Outer Wilds is a 2019 action-adventure game developed by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. The game features the player character exploring a solar system stuck in a 22-minute time loop, which ends as the sun goes supernova. The player continually repeats this cycle by gaining knowledge, which is retained, that can help them on later loops. The game received critical acclaim and won several awards, including for game of the year.
Outer Wilds features an unnamed astronaut player character exploring a solar system that is stuck in a 22 minute time loop, resetting after the sun goes supernova. Thus, the player is encouraged to learn why by following secrets of an extinct alien race known as the Nomai, who previously visited the solar system thousands of years ago. For example, in order to use the ship, the player must guide the astronaut to a local observatory, where the launch codes are located. Once the player has done this once, that information will not change in subsequent ones, which allows the player to bypass the observatory and immediately launch the ship with the known codes.
Some events and locations change during the course of the time loop; one example is a pair of planets orbiting so close to each other that sand from one planet is funneled over to cover the other planet, making its surface inaccessible later on in the time loop. The player character has health and oxygen meters, which are replenished when the character returns to the ship or by finding trees on planets. The player character dying before the sun goes supernova has the same effect, which respawns them back on their home planet.
The player takes the role of an unnamed alien space explorer preparing for their first solo flight. After being involuntarily paired with a statue on their home planet made by the Nomai, an ancient and mysterious race that had once colonized the system, the player discovers they are trapped in a 22-minute time loop, with every loop resetting on the player's death.
The player learns that the Nomai were obsessed with finding the "Eye of the Universe", a massive anomaly using macroscopic quantum mechanics that is older than the universe itself. Curious to find out what was held within the Eye, but having lost its signal, the Nomai built an orbital cannon to launch probes to visually find the Eye. The chance of visually finding the object with a random shot into space was infinitesimally small, so they also developed a device, the Ash Twin Project, to send the results of the probe's scan 22 minutes back in time, so that the cannon could be "reused" an infinite number of times. The amount of power required to go back in time could only be obtained from a supernova, so they attempted to artificially induce the sun to explode, but were unsuccessful. The Nomai were wiped out by an extinction-level event after completing construction of these projects but before setting the time-loop process into motion. The system is now operating because the sun has naturally reached the end of its life cycle. The resulting supernova feeds power into the Ash Twin Project, conveying the player's memories back in time to their previous self and resetting the cannon for another scan.
Armed with this knowledge, the player is eventually able to recover the coordinates of the Eye and input them into a derelict Nomai interstellar vessel, warping to the Eye's location. They discover that their star is not the only one going nova, all the stars in the sky have reached the end of their lifespans and the universe is about to end. Upon entering the Eye, the player encounters quantum versions of the various characters they had befriended in their travels, and working together, they create a Big Bang, giving rise to a new universe. The ending shows a similar solar system with new life forms 14.3 billion years after its creation.
Outer Wilds began as Alex Beachum's USC Interactive Media & Games Division master's thesis and grew into a full-production commercial release. He started the project in late 2012 for his yearlong thesis and "Advanced Game Project" assignment. Beachum had previously made a three-dimensional platformer out of Lego bricks as a kid, and was uninterested in a career in games until applying to the Interactive Media program.
Beachum's original ideas were to recreate the Apollo 13 and 2001: A Space Odyssey "spirit of space exploration" in an uncontrollable environment, and to make an objective-less open world game where exploration would satiate the player's questions without feeling "aimless." Beachum took cues from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker's non-player characters that would tell tales of distant lands as to entice the player to explore those areas for themselves. The game heavily employs a camping motif, reflecting Beachum's personal interest in backpacking while also emphasizing that the player-character is far from his home and alone in this galaxy. While journalists have compared Outer Wilds' time loop mechanics to that of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Beachum notes that these mechanics are used in Outer Wilds primarily "to allow the creation of large-scale dynamic systems" as opposed to "play[ing] around with causality" as in Majora's Mask.
The original development team members were University of Southern California, Laguna College of Art and Design, and Atlantic University College students. Beachum's team started by working with "paper prototypes" and a "tabletop role-playing session" to brainstorm a narrative. The team built the game in the Unity3D game engine. They later wrote the game as a text adventure in Processing. After Beachum's graduation, the project hired members full-time to work towards a commercial release, with Beachum as creative director. American actor Masi Oka, who has had previous experience as a programmer and founded Mobius Digital to develop mobile games, had seen the demo of Outer Wilds during a demo day for the USC Interactive Media & Games groups. Oka saw the opportunity to expand his team and hired the entire team behind the game into his studio to help bring the title to development. The game became the first title to be supported on the new video game-centric crowdfunding site, Fig, launched in August 2015. An alpha release version of the game was made available for free on the developer's site in 2015.
In March 2018, Mobius announced it had received funding support from publisher Annapurna Interactive, which bought out the investment and rights from Fig, and that it was planned for release in 2018. Mobius later announced plans in June 2018 to also release the game for the Xbox One. In December 2018, it was announced that the game's release would be delayed until 2019. In exchange for additional financial support, Mobius announced that the game's initial release on Windows users would be a timed-exclusive on the Epic Games Store. As it was originally announced that Fig backers would have received redemption keys on Steam for the game, some backers complained about the change; Linux users noted that as the Epic Games Store does not have a Linux-compatible front end, the change left them without any option.
Outer Wilds was released on Windows on May 28, 2019, and for Xbox One a day later. A PlayStation 4 version was released on October 15, 2019, with the Steam release on June 18, 2020. A PlayStation 4 retail version was released by Limited Run Games in 2020.
Outer Wilds received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. At the 2015 Game Developers Conference-sponsored Independent Games Festival, Outer Wilds won in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design categories. It was an honorable mention in the Excellence in Narrative and Nuovo Award categories. The game was listed as one of the best games of 2019 by several publications, while Polygon and Paste also featured it on their "best games of the decade" lists.
|2015||Independent Games Festival Awards||Seumas McNally Grand Prize||Won|||
|Excellence in Design||Won|
|2018||Game Critics Awards||Best Independent Game||Nominated|||
|2019||Golden Joystick Awards||Best Storytelling||Nominated|||
|Best Visual Design||Nominated|
|Best Indie Game||Won|
|Xbox Game of the Year||Nominated|
|Ultimate Game of the Year||Nominated|
|The Game Awards 2019||Best Game Direction||Nominated|||
|Best Independent Game||Nominated|
|Fresh Indie Game (Mobius Digital)||Nominated|
|2020||23rd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards||Game of the Year||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Achievement in Game Design||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Story||Nominated|
|20th Game Developers Choice Awards||Game of the Year||Nominated|||
|Best Debut (Mobius Digital)||Nominated|
|SXSW Gaming Awards||Excellence in Design||Nominated|||
|Excellence in Musical Score||Nominated|
|Excellence in Narrative||Nominated|
|16th British Academy Games Awards||Best Game||Won|||
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Media related to Outer Wilds at Wikimedia Commons