Drawn in to The Outer Worlds
It’s tough to share one’s impressions of a game when its strongest elements are the story and character interactions. The Outer Worlds is a solid game all around, but it presents just such a dilemma. I’ll therefore address the game in general first to avoid any spoilers, then talk specifically about what makes the narrative and characters so darn appealing, leaving potential spoilers till the end. Hopefully, many will have already read about it or watched streams and gameplay video, which should cover at least the first major story mission that I’ll discuss.
Comparisons with the Fallout series are inevitable given that developer Obsidian had created the popular New Vegas entry in the franchise. Indeed, the kind of dystopian future and ragtag populace of that franchise are on display here, once again shown off with strong dialog and voice acting, and thoughtful, dynamic dialog options for the player. Likewise, similar robust role playing options include character creation, deep inventory management and varied skill trees.
In this regard it also reminds one of BioWare games whether Mass Effect or Dragon’s Age. The story, meanwhile, is reminiscent of BioShock games with its tale of a failed society, idealistic devotees and desperate individuals. All such comparisons speak to the success of this game, but The Outer Worlds also carves its own enviable niche. The excesses and limitations of both corporate greed and individual pursuits, and the explosive and tragic areas in which they intersect, are at the heart of this space-faring saga.
The epic tale features a stirring score that hits the right notes whether during combat or in quieter interludes; imaginative art design that perfectly realizes its sci-fi/fantasy setting with futuristic structures amid inspired alien flora, fauna and landscapes (including a beautiful color palette); and an immersive world further anchored by quality ambient sounds, detailed textures and particle effects, solid draw distance, smooth animations and fluid (if sometimes exacting) environmental interactions.
The characters I’ve encountered thus far feel like distinct individuals with unique personalities and motivations. Related side quests feel more organic than contrived, and can be relatively complex, sometimes involving varying objectives or character interactions for their resolution. Of course, it’s not terribly distinctive but does fit well within the context of this particular story and universe. Especially compelling for me was the companion(s). Besides having depth and feeling three-dimensional, Oblivion anchors them in the world around you by including them in scripted and random encounters.
These surprising interactions occur regularly. Speak to another character, and that character will not only greet or refer to your companion, but might actually turn to address them and carry on a side conversation (with the camera likewise focusing on them both, which could be awkward when the character you’ve addressed ends up turning their side or back to you). Your dialog options might even include comments addressed to your companion at which point you’ll be involved in a side discussion. Random NPCs on occasion will also greet and engage in brief discussions with your companion while out walking.
This also demonstrates how dynamic dialog and dialog options can be, helping further immerse players in this well-crafted world. Dialog trees offer a range of responses, including options to persuade, intimidate, lie, etc. (which are skills that can be upgraded) and even belittle, support, etc., with a healthy dose of humor sprinkled throughout. I usually upgrade strength, health and melee or range attacks, but with Spiders’ GreedFall (in which you play a diplomat-warrior) and now The Outer Worlds, I invest a lot more in charisma/persuasion, and it’s paying off. (More on that later.)
Thankfully, I haven’t had to invest too heavily in combat-related skills or attributes. Between player controls, the time-slowing targeting system (which can be upgraded to a kind of VATS like option found in Fallout 3 and 4), one’s arsenal and companion aid, fighting creatures or marauders is manageable and fun. Targeting and hit detection are fairly precise, weapons and related upgrades (and weapons selection) provide a range of options, and companions can be set to aggressive or defensive and related commands allow for added strategy.
AI is pretty good especially for human characters. Enemies will move or take cover on occasion when under fire, though creatures tend to just charge. Depending on what skills are upgraded, foes might also cower when shot (though not for long). Similarly, players can choose to make companions draw more or less fire. And selecting the right weapon helps, such as charged for armor or plasma for flesh. There are also consumables to provide boosts. All this promotes more strategic and tactical decisions during combat.
All in all, The Outer Worlds provides an impressive living, breathing setting where players will want to spend time exploring and enjoying the intricate detail and grand elements in equal amounts. Still, there are issues, such as load times when transitioning between some buildings/areas (though it’s limited), small typeface that can make reading a challenge, bodies that can be difficult to find in tall grass (making looting a chore at times), and exacting item interaction (that requires some patience).
But even taken together, these are minor irritations at worst. I’m not far enough to judge whether or not quests, characters or foes, for instance, become repetitive, or whether or not dialog and other choices have real consequence down the line. Still, the gameplay, presentation, story and characters are so strong in the early going that they certainly bode well for the game’s longer term playability. To that end, I’ll now turn to the strongest element of The Outer Worlds – the exceptional story, dialog and player choices reflected in the first story mission.
I’ll try to spoil only as much as is necessary to share why this left such a strong impression with me without getting into details when it can be avoided. The premise is this: Your character finds themselves effectively marooned, and to leave you must retrieve equipment that, in the process, will benefit one community at the expense of another. To Obsidian’s credit, siding with either community is not a simple choice. There are pros and cons to each option. So much so that I agonized over it. Nonetheless, I found myself more sympathetic to one side’s plight as they were just trying to live free of the restrictions and dictates of the other.
Still, the other side, despite having made awful decisions, was forced into choices that varied from bad to worse due to limited resources. Indeed, I found their spokesperson to be eloquent, reasoned and practical. However, I also chafed at their rules and beliefs that codified a kind of class system. So I had made my choice to side with the free folk but was interrupted by my companion, who was skeptical and made a convincing plea on behalf of the other side. It was so thoughtful and well worded that it convinced me into changing my mind!
I didn’t just take my companion’s word for it. Their argument prompted me to revisit other considerations raised by the one side I was initially against, as there were examples that in retrospect supported their position. I still had sympathy for those trying to live free, but felt the others were doing their best with a bad situation. To my gratification, there were still opportunities to help salvage things for the formerly free folk after I made my decision. And thanks to building my charisma/persuasion, I was able to get everyone on board with my choice.
It wasn’t easy and took some shuttle diplomacy but the end result was a hard fought peace. Nevermind that the outcome rested in part on a particularly distasteful turn of events, but at least there was an option to resolve the situation in a manner that could accommodate most if not all. That it all rested on the seemingly spontaneous intercession of my companion – especially given how well written the characters and their opinions are, and how the arguments of both sides were so well balanced – is testament to Obsidian’s skill in this regard.
In this way, the first several hours of story and gameplay suggest rich possibilities for a journey that not only spans the stars but looks to plumb the depths of human existence in ways both serious and satirical. I’m hopeful the rest of the game lives up to this auspicious start and continues to reward gamers with an experience that is fun, entertaining and enthralling all at the same time. After all, studios could do worse than to model the example of The Outer Worlds, but might be hard pressed to do better.
(Be sure to check out additional images here: Screenshots.)
L.A. Comic Con always proves an interesting show, and this year's convention was no different. To begin with, there was practically a stampede for the show floor entrance on Saturday. Having attended for many years prior, this disorganized spectacle was a surprise development, though one could hardly blame attendees for being impatient.
After all, this day would showcase reunions of two Hellboy (2004) stars and The Office cast, as well as a main stage appearance by the director of Zombieland: Double Tap with a "surprise" (which, unsurprisingly, included cast members like Jessie Eisenberg and Rosario Dawson). Stan Lee's vision for a competitive local comic con keeps growing each year.
This year, being a huge fan of Ron Perlman and the original Hellboy films, I was most interested in the reunion panel including Doug Jones (Abe Sapien). I also wavered up till practically the last minute but ended up splurging on the Hellboy Photo Op with both actors, something I never do but just couldn't resist the opportunity.
The Hellboy Reunion panel was only a half hour but touched on how the actors got their parts, working together, director Guillermo del Toro, cast mates Selma Blair and John Hurt (Liz Sherman and Trevor "Bloom" Bruttenholm, respectively), and the challenges and prospects for wrapping up the trilogy. See the following excerpts and clip(s) below.
Ron Perlman: I heard of Hellboy exactly seven years before we started filming (the first) Hellboy, cause that's how long Guillermo took to get the movie made.
Doug Jones: I had not heard of the Hellboy comics, so when Guillermo came and offered me Abe Sapien he gave me the script and a pile of graphic novels at the same time and said, "Read up, and get back to me tonight." I had, like, hours to study up and say "Yes, I love it; I'll do it." and I did.
Perlman: I had nothing to do with getting the film made, I had a lot to do with telling Guillermo if he wanted to get it really made, he should stop using my name, because I was not going to get anybody to write a check of that magnitude since I was obscure and invisible, basically. But he has his quirky little idea -- these directors, they're so weird -- and he stuck to his guns and that's why it took him seven years. But it was all Guillermo versus the studios and I was basically just in the background, waiting, listening to some of the anecdotes, some of the notes that he got. ... One of the notes that he got from some really brilliant executives at Universal Studios was, "Does he have to be red?"
Moderator: Guillermo had you [Perlman] in mind, and then Mike Mignola had his character that he'd been doing since the early '90s and he also had a specific actor in mind, and they said "Well, who are you thinking of?" "Who are YOU thinking of?" and at the same time they said the same person. Is that the way you heard it?
Perlman: That's the way I heard it. I never believed it, but that's how I heard it.
Moderator: How did you guys meet on the set?
Perlman: We knew each other for seven months and I had no idea that that was Doug Jones under all that blue shit. He used to get there three or four hours ahead of me and I was there for five hours in the makeup chair, and I don't think we saw each other for real until the wrap party.
Jones: I think we brushed at the concierge level of the hotel for breakfast one day and I was like "Hey, Ron," and he's like "Yeah? Who are you?"
Moderator: How long did you shoot for when you're spending six, seven, eight hours in makeup ...?
Jones: Still film a 10, 12 hour day; 18 hour days were the norm, honestly. Hellboy 2, especially: six months in Budapest, Hungary, six days a week.
See the clips below for more of the panel discussion, including a funny on-set anecdote from Jones, reminiscing about the late John Hurt, a message to attendees from Selma Blair, the Hellboy reboot, and plans for completing the original Hellboy trilogy.
The Hellboy Photo Op afterward was a virtual rollercoaster of emotion as fans lined up early as requested, then we had to wait for about 30 minutes beyond the scheduled time. Once the line began moving, it raced at practically breakneck speed with barely time to even say "Hi" and pose. Thankfully the photo turned out okay.
I also made time to attend the Press Start: Scoring for Video Games panel with composers of titles like Journey, Flow, The Banner Saga, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Total Warhammer and Grand Theft Auto. They discussed their work on new games Telling Lies, Erica, John Wick: Hex, BattleTech, Disintegration and Call of Duty: Mobile. The revealing discussion included game and behind the scenes clips. See below for a link.
One standout panel I missed due to a conflict with the photo op was Storytelling in Video Games. It advertised an inside look with studio Machinegames into their Wolfenstein franchise. The casts of The New Order, The New Colossus and Youngblood were scheduled to discuss the stories and acting for these games. Director Tom Keegan was going to provide insights into the casting process of video games.
Cosplayers continue to be drawn to this comic con, and likewise continue to be a draw for plain clothed attendees. The wide variety of cosplay costumes included a female Predator, Aloy, Monster Hunter, Samus, an Endgame Iron Man, Wookie, Polaris, Thanos and Gamora, Gandolf and Thranduil, and a drag queen Deadpool. I always come away impressed with the skill on display, and invigorated by the enthusiasm. See photos below and in the Photography link.
Last but by no means least, vendors provided an equally impressive array of wares. I can often find cool, relatively obscure action figures (i.e. The War of the Gargantuas, Ray Harryhausen feature creatures, kaiju, etc.) at the Collector's Edge booth, where this year I picked up a rare Giant Robot figure. I also liked the Japanese-inspired T-shirt collection at the Baby Panda booth. But the exhibitor that most fascinated me this year was a Japanese artist whose stylish prints and T-shirts expressed a unique cultural flair.
Yasunobu Shidami displayed a variety of prints and T-shirts depicting samurai and geishas, not an unusual subject but his creativity and talent result in images that are impressionistic, dreamlike and powerful. Sometimes accompanied with messages about courage or strength, the black and white or color illustrations/paintings evoke character and beauty with a style that is breathtaking.
All in all, the show again succeeded in keeping me informed, entertained and thrilled at the vast pop culture choices on display whether in the form of panel discussions, cosplay or merchandise. It's also been a wonderful tradition to carry on with my child. Here's to many more!
For information, details and videos of the panel discussion including video game composers, visit L.A. Comic Com 2019: Scoring for Video Games Panel.
For more photos from the L.A. Comic Con show floor, visit the Photography section of this site.
Press Start: Scoring for Video Games was a panel at this year's L.A. Comic Con that included composers of titles such as Journey, Flow, The Banner Saga, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Killzone: Shadow Fall talking about their work on new games Telling Lies, Erica, Call of Duty: Mobile, BattleTech, John Wick: Hex and Disintegration. They were there to discuss their creative process, how they broke into the industry, and what goes into creating the music for their video games. It was an often informative, sometimes fascinating look at the process of scoring video games, and included clips of several of the games discussed. See below for a few of their comments and videos of the panel.
Walter Mair (Call of Duty: Mobile, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Total Warhammer, Grand Theft Auto) I did work with Activision before in the past on a different game and I was on the radar and just happened to be in Los Angeles because I was trying to come to LA two or three times a year. I was there, I met with the audio leads, we had a quick coffee and they mentioned [Call of Duty: Mobile] ... I hadn't heard back from them for three months, and eventually you get a phone call, an email, that says you're invited to pitch for the game and then you're up against a dozen or more other composers and then you do your best.
There's always an expectation of the fan base, which is us players, and the game directors, the audio leads, the entire team -- and everyone has a different opinion of what the game is supposed to sound like. And then of course you want to do the best, and do something different. ... Just trying to find something that's new and different or kind of unique for the franchise. So I've been doing this a lot for Call of Duty.
There's one mission in there which hasn't dropped yet, though it's been announced, it's the zombies. And in zombies, you experience a totally different kind of setting. Of course it's gruesome, it's dark, it's dirty, there's a lot of blood in there. ... And the music had to reflect that. Instead of going to add a 60 to 70 to 80 piece orchestra, I decided to just record a few instruments.
[Hear more about Mair's work in Part 2 and following parts, and watch a clip of Call of Duty: Mobile in Part 3.]
Jon Everest (Disintegration, BattleTech) I think I got really lucky with Harebrained Schemes, the developer who made BattleTech, because they kind of gave me carte blanche to approach it the way that I wanted to. I kind of said from the outset I didn't want to be too beholden to the history of BattleTech because I think it would weigh me down a little bit as a writer. So luckily I was able to take it in a direction that I saw fit the game the best.
One of the pitches for me was Game of Thrones in space, which was all I really needed to hear. I used to play BattleTech a lot when I was young. I think it does a little bit of disservice to BattleTech fans to just kind of rehash old things again and again just for nostalgia value and stuff like that so I was happy that nobody tried to murder me over the score.
[Listen to more of Everest's approach in Part 3 and following parts, and see a clip from BattleTech in Part 3 and from Disintegration in Part 4.]
Nainita Desai (Telling Lies) I started off as a sound designer on feature films and I transitioned into working for a games publisher in the UK over 20 years ago doing sound effects for video games. It was a brief period that I flirted with. ... My career digressed into writing music for film and TV. About three years ago I got this BAFTA Breakthrough Brit accolade and it put me on the radar of a lot of people in the industry, and I got this Twitter message from Sam Barlow the director/developer of Telling Lies and he said would you like to write the music for an interactive movie/video game and I thought it was a friend playing a prank on me.
For me it was a dream project because I really truly believe that the future of entertainment is this hybrid form of sophisticated narrative storytelling in video games combined with live action. ... Sam wanted someone with linear cinematic storytelling sensibilities, as opposed to a video game composer who would come at it from a totally different approach.
The role of the music [in Telling Lies] is more cinematic in terms of I use the London contemporary orchestra and I wanted to get inside the minds of these characters. When you don't have music is as important as when you do have music, and for me silence is music as well. So I decided to write a theme for each character ... In a way I had to sum up a person's character; multifaceted, complex characters in a single piece of music and that was hard. I spent 18 months working on it. It was a long process.
[For more on Desai's challenge in Part 1 and following parts, and see a clip of Telling Lies in Part 1, below.]
Austin Wintory (Erica, John Wick: Hex, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, The Banner Saga, Journey, Flow) Erica took three or four years. It's definitely not less than three; it was a good long while. But it was odd because normally games are not so segmented into pre-production, production, post-production the way a movie is, and therefore it's just a continuous kind of river of development where you're able to participate in varying degrees throughout. But this one, by virtue of it -- also like Telling Lies -- relying on footage shot on a set with props and costumes and actors, it did have much more of a pre-production, production, post-production. So, let's say it was three years, I'd say two years of that was pre-production. So it was like, make tiny little, incremental steps and then suddenly go as fast as possible. ... The complexity of this was astronomically beyond anything I've ever attempted before so it felt like there's no time. You could tell me I have 100 years and I'll feel screwed.
Erica is a filmed game. If it's a coin, I would put Erica very much on the game side but using tricks of film. It's filmed like a movie, it thinks like a movie from a cinematic standpoint. But it definitely is a game, and a pretty sophisticated one in terms of branching narratives. There's just millions of variables that the game is keeping track of.
It almost killed me, honestly. It was the hardest score I've ever had to write in that regard because it was like something in the neighborhood of 350 cues spanning not even 90 minutes of music I think. ... The analogy I've come up with is that it's sort of like a chain-link fence where every cue is touching every other cue in all directions. ... There's a linearity of sorts but everything had to be built to be so nimble.
[Learn more of Wintory's process in Part 1 and following parts, and watch clips of Erica and John Wick: Hex in Part 2.]
For general convention coverage, including the Hellboy Reunion panel and cosplay, see L.A. Comic Con 2019: Hellboy Reunion, Cosplay & More.
For more photos from the show floor, visit the Photography section of the site.
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