Interview: Outriders devs talk the game’s story, gameplay, and development

During the Square Enix press conference at E3 2019, the company announced Outriders, a new game coming from People Can Fly, the Poland-based co-developers behind games like The Gears of War franchise, Bulletstorm, and Fortnite.

After spending a couple of hours playing Outriders, we sat down with Bartek Kmita, creative director at People Can Fly and Joshua Rubin, lead writer for Outriders.

Let’s start with the story. How'd you guys come up with this? Outriders is a fantastical, sci-fi type of story on another planet featuring weird creatures, characters with powers, and some weird energy storm that comes and goes.

Rubin: I mean, it's really an enviable position to be able to create something from scratch. So rarely do we get to create new IP in this industry so you know, that was a dream job to begin with. Bartek kind of created the seeds of all this with the team at People Can Fly and he knew what the world was, knew what the beginning was, knew where the ending was and where we were going when I came on board.

I really fleshed out the characters and who are you going on this journey with and what are they like and what are their stories. So it was really very much a team effort to create something from nothing into this massive, massive world that has you a hundred years of history behind it all the way from the end of the earth that you get to unwrap how that happened and why. All the way to what the hell is out there across this planet and what is the signal that we're trying to find and what the f*** is the anomaly?

Did you guys have any particular inspiration to the story and game? Felt a bit of Mad Max, maybe some Mass Effect and Gears of War.

Kmita: I think the things we tried to avoid is the inspirations of one product. We all have inspirations coming from our life and everyone has their own comic books, movies, games that we like. Luckily when we met all together it happened, we're talking all the time on the same movies, the same games, and the same comic books. We’re basically going in one direction but we can’t point to like, this is the book or this is the inspiration. I think it's coming from all our experiences from our life.

For an RPG shooter, what do you think was important to set yourself apart from other games in the genre?

Kmita: It depends on how players are looking at this game. We are aware that some people will come from the story perspective and for them this will be interesting. I think we have quite a unique story, a lot of twists, a lot of surprises, and this will be quite interesting for some people. But we know people will skip the cutscenes where you go directly to gameplay or maybe the loot. I think the diversity that we try to give people, freedom during gameplay, I think this can be something fresh for the people. We are going to be more in-depth with the RPG aspects. Not too complex but we're giving players more choices in the game with our RPG mechanics, which is not quite commonly found in shooters. So I hope we'll match with the kind of player that like the story-driven game.

Rubin: It's funny because you want cutscenes to be story that's going to pull you into the game, right? Regardless of whether you're a story watcher or not. I actually have a sign above my computer that says, “Brevity is the soul of wit i.e. hit B to skip.” It's just you got to remember that some people are there, they're in deep and some people just want to feel the story. So we made sure that you feel that world and feel that story through the gameplay.

During the presentation you guys that mentioned that it's not a games-as-service thing. Was that something that was thought about in the beginning?

Kmita: Yeah, from day one we basically wanted to make the game for ourselves and we’re not talking against games-as-service services overall, but we just we wanted to give a complete story. From A to B it’s a finished story. Early on we knew it wouldn’t work as a games-as-service.

The co-op feature seems pretty important to the game. Each player having their own skills and ways they can contribute to completing a mission or defeating an enemy boss.

Kmita: We had a few pillars in the beginning that we knew where we were going: That the game was a shooter, that it had RPG mechanics and there was co-op. We definitely wanted to make it a multiplayer game because we like multiplayer games. Then there are small things like making it a third person shooter. We didn't want to go FPS because we wanted to show the change of the character so we wanted you to look at yourself, so that was from the day one too. The multiplayer is very important for us. We have some experience with Gears of War and Fortnite so we’re like “yeah, let's go with this.”

What kind of hurdles did you have to figure out for everything to kind of mesh together?

Kmita: It's a very complex game and there was a lot of different challenges during the production. The totality of the balance. The balancing of this game, mixing this class with another in multiplayer, when people play together in multiplayer, the difficulty has to upscale. So this creates a lot of hurdles.

There were three classes revealed, Pyromancer which has the skill of fire, the Devastator, which has the skill of land, and Trickster, which has the skill of time and space. Why those specific elements and skills?

Kmita: We chose elements like fire because we realized that people like to kill so let's give them the tools to kill! But you can create your character to be more of supportive role too. Every skill is basically a different story. But those choices were made sometimes because of the fantasies, or because of the type of gameplay, or sometimes we need something for the combo, either for your combo or combos with the other people. So each skill has a story of how we came up with making them.

Rubin: From a lore point of view, the whole idea is that the powers come from the anomaly which is this mysterious energy inside the planet that completely turns physics on its head, turns the rules of nature on its head. So each of them is grounded in one of the elements of physics or nature.

Kmita: Yeah, that’s very important. It looks like magic, but we are a fantasy shooter but on other hand it's grounded in reality. So it's not fire, per se, it’s the heat radiation like physical elements. The same with the Trickster, it’s time and space modification.

How often does the development team create a cool mechanic or action and come to you to write something around it?

Rubin: Yeah, that is the nature of game design of writing for games. It's all about kind of writing within the creative constraints, you know, take tic-tac-toe, give it a story, make it have meaning and that's part of the fun, that's why you do game writing. It's all about being given that set of rules and then finding a way to support it with lore that connects with all of this text you've created.

Kmita: I think it depends on the company. I know companies that start with lore and are keeping everything toward a particular pillar. Yes, there are companies that do gameplay first with everything coming later. There are also companies that start with art and the rest has to support the art. In our company, I think that we are bouncing ideas, sometimes we will do lore first and we are adding gameplay and sometimes gameplay first and we are adding lore to the gameplay. So it's very collaborative crew, a collaborative process.

As far as weapons, I was able to play with a pistol, shotgun, and an assault rifle and I didn’t see much else. Are we just going to have variations of those weapons or will there be more options later on in the game?

Kmita: We start with the basics, so sniper rifles, shotgun, and three different categories of rifles. So if you have a pump action shotgun or automatic shotgun, we can use modifications to change the shooting patterns. But more or less with guns, we want to stay as grounded as possible because with the modifications we can totally change the gun, like start shooting lightning bolts or whatever. We try to keep it not super complicated because it’s not a tactical shooter.

Rubin: And part of the fun too is that you start the game in this very grounded place it feels like you know, World War I, you know a trench war front on another planet, this is a pre-industrial society. They have no electricity or electronics, but as the anomaly gets stronger as you go deeper and deeper across the planet the weapons become more magic, more extreme, and more insane. You start using these mods that completely transform them into completely different kinds of weapons.

How long would you say the game is?

Kmita: I don't like to say numbers because everyone has their own pace but let's imagine that you are playing only for the story on the middle level of difficulty, I think it will be around 40 hours. If you're interested into taking the challenge to complete the game 100 percent with side quests, finding all the loot, the journals, and other hidden items, it’d be a lot more.

In playing the game with my team, we came across a side quest boss that was pretty difficult. We kept dying. We weren’t sure if we were under-powered, because it seemed very early in the game, but you mentioned earlier about balancing the difficulty. Are you guys still fine tuning that?

Kmita: We are collecting data right now. We are in the process of balancing things because we know that sometimes the bosses can become bullet spongy and we definitely don't want that. We are trying to do our best, we still have time to collect data to balance everything.

Rubin: You can also play the side quest at any point in your progression.

Will there be any PVP?

Kmita: No, there will not be any PvP in the game. Honestly it's already super hard to balance this game in PVE. We want to give this experience first.

Anything else you want to add?

Rubin: I think this game will get its hooks into you and want to pull you through to see what happens next and how far you can go and what the hell is across this f***ing weird planet.