If you’ve been playing Warframe for a while, you may have noticed that not much information is readily available about various gameplay systems and mechanics within the game itself. When looking at the description of warframe abilities, they’re often unclear as to how the abilities function and what kind of synergies they might offer. Improvements have been made to the UI over time to show more information, but there is still a great deal left hidden within the code even after the initial stages of discovery by playing the game; the descriptions only show the tip of an iceberg. The Warframe community has become reliant on data miners to unveil the hidden details in each update and to to identify discrepancies between the patch notes and gameplay. (This article contains spoilers regarding The War Within) Just to clarify: There are also many hidden gems within Warframe‘s character, level, and environmental designs as well, but this article is focused more on the mechanical aspects of gameplay.
The Desire for More Information
Warframe has grown substantially over the past three years. Digital Extremes had struck gold with the self-published title and celebrated by expanding upon what they had built. The developers became committed to constantly updating the game and had complete creative control over the direction of the game as well. With an aggressive updating schedule, it comes as no surprise that sometimes changes made to the game were not documented or fully explained.
For a long time, many aspects of the game simply existed without any form of documentation. When the modding system was overhauled in Update 7, there wasn’t much offered in the way of how to find some of the new mods. Essential mods like Serration were hidden in the game for players to find through gameplay and players worked together to spread information on where to obtain it. The Wikia became a fundamental part of the Warframe experience for many players as a result.
Players worked together on these community resources like the Wikia or other social communities such as the Official Forums or the /r/Warframe subreddit to build a database of information. Players collaborated with their experiences to answer questions like “Where do I find ____?” and “How do I ____?” for anyone looking for help. The randomness of actually obtaining one of the mods was not as easily determined by the community, however. At best, players could record their observations or offer up anecdotal evidence to approximate information for questions about specific drop rates or weapon damage information.
Some players (or otherwise interested parties) took it upon themselves to reverse engineer the game and look through the code to find those answers. Often referred to as “data miners”, they were able to determine which specific enemies would drop Serration, what the chance was to get a mod from that enemy, and what chance that mod had to be Serration. Unsurprisingly, the overall chance of finding that specific mod were relatively low and would require dozens if not hundreds of attempts to find it. Knowing this did not alter the experience, but at least confirmed that it was possible to find this essential mod through gameplay. Though by comparison, Serration was far more common than many other mods. Stormbringer, for instance, was notoriously rare within the early days of Warframe‘s open beta.
User BlazeBlack responded to the frustrations with the randomness of the acquisition models by creating a tool which could accurately predict the rewards in a given endless mission by entering in the rewards already received to compare against possible reward seeds: Sed-R. This tool would not survive the series of changes made by Digital Extremes to both improve their Random Number Generation (RNG) algorithms and encrypting information in that same year. By November 5, 2013, the tool was obsolete. Steve Sinclair, Creative Director for Warframe at Digital Extremes, had shared with the community a brief overview of changes made to the RNG algorithms used for the game which indirectly impacted BlazeBlack’s tool.
It wasn’t until Update 11 when Digital Extremes would take steps to add more documentation within the game on various gameplay elements (such as where to find a mod). The new Codex system allowed players to scan enemy units and compile information about them within the game. Since its introduction, more and more information has been added to the Codex though it is still not necessarily a conclusive source of information.
With the recent addition of Relics and Arcanes in The Silver Grove: Hotfix 3, the Codex does not specify the conditions or chances of specific rewards. For example: a Defense mission might be listed as a location to obtain Meso S3 Relic, but there is not any indication if it is a reward for Rotation A, B, or C. Likewise, the color coding of Bronze, Silver and Gold does not speak to the randomness of the rewards or how they differ across each individual lookup. For more information on how the RNG in Warframe works, refer to this article by VoiD_Glitch and FineNerds: “Warframe – Rarity Constants and “Random” Number Generation”
Additionally, many weapons or abilities with nuanced mechanics associated with them are not fully documented. Excalibur’s Exalted Blade ability description only shows a small glimpse of what the ability does and how it scales without any mention of how it benefits from mods equipped on your selected melee weapon or what the stats of conjured weapon (such as Impact, Puncture, Slash damage values or Critical Chance) are to properly mod for it. The primary weapon Stradavar does not display the difference in stats between the automatic and semi-automatic modes. The secondary weapon Pox does not display the duration of the gaseous cloud effect. The 300-day login reward melee weapon Zenistar does not display the damage values of the thrown disc or what the change of stats to the weapon itself are when the disc is deployed.
There is still a great deal of curiosity behind many gameplay aspects of Warframe because they are not documented on any official resources. Undocumented changes to the game, hidden information regarding weapons, unclear descriptions of equipment… When the information is not given, it will be sought out.
Data Mining in Warframe
The process of extracting such information from the game is often referred to as “Data Mining” by the community. It’s often used as a simplification of four steps of reverse engineering: (1) Identifying and then decompressing the files, (2) Identifying and then decrypting the files, (3) Identifying which data is important, and then ultimately (4) Rendering the information in a readable format. These “Data Miners” help satiate the curiosities of the community by providing information that would have otherwise remained a secret.
Digital Extremes has kept a very cautious approach in regards to discussing the topic of data mining in general. For legal or whatever other reasons, they’ve kept away from the topic and have only addressed it in a more casual form over the years with comments along the lines of how it can help keep them honest in some cases. Two months ago I reached out to contacts at Digital Extremes in hopes of beginning a dialog in anticipation of this article, though no official public comment has been offered at this time. For the official stance on data mining in Warframe, refer to the EULA Section 2b.
If you’re interested in the legal aspects of data mining, feel free to take a look at the Coders’ Rights Project for a quick overview of the laws regarding reverse engineering in the United States. Please note that Digital Extremes is located in Canada and Warframe is a global product.
The Road to Now
Though the developers have not offered much in the way of official comments in regards to data mining, the Warframe‘s Community Management team has made it clear that the discussion or advocating of data mining is forbidden on the official forums. As such, data miners looking to share their information would often post directly to the Wikia or make a post on the /r/Warframe subreddit instead.
Through efforts of users like /u/pwnatron, Gottfaust, and /u/Deathmax, the Warframe community was able to uncover a great deal of information which had been buried within the game’s files. All of these users have since moved on from Warframe, but their contributions became cornerstones of the community. Even though Deathmax no longer plays Warframe, he still maintains a private repository and updates his Alert/Event tracker: Deathsnacks.com and the WarDroid mobile app.
The current resident data miner for the subreddit is VoiD_Glitch. He became active shortly after Deathmax retired his public repository near the end of the Update 16 cycle. He, along with the help of a few unnamed partners, maintains a public repository and updates as frequently as the game itself does. You can view the data mined files here: github.com/VoiDGlitch.
A Word with VoiD_Glitch
Over the past two months I’ve had the opportunity to shadow and ask questions within a small community VoiD_Glitch works with. Though some of the technical aspects are admittedly out of my depth, it was interesting to learn more about their process and gain insight as to how the data arrives neatly for users to read over. For example, VoiD_Glitch mostly handles the 4th stage of the above described process. It was through collaboration with others that he was able to find the necessary decryption key for the process. The members of this community collaborate on various projects across different software and games.
The motivations of these individuals involved in the process of reverse engineering Warframe are varied. For some, it’s both their profession and their hobby. Like a network engineer taking a peek at the public wifi at a restaurant to see if the router is still using the default login information, their professional experience sometimes mixes with their personal curiosity. I asked VoiD_Glitch a few questions to learn more about his personal interest in the ongoing project.
TennoClockNews: When DE makes changes to encryption or adds barriers to accessing information, how does that affect you? In regards to the time to update your repository.
VoiD_Glitch: First of all, for the people that think data mining is a process I perform independently, let that myth be shattered. Sometimes, not often though, I do work with other people that understand Warframe‘s internal structures as well. There are not many of those types of people out there, but usually they come to me about a collaboration because they know I understand it best.
Sadly, my skills are limited to identifying structures and extracting data. For decrypting information, I have a friend that handles that for me. He/She chooses to be unnamed so that request will be acknowledged and understood. About the question, basically it only impacts how long I have to wait until I can begin extracting proper data again, being that the program I use to extract data relies on clean data and a particular format to actually operate.
How aware do you think DE is about data miners or those who have looked into the private APIs used to relay account information?
I believe that Digital Extremes is very aware that data miner(s) exist. However, there is a difference in how they prioritize certain circumstances. For example, I have a friend that knew how to access private Warframe APIs developed by Digital Extremes that were used to store account information, unlike the public content server which displays in-game events in real time. He demonstrated to me that he was able to manipulate these APIs in order to reveal information on any account he desired, as long as he had the user ID. However, when he attached his account to this service (or maybe he was tracked through his IP Address), he was promptly banned and still to this day is banned for what he did. However, from my experience, Digital Extremes seems to just to be building their encryptions little by little over time, despite how quickly they can be deciphered.
My Warframe account is still active and usable, despite me data mining Warframe for almost two years now. In real life, I also realize that they are aware of Data Miner(s). When one of my friends informed me that they were heading to TennoCon, I asked him, jokingly, to ask the developers about me. He took the job seriously and asked some of the developers their opinion on me. Specifically, he told me the response of the manager of DropTables and MissionDecks, stating that in a sarcastic tone, he said that he really appreciated what I was doing.
Are there any behind-the-scenes changes that have been made that you think would be of interest to the players? (ex. changes to what was stored in the ee.log in the past)
About a year ago, drop chances of the rewards you received at the end of missions were stored in the EE.log under this call: “CommitInventoryChangesCallback”. Basically, whenever you would start a mission, the reward you would receive at the end of it would be sent to your Warframe client along with its type, count, and drop chance, and then you could decide to quit the mission or not based on that information. This was patched when this knowledge gained publicity through players that were genuinely interested in giving their advice on how to find drop chances, and by players that felt that since they knew how to retrieve this information, they were suddenly Data Miner(s). Either way, Digital Extremes noticed this effort and has since moved this information from EE.log(s) in general.
How do you feel about hidden game stats such as the full stats for Exalted weapons (Exalted Blade, Hysteria, Artemis Bow… etc)?
I feel that Digital Extremes needs to be more transparent when it comes to weapon statistics of ability based weapons, the same they handle regular weapons. People often do not know the potential of an ability based weapon because they lack the knowledge of the statistic potential of it. Contributors to the Warframe Wikia tend to test attributes for hours – sometimes days – but yet still obtain incorrect information regarding them. In the past, I have posted information on these types of weapons in order to contribute more to the community, but in general, it should not have to be me. It should have to be Digital Extremes.
Would you describe yourself as motivated by a desire for transparency, curiosity, or something else completely?
I would say that I am motivated by a desire for transparency. Personally, I do not have any issues with how Digital Extremes handles information stored in their application, being that it is their rightful property. However, I do feel terrible when I see people writing about mechanics that they obviously do not understand, or have lack of information of. Especially when Digital Extremes goes out of their way to make it more difficult to understand them. One major example, probably the most controversial and ever-changing one being Random Number Generation.
VoiD_Glitch also linked out to this Reddit thread which looks into the history of data mining to punctuate his motivations. It also covers a bit about the steps Digital Extremes took toward encrypting their data over the years.
It is worth noting that as of this time Digital Extremes has not taken legal action against any of the members of VoiD_Glitch’s team or the members within the community I shadowed. Though some curious engineers have been banned, none have faced litigation.
Keeping Them Honest
It’s unlikely any developer would be happy to hear that their program had been successfully reverse engineered. All of the time and resources spent building a game like Warframe were, to put it simply, undone by a fraction of the time spent by an individual or small team. Potentially, reverse engineering can lead to the construction of server emulators which host a private version of the game and poach players from the retail version as has happened to other companies in the past. In a worst case scenario, others could steal all of Digital Extremes’ hard work and use their code and assets in another competing title.
It’s worth noting that there are some merits to data mining taking place from a business perspective. For one, you cannot improve the security of your code without first exposing the vulnerabilities. Theoretically, at least. A “white hat” reverse engineer could help improve upon detected vulnerabilities. Aside from that, from the perspective of a business, reverse engineering is a nightmare to anticipate and react to. Doubly so for Warframe which stores a great deal of content and information about the game on your local installation as opposed to keeping it locked behind a server (though recently more information has been stripped from the client and placed behind the server).
That being said, data mining provides a great benefit to the community. If a player notices a discrepancy between official documentation such as patch notes and their actual gameplay experience, data mined repositories such as the one provided by VoiD_Glitch can be used to find facts to support or disprove their anecdotal evidence. Though Digital Extremes might not officially comment on any information presented from reverse engineered data, they have reacted to the information presented by the community in these situations before to correct mistakes or apply feedback.
The data mining provided by these community volunteers has helped keep Digital Extremes honest with the game. There have already been a few incidents in the past when players questioned their shared experiences of bad luck and relied on data miners to reveal what were perceived to be unfairly low drop rates. Examples of this include the Latron Prime Receiver having a drop chance of 0.67% (other parts were 11%-25%), instances where certain drops were simply missing from any reward tables (ex.: Onorix Handles were missing from Oct. 1, 2015 until Jan. 5, 2016), or more general changes which were made without being documented.
I believe that in most of these cases, there were mistakes made rather than the result of malicious intent. However, such mistakes are frequent enough that players have become skeptical of trusting information given to them at face value. Without the aid of the data pulled from reverse engineering, players would only have scattered anecdotal evidence to determine if something was wrong.
Oversight vs. Omission
Warframe has changed a great deal in the past three years, but not all of those changes have been made at a public or surface level. Sometimes hidden gems are added to the game such as the addition of the Stalker near the Open Beta launch. In more recent history, Update 18.1 added Energy bars to the Squad UI. However, there have been other times where undocumented changes came in a less pleasant form such as when the Stalker’s drop rate for blueprints was reduced to 30%. Even more frustrating was when the Stalker’s drop rate for blueprints was increased to 50% in Update 18.5, but Digital Extremes forgot to do the same for his new form: Shadow Stalker. Without the aid of data miners or particularly frustrated players logging their experiences, it may have never come to light that such changes had been made.
Likewise, there have been quite a few times when changes or additions were made to gameplay mechanics, but not documented. For example, Archwing gameplay lost the slide attack mechanic at two different stages: The first was in Update 17 following the changes to the parkour and Stamina system and then again in the Specters of the Rail update. They were hotfixed back in and were most likely bugs, but in the first disappearance it was an odd coincidence that the new Knux Archwing weapon did not have a slide attack damage stat. The second disappearance was more clearly an oversight with the changes made to the Archwing movement systems.
Ultimately, Digital Extremes only has a finite amount of time to make and then document all of the changes to the game. With a rapid updating schedule and aspects of the game constantly under development and redevelopment, the Community Management team responsible for providing patch notes might occasionally miss a few changes here and there when compiling patch notes (oversight). A developer might want to withhold some information in order to positively surprise the players (omission). From a player’s perspective, it is often difficult to determine when an undocumented change to the game is an omission or an oversight. It can become equally difficult to determine when something is a bug or when it is a nuanced intended mechanic.
Before going into the examples of each, I want to clarify that neither of these two options are necessarily positive or negative in nature. An omission can be a good or a bad thing, an oversight can be benign or malignant. What I believe to be clear is that a lack of clarified information can have a negative influence on perception.
Sometimes hidden gems are added to the game and left undocumented to give players a sense of discovery. Sometimes, by withholding some of the information, players are given a sense of discovery and purpose to learn more about the new systems. An omission is the active decision to withhold information in favor of painting a narrative which can sometimes misrepresent the available facts. Omission is done by intent, not by accident. Please keep in mind that Digital Extremes does not have any legal obligation to share information about changes made to the game — using the term “omission” is not meant to imply an expectation of transparency.
The Introduction of Focus
When the Focus system was introduced in Update 18, it was teased in the patch notes but not labeled or explained. It had been expressly omitted so that players could discover the new gameplay system for themselves. Though it was a playful decision, the discovery came at a rather steep cost for some players when they reached the end of The Second Dream and had to make choice for which Focus School they wanted to align with. For the first wave of players, there were not any official or even unofficial resources available to make an informed decision. As a result, you became locked into a Focus School you knew nothing about the outcome for.
It was an ambitious idea to give players a choice so that they could make an emotional decision free from distractions like rewards to chase after, but in reality it was more of a blind investment. Unairu had turned out to be an unfavorable Focus School whereas Zenurik became overwhelmingly popular. Initially, the only way to change your Focus School was by acquiring another Focus Lens from the Sortie missions or trading with other players who had found a Lens for a desired Focus School and then grinding to earn the necessary Affinity to unlock the schools. Even then, the schools would not allow you to preview the skills and perks available until after buying in with generated Focus. The blind investments felt damning for some and rewarding for others.
Digital Extremes seems to have learned from this experience with the new morality system introduced with The War Within by completely isolating the decisions from any reward system. This new morality system, consisting of the Sun, Neutral, and Moon alignments, will likely be expanded upon with the upcoming Syndicate Assassination/Salvation System. Likewise, it is important to make note that the developers have gone on the record stating that it will be easy to sway between morality states within just a few decisions and you will not be stuck with the alignment made in the quest (Devstream 83). It remains to be seen if players will have a way to inform themselves before making these alignment choices or if they will attempt to maintain the emotional response over the drive for obtaining rewards.
As mentioned earlier, the Stalker was introduced without documentation near the launch of the Open Beta. It created a sudden burst of discussion within the community about if such an enemy actually existed or if players were making it up. It was exciting and unpredictable when he would strike. It was frustrating when he would strike.
However, like with the omitted information regarding Focus, there were some seemingly unanticipated consequences. Following the time of his release, here are some of the patch notes regarding the Stalker:
- Update 7.1: “Fix Stalker attacking low level players” and “Fix Stalker attacking Defense object”
- Update 7.5: “Stalker will no longer hunt anyone using a less than level 5 Warframe.”
- Update 7.7: “Fixed Stalker’s head not appearing on Clients”
- Update 7.8: “Fixed Stalker sound not being affected by in game audio settings”
- Update 8.0: “WHAT IS STALKER? WE don’t know… but we’ve heard killing him can garner quite the reward…”
- Update 9.6: “Fixed the Stalker dropping blueprints 100% of the time”
Without having an expectation or official source to turn to, it becomes difficult for players to offer feedback in the form of filing bug reports. Some players thought that the Stalker wasn’t supposed to have a head, some players recognized it as a bug. Some players thought that the Stalker’s audio overriding your settings was intentional. Players had no way of knowing that the Stalker wasn’t supposed to drop blueprints 100% of the time.
It wasn’t until nearly a year later when the mechanics behind spawning the stalker were publicized so that players could have some degree of agency in regards to encountering the edgy assassin and work towards earning the weapon blueprints locked behind the deadly duel. It wasn’t until Hotfix 11.7.3 when Digital Extremes added any form of in-game documentation or notification about the Stalker (and other assassin type enemies) tracking you as a target. However, players still have to defer to external resources for more information regarding the Stalker even after fully scanning him for the Codex.
The implementation of the Stalker was a positive addition to Warframe, but the omitted details resulted in the community spreading misinformation from anecdotal evidence.
Warframe Ability Descriptions
Improvements have been made to the way abilities are displayed to players and now include updated UI elements which display the effects of your modding choices, but there is still a great gap between the functionality of a given ability and what is shown within the UI.
Many warframe abilities do not have enough information in their descriptions to explain the nuances of their functionality. Loki’s Decoy has a constant 400 Shields and 200 Health regardless of rank, level, or mods. Excalibur’s Exalted Blade performs a diminished Radial Blind on slide attacks (undocumented in Update 16.9). Saryn’s Spore has a reduced casting cost on her Molt (documented in Hotfix 17.10.2). Frost can detonate his Snow Globe by casting Freeze at it (documented in Hotfix 17.0.5)… and none of this information is documented within the game itself or any other official resources. Players must explore external resources, such as the Wikia, to learn more about how nearly every ability functions.
The most noteworthy examples of a lack of information regarding abilities are the conjured weapons used by Excalibur, Valkyr, Mesa, Wukong, Ivara, and Titania. Each of these warframes have abilities which are influenced by mods installed upon certain weapons and not just the warframe itself. Excalibur, Valkyr, Wukong, and Titania (as well as Ash and Atlas) benefit from certain melee mods. Mesa benefits from certain secondary mods. Ivara’s Artemis Bow is only affected by certain primary rifle mods, Titania’s Dex Pixia benefits from both shotgun and primary rifle mods. None of these abilities are documented or clarified within the game to point out this synergetic functionality.
To add to the confusion, the mods which do and do not affect the conjured weapon types are not specified within the game. Atlas (and Ash) benefit from the Melee Combo Counter duration mods, but none of the other melee-themed abilities mentioned above do. Even more confusing is that each of these conjured weapons come with their own weapon stats which are independent of your selected weapon type. These weapon stats are hidden away from players and were only made available once data miners took it upon themselves to uncover the information. The conjured weapon statistics directly impact your modding choices for certain weapon types. For example: Ivara’s Artemis Bow is 80% Puncture damage which makes it an ideal candidate for Puncture-based builds. However, the Artemis Bow only has 6% Slash damage which renders it undesirable when paired with a Slash-based weapon build such as the popularized options for Dread.
And if that’s not enough, things were even more disjointed when the Excalibur rework went live and introduced the Exalted Blade. Originally, the design intention was to allow for special mods like augments to improve the conjured weapon as expressly stated in Hotfix 16.9.1. By Update 17.2, Digital Extremes decided to restrict Exalted Blade’s interaction with certain melee mods (such as augments). Though, in all fairness, sometimes it takes live implementation to realize balance concerns. Covert Lethality had proven to be far more powerful than intended and served as the catalyst for these balance changes as detailed in this official forum PSA by Megan. The changes made sense from a balance perspective: the augments for some weapons stood out as being far more powerful than other weapons and effectively limited the options for an optimal choice. On the other hand, it essentially rendered any weapons which utilized the unsanctioned mods as obsolete when paired with these abilities. The Skana paired with the Bright Purity augment became an inferior choice to any weapon utilizing all mod slots in a way which benefits Exalted Blade.
There is a positive angle in regards to the omission of information regarding abilities. By only offering a simple overview of these abilities, Digital Extremes has created a sandbox-like scenario where the players are free to explore their hidden depths. It can serve as a call to action for the community to work together and talk about the game over social media platforms. Players gain a sense of community as they seek out the information and Digital Extremes gains some viral traction. However, this is not the ideal. A small nuance like the Exalted Blade’s slide attack or Saryn’s Spore costing less energy when used on Molt are not going to impact your experience, but knowing the weapon statistics for an ability-based weapon will.
Weapon Statistical Information
Though improvements have been made to the UI within the game in Update 11 and beyond to show weapon damage statistics and ability effects and scaling, there is still a great deal of information hidden away from players. Every weapon with a secondary function only displays the weapon statistics for its primary function. Every Stance mod displays the combos, but not the damage multipliers or guaranteed Status procs associated with some steps of the combo. Every melee weapon is affected by the Reach mod, but none of them display what their range is. Nowhere in the game does it specify how to combine elemental mods in order to create new damage types (i.e. Corrosive, Blast, etc.).
Glen Miner, Technical Director for Warframe at Digital Extremes, was recently a guest on the Prime Time #145 stream with host Megan Everett, Senior Community Coordinator at Digital Extremes. As they streamed their gameplay, Glenn expressed his surprise at discovering the newly added Zarr primary weapon had a secondary function. “You know what I found out today? That, like, it took me like two Forma into the Zarr before I figured it out, you can change modes. You can change Zarr into a shotgun.” (Source: Prime Time Episode #145)
In Glen’s defense, it is unfair to assume that every staff member at Digital Extremes would know of every nuance and gameplay mechanic within the game. Their roles within the development of the game are likely segmented and when they play the game they can still have a similar experience to the average player. That being said, Glen’s experience resonates with the point of how omission and the lack of proper documentation can impact gameplay. Though the sense of discovery is worth considering as a positive aspect, the lack of any official documentation explaining the nuances of the Zarr are problematic. In fact, likely as an oversight, the Zarr was not even included in the Update 19 patch notes.
The default mode of the Zarr is the “Cannon” firing method which launches an explosive projectile which then splits into smaller projectiles. By using the Alternate Fire key binding, you can switch to the “Barrage” mode which functions similarly to a shotgun. The damage statistics shown for the Zarr within the interface only show the values for the Cannon mode, and only for the primary projectile at that. As revealed by VoiD_Glitch’s data mining, there’s a bit more going on under the hood. Though, for the most part, players can optimize both firing modes of the Zarr with the same mod choices.
Another similar example to consider is the Stradavar. Like the Zarr, this weapon was introduced with two different firing modes: automatic and semi-automatic. You can switch between the two modes by using the Alternate Fire key binding and similarly to the Zarr each mode has different functionality. However, the Stradavar also has significant stat change which can impact your modding options. The automatic mode deals 25 damage with 10% critical chance and 5% status chance and the semi-automatic mode deals 50 damage (primarily gained in Puncture and slightly lost in Impact) with a 20% critical chance and 15% status chance. Modding for one may be inefficient for the other. Like with the Zarr, the changes in these statistical values were only brought to light by data mining. In both cases players could experiment to approximate some of the differences, but that is not nearly as reliable as having the actual data presented for your consideration.
These special “switch” type weapons are not the only ones lacking in information. The Torid, Amprex, Quanta, Simulor, Stug, Staticor, Dark Split-Sword, Redeemer, and many others all have more depth to them than the UI makes available to the players. There is a complete lack of any official documentation on any of these mechanics, so instead players have relied upon data miners to provide the information Digital Extremes omits when it comes to min/maxing a weapon’s mod build.
An oversight can be simplified down to “a mistake” in regards to missing information. Where an omission is the intentional withholding of information, an oversight is the failure to present the information to the players. I cannot speak for the intentions behind the examples of omissions, but it is my assumption that the information was withheld intentionally for one reason or another. If there is, for whatever reason, a limitation which prevents Digital Extremes from presenting information within the game, they still have other official channels to present the information in. Though it would still create the problem of players having to refer to an external source outside of the game, an official forum post to document specific mechanics would be beneficial to the community.
Instead, an oversight is simply something forgotten. When the Ash Prime Access began in Update 16.11, Digital Extremes had forgotten to actually add any of the new Prime parts to the drop tables. Whoops! It was clearly an oversight and quickly corrected in Hotfix 16.11.1. Likewise, Update 18.1 included an undocumented feature which allowed players to see their squad’s Energy bars. A positive change to the game, but never expressly stated in any of the patch notes since its addition to the game. There have several occasions in the past when something was added in the patch notes, but didn’t actually make it into the game until a later hotfix. There have been several occasions in the past when something was added to the game, but never made it into the patch notes.
There have also been instances of additions or changes to the game having unanticipated outcomes. As mentioned earlier, Covert Lethality in its initial form had proven to be far more powerful than anticipated. It was a design oversight which was quickly addressed and sparked a discussion about other similar combat mechanics being adjusted. Design and balance oversights can be just as detrimental to the game as a lack of information.
When it comes to giving players information, Digital Extremes has created several channels of information. Some of which are collaborative, some of which are standalone. The @PlayWarframe Twitter account has been used to synchronize announcements with the official website’s news feed, but has also made standalone announcements in the past. For example, the current Frost and Ember Prime Vault Access was originally announced over Twitter whereas the official website did not include it in the news feed until this week. Similarly, sometimes news about upcoming features is announced or discussed on any of the multiple weekly streams Digital Extremes hosts on Twitch.tv, but there is not any official recap or news post offered.
This has somewhat improved in the past year as an official Devstream Overview segment has been added to the official news feed, but information still slips through the cracks some times. Information which you can find on TCN! Devstream Recaps completely sourced with timestamps and screencaps as well as an InDev Page which tracks all publicly shared information about upcoming features and changes to the game.
For patch notes in particular, sometimes human error gets in the way of presenting all of the necessary information in an update. Update 19 clearly meant to include the Zarr within the context of the patch notes alluding to the idea that “Fourth and fifth weapons exist… but defeating The War Within will be necessary to discover them.”, but the patch notes had only made mention of the Twin Rogga and Kesheg. Sometimes while editing a document, lines of text get deleted and overlooked. I’m sure that if you’ve been following my rants on Reddit or my posts here on TCN, you’ve noticed that I’ve done that more than a few times myself. With the rapid updating schedule and multiple departments working on different aspects of the game, sometimes a feature planned to arrive in an update isn’t quite ready to go live. Sometimes a feature expected to arrive later comes early and doesn’t make it into the patch notes. In the Digital Extremes AMA on Reddit last year, the staff reassured the community that sometimes oversights happen and there is not a malicious intent behind those mistakes (Source: Reddit).
The frequency at which this occurs can be a bit overwhelming and it has the unfortunate side effect of confusing players. If the Torid’s gaseous cloud effect deals significantly less damage after an update, but there is not any documentation, how can players determine if it was intended or not? An undocumented change in Update 17 did just that to the Torid and has yet to be officially documented. If you were to search through all of the patch notes between Update 17 and now, you’ll only find two lines:
- Update 18.10: “Fixed Torid not applying energy color correctly on certain FX.”
- Hotfix 19.0.5: “Fixed Adhesive Blast causing the Zarr, Penta, Tonkor, Torid, Secura Penta, and Ogris’ projectile sound to not play.”
This wasn’t a situation unique to the Torid. Another prime example would be to examine the introduction of the Focus system and the subsequent Focus Lenses. Digital Extremes had omitted information about the system intentionally, but as it turned out there was also an oversight: Greater Focus Lenses were intended to be available for purchase in the Market (Hotfix 18.0.6). The consequence of this oversight was a rapidly booming Focus Lens player trading market from the Sortie rewards immediately crashing. As I wrote about in The Failures of Focus, players had been spending upwards of 100 Platinum to obtain the lesser variants of the Focus Lenses and then suddenly their value had been dramatically reduced. Early adopters of the Focus system who had spent Platinum within the first week of its introduction likely had a surge of buyer’s remorse. But how were the players supposed to know that the Greater Focus Lenses were meant to be included in the Market? It left some, such as myself, questioning if it had truly been the original intention or if Digital Extremes saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of the Platinum trading going on with Focus Lenses.
There have always been issues with documenting information for Warframe in general. Within just a few minutes of browsing the official Warframe Nexus App, you’ll be able to find instances of incomplete, missing, or inaccurate information when compared to the base game itself. It took years for the UI to improve enough for players to see even basic information about weapon and ability statistics. Even the format of the patch notes has been inconsistent in the past: sometimes they would utilize rich text, sometimes they would be formatted as if written in a plain text editor, and even the naming conventions of updates and hotfixes were unclear in the early stages (Updates 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in resemble what we commonly see as hotfixes now).
Gameplay and Balance
To me, the most shocking revelation of an oversight is when Digital Extremes discusses various gameplay elements and reveals the intended functionality is dramatically different from the actual implementation and realized gameplay. For example, the developers discussed potential changes to the damage system in regards to multishot mechanics on Devstream 59 and Devstream 60. Apparently, multishot had been bugged for years and was intended to consume more ammo on each successful roll of the multishot chance and now the developers had plans to implement changes to reflect that. Regardless of the potential balance concerns of adjusting it, it was surprising to hear that something which had been part of the game for so long and had been expanded upon was considered a bug. Surely they would have noticed the lack of increased ammo consumption when implementing the Nightmare mod Lethal Torrent or in any of the general gameplay testing done since the introduction of the mods. Multishot is a staple of every single primary and secondary modding setup after all. Ultimately, nothing came of the discussion and multishot mechanics have remained unchanged to this day.
There have been several other examples in the past of gameplay mechanics which were introduced and left unchanged for months at a time (sometimes over a year) until finally being adjusted. Without going on too much of a tangent, Vivergate served to show that Digital Extremes was completely out of touch with the potential Affinity gains possible within Interception missions which had been existed for as long as Interception and Eximus units had. In early 2016, changes were made to Excavation missions after Glen had made the realization, after nearly a year of its implementation, that Excavation missions were far more rewarding for Fusion Cores (now Endo) than any other mission type. In both cases, Digital Extremes made changes which the community negatively reacted to because of the explanations offered. With Vivergate, the changes made to various warframe abilities impacted all game modes, not just the ones deemed problematic, and did not address the community’s concerns with Affinity in general which sparked the entire scandal. With Excavation, changes were made and deemed as improvements with an inconsequential sample size used for testing and it did not address longstanding concerns with the backtracking regarding drill spawning order or the lack of necessary Power Carrier spawns in Solo play.
In more recent history and in a less dramatic light are the Riven Mods introduced with The War Within. As recently shared in an official forum post, Riven Mods were hard capped at a maximum of 15 per player account in anticipation of databasing concerns and upon passing the maximum cap, users would be prompted to effectively delete 1 of the 16. That in itself is the opposite of an oversight; it was foresight to anticipate the needs of the future based on information available in the present. However, by forcing a player to effectively delete one of their Riven Mods and not providing information, fringe cases were created. A player who has already reached the cap of 15 Riven Mods has an incentive not to participate in Sortie missions. Likewise, a player who had initially traded for 15 Riven Mods would be met with a shocking surprise of having to remove one after receiving a new unveiled Riven from the Sorties. It took nearly one month for this concern to be publicly addressed and the good news is that a change is on the way to improve upon this issue.
Another similar example would be the Focus Lens system. As previously mentioned, there were issues with documentation and questionable changes made after the fact, but there are also gameplay considerations which have yet to be addressed over a year later: players cannot remove Focus Lenses from equipment. At this point, it is possible that players have completely maxed out more than one of the five available Focus schools. Personally, I’ve already maxed out Naramon and have the 62 Way capacity required to activate all nodes at once and I’m about 2,000,000 Focus away from doing the same with Zenurik. I even created a tool to help others track their progression and see just how much Focus they have left to earn to max out each school: Warframe Focus Schools Progression Tracker. But what happens after you’re completely done with a Focus school? Well, you can continue to increase the Way capacity beyond what you need, replace the installed Focus Lenses for a given school with new ones by destroying the old, or avoid playing with any equipment with a Focus Lens from the completed school installed. None of those options are beneficial to the player. Increasing the Way capacity further accomplishes nothing other than spending otherwise useless excess Focus, destroying an old Focus Lens to add a new one effectively wastes Platinum if you had purchased them from the Market, and having to avoid playing with the equipment you liked enough to install the Lenses just isn’t a fun concept.
Hitting Us Where it Hurts
Around the time the Djinn Sentinel was introduced, the Inventory system had been reworked and now required players to pay for additional Sentinel slots (12 Platinum for 2 slots which accommodate 1 Sentinel and 1 Sentinel Weapon). The change was not documented. This same instance of an Inventory system change happened once again with Archwing in Specters of the Rail: an undocumented change introduced changes to the Inventory system to limit inventory slots for Archwing equipment and allow players to purchase more for Platinum. The undocumented change did not induce outrage within the community, as many players seemingly understood why the change was made, but the only official response of any kind on Prime Time #126 was surprising:
Rebecca Ford: We added — It seems like we snuck Archwing slots into the game. Before there was no limit on how many Archwing you could have in your inventory and now there’s a slot system there which came without note.
Steve Sinclair: Yup. Surprise!
The lack of a real response, given this was the first time the developers spoke at all about the change and even had the context that it was an undocumented one, was dismissive and somewhat insulting. This, along with the initial changes to the Market made with the Specters of the Rail update, inspired the starting point of this article and exploring the topic of how information is shared the community. I vented my frustrations on the /r/Warframe subreddit in hopes of generating some kind of acknowledgement from the developers on the subject. Four days later, as part of the Specters of the Rail: Hotfix 11 patch notes, the change was officially documented. As I stated in the Reddit post, I (still) do not believe that there was malicious intent in the undocumented change and could understand why it had been made, but the communication after acknowledging the issue was problematic.
There have been other instances of oversights in the past which affect the sales of Prime Access Packs as well as items on the Market. Sometimes a Prime Access Pack purchase was not properly updating the purchaser’s account, sometimes an item from the Accessory Pack was not properly added, sometimes items from previous Prime Access Packs accidentally got added to the current. Likewise, there have been times where new items added to the game were not behaving properly. Regulars of the Warframe General (/wfg/) threads on 4chan’s /vg/ board cited January 8th, 2016 as “The day DE fucked literally everything up.” and one user put together an image to capture the events of the day as a small piece of Warframe‘s history (a copy can be viewed here: Imgur). Baro Ki’Teer had come in to rotation, but only had one item in stock: The Quanta Aufeis Skin. The initial reaction of disappointment in the lack of new items from the community was punctuated by a typo in the new item’s description: “Once used ice-pirates against Corpus caravans on Europa, this cold-blue Quanta is highly sought after by collectors.” was meant to be “Once used by ice-pirates…”.
Shortly after, the infamous Red Text (server messages through in game chat) addressed the fact that only one item had been brought in stock as opposed to the expected minimum of four. The Red Text encouraged players to relog in order to see the new inventory and included a bit of tongue-in-cheek with the line “also – RIOT” which was likely meant to show the developers empathized with the players’ frustration at the lack of new items offered by the Void Trader. This was then followed by the login and update server having issues and players being unable to log back in. Meanwhile, for those who had elected to stay in game a while longer, many players were spamming the chat with “RIOT” to carry on the joke which the Red Text had began. The Red Text was not amused: “Ok, I’m fed up with all that riot spam, I’m going to be suspending accounts now. Grow up.” [DE]KickBot (assumed to be Glen Miner) began doing just that. “I’ve lost track how many people I’ve suspended now. I hope you’re happy. (10 minutes later) Still suspending fools. I could be working on making the game better but no, you have to waste my time with this nonsense.”
Those who were finally able to get back in to the game were greeted by Baro Ki’Teer’s updated inventory: The aforementioned Quanta weapon skin and two new Primed Mods: Primed Bane of Infested and Primed Bane of Corpus. Unsurprisingly, these new Primed Mods were met with a hefty amount of disappointment. Players posting their complaints about the KickBot’s banning spree onto the official forums quickly had their threads locked and/or deleted, the Devstream thread (for the Devstream taking place roughly an hour after Baro’s initial arrival on the same day) had been locked, news promised about the partnership with Leyou Technologies Holdings Limited was not delivered on the Devstream, and the cherry on top of all of this: The Gift of the Lotus Alert after the Devstream was for an Exilus Adapter Blueprint. A trivial oversight with the Void Trader’s inventory had escalated into a series of unfortunate events which riled up the community.
Owning Their Mistakes
It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Mistakes will always have a negative aspect, but Digital Extremes does make efforts to improve upon those mistakes to create a better end product. In The Specters of the Rail update, the Market had received a massive overhaul to improve functionality and improved upon several outdated features. Overall it was met with a positive response… except that the changes were misleading players into thinking items on the Market were now only available for Platinum. The UI presented each item with a Platinum price tag and only after clicking on it you could learn more about the item and select to purchase a blueprint for Credits instead. It seemed as if the developers had intentionally redesigned the Market to encourage misinformed purchases for Platinum. A thread on the Warframe subreddit which pointed out these issues gained a great deal of popularity among the users and issued a call to action for Digital Extremes to address the community’s concerns. And Digital Extremes did just that. Within just a few days, the Market was changed once more to present more clearly that items were available for Credits or Platinum in Specters of the Rail: Hotfix 4.
Likewise, when first announcing upcoming changes to the Vacuum mechanic for the Carrier on Devstream 80, they were met with immense backlash at the idea of splitting the functionality of one mod into three. The developers took this feedback to heart and by the time the Vacuum rework was released in The Vacuum Within update, it had substantially changed: Vacuum was now innate for all Sentinels with a 6m range. The change was accompanied by a few paragraphs explaining why the changes were made, what the intention was, and what to expect in the future. A rarity in patch notes. However, the community was just as dissatisfied with this rework as the initial concepts; the changes did not reflect the concerns of the community and the 6m range was just barely 2m larger than the base pickup range innate to all warframes — it felt like Vacuum was barely working at all. The developers took Vacuum to the forge once more and in The Vacuum Within: Hotfix 2 we arrived and on a middle ground between the developers original intentions and the community’s requests: 12m range, but required a mod which could be equipped by any Sentinel.
The Heart of the Matter
Warframe has gotten to where it is today thanks to the way the developers have interacted with their game’s community. They have made a continued effort to communicate with us and regularly do so on their weekly streams and bi-weekly Developer streams. They’ve shared their ideas with us, sometimes at their detriment, long before they are added to the game. They encourage us to give feedback on all things related to the game and are open to criticism. They are gamers and they empathize with the community’s desires more often than not. It’s when the communication stops or becomes one-sided that Warframe begins to suffer. If we, the community, stop responding to the developers, the game will die out. If they, the developers, stop responding to the players, the game will die out. Together we have built Warframe into what it is today.
Improvements are always being made to address the concerns players have provided feedback on over the years. After the initial wave of data mining for information regarding the Void for Prime parts, Digital Extremes realized that players needed a more reliable source of information as to where to find each Prime part. The Digital Extremes community team put together an official forum thread (which has since been removed after the Void Relic system was introduced) which tracked the location and rotation of each possible reward and updated as things were changed or added to the Void. Many of the major features introduced in 2016 were prefaced by a post on the Developer Workshop subforums. On top of that, Rebecca Ford, Live Ops & Community Producer at Digital Extremes, is perpetually immersed in the Warframe player community and instigates discussions regarding feedback, even criticisms, with the developers on the bi-weekly Devstreams.
In a way, we’ve been spoiled with information and have set a level of expectation for communication with the developers which is rarely ever seen within the entertainment industry as a whole, let alone the video game industry. Sometimes even to the detriment of the developers who maintain a casual level of communication with their players and sometimes share information far earlier than they should have (re: The War Within) or make comments which have a greater impact than intended (re: “Yep. Surprise!”). At the end of the day, each member of Digital Extremes can only devote so much time to any given task and the demands of Warframe are great.
With such an aggressive updating schedule, there will be times when things are not properly communicated with the players. There will be times when the developers and even the community team will be unable to address concerns the community considers to be significant. With such frequent oversights and omissions, it calls into question how Digital Extremes is documenting or managing changes made to the game internally as well.
It is when we have a lack of context regarding certain changes or additions to the game that the players begin to feel slighted. It is when we have a lack of pertinent information that we feel deceived. Small details like being unable to determine the randomized range of Void Traces received from a Void Fissure mission can be frustrating for the players and lead to confusion if it is functioning correctly in relation to mechanics such as Resource Boosters. Important aspects of gameplay such as how the effects of an ability augment mod scales with your warframe’s stats are often only available through the good intentions of data miners. Even simplistic information such as the way Affinity generation works and how it relates to other systems like Syndicate Standing, Conclave Standing, or Focus is seemingly hidden away from the public for whatever reason. The lack of information for these gameplay mechanics can impede the player’s ability to give valuable feedback.
Warframe is a fantastic game and despite of some of the issues cited in this article, I remain optimistic of what Digital Extremes will do for Warframe in 2017. The woes expressed in this article will likely not register at all with the average player because ultimately, in the course of a regular gameplay session, none of these concerns will come up. These are the concerns of the players who have invested a great deal of time into learning and mastering Warframe. In regards to patch notes specifically, I would be surprised to learn if even half of all players even read the patch notes before playing.
Likewise, though the Wikia is undoubtedly a great resource which compiles the data submitted by dozens (if not hundreds) of players testing gameplay aspects and data miners, it’s likely that the majority of Warframe players won’t ever feel the need to dig in to the mechanical nuances of warframe abilities. In my own experience, it was over a year before I began to question how the game really worked and began to poke around the mechanics to explore the hidden depths.
It is my hope that going forward Digital Extremes will improve their methods of documenting changes made to the game and offering a context on why changes are being made as opposed to a single line stating a change has been made. Weapons like the Zenistar, or an ability-based weapon like Exalted Blade, should come with an accurate documentation of their mechanics and stats so that players can dig in to the nuance and create their own optimized builds.
I hope that the next warframe release includes ability descriptions which account for the synergy among its different skills within the game’s UI. I hope that we never encounter a situation again where an item is inexplicably removed from the game for months at a time without so much as an official acknowledgement of the issue. I hope that one day we the players won’t have to anxiously rely on data miners to ensure that changes being made to the game are fair towards the player or otherwise behaving as advertised.
I still trust Digital Extremes. I’ve been presented with a several opportunities to observe and even be a part of conversations regarding the direction of the game on official channels in this past year both privately and on officially owned channels such as The Second Stream Podcast. I’ve been immersed with the community and have been a part of discussions about the game on different platforms. I’ve even been invited in to a cabal of some of Warframe‘s most popular content creators hosted by Digital Extremes where we discuss various aspects of the game directly with the community team. I’ve had a glimpse of how the sausage gets made and for all of my criticisms of the game, I still enjoy the time I spend playing and writing about Warframe. And I hope you still do, too.