers have for their project. The level of interaction between Digital Extremes and their community members is impressive, and it's common to find devs - such as Creative Director Steve Sinclair - contributing to discussions and keeping the players up to speed with imminent developments, and even sharing in the banter and general forum frivolity.

It really feels like they care, like the players are more than just their customers. Like this game is being developed for the community, with the community. It's refreshing in an industry that seems obsessed with the idea of success before invention, but only time will tell if this passion and promise will help shape something definitive. Here Is The City got to have a chat with Steve regarding the current state of the game and what the future has in store:

Hello! Would you please introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Digital Extremes ?

I'm Steve Sinclair. I am the Creative Director on Warframe. I'm proud to say that doesn't mean much because the creative input from the team is far greater than mine. I started at DE at the end of UT and worked on engine programming and design. These days I write code, dream up vague one-liner designs for our team to actually make work and whatever else it takes to ship our Warframe updates!

Thanks for that! Could you also tell us a little about the team behind Warframe?

It's a mix of young and old guys. One thing that strikes me is they all have this in common: they wear multiple hats and share responsibility that crosses disciplines. Mike Brennan, our mad genius Art Director puts design notes in his drawings. Brian Noon who heads up our Environment team will do UI work. Our PR team helps with localization. I write shaders, script the UI, fix crashes.

Warframe is a passion project for this team, something very personal. As crusty as some of them are, they have something to prove.

Concepts for Warframe were originally intended for your 2008 release Dark Sector; due to lack of studio support, you were forced to abandon these original designs. What made you return to them now?

We longed to make the game that 'got away'. When James Schmalz (DE's CEO) was exploring the idea of doing something self-funded he convinced him that we'd hit the ground running if we unshelved those old ideas. We were able to get into closed beta in ten months!

Without giving away spoilers of course, what are your aspirations for the stories and lore surrounding the world of Warframe, and will they link to the universe of Dark Sector with anything more than brief references and tributes?

When we had to shelve the hard sci-fi pitch we ended up using it loosely drawing from it. The hero's name Hayden Tenno was drawn from the sci-fi people Tenno that appear in Warframe. There are a lot of concepts that will come bubbling up, about the far past of humanity and what led to the present state of the solar system but it won't be essential reading.

Why choose co-op PvE as the framework of your game instead of the more traditional single player campaign supported by co-op or pvp modes?

We felt that the game would live or die by its community so that lead us to a multiplayer focus. We thought PvP was very crowded in the shooter space. We wanted to try something different so we latched onto coop and PvE. So far that difference has brought us very passionate fans who champion this as a reason they are choosing Warframe. We always face fiery demands for PvP and it's something that interests us but it has to be done right and at the right time. We need to focus and nail the PvE before we chase the PvP audience and sacrifice our differentiation and with it our PvE fans.

Free-to-play games almost always release their free content to players via a certain amount of in-game grind. Do you think this is the only way to keep store bought short-cuts and content purchases alluring? Is grind a necessary “evil” of the free to play model, and if so what are your plans to make the grind in Warframe appealing?

The grind sucks, and I hate it. What I love, which is really damn close to 'grinding' is progression. Trying to beat that crazy boss and finally pulling it off and getting a great Artifact. An epic gear quest whose reward fills you with satisfaction because you worked so hard for it and faced certain death.

The problem stems from repetition (and its cousin predictability). It is something we are attacking on two fronts. Right now players need to attack the same boss over and over and that reveals how lack of variety in the boss attack patterns. What we need to do: expand our bosses, add more to their repertoire and improve how we force players around the solar chart when they are after a specific item.

Predictability is one we are setting the stage to change. I can't say too much (in case it sucks) but right now we are working on a framework to give us a chance to mix things up. Right now the player's attack the game. It's safe and predictable. We are working on a systemic way for the game to attack the players, put those top-end players off balance and force them out of stagnant patterns.

What are your long-term goals for Warframe? Do you have a strong vision of exactly where your title will be in a year's time?

We have dreams and sketches of the future of Warframe but we're in a feedback loop with our players now and I don't want to cut them out of influencing the direction of the game. Update 7 sets the stage for the future. Beyond that a big focus is on the world itself. On giving clans great influence and meaning. A future Warframe gives players a place to hang out, to play in a diverse set of ways and to explore a richer game world.

Are there any other projects on the horizon for Digital Extremes?

There is always secret stuff happening around here! Mind you, the most exciting thing for me is the growth in the Warframe team and what it means for the future of the game!

Take a look at our Warframe closed beta preview.

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