The Outer Worlds Interview — Developers Dive Deeper Into Systems and Design

Obsidian's Megan Starks and Charles Staples recently spoke to us more about the upcoming release of The Outer Worlds.

April 23, 2019

A few weeks back at PAX East, we interviewed the directors of The Outer Worlds–Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky–to learn more about what to expect from Obsidian’s latest RPG. The conversation we had with them was more of a broad look at the game that also touched on the roots of the project and some of the larger ideas at the project’s core.

After speaking with both Cain and Boyarsky, we also had the chance to chat with Charles Staples, the game’s Lead Designer, and Megan Starks, who is a Senior Narrative Designer on The Outer Worlds. Rather than talking more broadly about the game, we decided to chat with Megan and Charles about some more specific aspects of the game that hardcore RPG fans have been asking about.


Logan: Tim and Leonard talked a bit during the panel today about how they came up with the initial ideas for The Outer Worlds over a period of six months or so before they then began proper development on it with the rest of the team. Once they approach you guys to start working on the game, what’s the process like with them getting the rest of the team at Obsidian in-line with their vision?

Charles Staples: I remember when I first came on board, Tim and Leonard had a ton of documentation written down and like the first week was just reading all of it and [understanding] “Okay, this is what you guys are trying to do. I need to read all this stuff.” They also had referenced movies, books, and that sort of stuff so that everybody could get on the same page of the influences and inspirations that we have for this. Then it comes to us to be like “Okay, that’s what they want to do, now it’s our job to execute on this and turn this into a game.”

L: Because Tim and Leonard have been in the industry for a bit at this point and are a bit more old school, did you find working with them to be any different than other projects you’ve worked on in the past?

Megan Starks: I think the main difference I’ve noticed is that Tim and Leonard just have really smart creative instincts. So whenever they come up with an idea, it’s like spot-on where usually you kind of toss some stuff out and you need to refine it and work it into the final vision. You can be like, “Well, I really need some direction on X,” and you’ll get a very quick, really good response.

CS: Yeah, they’ve spent a lot of time thinking through everything. [laughs]

L: The flaws system was one element of The Outer Worlds I spoke to Tim and Leonard about quite a bit. I’m curious though, will flaws you acquire play into the narrative in any way or is it more of a systems-level function?

MS: It’s more of systems thing but I sneak some in. I really liked the robophobia flaw where when you talk to robots sometimes you have the dialogue option where you just scream in their face. But for the most part, it’s systems based.

CS: I think that’s a good idea for the future though.

MS: Yeah, we should add that to all of them.

I really liked the robophobia flaw where when you talk to robots sometimes you have the dialogue option where you just scream in their face.

L: How difficult has it been for you to combine all of the different systems and mechanics that you have layered on top of one another in The Outer Worlds?

CS: Oh, it’s a lot and it is pretty tricky. It gets hard to track. The other tricky thing is developing all of these systems from scratch in Unreal has been a challenge. But yeah, once it starts to all come together it’s a matter of us being diligent about keeping in mind all the playthroughs and the ways we want players to be able to have certain options and the different styles that players will play through the game. It is a nontrivial amount of work.

L: Will your choices that you make throughout the game have an effect on things other than just the narrative? Could your choices directly result in changes you see in the world around you for example?

CS: We are ending the game with end slides that say this is the outcome of the game based on your choices and actions. Based off of different things that you’ve done, it will have drastically different effects.

L: How expansive are the environments in The Outer Worlds and how much do you encourage players to explore and pillage around?

CS: We have a pretty wide range of areas. One of our areas is massive and huge and then we have a lot of other smaller areas but those are still even decent sized where you can spend a couple hours in them. We do try to make sure that players feel rewarded any time they explore off the beaten path and that they’re not always pushed on to these sorts of things because for the players that do like exploration, that is part of the rewarding element of like, “Hey, I went in here, I found some cool storytelling and I also got rewarded with a cool new gun.”

L: Will that potential loot you find off the beaten path be static across multiple playthroughs or will it all be randomized?

CS: We do have some loot that is pre-placed and some of it in loot containers is generated off of loot lists.

For all of our science weapons we tried to look at the various systems, features, or bugs that came up along the way and made us laugh and think of how we could reuse it in an interesting way.

L: You showed off one weapon today during the panel that you said stemmed from a bug in the game–

CS: The Mandibular Rearranger!

L: Yes, that one. I found that weapon to be pretty hilarious and it got me thinking about how you guys might develop weapons and other items for the game. Is there anything else that has been included in The Outer Worlds that originated as a bug?

CS: Well, for all of our science weapons we tried to look at the various systems, features, or bugs that came up along the way and made us laugh and think of how we could reuse it in an interesting way. With the Shrink Ray, we got in NPC scaling so that we could have some variance and heights of NPCs but then we were like, “Well, what if we just cranked that all the way up or down?” Now you have a gun that shrinks things and lowers their health and lowers their damage.

We have three other science weapons that we haven’t talked about. I don’t know if any of them are using bugs, it’s more of fun things to do. One of the things since humor is such a big element in the game, we would be playing a build and be like, “This is all funny, we’re all laughing, we’re enjoying this experience. How can we put this in here intentionally rather than having it be accidental?” That was one of the things for it.

L: What’s one thing you both haven’t talked about much yet with The Outer Worlds that you’d like more potential players of the game to know about?

MS: We haven’t revealed either of the two companions that I’ve written for yet. I’m always trying to catch myself before I accidentally talk about it in interviews.

CS: Yeah, there’s a lot of things that we’re not talking about that I think are going to be fun. Definitely, I think, you know, we try to make compelling stories, compelling characters, and we get excited to see how people react to the stuff that we make. I’m just really excited for the game to come out when we’re finished and see players’ reactions to it. That’s the cool thing for us, to see how people consume it and what they like about it so that we can take that experience and put it into the next game.

The Outer Worlds is set to release later in 2019 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store.

Logan Moore

Logan Moore is the Managing Editor around these parts and enjoys the video game Super Mario Odyssey.

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