Players will be able to kill every NPC in The Outer Worlds, but creating so variables to account for players’ actions is a development nightmare.
Obsidian Entertainment’s senior designer Brian Heins spoke to Polygon and described the developmental challenges of keeping up with players’ actions whilst making the narrative make sense as “insanely hard”.
Heins explained that having the complete freedom to literally murder everyone adds far more complexity than anything else in designing quests. This means that Obsidian have included back up characters for critical NPCs in case they are killed.
“Anyone you see, you can kill, [so] there’s got to be a way to get whatever they were going to give you, whether it’s a terminal entry or you can loot something off of their body or there’s a chest in their office that you would now lock-pick to get the information from.”
“When we’re looking at the quest itself, we have to now have updates that will fire to show, ‘OK, you got this information by doing this,’ and make sure that the [dialogue makes] sense. For example, you can’t have an NPC saying that you bought an item from someone when you ripped it off their cold, dead body. So that adds complexity [and] also the localization budget goes through the roof.”
An infinite amount of variables and outcomes naturally produces a lot of work accounting for what players decide to do. Obsidian has a strong reputation through its previous games like Fallout: New Vegas at gifting players with as much control and freedom as possible, it has become part of Obsidian’s iconic brand.
Furthermore, Heins explains that coding endless possibilities is an incredibly time consuming, methodical process involving vast amounts of QA to find bugs, liaising with the narrative team, and then voice acting to include new dialogue.
“We start off with the area designers creating a general stub for a conversation. Like, ‘Here are the various options we want to make sure are accounted for and [are] covered by the NPC.’ And we try to include all the various death states in there.”
“Usually what happens at that point is then QA finds bugs. ‘Oh, we gotta have this whole other branch of conversation for this [possibility].’ So a conversation that they started out writing as very compact and concise now starts growing much bigger because they have not had to handle a lot of other states.”
“When we’re in the middle of bug fixing, everyone wants to make an easier game,” says Heins. “But as soon as we start pre-production, we start talking about like, these are the games we love. So as much as we regret it — what we’re gonna have to do with all the bugs — I don’t think we’d want to make anything else.”