Sep 27, 2021 - Technology

The unlikely success of “Outer Wilds”

A screenshot showing a above earth perspective of a green landscape with a small structure with satellite tower and pine forest.

Screenshot: Mobius Digital

One of the week’s most interesting new releases is tomorrow’s “Echoes of the Eye,” an expansion to 2019’s award-winning surprise hit, “Outer Wilds.”

Why it matters: “Outer Wilds” is both part of a broader trend and highly unique.

  • It’s another time-loop game in which the story progresses through numerous resets of the game’s universe.
  • But it’s also a game in which you are strictly an outer space explorer, with nothing to shoot, break or kill — and nothing to collect and bring back to the next 22-minute loop other than knowledge about how its fantastic solar system works.
  • The expansion’s contents have been kept secret (we won’t spoil anything here) other than that it offers some new, strange wonders to explore.

What they’re saying: “We want this to be a game about you exploring because you want to answer questions,” creative director Alex Beachum tells Axios, speaking of the original and its expansion.

  • “Outer Wilds” is about the “intrinsic motivation” of curiosity, Beachum says.
  • The original game contained a solar system of curiosities, each operating with its own looping systems for discovery, such as of a pair of planets called the “hourglass twins” that shed sand from one orb to the other, exposing explorable caves.

Between the lines: The dozen developers behind “Outer Wilds” started making “Echoes of the Eye,” just before the main game shipped.

  • The main game was made in relative obscurity.
  • Success has earned Beachum and the team a fanbase so motivated by their curiosity that they scour the expansion’s few pre-release screenshots to try to discern clues from the position of stars in the nighttime sky.

Beachum’s most startling discovery about his fans: Many have gotten tattoos of a symbol that players discover late in the main game.

  • “I just remember one day we're just scribbling on the whiteboard,” he says of its creation. “And now it's like on people's bodies forever.”
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