Warframe’s yearly event, TennoCon 2018, finally received a date giving fans of the game reason to look up to Warframe’s future.
Announced during one of Warframe’s Devstreams, TennoCon 2018 is taking place in London, Ontario, Canada on July 7, 2018. Warframe’s Devstreams also released information on its TennoGen Round 11, which will include many varied skins for players to enjoy.
During last year’s TennoCon, Digital Extremes announced the vast plains of Eidolon for players to explore, along with many other additions. So far, there are few details available for TennoCon 2018, indicating that fans will have to check back with the Devstreams for further details. Currently, the TennoCon 2018 website is hyping up its fans with a second by second countdown.
Tickets for TenneCon 2018 are currently not available, but its countdown website offers a sign-up service that promises to alert users when tickets are made available for purchase. For your ease, this link will be available here. For those who rather watch TennoCon 2018, you may do on Warframe’s Twitch Channel.
Warframe is a third-person co-op adventure game, available free-to-play for all Windows, PS4, and Xbox One owners.
London, Ontario isn’t the first place I’d think to travel to for a convention. Local affairs are common, but they’re rarely worthy of bringing in international traffic. It’s also strange to have a convention for one single video game, least of all a free-to-play shooter where the individual mission time averages five minutes. And yet TennoCon, the convention for fans and members of the Warframe community, does just that. Warframe has you play as the Tenno, far-future space ninjas who awaken into a post-human solar system.
The interior convention hall at TennoCon 2017 greets us with the haunting, drum-heavy music the game is known for, and the outer halls are decked out with banners depicted the titular Warframes. The inner rooms are dimly lit, walls lined in blue with orange lighting, and the screens of several standing tables with Warframe games for the visitors to play. Beanbag chairs lay scattered in front of a massive display where streamers play. The main room, with three screens and a main stage, is not quite filled, but the enthusiasm in the room is palpable. Cheers at the concept art of the new Operator gear, drawn by artist Keith Thompson, fill the room during the Art panel. The atmosphere is relaxed with spikes of enthusiasm at every reveal.
“Despite all the hate we see on the Internet, when you get to see them in it shows people that behind the keyboard we’re all human beings,” says Rob from A Gay Guy Plays, a YouTube personality who makes videos analyzing and reviewing Warframe‘s content.,
Rob was featured on a panel of YouTube personalities discussing the Warframe community and their involvement. Among those was Mogamu, one of the early streamers who was also at the previous year’s TennoCon (also the first). “It’s amazing,” he said, about the current convention. “The best con in 2017.”
The Plains of Eidolon announcement arouses cheers from the crowd as the Orokin tower is revealed—people are excited about the new direction Warframe is taking. The shooter has mostly been corridor-driven dungeon crawls up until now, and having spent four years with the same formula this new plan answers the question, “Where the game will go from here?”
“I wake up in terror at the thought that has become stagnant,” says Steve Sinclair, Creative Director. Warframe‘s been around for four years at this point, with most of the new content being new weapons and levels, the latter being largely the same format of winding narrow and modular pathways. (Sinclair mentions, “Earth is pretty much green corridors”). While Warframe is not losing those roots, games, even online ones, tend to show their age after a few years. Sinclair says that they went into 2017 looking to challenge that.
“At the beginning of the year, we really felt like we needed to get out of our comfort zone. It’s all new rendering tech, its visibility distances that are three or four times what we’re used to. It’s been a mad rush this year to say ‘let’s break our technology to create a more natural feel to the world of Warframe.’” This includes the game’s Evolution engine, used as far back as Dark Sector, the single-player spiritual antecedent of Warframe. “Even in Warframe‘s era, we’ve done great upgrades to the engine. We said, ‘let’s not rest on our laurels, let’s break and rebuild it.’ Plains of Eidolon is the extreme of this.”
He refers to the ultimate example of this being the Eidolons themselves—the remains of ancient robotic juggernauts that were destroyed at the foot of the golden tower, who rise at night to wreak havoc on all they see. Unlike the other foes in Warframe, which swarm against your lone space ninja, the Eidolons are the size of buildings and require all one’s skills and weapons to defeat. “We’ve never built a creature of that size before,” Sinclair says.
Warframe is certainly an eye-catching game, both in terms of graphics and the strange nature of the world and humanity in this distant future. The Orokin Towers—structures from an ancient era of even higher technology—reveal bleeding, oozing blubber beneath their white-and-gold exterior. Sinclair likens the Ostrong people who scavenge them to whalers. But it’s not only the towers that the Plains of Eidolon explore—it’s finally showing the civilians of the Warframe universe in more detail.
Warframe has always relied on a minimalist storytelling, with many details kept hidden—the history and setting, for one, but also the world beyond the military factions and your martial characters. “Usually in Warframe we have the Lotus (your guide in Warframe) chatting with us, and it’s very quick and engaging, but people keep asking ‘who are we protecting, who are we saving?’” Sinclair hopes that the settlement of Cetus will expand on that further, as some of the previous stories have.
“We started out with ‘we’re gonna make ninjas and put them in space, and people won’t care,’” Sinclair says. “But at Tennocon, we’re talking with players with Keith Power, our composer, and they said ‘the Second Dream quest just blew my mind; they said it’s such an important part of my life, and that’s a story.’” The quest was the first to introduce players to their characters’ true origins and nature, and revealed much about whom they are playing as. The storytelling is going deeper, talking more about the people of Warframe, their motivations, and their interactions.
“I wanted to make it weird,” Sinclair says, “We’re trying to get off the beaten path. With Chains of Harrow we told a story of a child with Aspergers. We want to tell human stories, we want to really get out of the comfort zone, and we don’t want to just be James Cameron and Lucas ripoffs. Sci-fi really has a lot of that—we want to be weird.” He also mentions another story, Octavia’s Anthem, which deals with an artificial intelligence suffering from memory issues that he likens to Alzheimer’s.
“We’re trying to bring humanity into our wacky space sci-fi.”
TennoCon shows that Warframe has already taken hold of people’s hearts, with players cheering wildly at the promise of new expansions and directions. It’s popular and it’s well done, and the 2017 event shows that Digital Extremes plans to keep adding to it and take it in new directions, rather than just let it dwindle. Sinclair credits the fans as the key motivator to the developers’ enthusiasm.
“The people at TennoCon, they’ve been very kind and considerate, but I feel like they’re looking for a change.”
“At the very least it will be a very good corporate event for Digital Extremes,” joked Meridith Braun, VP of Publishing at Digital Extremes, when she told me about their backup plans for the party they were throwing. “We … our fans … really excited and loyal … the game. We just weren’t sure if they were willing to come far and wide to London, Ontario. We debated if we should do Toronto or something in the states with a denser population. Now seeing that they really are willing to come this far, I think that we’ll only make it bigger next year.”
She’s talking about TennoCon 2016, a celebration of Digital Extremes’ free-to-play cooperative third-person shooter Warframe. For those not familiar with their work, Digital Extremes, a London, Ontario based developer, is still remembered for collaborating with Epic Games (the Gears of War developers) to make the Unreal franchise in the late 90s/early 2000s. More recently, they have developed, or been involved in developing, several well-known titles, including Darksector, The Darkness 2, Bioshock (the PS3 version), Bioshock 2 (its multiplayer aspect), and the 2013 Star Trek game based on the rebooted movie franchise.
In 2013 they also released Warframe to mildly critical reviews, but three years later the in-game financial transactions are still funding monthly updates from the studio. It’s been so successful that the game now boasts 22 million registered accounts, and during this year’s TennoCon roughly 1,200 excited Tenno (Warframe community members, in the game’s parlance) descended on the London Convention Center to celebrate that success. Some of the Tenno weren’t even sporting Ontario identification cards, according to Meridith Braun: “I met somebody from the Netherlands, and he came just for the weekend. Someone else told me that there are people here from Korea and Japan.”
In terms of content, the convention itself wasn’t anything to really write home about. There was a large stage and seating for a schedule of Q&A panels, a table in the middle to meet famous YouTubers, a merchandise booth full of Warframe swag, and plenty of consoles to play the game on. Actually, the really impressive part of this pop-culture event was the speed with which the attendees bonded. Complete strangers who ordinarily might flip each other off on the highway or avoid each other’s gaze on the subway were instantly starting conversations amongst themselves, secure in the knowledge that they had something in common. It’s true that this attitude is very common at something like the Penny Arcade Expo, but don’t forget that PAX started in August of 2004, whereas this was the first ever TennoCon. Clearly the community is already a tight one.
Steve Sinclair, the Creative Director of Warframe, attributes the success of the game, the community, and TennoCon 2016 to the dialogue Digital Extremes has fostered with the Tenno, “We don’t have a big marketing budget. It’s people who love the game spreading the game, and when I talked to them today and asked ‘why are you still playing?’, the answers were ‘the game is still alive, you keep updating it, it is constantly evolving, you guys are open to us, and you guys tell us what you are doing. And it becomes sort of like a relationship.’”
As an impartial observer, I found it a surreal relationship to behold. Men and women from all areas of Digital Extremes were pressed to answer questions or give comments on a wide variety of subjects. Some of these conversations were so esoteric that I didn’t have the background to follow along. Requests for autographs and pictures flooded in like a raging river after a major storm. Anyone identified as a person working on the game was treated with such a rock star reverence that it must have been hard for them to return to relative anonymity the next day. That said, it became very clear in London that the admiration expressed at TennoCon was never one sided.
“Looking around at the faces here, I recognize writers, level designers, artists, sound designers who want to come and talk to players,” explained Steve. “And that was never the thing before. They read and at all levels of the company, hey Steve we did this and it was a big mistake. That never happened before. they just did their job, they put their energy in, they didn’t phone in, but now they want to be part of that community and affect change like players do.”
In that sense, TennoCon is more than just a celebration of Warframe. It is also a step into the future of developing, marketing, and selling games. “The industry changed so much to focus so much on retail,” Meridith Braun told me. “The publisher put that middle man between us and our gamers, and the barrier to those gamers got bigger and bigger over the years because games became more expensive. And deliver to the customer because there was only retail at that time, so now with that advent of digital distribution we finally realized we can take that all back again.”