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Obsidian’s gameplay design kept possibilities endless


 

Obsidian built their studio's legacy on the bedrock of player empowerment. The team's latest open-world RPG, The Outer Worlds, continued that legacy. "It was always important to us that you even made up the name of your character," said Tim Cain, Co-Game Director at Obsidian. The simple act of naming and assigning unique stats to their character got players immediately invested in the game. But when it came to player agency, character creation was only the tip of the asteroid.

"You have to make sure you have something for everybody when you're designing your game." - Megan Starks, Senior Narrative Designer, Obsidian Entertainment

The team wanted to empower players to an astronomical extent. "We very much try to avoid linearity wherever possible," explained Taylor Swope, Quality Assurance Lead at Obsidian. The team considered all the ways players might approach the game differently. Would they blast their way through with ranged attacks? Would they wield the spoken word as a pacifist? Or would they let chaos reign with reckless abandon? It was important to offer an equally rich experience for any playstyle.

Reeling in the vastness of space

Open-world RPGs of this class are typically 60+ hour affairs. Obsidian sought to reign in the genre to a more manageable scope without limiting gameplay freedom. The team chose a couple of defining moments to serve as the game's foundation. The result: a tighter game and a stronger core, all without straying from their design philosophy.

Developers often create a vertical slice to refine one section of their game, getting a taste of the final product in a single dose. Obsidian nixed that traditional approach and pioneered a concept called the horizontal slice. "We wanted to be able to see the game from start to finish as quickly as possible," said Senior Producer Matthew Singh. They used primitive grey-boxed areas to get a feel for the rhythm and flow of The Outer Worlds early in the process. The horizontal perspective shed light on ways to approach and improve the game at large. They spiced up a stale map here, pared down a dialogue-heavy map there, and even split a particularly content-laden character into two discreet people. The experiment was a success, resulting in a more balanced experience over the game's full arc.

Even with a more focused approach, the game weaved an impressive web. Conversations in The Outer Worlds were designed to be complex and branching, creating more opportunities for players to guide the story. This narrative web contained hundreds of nodes, leading characters down just as many divergent paths. Doubling down on intricacy, the team crafted six companion characters, each with a unique introduction, story arc, and approach to combat. All-told, writers contributed over 50,000 lines of dialogue—more than 420,000 words—for their voice actors to record.

A sprawling game like The Outer Worlds couldn't exist without centralized and well-structured asset management to help devs work and collaborate efficiently. Luckily, this wasn't Obsidian's first rodeo. They built their game on well-oiled processes developed over years of making branching games with lots of assets. That gave them the freedom to make changes on the fly, swap out assets, and ready The Outer Worlds for liftoff.

Manage your universe with Azure

Want to create your own branching world for players to navigate? That's going to take a lot of assets. Azure Blob Storage was built to handle massive amounts of structured and unstructured data, from 52,000 lines of dialog to every one of the countless assets required to build a great game.

Learn how to store and manage your assets with Azure Blob Storage.​​

To explore scalable tools for game development, check out Azure Gaming.

Check out the full Microsoft Game Stack for additional game dev solutions.

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