The time-looping space exploration gameplay in Mobius Digital's Outer Wilds only works because almost everything in the game's miniature solar system operates on a consistent cycle. Planets will always align at the same intervals, the sand on the Ash Twins always flows at a specific rate, and so on. The biggest exception to this carefully tuned system is the planet Brittle Hollow, and despite the chaotic behavior it's known for, you may not have even realized it's actually random.
Matthew Castle, video producer for our friends at Rock Paper Shotgun, breaks down how Brittle Hollow and its volcanic moon work in the first installment of a new series called Crafting Materials. Mobius has previously discussed how meteors from Brittle Hollow's moon tear the planet's surface apart in a procedurally generated matter, but it's a subject that's really better served with some visual aids.
Brittle Hollow, for those unaware or who need a refresher, is Outer Wilds' planet that acts almost like a Dyson sphere. The ancient civilization that once lived in the solar system realized its surface was inhospitable because of the meteor showers, but the interior—mostly empty, with a small black hole at its center—could be made livable with gravity-inverting crystals that let them stick to the inner face of the planet's crust. When players reach Brittle Hollow, that crust is in the process of completely disintegrating under the bombardment from the moon.
You could likely play Outer Wilds dozens of times and not realize that Brittle Hollow's destruction is largely left up to chance. The moon's rotation is different with each playthrough and most chunks of the surface have hit point values that, once dropped to zero by a meteor, signal that it's time for the piece to plunge into the black hole. Only a few story-critical areas on the planet are set to collapse at specific times, but even then your path for getting to those places may depend on which bits of crust are still hanging on.
So why not come up with a static destruction pattern? Mobius' creative director Alex Beachum says the team struggled to engineer a satisfactory orbit for Outer Wilds' comet, and that when faced with the more daunting process of engineering the naturalistic collapse of a planet, they decided to just leave it as one of the game's few procedural elements.
If you haven't played Outer Wilds (USG's #2 game of last year) yet, the video won't really spoil you on any of its intricate puzzles. Outer Wilds is available on PC, PS4, and the Xbox One (also via Game Pass) and is nominated in several categories at this year's Game Developers Choice Awards, which take plan on March 18. So, if you haven't unraveled its mysteries just yet, you have some time before last year's awards season is well and truly over.