The Outsiders’ long-anticipated game is finally public, and ready to redefine the RPG genre
Since the day video game veterans David Goldfarb and Ben Cousins revealed that they had formed new studio The Outsiders, there has been much speculation about their enigmatic first release.
After going public back in February 2015, the founding duo revealed very little about the game they were making. There were whispers about the role-playing genre, and a hint around embracing systemic storytelling. Since then, almost nothing else has been detailed. Until, that was, The Outsiders provided a tantalizing first look at their creation on-stage at Unite in Los Angeles.
Project Wight demo footage as shown at Unite '16
We now all know that the game currently carries the working title Project Wight. But what else is understood about this subversive RPG? Taking a peek behind the scenes at Goldfarb and Cousins' ambitious studio, it's immediately apparent this is no ordinary game.
For one thing, it’s clear Project Wight is the result of a powerfully distinct studio culture; something we learned in our special spotlight of the The Outsiders' creative approach and team spirit. And just like the developers that made it, the game is little concerned about convention.
In-engine scene Inside the cave of Project Wight
THE SIGNIFICANT OTHERS
Importantly, Project Wight as a concept existed long-before The Outsiders opened its doors. For many years, while studio COO Goldfarb honed his games making craft in the triple-A space, he pondered an idea he couldn't shake. What if there were an RPG where the protagonist wasn't the focus of the game? It was an idea inspired by his reading of John Gardner's 1971 fantasy novel Grendel, which told part of the Beowulf story from the point of view of its antagonist.
Fast forward some two decades, and Goldfarb is shaping an RPG that, in his own words, is about "the person on the other side of your sword". It's a fitting concept for a studio that takes some pride in its own outsider status; the notion that the interesting stories aren't always told from the hero's perspective.
"I'd been thinking about this as a concept for maybe 20 years," Goldfarb muses. "I had this sense that games have this ability to valorize a certain viewpoint; that being the hero's viewpoint. And even when a game is not about the hero, it's the anti hero, and that is still really the hero. That had always bothered me, because I had never sympathized with the hero at all. It bothered me because it felt like there was value in exploring what it would be like to be an 'other'."
Concept art of the young creature
It's something we saw a little of during the Unite presentation, and it is absolutely a beguiling idea, that takes the convention-constrained RPG form, and subverts it with a simple yet impactful tweak.
"The demo we showed at Unite asked – rather than having the hero wander into the dungeon and kill a creature – 'what is an RPG trope like from the other point of view?', explains Cousins, who also stands as studio CEO. "It's about seeing the world from the view of the hunted rather than the hunter. It connects with the punk rock ethos we've tried to foster at the studio, and what that's about. The Sex Pistols didn't subvert music by playing didgeridoos and gamelans; they didn't completely subvert everything. They took the familiar and they twisted it. That's something we're keen on doing as a creative philosophy here.”
"what is an RPG trope like from the other point of view?"
THE PATH LESS TRAVELLED
What we saw of Project Wight revealed a great deal about the game concept, but only a small fragment of the total experience was actually shared. The three-minute stage demo offered just a sample of the two-and-a-half hours of gameplay currently in existence; a total fairly impressive considering the game is yet to enter pre-production.
The most pressing question, then, is that of what is yet to come from The Outsiders. Presently, the RPG genre is their oyster. They have a very clear vision for what Project Wight can be, but plenty of capacity to refine and tweak the concept. At least, that's part of the picture.
"This is us exploring ideas, concepts and mechanics," Cousins offers. "While we have a clear idea of what we want to do, the path which we take to get there and what we end up with, in terms of specifics, are far from being set."
That approach has seen The Outsiders move from grey-boxed prototyping to the polished pre-production stage demo seen at Unite in a handful of months, showing impressive devotion to the job in hand. In part, at least, The Outsiders credit their engine of choice for that progress.
"Unity was very helpful there," Cousins enthuses. "The speed at which we were able to work in the grey box environment, and throw in assets from the Asset Store, and integrate AI frameworks so that we didn't have to write a whole bunch of AI ourselves was incredible. That let us, after only three months, increase the team size to make it all look amazing – again very rapidly – which was a very specific thing we were able to do in Unity. I don't think we would have been able to prototype so quickly in another engine, and we wouldn't have been able to push the visual level up so fast in another engine either."
Whatever Project Wight turns out to be, one thing the team hopes is that it will be their last game. That's not to say their roadmap is intentionally short or their confidence in the game limited. Far from it, Cousins and Goldfarb plan to enjoy a long and successful journey as a single IP studio, potentially bolstering their offering by extending it out other mediums and forms.
"Our IP is important to us, and expanding that IP into other areas is something we'll certainly look at if our game as entertainment is a success,' Cousins confirms. "Mojang is just down the road from us here in Stockholm, and what they've done with Minecraft is incredible; they're a one-product studio, and they've created a media phenomenon. I think they're a great model for us. I'd love us to be a one-game company."
Aping Minecraft's success may sound like a lofty goal, but empowered by a powerfully individual creative approach, a talented team, a robust engine choice and Goldfarb's considered vision for a very distinct game, The Outsiders have a better chance than most at establishing a critical and commercial hit that will thrive for years.
If Project Wight proves one thing, though, it is that sometimes it takes an outsider to reinvigorate the mainstream.
Visit madewith.unity.com/theoutsiders for the latest information on The Outsiders and Project Wight.