Open-world RPGs these days are often an exercise in excess. Many modern RPGs boast an abundance of features, and it can sometimes lead to bloat, or worse, overextension on the part of developers. Managing that excess to deliver a feature complete experience is a main driver for Obsidian Entertainment, the developers on The Outer Worlds. So much so that Obsidian's latest RPG has been fully playable even at the early stages of development.
In an interview with The Outer Worlds directors Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky at PAX East, Cain told USG, "I don't think we've ever had a game that was fully playable from start to finish so early in development." This made it easy to introduce new members of the development team to what was expected out of The Outer Worlds, because they could just play the outline of the whole game.
"[The Outer Worlds] has been going on for so long, has been playable for so long, when anyone new comes on the team, we have them play the game now. The game can stand on its own as an example of itself," said Cain. "So that's why it's been over a year, maybe a year and a half, since we've ever had to recommend something for someone to do to get an idea of what the game's like." The current build, essentially, speaks for itself.
Cain and Boyarsky know a thing or two about how overextending on the scope of a video game project can sometimes lead to less than ideal results. Both developers formed Troika Games where they developed the first Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. While Vampire became a cult classic, it was shipped in a buggy and unfinished state due to its ambitious scale and rushed release.
When we asked Cain about the experience, he said it really changed his outlook as a game developer. "I really pay more attention to scope control. [Vampire: The Masquerade] was much bigger than the team we had making it." Cain said if you don't catch stuff like bugs early the team will "let some things go for so long that eventually the game ships those bugs, and nobody wants that."
Boyarsky added, "It's just the working with what you have and really keeping the end in sight at all times. There was a lot of stuff that was out of our control but, like Tim's saying, there were things that we probably could have done, that we did have control over, that we didn't."
Cain recalled going to the The Outer Worlds' lead designer Charles Staples early in development and telling him, "Charlie, you have to be my editor. You're allowed to say no to me, and you have to do it a lot because I'm a bad person sometimes, and I want more things than I know I should put in." Because according to Cain, "I'll put everything in a game and the kitchen sink, so I think we've done a lot better at scope control on this game."
While everything we've seen so far about The Outer Worlds makes us believe it's a world we want to spend a lot of time in, Cain and Boyarsky are eager to create an experience that's first and foremost something we can finish. Hopefully in a bug-free state with features the devs truly care about.
We'll see how successful that is when The Outer Worlds comes out sometime in 2019 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store. Stay tuned for our full interview with Cain and Boyarsky from PAX East, and check out our Outer Worlds guide for more coverage.