“Outer Wilds” by Mobius Digital (Alex Beachum, Kelsey Beachum, Emily Blatnicky, Lanaea Bowie, Lara Colson, Laura Herzberg, Ian Jacobson, Nicholas Kim, Eilish Lambrechtsen, Alena Leontyeva, Alice Li, Wesley Martin, Masi Oka, Andrew Prahlow, Adam Root, Sarah Scialli, Avimaan Syam, Logan Ver Hoef, Loan Verneau, Katherine Wang, Jeffrey Yu, Evan Sforza, Sanghee Oh, Sam Mazer, Isabella Cheng, Aaron Henehan, Abhinav Rathod, Andrew Goldstein, Bryan Zhang, Richard Emms, Michelle Hardy, Anya Starr, Leslie Wenglein, Jason Knetge, Michelle Hill, Joo Son, Fernando Motilla, Jose Ayala, Gabriel Cruz Vega, Jose Rodriguez, Christian Rodriguez, Gabriel Garcia, Mayya Benitez, Francisco Rosario, Jesus Maddox Flores & Daniel Archilla), Chelsea Hash, Saiful Haque, Trevor Johnson, Sebastian Kings, Ryan Neff, Chuck Rossom, Cory Schmitz, James Taylor, Dan Valvo, Matt Whiting, Alexander Yao, Annapurna Interactive (Megan Ellison, Nathan Gary, Kelsey Hansen, Neale Hemrajani, Jeff Legaspi, Deborah Mars, James Masi, Hector Sanchez & Joshua Sarfaty), Big Red Button, HuWiz, Lionbridge Technologies & Section Studios.
“[You are] the newest member of Outer Wilds Ventures, a fledgling space program searching for answers in a strange, constantly changing solar system. Who built the ruins on the moon? What lurks in the heart of Dark Bramble? Why are you trapped in a time loop, and can it be stopped? To solve these mysteries [you will] have to venture into the most dangerous reaches of space.”
“Outer Wilds” is an incredible game about discovery and exploration, and I would hate to rob you of the experience of engaging with it completely blind. I encourage playing it while knowing as little as possible. If you were already on the fence, just go play it! If you can do it without knowing anything at all, that is even better. If at any point during this text you feel convinced to give it a try, then stop reading. I am being honest! 🙂
Open-world escape room
The experience of being in a foreign space and discovering its rules is one of the core elements of both, life and games, alike. Do not we all love it, the wonder of grappling like a child with the rules of an alien system that feels so much bigger than we are. That is what “Outer Wilds” is: A true distillation of science and exploration in one of the purest senses I have seen in games for a long time. It is just a world that exists and breathes. It feels organic and purposeful, and you as a player have to figure out what makes it tick.
If you have been to escape rooms, either in real life or you played games that emulate them, you know how frustrating it is to see that most of its puzzles are small systems, number combinations or riddles that exist without context, breaking the immersion completely. While those are fine and can be lots of fun, at the end of the day you are aware that you are exploring a space that exists for you and is failing at hiding its artificiality.
“Outer Wilds” is an open-world escape room, which feels like an incompatibility – but it works! The universe exists whether you go there or not and it has its own beautiful rules as well as consistent logic for you to discover. The process from being lost and confused to understanding is so much more profound than solving a riddle or a numbers puzzle.
In “Outer Wilds”, you play as an alien species with a specific amount of eyes, just like in real life. You and the other aliens live together on a small rocky planet. You also act as an astronaut, appointed to jump inside a janky spaceship and explore the solar system, which is comprised by other small planets with strange and extremely interesting quirks.
What you do not know is that the sun is about to go supernova in twenty-two minutes and wipe everything out. Thankfully, just before hopping into the spaceship, you come in contact with a statue created by an ancient civilization, that somehow sends you back in time to the beginning of the cycle every time you die, letting you try again and again, and letting you bring back the only actual important resource this game features: Understanding.
I just could not stop thinking about “The Little Prince”, a famous book by the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, that tells the story of a young prince who travels through space, hopping between small planets as well as talking to weird characters about worldviews and philosophy. “Outer Wilds” is more about science and mechanic discovery, but the sense of wonder feels very similar.
I do want to mention that the navigation system feels like it is working against you sometimes. The ever-changing gravity, the spaceship controls, the platforming controls, especially when in the vacuum of space, are a beautiful mess, and you have to learn to love them. I do believe that you end up appreciating them and they kind of reinforce the physicality of it all, but do not ask me about them after falling into a black hole for the thousandth time. If you play the game, you will get what I mean. Strange and whimsical physics aside, the title has so many cool moments and places, the writing is quite good and immersive, and the scope of it all is just humbling.
The room where it happens
Look, I am a game designer – or at least an aspiring one -, so sometimes I cannot avoid intentionally breaking immersion to try to understand the authors’ intent. It might be bad for the purpose of enjoying the game, but hey, it is what I do. And with this game, I was constantly flabbergasted, amazed and dumbfounded. The in-universe stuff in “Outer Wilds” is surely amazing, but imagining the conversations, ideas and post-it boards that led to it feels even crazier.
A few times I had to go on Twitter and just tweet stuff like “How the hell do you design that? In what kinda design meeting people come up with these incredible ideas?”. The bravery needed to look at what this game must have been as a game design document and just go “Yeah, sure, this will totally work!” seems insane to me. I do not want to go into specific examples because some of the ideas in the game are so good that I do not want to spoil them, but the clockwork-like manner in which the elements in this game interact with each other feels very pretty to me.
I dream of a world where AAA titles can have brave pitches like this madness of a game, instead of being safe shooty movies with lots of guns and sometimes feels. They are not bad, but the space feels so restricted compared to what digital games can offer as a medium. And yes, I understand that big costs mean having to take relatively safe roads, but “Outer Wilds” feels like a double A glimpse of what an artistically liberated game design world could be like, and the wonders it could produce.
Appreciate those who design universes with purpose and care.
“Supposing I know of a flower that is absolutely unique, that is nowhere to be found except on my planet, and any minute that flower could accidentally be eaten up by a little lamb, isn’t that important? If a person loves a flower that is the only one of its kind on all the millions and millions of stars, then gazing at the night sky is enough to make him happy. He says to himself “My flower is out there somewhere.” But if the lamb eats the flower, then suddenly it’s as if all the stars had stopped shining.“The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Isn’t that important?”
I hope I convinced you! [PLAY]