Warframe dev on Dark Sector, “publishers thought Deus Ex was closest to the pitch & didn’t want to fund it”

Warframe PS4

Digital Extremes‘ game director Steve Sinclair has, “lifted  the kimono” (his words) on the history behind Dark Sector and how publishing pressure took the game away from its original vision. A vision that’s set to return with the free-to-play Warframe on PS4.

Warframe dev on Dark Sector

Sinclair describes the original Dark Sector as a, “crazy passion project”. The publishers approached by the studio didn’t see it the same way though. “They took the stuff to the marketing department. They ran a list of comparables, they thought Deus Ex was the closest to what we were pitching and they didn’t want to fund it based on those projections”. Despite Deus Ex’s near legendary status, “a hardcore sci-fi unique IP just wasn’t on the cards,” says Sinclair, “and we had to make it more and more contemporary and tone down the science fiction”.

He admits it was hard making the changes to get the game published: “I think we definitely lost some mojo but we regrouped and shipped a very good looking game early on in next gen with a completely green team and our own tech, and all these other crazy excuses I’ll cry about when I’ve had too much to drink”. But the end result was definitely far removed from the original starting point, or as Sinclair puts it, “It became Krull with a metal arm”.

Here’s the original trailer for comparison:

Which is where Warframe comes in. “When we started looking at what we would do next with the studio, to be honest we thought we can start to work on concepts and we can try to come up with new ideas or we can take this thing off the shelf that we think has aged quite well”. So Dark Sector’s original pitch got a second run. “With Warframe we’d spent a lot of time working on a back story, working on fiction. Just absolutely embracing the total hardcore sci-fi space opera geek, says Sinclair. “‘It’s going to be this part of Dune, it’s going to be like this part of Cowboy Bebop’. We just went crazy with that stuff”. The crucial difference this time is that as a self published game the studio could make all the calls. “This time we don’t have to convince someone who’s going to be looking at comparables, and comparing it to their own sensibilities. We’re just answering to ourselves”.

This time we don’t have to convince
someone who’s looking at comparables
& comparing it to their own sensibilities.
We’re just answering to ourselves

The game’s been on PC since last December and by Sinclair’s own admission the free-to-play model was a risk. “We had no idea what was going to happen,” he admits. “Even internally the studio thought it was just an experiment. But it took off, something resonated, people got behind it and supported it and we were able to start turning down jobs and focus the entire mid-sized studio on Warframe alone”.

Which is where Sony come in. “[They] approached us,” says Sinclair, “and said, ‘what would you think about bringing this game to PlayStation 4?’. And there was a lot of reluctance: will we be able to update it? ‘Yes.’ Are we going to be able to self publish because we won’t get a publisher? ‘Yes.’ Oh. Okay. So they sent us the kits and three months later we were at E3. It was awesome.”

It also, in his eyes, demonstrated huge changes in attitude from the hardware side of the company from one generation to the next. “It was very surprising” he admits. “We had approached them many times for many different ideas and many different projects. It’d been a constant back and forth on the previous console”. The PS4 however was, “a complete change”, something he likens to Sony, “smashing their prior priorities”. His theory behind the change? I assume they’re seeing, well if you loosen the reins a little bit the diversity and consumer choice goes up dramatically”.

Warframe is currently TBC for PS4 in the UK (although the US get it at launch so hopefully we won’t be far behind).

Get all our Warframe info here.