Warframe: Physx-Enhanced F2P-Co-Op Shooter Begins Open Beta

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Free to play games have never been more popular, with over a dozen new titles released in the last six months alone. These free-to-play (F2P) games are fun, often addictive, and as technologically advanced as traditional big-budget releases, sporting all the bells and whistles you could hope for. Today, Canadian firm Digital Extremes unleashes Warframe, a new, but very unique contender in the F2P marketplace.

Designed from the ground-up as a co-op third-person shooter, Warframe eschews F2P conventions and focuses solely on Player Versus Enemy (PvE) combat, instead of the traditional Player Versus Player (PvP) setup. “We’ve been told at every turn that PvE is hard to sustain in the free-to-play market”, says Dave Kudirka, Warframe’s producer. “We feel we have an interesting world worth exploring, one that a player can enjoy at their own pace, alone, or with friends,” he adds. “The frantic competition of PvP would limit the visibility of all the intricate characters and environments we want to introduce to players. Skill and mastery are generally the focus in PvP, and we’re chasing mystery and revelation, the kinds of things you traditionally get in a PvE or story-based experience.”

Warframe’s origins are equally unique, having begun life a decade ago as a single-player, stealth sci-fi game. “Warframe has been an idea brewing at Digital Extremes since 2000 after finishing the first Unreal Tournament. The idea was shelved to make additional iterations of Unreal Tournament, but the team began hashing out the concept again in 2004.” This work resulted in a tech demo for a new title called Dark Sector, which famously offered gamers their very first look at the capabilities of next-gen consoles.

Despite the promise of Dark Sector and the excitement it had generated, “the team spent the next year pitching unsuccessfully to publishers, who were only interested in realistic war games”, says Dave. Ultimately, Digital Extremes were forced to revise the concept, shifting the setting to modern-day Earth. Even following the change, however, gamers continued to talk about the original concept, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, Digital Extremes revived it for Warframe. “With the new free-to-play model we saw an opportunity to finally make it the way we had intended, so we brushed off the old concepts, started building new, refined a lot of the gameplay ideas and began building feverishly. In just seven months Warframe entered into Closed Beta,” reveals Dave, “and unbelievably, fans remembered the original Dark Sector concept.”

Today, Warframe enters into open beta, which is generally regarded by gamers as a free-to-play game’s official launch as all can play without invitation or the need for a beta key. “If you want to be a super-powered space ninja,” says Dave, “you should join. If you like frantic third-person action, you should join. If you like to see sci-fi take a unique visual direction, if you like guns, or if you like swords, you should join.”

If you do join you’ll discover a highly entertaining co-op shooter with advanced graphics, topped off with a variety of hardware-accelerated PhysX effects, like those shown in our video below, which add to the sci-fi spectacle.

“Developing physics effects from scratch is no small feat,” says Dave. “NVIDIA has a very solid piece of middleware in PhysX that we’ve used for several games with great success.” Dave refers to APEX, NVIDIA’s physics SDK middleware that allows artists to quickly and easily add PhysX-powered, hardware-accelerated effects to game levels and existing effects. “Knowing that we’re able to make some incredible effects right out of the box and not having to reinvent that in-house makes our lives a lot easier. None of our internal systems handle complex collision, turbulence, or flows. It would be a monstrous effort to replicate what we currently have, and even then we'd have to face all the parallelism and contention demons that APEX handles so well.”

The Javelin ability attacks enemies with several projectiles. With APEX enabled, the dynamic particle effects highlight their trajectory and add to the spectacle and power of the attack (click to view an interactive comparison showing APEX On vs. APEX Off).

For Dave, it’s not just about flashy effects and pushing technology; APEX allows him and his team to enhance the player’s feeling of being in control of a bad-ass space ninja. “I know that when I set a Grineer enemy on fire with APEX enabled, I can slash through the ash and embers and see the particles react to my sword - that’s the kind of stuff that helps you really feel the power you’re wielding in-game.” Unlike traditional effects, PhysX particles are real entities that characters, enemies, and other effects can interact with. Particles move as players run through effects, explosions send particles careering through the environment, and Turbulence effects wrap themselves around the eponymous Warframes as they cast powerful offensive and defensive abilities.

The force of the Warframe’s fireball manipulates the PhysX particles at the attack’s source, emphasizing the power of the special ability (click to view an interactive comparison showing APEX On vs. APEX Off).

“Right now my favorite effect is Rhino’s Stomp ability,” says Dave. “He slams the ground with his foot, catapulting enemies into the air and suspending them in a kind of stasis. A shock wave ripples out, chunks of the ground rise up and there is this magical burst of dynamic particles that add fireworks to the whole scene. It’s glorious!”

The Rhino’s stomp ability in action, with and without PhysX enhancements (click to view an interactive comparison showing APEX On vs. APEX Off).

In the coming weeks and months Warframe will receive new environments, enemies, weapons, and Warframes, beginning with the Poison Warframe in Update 7. “We are also looking for ways to add to the universe lore,” adds Dave, “and we are constantly seeking ways to expand the gameplay (like the addition of wall running and ziplines in a previous update).”

The three factions square off. For more on Warframe’s story, factions, and eponymous Warframes, head here.

It may have taken thirteen years to arrive, but Warframe has been well worth the wait. Digital Extremes’ in-house Evolution Engine offers up some fantastic visuals, PhysX adds extra spice, the co-op gameplay is a ton of fun, and the crafting and levelling system keeps us coming back for more. For Dave, “Warframe has been a thrill to work on,” and sees “a long-held dream achieved collectively by the team, many of whom worked on the original concept.”

To get your own Warframe, head on over to the official website and sign-up for the open beta.