How Warframe's comic book series complements the shooter's overarching lore

Last year, Warframe partnered with Top Cow Comics to produce a crossover comic book series. We spoke to Top Cow president Matt Hawkins at the time about the publisher's relationship with Digital Extremes, and what we might expect from the five-comic run. 

With all five issues out in the wild—and ahead of tomorrow's TennoCon 2018—we caught up with writer Ryan Cady to discuss how the series overlaps with the sci-fi free-to-play shooter, the challenges of creating something new while satisfying a dedicated fanbase, and how the game world's lore complements both the comic and the videogame.  

PC Gamer: What was your relationship with Warframe like before working on the comic?

Ryan Cady: I like working with Matt and I'd played the game a little bit because of a weird thing where some artist I knew had been doing a book. He was worried his designs were too similar to Warframe's designs, and this was like in 2014 maybe. I was like, what's Warframe? I downloaded it and played it. 

The universe is really rich and it's a fun sandbox to play in. I was excited and my mind was excited about the sorts of crazy things we could tell in that world. I remember very distinctly being like: man, action in this game is so fluid, these pages are gonna look so cool. These pages will look so cool. I can't wait. 

Tell me more about the comic itself. 

Our arc is definitely in the prequel category, but it shows elements of the Warframe universe that span from mission one to endgame content. There are locations—like the Orokin voidship, or Cetus on earth—that will mean one thing to a veteran player and something wholly different to a casual reader. While still, I think, preserving the integrity of the narrative. 

With the character of Captain Vor, for example—our main villain and one of the recurring baddies in the game—we’re trying to show a level of sympathy and nuance to his beliefs and motivations in a way that, hopefully, serve to make your encounters with him in-game seem MORE sinister, more dangerous. You understand him, you’ve seen a bit of his journey, but now you’ll fear him more.

And that’s what we’ve tried to do for a lot of game lore, tried to add some colour and nuance to the NPCs and world players would interact with. The humanoid Ostrons of Cetus, the cybernetic labourers of Solaris United, even the mysterious Lotus—“space mom”—we wanted to show them interacting with each other and Tenno in ways that would make players see a little more depth to them when they go back to the game

Have you enjoyed bringing Warframe to life in comic form? 

Oh, it's been a blast. 100 percent, that hope was delivered on. The story they let us tell, that we worked with Digital Extremes on, really brought out the best of that bombastic, crazy, futuristic imagery. All of the fighting scenes you'd expect from a Warframe comic—we got to do them. I was ecstatic about that, that's been a blast. Working with everyone and interacting with the fans has been a delight, it's been a wonderful project to work on. 

Warframe has a pretty dedicated fanbase. You've worked alongside Digital Extremes in this process, but how difficult is it writing new stories that fit with pre-existing player expectations?

We're lucky because we had a long time to clear everything with Digital Extremes and there was a lot of back and forth. There was a sense there of safety and hand-holding. It was like, okay, Digital Extremes has cleared this, so we can't screw it up too much. The players can't get too mad! By and large, a lot of our anxiety started to go away over time. The fans were really positive and they're receptive people. 

I jumped on the subreddit whenever I could, and everyone was very gracious, they liked the looks. They're a very open community. I tell this story a lot on podcasts, but there was this one time in San Diego where this fan walked away from me in the middle of a conversation because I was playing a frame that wasn't in the meta. He just walked away. That's the only bad interaction I've had, every Warframe fan has been really cool and fun and there's a level of enthusiasm that lets people geek about stuff. 

Are there more to come? Is this the beginning of something big? 

We've definitely talked about it, but that's definitely one for the higher ups. I know there's enthusiasm on both sides. I mean, I'd love to. 

One thing that fascinates about Warframe is its evolving nature. The comic series also aims to expand and evolve the Warframe universe—is it possible that the comic's storylines could overlap with the game itself further down the line? 

Absolutely, I would love that. Even with the stuff we've already done, I'm still secretly hoping more and more of it will show up in the game. We have a character that we created, Little Duck, and fans have been really responsive to her, the fans really like her. We really had a blast writing her and creating her. I'm like, oh, they're doing that Venus stuff soon, what if she showed up, that'd be so cool. 

It's a little more, I guess, higher pressure doing future stuff that more ties in directly, but now that we're more in tune and what it means to write these books, what the fan culture is, I feel like it'd be awesome to write a more timely, more tied to what's going on-type series.

Comic and videogames overlap all the time. But it feels like it's happening more now than ever—is that fair to say?

Yeah, I think so. I think it's an overwhelmingly positive thing too. You look at how Blizzard creates those Overwatch comics, it's this idea that: this is a narrative form that videogame publishers and geek culture publishers identify with. There's a synergy there. You can create a comic relatively cheap to the cost of making a videogame—comparatively it's more affordable—and here's a way to expand your narrative and build your fanbase and branch out. I definitely have noticed more.  

Are there any other videogame series you'd like to take on beyond Warframe? 

A lot of the obvious ones jump to mind. Mass Effect, for sure, the first Mass Effect trilogy was so important to me and I'd love to dive into that world. It's weird because it's similar to Warframe and the culture is similar, but Destiny would be a cool series to visit. Much like Warframe, I always thought: here's this big world, with so much lore, and you can only touch upon some of it as a game developer. It'd be nice to play in that sandbox. 

All five issues of the Warframe five-comic series can be purchased separately on Comixology. The full collection, Warframe Vol. 1, is due on July 25.