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Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky on The Outer Worlds at PC Gamer

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Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky on The Outer Worlds at PC Gamer

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 15 December 2018, 01:46:57

Tags: Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; The Outer Worlds; Tim Cain

There have been a few more articles about The Outer Worlds published in the media since last week's big preview blast. Most notably, a short article at Kotaku that clarifies that despite its first-person perspective, the game will not be a Fallout: New Vegas-style open world RPG. Structurally, it'll be more similar to traditional 2000s-era RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic 2. That's a rare combination, which raises the possibility that the game might actually be a bit like Deus Ex. And what do you know, Deus Ex actually gets a mention in today's extensive interview with Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky at PC Gamer. It's a long piece in which Tim and Leonard discuss both the lessons they've learned over the course of the careers as well as the various design decisions they've made on The Outer Worlds. I'll try to quote the most interesting parts here:

PC Gamer: When you thought about the games you've made before, what did you say at the beginning of developing this game that you wanted to do differently? Not just the theme, but the guiding tenants of the design, of the story you wanted to tell, what the player was going to be able to do in the game. What did you want to do that you hadn't done before?

Tim: When we made Fallout, I was always going 'in the main quest, you always have to be able to fight your way, talk your way, or sneak your way through. Since then all this stuff has happened with companions and people love having companions. We're not doing romance because, well, that's been done. But I wanted to explore the things a player can do with his companions that still felt like the player's the hero, but make the companions much more integral to his path through the game. And that's what that fourth path came up, the leader idea.

There are skills that support it. The way you interact with your companions changes, and it's just a really interesting path through the game. It's more of a jack of all trades. Once you switch out companions you're good at different things. That is a really fun character to play because you're like, 'hey, let's go try and talk to these people.' You do it and fail. 'Okay, you two go back in the ship. I'm going to load out these two combat guys and we're just going to go kill everybody.' You can't do that with other characters. You can't just change your build on the fly like that.

Wes: One of the things I thought was interesting in the dialogue you showed: if you don't have a high enough intimidate skill, you'll still show the option there to make the player go, 'oh, I wish I had that.' Are there cases in dialogue using one of those skills, like intimidation or persuasion, where it fails if you're not at a high enough level?

Tim: No, it will always succeed if you're high enough level. One reason we show when you're close is you could always take a drug that improved that skill. You could run back to your ship and get a companion that can improve the skill or you can say, 'wait, I'll be back.' You'd go up a level, put all the points into that skill, and come back. So you have all these options if you're really close. That's why I like it.

Leonard: When you get to major story points or major turning points in the main story arc, nine times out of 10 to get into the place where you can start using your dialogue skills effectively, you have to have an extra piece of information, maybe have done research on the character, find that item that they've always been looking for because you've talked to people and you find that out. It's not just a simple matter of like, 'I'm going to put all my points into dialogue skills and then whenever I talk to these guys, I get those options.' Once you get those options, they'll get you to where you want to go.

To answer one of your previous questions, this is maybe something we have learned, over the years. We used to do dialogue where you had to pick the right choices all along this path to open up the [skill-based] dialogue choices, and then you have to pick the right dialogue ones, and it's just like 'I put all my points into dialogue and if I blow this, I'm screwed, because I'm going to have to end up fighting this guy.' So we wanted to make it still feel challenging. It still felt like you were making choices, but a much more directed form of that. So you don't have to get every decision right to get into the right place to be able to pick the right dialogue skill, if that makes sense.

Wes: I think a lot of people will see shades of Mass Effect in Outer Worlds. In Mass Effect you would go to a planet, do a whole hub and then you leave and you probably wouldn't go back to it if it wasn't like the Citadel. How are the explorable spaces in this game going to compare? It seems like you're gonna be returning to places a bit more. You're spending more time in different areas of these two planets?

Tim: You're returning to the planets a lot, but going to different areas.

Leonard: And it just depends how you want to play it. What we showed off in the demo, that's a fairly large area. You could go through there and spend a whole bunch of time exhausting everything in that area. I don't know if there's anything that sends you back to that specific area, but in other places we do have things that'll send you back so you can see how your choices have influenced the outcome. Once again, it's the open-endedness of letting you play how you want. If you're on a main quest and you're like, 'oh, I want to get here so I can get over to this place, maybe I won't spend all the time like exhausting every corner of this map.' It feels a little bit more open-ended, or at least we hope that's what it will feel like to players.

Wes: Are there any other forms of interactivity in the game, beyond combat and talking to characters? You showed a really brief lockpicking segment that seemed like it was just, hold a button and if your skill is a high enough threshold, it works. Are there puzzles or minigames, things you're intereacting with in the world?

Leonard: We originally talked about lockpicking minigames or hacking minigames. There's a couple different schools of thought. Some people here believe that they have yet to run into one of those types of minigames that is actually satisfying to play over and over and over again. And, you know, once again, we're starting from scratch. If I want to play a stealth character who lockpicks a lot, if I don't like the kind of minigame we picked, then is it going to make my experience worse? That is an art in and of itself. So instead of us taking time to figure out the different minigames and iterate on those games and polish them and make them fun, we would just rather concentrate on creating this great new IP with this new world that people are going to love, hopefully. And this great story and this great setting. It would be detrimental if we came up with minigames that weren't fun. I don't think it's detrimental to not have those minigames as a stealth player.

Tim: We put a lot of puzzles into the game itself. There's this is one area where if you're really good at hacking, you can hack a terminal and get the robots to attack each other, but if you put your points more into sneaking, then you can go sneak into an area to get the access code for that terminal and get them to fight each other. And then if you're just so good at sneaking and have absolutely no hacking whatsoever, just sneak by the robots altogether and don't even try to get them to fight each other. But what I like about that is you often find people go, 'I keep trying to sneak by the robots but I can't. What's that computer do? Ohhh.' If you're trying to do something and it's too hard there's always another way to do it. And we tried to do it without the Deus Ex 'there's always going to be a big vent.' Sometimes it's like, what in this environment have I not tried to use yet? Or am I like two points away from being able to hack something? Wait, this drug makes me smarter and smarts make my hacking better. Ding, I can temporarily hack this. And that just feels fun. It feels like a great use of both that drug and my hacking skills.
Other topics covered in the interview include combat quality (they're trying, but it's going to be a compromise) and the possibility of a pacifist playthrough (they're not sure, but in any case killing robots doesn't count). There's also a frank admission by Tim and Leonard that the original Fallout was basically a fluke (something that Leonard has spoken about before) which made them think they could do it all alone. The subsequent experience of the Troika years humbled them and taught them to become more focused team players.

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