The Soulframe game reveal was arguably the most eye-catching at TennoCon this year, with the RPG game’s announcement trailer and website further stirring excitement among Warframe fans and its developer Digital Extremes. PCGamesN was treated to an exclusive Soulframe interview with Geoff Crookes, creative director of the upcoming MMORPG, which has been inspired by Princess Mononoke and other Studio Ghibli projects.
One big world the next
Warframe has been a live service game for almost a decade and it’s anything but dead. Its next big update, Duviri Paradox, looks set to add as much as any of its predecessors when it arrives this winter. Although it’s always a difficult decision to walk away from such a lively project, Crookes felt it was time for Digital Extremes to embark on another.
“Creatively and personally, it was definitely a tough choice. We’re still very connected to Warframe, and with the way it’s growing, it’s not like we’re getting tired of working on it. Quite the opposite, given what the project still has to offer after all these years. It seemed like a good time to grow up, and Steve [Sinclair, video game director at Digital Extremes] and I wouldn’t have started something new if we didn’t have the same passion for it that we had when we started Warframe. and talking to him of the company growth, we have people here at DE who have been instrumental with Warframe, so this is a great opportunity to give people a chance to grow professionally.”
MMOs are notoriously some of the hardest games to make, and the challenge has only grown as the genre has matured. Any such game that releases today has to compete with well-established titles like Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Destiny 2, and, of course, World of Warcraft. Crookes, perhaps indicating the kind of entrepreneurial mindset a game director needs, sees this as motivation: “We like this challenge. It’s pushing us to try to be as unique as possible in the themes and role players will have in this new experience. As with Warframe, we hope that if we can be successful there, it will find its audience,” he says.
Stylistically and aesthetically, Warframe is what you would call ‘sci-fi’. Rather, Soulframe is forced to go in a very different direction, which is its own source of focus, while also allowing a scope that Warframe couldn’t match due to its concrete worldbuilding. The direction was obvious: “It wasn’t a difficult choice, no,” says Crookes. “We knew we wanted to offer a stylistic contrast to Warframe, and luckily Steve and I share a lot of the same inspirations, so it was a lot of fun for us to spin our wheels and start laying the groundwork. However, having said that, we are building on some of our aesthetic strengths, so I’m sure Warframe players will notice some similarities in certain skins or choices.”
Representation, Diversity and Turbans
MMOs often lack skin color options – even big games/communities like World of Warcraft took over 15 years to add additional ethnicities even though their player base is from all over the world. Crookes felt it was critical to provide these options: “This is very important to us, especially coming from a game that has such a diverse player base as Warframe. It will be a key aspect that for the choice of characters we offer a complete representation of options.”
Warfarmes like Nezha were created with Chinese folklore in mind, and this similar anticipation will be reflected in Soulframe. “As fantastic as Soulframe is going to be, we very much want the world to feel grounded and relatable. Having that kind of depth and cultural diversity will only help with that,” says Crookes.
Players from certain marginalized groups, myself included, have been requesting turban rendering/customization options in the character creators, and this is getting more and more attention with recent examples, including Disney Dreamlight Valley Early Access. What about Soulframe? “That’s a good question,” says Crookes. “I was actually talking to a character artist about a year ago about thinking of ways we could offer headwrap options as a customization option.” Similar to our last answer, we want Soulframe to be a very inclusive experience for players of all backgrounds. Diverse representation is important to us and we know it is significant to our community. We can’t confirm turban or other traditional headgear options at this time, but we can promise that we’re taking a hard look at the level of customization players will have available.”
This commitment to diversity extends to the gaming experience as well, which DE aims to make “as broad as possible without diluting the experience. We hope to have a lot of class options that accommodate different playstyles in hopes that people will want to explore Soulframe.”
Soulframe release date and gameplay
Surprising few, Crookes confirms that “Soulframe will be a free experience. Our team is excited to use the vast experience we’ve gained working on Warframe to create an entirely new game that will bring the fantasy genre to the Digital Extremes portfolio.”
Warframe itself can be a hectic experience, with plenty of enemies on screen, abilities and explosions galore. Soulframe seems destined to be a slightly less intense experience. A cinematic reveal isn’t a game, admittedly, but Soulframe depicts the protagonist in a more deliberately paced, skill-driven fight, and Crookes drops more hints about “shedding Warframe habits: Warframe is a frenetic, fast-paced game.” very fast pace.” so we have to keep reminding ourselves to control it. Things like animation timing, effects, intensity.” We also know that Soulframe will be open world from the start, and that Elden Ring “has absolutely been a talking point” on certain topics, including “how great its combat pacing is.”
It might have been a daunting prospect to introduce a major new project at a show like Tennocon, which has become synonymous with “the Warframe show,” especially in its early stages, but Crookes committed to an old principle to calm his nerves. “We always feel varying degrees of anxiety around Tennocon, no matter the reveal, but Warframe taught Steve and I that if we build something we enjoy, it translates to the players. So far, Soulframe has been incredibly fun and rewarding, and we’re really excited about how we’re approaching this world, so we hope it works for us again.”
Be sure to stay on PCGamesN for the latest details on Soulframe as they are released. “Soulframe is still in the early stages of development at Digital Extremes,” says Crookes. “While we don’t have a release date or sharing window at this time, we plan to keep players engaged by regularly hosting development streams that will provide insights and insights into our teams’ progress.”
If you missed any of our previous coverage of Tennocon 2022, check out our exclusive Rebecca Ford interview with Warframe’s outgoing Creative Director. If you’re looking for something to play while you wait for Soulframe, we’ve got some great fantasy games to recommend.