‘The Outer Worlds’ Is The Foundation For Much More
After playing a few hours of The Outer Worlds we were able to speak with project director Brian Heins about why only Obsidian could make this game, what the Microsoft acquisition meant about the future of the series, and why the studio was bought out in the first place.
When Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky pitched The Outer Worlds, what was it about the game that appealed to the team?
The game is very much an Obsidian RPG. It's the style of game we love to make: you can see how your choices and the conversations you have impact the world and the characters around you. The freedom of exploration suits being able to run around and make both good and bad decisions at all times. I think there's some games that try to force a very specific role onto players, whereas we're all about letting players play the game how they want to play. Our job is to try and create an interesting world and morally grey situations that they can either resolve or approach like a bull in a china shop.
How do you make quests to suit that style of approach? I played one quest, for instance, where I discovered a dead body that led me all over Stellar Bay to solve its murder.
So that quest specifically, we were looking at Stellar Bay as an area we wanted to flesh out. There was the major quest and major faction quest [that took you there] but we were playing through and it felt a little light on quests for the space. I was asked to come up with as many quests as I could get done within a very short period of time. We didn't have the budget to add new areas to the game, so we had to reuse things that already existed.
We looked at ways to move the player around Stellar Bay. There were interesting side quests already there that people were missing, because they just weren't directed to them. So I was adding side quests that could drive the player to places where they can find the other side quests, and then drive them to other parts on the planet of Monarch. So for that quest specifically I looked at a top down map of Stellar Bay. Looked at the flow of all the quests and looked for a gap. I wanted to have a quest that sends you to that gap or from that point to another point in Stellar Bay.
The investigation ended up being quite a simple quest, I spoke to some people, they told me to go somewhere, and then I ended up killing a gang of thugs. Could it have been more complex?
Because we give players the freedom to kill everyone, talk to everybody, and sneak their way through... all the various options they have for solving things, we try to keep objectives, fairly clear and direct. That way, the complexity comes from how players choose to accomplish those goals. Rather than saying, 'Oh, you need to do this in this specific way'. The second we do that, when players don't do it in that way, the quest breaks. Instead we focused on giving the player the breadcrumbs of what to accomplish, and then giving them the tools to do it in ways that they find entertaining. So the quests at a high level, generally revolve around fairly simple ideas, like 'Go to this place', 'Talk to this person', 'Get this item'.
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In some respects, The Outer Worlds feels like a very polished version of an older style of RPG. Like Fallout: New Vegas without the bugs. What was the team aiming for with this game?
Our goal for The Outer Worlds - and this is besides the reality of the budget, what the time frame is going to be, the team size, all those things - we wanted to create a foundation for ourselves to take off from moving forward. That's kind of what this Outer Worlds is. We're creating this entirely new sci-fi IP, this whole new look and style, the feel of the game, the tone of the writing, that dark sense of humour. And this is the first time working with the Unreal 4 engine. So creating all the game code for this style of game in that engine, how to integrate all of our other tools at Obsidian to create that foundation and make a really solid, polished fun experience. And that gives us a great foundation to grow on for future projects, as well.
Private Division is publishing The Outer Worlds but Obsidian's recently been acquired by Microsoft, what does that mean for the future of the series? Who owns the rights?
One of the reasons we went with Private Division was that it was a deal that allowed us to own the IP. After the success of Pillars, we really wanted to make games where we own the IP, rather than working in other people's IPs, or ones where we had to give away the rights to the IP to another publisher. That was one of the goals for The Outer Worlds. Right. So at this point with the acquisition, Microsoft owns the IP.
Does that mean if The Outer Worlds is a success and it's something the studio wants to work, it's free to?
Yeah. It is kind of bittersweet, because Private Division has been fantastic to work with. As much as we have been excited about the acquisition of Microsoft, these guys are fantastic, It's been a great working relationship with them as a publisher,
Why was an acquisition necessary?
I can only speak to a certain amount of this because I wasn't involved in a lot of the decision. That was the owners. Obsidian's been around for quite a long time. And we've we've had our ups and downs as a studio, like the layoffs and things like that. The security of having a large company funding the project and knowing that we've got decades of games ahead of us without having to worry about it is a great sense of security for the studio and the employees. Speaking as an employee, I feel much more secure now.
Featured Image Credit: Private Division