Digital Extremes outdid itself at TennoCon this year.
There was fan service, epic music, teasers of new warframes and the continuation of the cinematic story quests, and the unveiling of a massive new landscape with new activities and loot for players to enjoy.
And then it didn't stop.
The gameplay demo for Fortuna transitioned seamlessly into the unveiling of an entirely new class of mission for Warframe, where you board a military interceptor spacecraft and launch an assault on an enemy capital ship in orbit above you.
Only at the end of the heart-pounding demo do we see the name — Railjack. Though we soon learn from the creator that the full name is Codename: Railjack.
It turns out that Digital Extremes creative director Steven Sinclair first prototyped Railjack about 18 months ago, and that it very nearly didn't make it into the TennoLive presentation this year.
The great news for the Warframe faithful is that it did make it in, and it looks amazing.
During the part of the gameplay demo which preceded the Railjack sequence, the players had angered Nef Anyo, who is the proprietor of the Fortuna debt-enslavement colony on Venus.
While Fortuna itself is underground, the action happens on the surface of the planet where players had helped rebels capture one of Nef's smaller bases, then helped them reclaim a recently-stolen database of deep cover operatives.
Nef Anyo was not happy. To communicate his displeasure (and exact bloody vengeance upon the usurpers) he begins shelling the surface of Venus from an Obelisk-class capital ship he has in orbit.
Multi-crew Sigma Series Railjack
Up to four players can crew a railjack, which featured engineering, tactical, weapons, and flight subsystems during the demo.
The mission begins with players climbing aboard the ship, and one of the warframes taking control of the railjack's helm to launch it into space above Venus.
Railjack weapon systems
As you engage the Obelisk that Nef had parked above Venus, he scrambles fighters to ward you off.
While the pilot can fire guns mounted in the bow of the ship, the rest of the crew take control of turrets to shoot down Nef's fighters as they come into range.
During the battle, the ship assistant—called Cephalon Ordis—warns that a hull breach has occurred and that life support is depleting. You also hear Nef ordering boarding parties from his Obelisk to "launch their ram-sleds."
Intruders then appear on your ship, which you have to fight off in Warframe's classic third-person shooter style.
The fight causes fires to break out across the ship, which the crew first has to put out before proceeding with the assault.
Tactical systems — Helix
With the railjack taking massive fire from the Obelisk's turrets, it's time to break out one of the interceptor's big guns.
The demo shows an ability (or Battle Module) for the railjack called Helix, which unleashes a devastating barrage on the capital ship, seemingly destroying its turrets and allowing the players to close the distance.
Sabotage the capital ship
Once the railjack is close enough to the capital ship in the demo, one of the player crew hits the airlock, attaches to an archwing, and boards the enemy.
Their goal is to locate the shield coil, disable it, and allow the railjack to deliver a killing blow.
The infiltrator's path is not easy, though. Not only is there still enemy crew remaining on the Obelisk, but turrets and barriers block their progress.
Gameplay mechanics demonstrated include crew co-ordination, with the players who remain aboard the railjack needed to remotely disable barriers, and "hack" turrets to fire upon their former masters.
While the infiltration team is busy aboard the enemy ship, the crew aboard the railjack fends off interceptors trying to blow them out of the sky.
The infiltration team destroys four cylindrical reactor components to expose the shield coil, then scans the coil itself to tag it for the crew aboard railjack to target.
All the while the ship's cephalon warns that back-up for the enemy capital ship is due to arrive at any moment, and you need to get out of there.
At this point the railjack's engineering interface makes a cameo. While it was shown earlier in the demo, that was a brief flash right after launch which you would not really have seen when watching it the first time. It is shown again when the pilot redirects all power to weapons to fire the final shot on the Obelisk.
After redirecting power to weapons, the railjack pilot climbs into a different seat which controls "the big gun", and uses it to target the sabotaged shield coil.
The super-powered shot causes the Obelisk to disintegrate around the infiltrator, who rushes to the exit to escape its doom. With all the crew back aboard, the railjack is shown opening some kind of drive component running along the top of the craft.
A rail of light beams through the top of the ship, no doubt the feature which gives the Sigma Series Railjack its name. It also suggests a connection to the game's existing lore regarding Solar Rails, which facilitate interplanetary travel and formerly provided links to Dark Sectors.
Like the opening title of Star Trek the railjack vanishes in a flash, but all our childhood wishes remain. On the very precipice of fulfilment.
Railjack gameplay demo
More than a year in the making
Following the big reveal, Digital Extremes creative director Steven Sinclair used Twitter to provide more context about the development of Railjack.
Among his posts was a retweet of someone who pointed out that Sinclair first started the prototype for it on 5 February 2017 during a coding live stream.
However the idea of Railjack, and even Warframe itself dates back to 2001, when Digital Extremes was working on some prototypes for a new game before they landed the contract to continue working on the Unreal Tournament franchise.
"One of the prototypes was using the Unreal Tournament (one) engine to make a space game," Sinclair said.
"Lo and behold, in many ways Warframe has become a lot of those ideas."
One of those ideas was working with a group of players to build a ship, which would have stations like any good sci-fi show like Star Trek where crew are depicted to have specific roles on a star ship.
"You might have a pilot or a weapons guy trying to keep the ship alive. You might have the ship being boarded by evil Grineer."
For much of the over three-hour stream, Sinclair expands on the idea and shows how they might implement moving an occupied ship through space within the Warframe engine.
Some of Sinclair's other posts about Railjack are embedded below:
15 days ago entire RailJack section of the demo was going to be cut. Broken, incomplete, flawed. But our team went all-in. I've wanted this type of gameplay since I was a boy. Solaris sing "we all lift together" and I choke up because the song and it’s message became real for me. pic.twitter.com/mLpXUcaeKZ— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018
RailJack uses separate physical areas for the multiple ship interiors. Because the distances are so large many unexpected bugs popped up. Temporal Antialiasing was 'bleeding'. This lead to major overhaul of the system incorporating ideas published by Naughty Dog and Blizzard. pic.twitter.com/wfWEyTfxqL— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018
The Obelisk Capital ship was completely rebuilt for [TennoCon]. Art was pushed even further after this video to increase 'details of scale'. pic.twitter.com/Mstro5OMoX— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018
Conveying scale in space was elusive. Added asteroids, volumetric fog and massive planetary shield nodes to give it 'terrain' and depth. In demo we didn't see it well, but the Obelisk shoots the RailJack if its in the open too long. Needed to avoid boring straight line approach. pic.twitter.com/7zdunth8Jj— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018
RailJack had a lot of problems. One was space felt generic. Cluttered w/asteroids and the Obelisk. Nod to Last Starfighter I thought 'screw it, the Orokin built a shield around the planet' lets put something big and weird. Team pivoted and built *massive* Orokin derelict 'nodes'. pic.twitter.com/227t2p2nFm— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018
'Trick' of our space battles is an ancient rendering technique twisted. You see your ship interior but windows are a portal attached to the RailJack entity itself in the combat zone which itself looks into the art space 'skybox'. Board the Obelisk, you see space from its entity. pic.twitter.com/4LRkdJBdYj— Steve Sinclair (@sj_sinclair) July 8, 2018