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The Curious Beginnings of Outer Wilds

The Indie Game that shot for the stars and reached them. Outer Wilds has one of the more interesting origin stories out there.

Updated: Nov 30, 2021 10:44 am
The Curious Beginnings of Outer Wilds

Whether you’ve played it or not, the indie game Outer Wilds has gained quite the cult following. The beautifully simplistic game reignited the wanderlust of many gamers around the world. It featured a fantastic story which was told solely through environmental story-telling and an even more fantastic soundtrack. 

The game was originally released in May of 2019. Since then, it’s gained a large following and more recently released its first DLC: Echoes of the Eye. It’s become one of those games that you can’t quite re-experience. One of those games where when you finally put the controller down, you exhale a sigh of… bewilderment! As such, if you’ve not played Outer Wilds, continue reading at your own risk. I promise you, you’ll want to experience all this game has to offer in your own playthrough. 

Outer Wilds

The Origins of Outer Wilds 

The small studio, Mobius Digital Games in Los Angeles are responsible for Outer Wilds. However, it didn’t start this way. In fact, Outer Wilds was born as a student project. Alex Beachum was working on his Masters thesis at the University of Southern California.

His project started as an idea to create something new in games design altogether. He wanted to break old game design foundations and work on something completely new.

A Living World 

 “We wanted to make a game where you’re exploring a world as it changes over time. In like really dramatic ways, just to get away from the idea that game environments are these static things.” – Alex Beachum. 

Many gamers will know just what he means by this. How many games have you played where you visit one location, leave in and maybe days or months have passed in-game, and upon returning to the location, nothing has changed. It’s one of the main faults of these virtual worlds, nothing changes. Everything is programmed to remain the way it was at its conception. 

Outer Wilds

The Freedom to Play 

Furthermore, Alex had another goal with his thesis. He wanted to create a game where the only reason for players to play it and explore the world was to satiate their own curiosity. There was no quest-giver, no impending doom that you must stop… Nope, instead you get to explore and play the world on your own terms. A kind of freedom which isn’t often found in modern games. 

A Response to Skyward Sword

Alex says he was heavily inspired by Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. A game which is so huge and expansive that exploring it is a key factor. And yet, Alex says that Outer Wilds was a response to Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

He treads around the fact but it’s clear he wasn’t a big fan of the game. But many will know that you can learn far more from something you didn’t enjoy than something you did. And that shows in Outer Wilds. 

A Unity Development 

Alex wanted to create a space-travelling game. But of course, he’d need a spaceship for that! Something that navigates on a 4D plane, and thus something that’s incredibly tricky to get right. Programming such a thing is no easy feat, but Alex managed to make a prototype in Unity. 

Outer Wilds

Something he developed even further when he made another prototype. One in which the player simply sits upon a planet, roasting a marshmallow on an open fire. In the distance, a sun explodes, enveloping all around it until it hits the player and all goes dark and silent. Something which will be very familiar to Outer Wilds players. But it’s fascinating to see all these small pieces in Alex’s idea development which eventually moulded together to create the award-winning game. 

An Outer Wilds Hero?

Alex didn’t get to work right away on Outer Wilds. He graduated and worked on another project for some time before he returned to LA and joined a college friend’s (Loan Verneau) game studio. But this small upcoming games studio had a very interesting benefactor. Actor Masi Oka (Heroes) wanted to start a video game studio. 

Mobius Digital

Before Masi Oka had his breakthrough role in Heroes, he had worked on creating visual effects for movies, including the Star Wars prequels. Masi later went on a hired Alex’s college friend and the two founded Mobius

Although Mobius wasn’t set to work on Outer Wilds, after it’s success and awards, it only made sense to have the whole Mobius team develop and expand this game. 

From Student Project to Publication 

Later, the team at Mobius were approached by Annapurna about publishing the game. However, Annapurna didn’t want to publish a flipped student project. Instead, they wanted the best possible version of this game. And thus began development on the Outer Wilds we know and love. 

Outer Wilds

The team were now able, thanks to funding, to expand this world. They had new art assets, more time to add more elements of story and worldbuilding. 

Outer Wilds Awarded 

The game was adored by all upon its release. And thus, it was awarded a plethora of gaming awards. It was nominated for a whopping 28 awards and won 6. As a small indie game, this was an enormous success. 

It’s received consistently good reviews across all major gaming websites. 

ow village orig 1

Outer Wilds Echoes of the Eye

Finally, after 2 years since its release, the first DLC has dropped. Outer Wilds Echoes of the Eye adds more to the game. More mysteries, more exploration and – no doubt – more awards! 

If you’ve not had the chance to play through it, now might be the time! If you’re an open-world fan who loves exploration, then this game is for you. 

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