Outer Wilds

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Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds poster (no credits).jpg
Developer(s)Mobius Digital
Publisher(s)Annapurna Interactive
Director(s)Alex Beachum
Producer(s)
  • Masi Oka
  • Loan Verneau
  • Avimaan Syam
  • Sarah Scialli
Designer(s)
  • Alex Beachum
  • Loan Verneau
Programmer(s)
  • Logan ver Hoef
  • Jeffrey Yu
Artist(s)Wesley Martin
Writer(s)Kelsey Beachum
Composer(s)Andrew Prahlow
EngineUnity
Platform(s)
Release
  • Microsoft Windows
  • May 28, 2019
  • Xbox One
  • May 29, 2019
  • PlayStation 4
  • October 15, 2019
  • Nintendo Switch
  • December 2021
Genre(s)Action-adventure
Mode(s)Single-player

Outer Wilds is a 2019 action-adventure game developed by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive. It was first released for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in 2019, with a planned Nintendo Switch port release in December 2021. 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. Outer Wilds received critical acclaim and won several awards, including for game of the year. An expansion, "Echoes of the Eye", is scheduled for release in September 2021.

Gameplay[edit]

Alpha screenshots

Outer Wilds features an unnamed astronaut player character exploring a solar system that is stuck in a 22-minute time loop, resetting after the star goes supernova.[1] Thus, the player is encouraged to learn why by exploring the solar system and uncovering secrets of an extinct alien race known as the Nomai, who previously visited the solar system thousands of years ago.[2] In the first part of the game, the player links with an ancient Nomai statue which ensures that the player retains information discovered in each time loop when it restarts. For example, in order to use the ship, the player must walk to a local observatory, where the launch codes are located. Once the player has done this once, that information will not change in subsequent loops, which allows the player to bypass the observatory and immediately launch the ship with the known codes.[3]

The central premise of the game is exploration, with the player compelled to uncover the remains of the Nomai civilization to uncover the cause of the time loop and complete the game. All areas of the game are technically immediately accessible to the player upon acquiring the ship launch codes, however many areas are protected by logic puzzles which can often only be solved through learning more of the Nomai and speaking to fellow space explorers.

Some events and locations change during the course of the time loop, which mean that areas and puzzles are often only accessible at certain times. One example is the paired Ash Twin and Ember Twin planets orbiting so close to each other that sand from Ash Twin is funneled over to cover Ember Twin during the loop. This process gradually reveals the secrets buried on Ash Twin while simultaneously making the Ember Twin cave system inaccessible later on in the time loop.[4][3]

The player character has health, fuel and oxygen meters, which are replenished when the character returns to the ship or by finding trees or refills. The player is equipped with a camera probe which can be launched long distances, and a signalscope which detects sound and frequency. There are no equipment upgrades during the game. The player character dying before the sun goes supernova has the same effect, which respawns them back on their home planet.[5][6]

Plot[edit]

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 time loop. Every loop resets when the sun goes supernova after 22 minutes, or when the player-character otherwise dies.

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 was so high that the only viable way of obtaining it would be 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.

Development[edit]

Concept art of the four travelers

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.[5]

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."[5] 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.[5] The game heavily employs a camping motif, reflecting Beachum's personal interest in backpacking while also emphasizing that the player-character is far from their home and alone in this galaxy.[5] 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.[5][6]

The original development team members were University of Southern California, Laguna College of Art and Design, and Atlantic University College students.[5] 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.[5] Japanese 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.[7] The game became the first title to be supported on the new video game-centric crowdfunding site, Fig, launched in August 2015.[7] An alpha release version of the game was made available for free on the developer's site in 2015.[8][6]

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.[9][10] Mobius later announced plans in June 2018 to also release the game for the Xbox One.[11] In December 2018, it was announced that the game's release would be delayed until 2019.[12] In exchange for additional financial support, Mobius announced that the game's initial release on PC 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.[13]

Outer Wilds was released on PC on May 28, 2019, and for Xbox One a day later.[14][15] A PlayStation 4 version was released on October 15, 2019, with the Steam release on June 18, 2020.[16][15][17] A PlayStation 4 retail version was released by Limited Run Games in 2020.[18] A Nintendo Switch port was originally set for a mid-2021 release,[19] but it was delayed to December 2021.[20] An expansion, "Echoes of the Eye", will be released on September 28, 2021.[21]

Reception[edit]

Outer Wilds received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[22] At the 2015 Game Developers Conference-sponsored Independent Games Festival, Outer Wilds won in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design categories.[8] It was an honorable mention in the Excellence in Narrative and Nuovo Award categories.[34][6] The game was listed as one of the best games of 2019 by several publications,[35][36][37][38][39][40] and Edge, Polygon and Paste also featured it on their "best games of the decade" lists.[41][42][43]

Polygon's Colin Campbell praised the overall narrative and the game's meta-puzzles.[44] Brendan Caldwell, writing for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, enjoyed the environmental exploration and the game's writing, but criticized that running out of time during some puzzles felt like "an interruption".[45] Destructoid's Josh Tolentino appreciated the open ended nature of Outer Wilds' world and how it let the player make discoveries.[46]

Awards[edit]

Year Award Category Result Ref
2015 Independent Games Festival Awards Seumas McNally Grand Prize Won [8]
Excellence in Design Won
2018 Game Critics Awards Best Independent Game Nominated [47]
2019 Golden Joystick Awards Best Storytelling Nominated [48][49][50]
Best Visual Design Nominated
Best Indie Game Won
Best Audio Nominated
Xbox Game of the Year Nominated
Ultimate Game of the Year Nominated
The Game Awards 2019 Best Game Direction Nominated [51]
Best Independent Game Nominated
Fresh Indie Game (Mobius Digital) Nominated
2020 23rd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards Game of the Year Nominated [52]
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 [53]
Best Debut (Mobius Digital) Nominated
Best Design Nominated
Innovation Award Nominated
Best Narrative Nominated
SXSW Gaming Awards Excellence in Design Nominated [54]
Excellence in Musical Score Nominated
Excellence in Narrative Nominated
16th British Academy Games Awards Best Game Won [55][56]
Game Design Won
Music Nominated
Narrative Nominated
Original Property Won

References[edit]

  1. ^ Faulkner, Jason (May 29, 2019). "Outer Wilds Review: Out of this world". Game Revolution. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  2. ^ Walker, Austin (May 29, 2019). "'Outer Wilds' Is a Captivating Sci-Fi Mystery About the End of the World". Vice. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Hudson, Laura (March 18, 2015). "You have 20 minutes before the sun blows up". Boing Boing. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  4. ^ Caldwell, Brendan (May 29, 2019). "Wot I Think: Outer Wilds". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Cameron, Phill (January 27, 2015). "Road to the IGF: Alex Beachum's Outer Wilds". Gamasutra. UBM plc. Archived from the original on March 11, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
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  7. ^ a b Hall, Charlie (August 18, 2015). "What if Kickstarter let you profit from a game's success? Fig found a way, launches today". Polygon. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Savage, Phil (March 4, 2015). "Outer Wilds wins IGF grand prize". PC Gamer. Future Publishing. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  9. ^ Takahashi, Dean (March 15, 2018). "Outer Wilds is about backpacking in outer space". Venture Beat. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
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  13. ^ Van Allen, Eric (May 13, 2019). "Outer Wilds Will Launch As Timed Epic Exclusive, And Backers Don't Seem Happy". USGamer. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
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  53. ^ Shanley, Patrick (January 8, 2020). "'Death Stranding' Leads Game Developers Choice Awards Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 8, 2020.
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  55. ^ Stuart, Keith (March 3, 2020). "Death Stranding and Control dominate Bafta games awards nominations". The Guardian. Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  56. ^ Chilton, Louis (April 2, 2020). "Bafta Games Awards 2020: The results in full". The Independent. Retrieved April 2, 2020.

External links[edit]

Media related to Outer Wilds at Wikimedia Commons