Interview: Digital Extremes and Nitro Games discuss bringing MMO titan Warframe to mobile

Interview: Digital Extremes and Nitro Games discuss bringing MMO titan Warframe to mobile

Waframe, Digital Extreme's incredibly popular MMO, has made its way to iOS, with an Android version expected later this year. It's not a different version of the game either. It features cross-platform play, meaning you can switch over to your phone when you want to enjoy some third-person action on the go. Digital Extremes teamed up with renowned mobile developer Nitro Games to help port Warframe. 

We recently had a chance to chat with some of the folks involved, including Rebbeca Ford, Creative Director of Warframe, Jussi Elonen, Product Lead at Nitro Games, and Drew Penny Cook, Producer in charge of mobile builds at Digital Extremes. Together, we discussed Warframe's leap to mobile, the tweaks that had to be made and more.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers, please?

Rebecca Ford: Hi! My name is Rebecca Ford. I am currently the Creative Director of Warframe. I started out as a community intern 13 years ago at Digital Extremes and now get to pilot the whole Warframe ship alongside an incredibly talented team.

Jussi Elonen: Hi, my name is Jussi Elonen. I’m a Product Lead at Nitro Games, responsible for everything related to the Warframe project at Nitro. It’s been a privilege to work with such an amazing IP and with the talented people at Digital Extremes.

Drew Pennycook: Hi, my name is Drew Pennycook. I'm the Producer in charge of our mobile builds at Digital Extremes - I've been working with internal and external teams for the past few years to get Warframe looking and playing great on Mobile.

Nitro Games is very successful in its own right, did you feel any particular pressure in helping bring such a popular PC and console game to mobile?

Jussi Elonen: On the contrary, it’s been a privilege to work with such a beloved IP. We’ve made sure we have our best people working on this project to ensure we can bring the unique playstyle of Warframe to the mobile audience. We have talked with a bunch of hard core Warframe players and listened to their wishes and expectations on how to ensure the mobile experience meets the demands and the very fast paced style of Warframe gameplay.

We’ve also done an extensive amount of player research on how the players play the game on other platforms. Obviously we want to do our best to be true to the IP and ensure both existing and new Warframe players can enjoy the game on mobile as well as other, existing platforms.

When did you decide to bring Warframe to mobile, and why do you feel now is the right time? Or are you perhaps a little later than you hoped?

Rebecca Ford: It’s important to us that players have as similar of an experience as possible with Warframe no matter what platform they play on. So there were a number of things we knew we had to get right before mobile came to join the party. Does the game run well on every device it’s come out on? Check! Can everyone play together through cross platform play? Check! Can you carry your progress over to any platform of your choosing without starting over? As of last year, check!

A mobile release feels like the final puzzle piece to complete this 10,000 piece work of art that is connected by one of the most dedicated communities I’ve ever seen. The work of art isn’t finished, of course, Android is coming later this year!

How has development been? Were there any particular challenges you faced?

Jussi Elonen: As stated, we were faced with the challenge of bringing a very fast paced game to the mobile interface. The parkour style movement of the character, the use of abilities and the amount of different playstyles, brought their own challenges. Our main focus has always been to ensure the core gameplay experience stays true to the game.

We are happy with how the controls and the UX/UI turned out overall. We also wanted to give the player the possibility to choose their own style of play, so we created a fully customizable HUD along with the option to turn on/off any automations/helpers in the options. This way we can cater to the really hard core player as well as the more casual shooter / action game mobile player.

Warframe has always been a visually impressive game. What iPhone model and OS are required to play it?

Drew Pennycook: iPhone or iPad running iOS 14.0 or later and with the A12 Bionic chip or later.

Have you managed to do much testing with players? If so, how has the response been, and have you made many changes based on feedback?

Drew Pennycook: We ran a closed beta test with 10,000 Warframe players. Since then, we've completely overhauled our Touch UI to make it more player friendly.

Likewise, though I appreciate this might change, can you tell us what specifications you're currently targetting for Android?

We don't have specifications to share at this time, but we will try to support as many Android devices as possible. Stay tuned for more info on that later this year.

Was there much demand for a mobile version from the Warframe fanbase? Or are you hoping to capture a new audience with the release?

Rebecca Ford: A little bit of column A and B, right? Again, we want the experience to be seamlessly similar no matter where you play, so that you can decide how deep you want to dive in. Mobile offers a brand new way to engage with a game as dense and content filled as Warframe. So, existing players can now do some dailies on the go during their commute and new players can potentially dip their toes in on a platform they might see as the most comfy on a chill Sunday night in bed.

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Is there any form of cross-platform compatibility with the console and PC versions of Warframe?

Rebecca Ford: Yes. Mobile will be launching with full cross-platform compatibility and Cross Platform Save features. With the obvious caveat being that if something does break, we will put things on pause and take the time to fix them to protect players’ longtime investments they’ve already made in-game.

How have you translated Warframe's control to a touchscreen UI? Will players be free to customise the set-up to suit their preferences?

Jussi Elonen: Yes, the player is able to fully customize their HUD and the use of any automations. One can enjoy the parkour style movement by simply having all the automations on, so they can focus on the movement of the player character. On the other hand, a player can also move all their buttons on the HUD to their preference and turn off all automations for a more hard core experience.

That said, I also have to ask - Will the game offer controller support?

Jussi Elonen: Yes, the game supports the use of controllers.

Will there be any special events or rewards to encourage players to dip their toes into the mobile version?

Rebecca Ford: There is a Day One log-in bonus! If you do download and log-in on Feb. 20th, you will receive a Bombyx Syandana cosmetic and a 3-day Affinity booster. We also have created a new starter pack for new players at the low, low price of $4.99 to get one of our more popular weapons and some nice stat mods for it.

How does mobile fit into your publishing plans?

Rebecca Ford: At this time, after we have finished shipping the Android version of Warframe, we do not have any future plans for mobile releases. But if Warframe does well on mobile, who knows what the future holds.

While the iOS launch is imminent, do you have a release window for when the Android version will arrive? Or is it a case of it's ready when it's ready?

Rebecca Ford: We are comfortable saying that Android will launch later this year! Just no specific timing just yet, stay tuned.

What are your plans with the mobile version after the launch (besides bringing the game to Android. Of course)?

Rebecca Ford: Any plans we have for Warframe on mobile will be the same as the plans we have for any other platform. We will always do our best to offer the same experience no matter how, where, or when you want to engage with it.

Somewhat similarly, you obviously believe there is a future in mobile since you have invested in the development of Warframe mobile. How do you see gaming changing in the coming years, and what role do you think mobile will play?

Rebecca Ford: Mobile gaming is becoming more and more prevalent as time passes. Now we see things like the Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck, and of course classic mobile phone gaming all occupying that space. I think we will continue to see that option of gaming evolve and grow, but it will always be that, an option.

It will never replace a core PC gaming experience or a console experience because those are completely different ways to play. It’s our job to continue to provide our players with as comprehensive choices as possible when it comes to Warframe and welcome anyone and everyone to our community.

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Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.