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The Outer Worlds co-directors discuss launch day, design choices, and branding

With The Outer Worlds hours away from releasing, Shacknews reached out to co-directors Leonard Boyarsky and Tim Cain to talk about the game's launch, some of its design choices, truly absurd branding, and Obsidian's deal with Microsoft.

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One of the most anticipated games of the fall season is just hours away from exiting its cryogenic stasis. The Outer Worlds is set to release in just a couple of days, bringing Obsidian's galactic RPG out to PC and consoles. For Obsidian, it's a return to the old days, in more ways than one. The original Fallout creators are back for one more ride, harkening back to the days of the old-school classic, as well as the more recent Fallout: New Vegas. And judging by the reviews, it looks to be the kind of experience that fans of the post-apocalyptic series can truly enjoy.

There's a lot to celebrate at Obsidian, from the positive reviews to the studio's acquisition by Microsoft. So Shacknews reached out to Obsidian for a little chat. And yes, we're ready for round two with Leonard Boyarsky, along with his fellow co-director/original Fallout co-creator Tim Cain. We talked about hitting the finish line, various design choices, and whether the sudden acquisition from Microsoft led to any day-to-day changes.

The Outer Worlds

Shacknews: The Outer Worlds is set to release in just a few days. How does it feel to have reached the finish line?

Leonard Boyarsky, Co-Director: Good! Can't wait for people to be able to play it!

Tim Cain, Co-Director: I'm tired! (laughs)

Shacknews: Can't blame you! What was the team's primary goal when designing the dialogue system. How were you able to design complex conversations with multiple impactful options while keeping the overarching story cohesive?

Boyarsky: Well, luckily that's something that Obsidian, me, and Tim have done a lot over the years. One of the greatest things is that Obsidian has a fantastic dialogue tool that's been iterated on for 15 years, over all the projects. So it's really easy to track how things are playing out, because there's kind of a flow chart that you can see visually. Our writers are just awesome, as well, so that's always a plus. It's really a matter of when we come to a point where, "Okay, all players are going to hit this one point," we always have to ask ourselves, "What if they just kill everyone when they get to that point? What if they stealth around that point? What if they talk their way through? How is that going to affect the overall gameplay? How is that going to send them to the next place they need to go to?" So it's kind of a microcosm of the whole game design.

It can be daunting. But I think once you get your brain around developing that way, it's really kind of cool to challenge yourself to think of all the ways players can abuse your systems that you're giving them to use and embrace your game and try to beat them and keep them from being able to break your game.

The Outer Worlds

Shacknews: Did the massive number of dialogue options lead to the decision not to use a voice actor for the main character?

Boyarsky: Partially. That is definitely a major factor, but another is, if we came up with three voices, five voices, it would be very hard to really come up with a voice that matches everybody's play style. I don't know how many we'd have to come up with to cover the gamut of the ways people want to play the characters they want to role play. Our main goal with this game was that we want players to be able to play the game any way they want and create any kind of hero they want... or villain, as the case may be.

So if we gave you three different voices, for instance, that you could pick from, we'd have to cover the gamut of any kind of anti-hero, Captain America hero, psychopath villain, and everything in-between for players to really feel like that's their character. It'd be really disjointed for some people to have that and not have a voice that represents what they hear in their head. And, of course, it doesn't limit how many options you have and that was our biggest thing, is that we really wanted players to have those options.

Shacknews: How does the team approach environmental storytelling? What sorts of challenges or opportunity did it present to the team?

Cain: Well, we had a good idea of all the skills we wanted to be used. We had kind of a checklist for area designers to go through when they were putting levels together. Like, "Hey, we want a stealth path here," or, "We want a dialogue path here," so that put down where characters would be or where they would be in the environment. They springboarded from that into, "Okay, if there's going to be a secret path in the back, what should I put back there to draw your attention and make it seem realistic that there's something that would be there?" There's just little things like that that people put into the world. It's fun to actually go around and look at those things.

Shacknews: There's a lot of talent at Obsidian that's been around since the days of Fallout: New Vegas and there have been a lot of comparisons between The Outer Worlds and New Vegas, so I wanted to ask, what has the team learned from those New Vegas days that's been applied to The Outer Worlds?

Boyarsky: The fact that it's a first-person RPG, there's gameplay stuff they learned, there's level layout stuff they've learned. Obviously, New Vegas is a huge factor in that, but I think just in general, when you look at all of the games we've made here, they all focus on player choice and revolve around consequences for players making certain choices. So it's really company culture more than any one specific game. I think, tonally, New Vegas was a great way to prepare them for dealing with mine and Tim's senses of humor that we wanted to get into this game.

Shacknews: Was there ever a temptation to add co-op multiplayer at any point during development?

Boyarsky: Nope!

Cain: Never once! Zero!

Shacknews: Last year, while The Outer Worlds was in development, Obsidian was picked up by Microsoft. Did that purchase impact day-to-day development on The Outer Worlds at all?

Boyarsky: No, because we're still working with Private Division. They've been our publisher from the very beginning and this game is going to be published by them. Microsoft has helped us out a lot with marketing opportunities and generally being positive about the game, but we're still making this game to be published by Private Division, so they're who we interact with the most.

Shacknews: Last question, I asked this to Megan Starks back when The Outer Worlds was first announced and now I'll ask you the same question. Given that The Outer Worlds revolves around everything being branded, what's been your favorite instance of absurd branding in the game?

Boyarsky: What's horrible right now is that I'm going to think of it as soon as we get off this phone call, because there's just so many great ones.

Cain: I know I laugh at stuff all the time when I'm playing.

Boyarsky: There's a fantastic... we use a lot of the in-game advertising or posters that you'll see on walls and we use that art for loading screens, which I think is fantastic, because you can read the fine print on them. Just the whole attitude on all of them is just so serious about this ridiculous stuff, like Auntie Cleo saying, "Guaranteed that there's no natural ingredients" or "Now with even more chemical additives" kind of thing.

Cain: I also love that safety stuff. Like remember the Spacer's Choice workers, "Be careful around heavy machinery... because it costs a lot to repair if you get your hand stuck in it." It's not about worker safety, but they care more about these machines.

You can also find a commemorative item that was made for the anniversary of a product, for a cigarette. It commemorates the loss of a ship and on the side it says something like, "Because we all know that there's no better way of remembering your co-workers who were lost in the void of space gasping for breath, than by the cool mint of Spacer's Choice cigarettes." It's like... what?


The Outer Worlds is set to release this Friday, October 25 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Xbox One and PC users, you'll also be able to pick this up through Xbox Game Pass on day one. Nintendo Switch owners, your version of The Outer Worlds is coming soon.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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