From the moment they spoke about The Outer Worlds, I’ve been weirdly devoid of hype.
The Outer Worlds seems to be the game I’ve been waiting forever. I sincerely believe The Outer Worlds will be the closest thing of a space Morrowind I can think of. Although I know the game will not be an open world game per-se, I still stand my ground on this declaration. (And at this point, I’m not even sure Bethesda’s Starfield will take that crown, being probably more akin to Skyrim than Morrowind.)
But this is a strange thing to say then, right? Anyone who knows me, knows that Morrowind in space is everything I want, that’s my dream elevator pitch, so why aren’t hyped more?
Let’s rewind a bit there, there’s something untrue in that earlier paragraph, I’m not actually devoid of hype, it’s just a strangely cautious hype. It is still a sort of hype, in a way, but one that just has no opinion on the matter.
It’s an admission that while I know I will be playing that game no matter what, I’m also quite certain it will be a frustrating experience.
(Please Obsidian, you are more than welcome to change my mind on that)
Well, dear reader, you probably ask why I have such a strong opinion about this? Well, it all comes down about who’s behind that game. Shall we go on a little adventure?
Who are Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky?
Let’s start with the good news, the amazing news that explains why this game will be a day-one purchase, no matter how buggy that game ends up being. And it’s just those two guys, Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky.
As they wonderfully said inside the promotional video for The Outer Worlds, they were both parts of the original team who created Fallout, and not in a small part. Tim Cain was, with Feargus Urquhart (We’ll come back to that guy in a few lines), the game director and one of its programmers, while Leonard Boyarsky was one of the main artists.
But, more importantly, these men created, with the help of Jason Anderson, a wonderful video game studio with a strange philosophy. And that video game studio was Troika Games.
For those unaware of Troika Games, they made amazingly unapologetic games such as Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and of course, Vampire the Masquerade- Bloodlines.
If you never played those games, I hope that at least you know they exist. These games explain why I will buy The Outer Worlds right away.
But back to those two men, Tim Cain was a director in both Arcanum and The Temple of Elemental Evil, while Boyarsky was a director in both Arcanum and Vampire the Masquerade.
And boy, design-wise these games are insane. While widely different games, they all had a common and quite simple philosophy. Try to put as much they could in the game so that they could be the best CRPG possible.
Anyone who played those games remembers fondly the depth of their combat system, the writing of both the characters and the quests, the sheer amount of possibilities offered by the games to play your own way are just insane.
That’s why Arcanum and Vampire the Masquerade- Bloodline are still ones of the most well-noted games online. And why these games often have a special place in some gamer’s hearts.
But this design philosophy has a cost, trying to put everything in a game while trying to keep deadlines means there’s less time to polish your game. And that’s even before the issues they got with the source engine for Vampire the Masquerade. All that meant that all Troika’s games were slugfests riddled with bugs. Even on recent machines, it’s sometimes hard to sit by and watch Arcanum load a scene every two seconds. (At least, thanks to the dedication of fans, Vampire the Masquerade had a lot of bugs fixed in an unofficial patch)
Let’s go back to Feargus Urquhart, shall we?
Who is Feargus Urquhart, if not the man with likely one of the most badass names ever? Well, he was the boss at Black Isle Studios and worked on games such as Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale. While he wasn’t a director for those games (The credits come to Tim Cain and Chris Avellone for Fallout 2 with Avellone being the sole director for Planescape: Torment), he was influential in having these games created.
Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky left to create Troika, mid Fallout 2, and Feargus Urquhart ended up closing Black Isle years later and created Obsidian Entertainment.
This is what’s the most important here. Obsidian Entertainment.
So let’s talk a bit about Obsidian. Obsidian is a successful video game company who made amazing pieces of entertainment. Most of them were follow-ups of incredibly successful games. Such as KOTOR II, Neverwinter nights 2 or Fallout: New Vegas. They also made their own IP, with games like Alpha Protocol and Pillar of Eternity.
But for me, there are two games that are more important than the others, for the sake of this opinion piece. Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas.
Why talking solely about those games and not the others? Those two games share something others do not. They are both games with an insane scope made within an engine Obsidian wasn’t mastering. And it showed in the final product.
While both Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas are revered for their bold choices and design, the technical side was a bit disappointing, especially for Alpha Protocol, which is still a mess to play with.
I am not saying Obsidian developers aren’t talented. Games are awfully hard to make, and it’s even harder if you are not confident with the technology you use.
They proved that when they have an engine tailored for their needs, such as the proprietary Onyx engine used to power games like Pillars of Eternity or The Stick of Truth, their games fare amazingly well.
Also, it’s a bit reductive to just say the problems were due to the engine only, but this is important for the rest of the article. If you look at Obsidian developers talking about what went wrong with Fallout and Alpha Protocol, they will most likely say it was an engine issue or maybe time and team management that were not the best.
So, where do I think this leaves us?
So, we have two game directors known for their craft, and their need to deliver their unapologetic vision to the detriment of frustrating technical issues.
And we have a studio that has amazing people working on games I still love to this day no matter how bugged they are, with a philosophy which could match the one from the two directors. But a studio known to deliver unpolished games, especially when dealing with a new and unproven engine.
And here we are, into The Outer Worlds, with at the helm those two amazing directors who will, I’m sure of it, deliver something deep and magical, and with a group of talented people trying their best to deliver that vision.
But, once again. A new engine. Unreal Engine 4.
An unproven engine. Although they used the 3rd iteration for Alpha Protocol, UE4 is still different enough to have its own set of issues that may arise.
Maybe I’m just extra cautious, maybe I’m being spiteful for no reasons. Or maybe it’s reverse wishful thinking, by being absolutely sure this will be a frustrating experience I will ensure that I actually have a good time no matter the bug I encounter.
And I said it earlier, I know how hard video games are to create. And I will take a group of people trying their best to do something unique and special, even if they fail to produce a level of polish we might expect by now, over someone doing the same thing over and over. Shoot for the stars and all that.
I’d like to finish this article to say how well I think they are managing and making sure they keep the hype in check. Since they showed that first trailer, they have been very scarce in saying what the game was, making sure first that people understand what it isn’t (By that, I mean that this game isn’t a Fallout: New Vegas in space, but more akin to KOTOR2 in a falloutiesque future) and that they are putting efforts into debugging by making sure the relationship with their Publisher’s QA department is airtight.
This last piece of information is important because it shows they want to make sure we know they are making everything they can to be ahead of the problems they might have, it’s enough to shut down enough concerns I might have regarding that particular issue and to put me in that sweet spot between ‘I believe this game is doomed’ and ‘I believe it’s going to be a great game, I want it now’ in my hype-meter. I am in that ‘no opinion’ zone.
Not a ‘Meh’ zone, I just know I’ll play that game no matter how it will turn.
And maybe that’s the best gift Obsidian Entertainment gave me, a lesson I can use in my future life.
For once, I’m freed from the kind hype that twists any experience you may have and it’s a relief.