The Outer Worlds: Perils of Gorgon Interview - Talking Storytelling, Inspiration, and Freedom with Matt Hansen & Carrie Patel
During today's Xbox Games Showcase event, Private Division and Obsidian Entertainment unveiled the upcoming DLC content for The Outer Worlds, titled Peril on Gorgon.
Ahead of the event, we had a chance to chat with game director Carrie Patel and art director Matt Hansen about the DLC, what it entails, inspirations for it, and so on.
RPG Site: I've just learned about The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon. How would you describe the visual identity of this Gorgon asteroid that this DLC storyline takes place in? How did that come about and how did you decide on it?
Matt Hansen: The DLC as a whole has kind of a pulp noir feel to it. So, we wanted to play up that sort of mysterious dark feeling with heavy contrast and stuff like that. The facility itself - the Gorgon facility - was a secret research facility, so what better place to hide that than in an asteroid field? Most of this storyline takes place on the Gorgon asteroid, which is in the same asteroid field that Scylla's in. When you first land on the Gorgon asteroid, it becomes apparent that this is a big cavernous space; you're in sort of this labyrinthine spider web of canyons and caves that make up the surface of the Gorgon asteroid where these facilities are housed.
As you explore that space, you'll encounter a lot of abandoned Spacer's Choice facilities, which will have a lot of similar vibes to what you've seen elsewhere in the game, as well as interesting microbiomes within the surface of the asteroid itself. So it doesn't feel too samey, because if you're just walking around on a big rock all the time, that could get pretty boring pretty quickly.
So while we are trying to portray this as a now-desolate place, it is still a place that was once bustling - once a place of great science and industry, at least in the minds of Spacer's Choice. So you'll encounter a lot of these ruined facades that hint at these big sprawling dungeons that are behind those doors. And once you go into those spaces, you see these are actually very visually distinct dungeons that have pretty potent theming.
In addition to all of that, we also have a couple of off-world spaces. So you'll leave the Gorgon asteroid at points throughout the DLC, once to go to an absolutely new location, and then a couple of times to return to some places you've already been in new sub-levels within those places.
RPG Site: This is more of a fundamental question: how long or extensive is this DLC meant to be? Can you give me an idea of the overall size and scope?
Carrie Patel: Peril on Gorgon slots into the base game as another one of the many locations the player can visit, like Monarch or the Emerald Vale. It's a discrete area with a critical path storyline and side quests that run through it. In terms of specific scope. this is roughly comparable in scope to Monarch and that content overall. That's between the Gorgon Overlands as well as the other levels that Matt mentioned that take you off of the asteroid or back to new spaces from base game levels. In terms of the size of the new overland itself that is roughly comparable to Roseway.
RPG Site: When did the concept of Peril on Gorgon first materialize? Was this something you had some ideas bouncing around in your head as you were making the main game? How did you decide that this was the content you wanted to make as DLC?
Matt Hansen: So there's a long history there, but to make it really brief: we started development of the DLC around January 2019, before the base game had launched. We knew that we wanted to make something, but we didn't quite have it nailed down exactly what it was. As we were developing it between that time and when the base game itself released, it went through some iterations and variations. Once people got their hands on the base game, and we saw just how much people love this franchise, and the sorts of things that they loved about it, we pivoted and decided to make the DLC a much bigger experience.
We wanted to exemplify the things that people really loved about the base game while exploring some of the things that people hungered for even more. So right around the game's main release, we kind of transitioned to what is the current incarnation that is project Gorgon.
Carrie Patel: One of the cool things about The Outer Worlds being set in its own solar system is that there is plenty of room both in that system and also in the lore, to find new nooks & crannies to explore in a DLC like this. Part of the inspiration came from Kate Dollarhyde - the other narrative co-lead on the project - and we identified pieces of lore that we knew as developers, but that we didn't fully flesh out in the base game.
We were thinking of cool ways to build a story around that - a story that both leads the player through a lot of moments of discovery and also provides further reflection on the larger problems of Halcyon. The DLC also explains a few things from the base game, about how Halcyon has gotten to the state that it's in.
RPG Site: That touches on my next question: I was wondering if this DLC was meant to be more of a standalone storyline or how exactly it ties into the larger picture.
Carrie Patel: Yes from a story perspective, it does link into the larger Halcyon storyline. Players encounter it and experience it in much the same way that you do other unique locations throughout the base game in the different world hubs. You do not load into it separately from the base game. You get your inciting incident that serves as your starting point for the DLC anytime between the Monarch storyline and your point of no return save. Meaning that once you have the DLC installed, as soon as you hit the end of the Monarch critical path, this event will fire and that will allow you to dive fully into the content for the DLC.
RPG Site: So the DLC has a near-endgame gameplay balance, then?
Carrie Patel: I'd say it's like maybe last-third or so, depending on how thorough what your pace was for doing side content. The thing is, even after you finish the Monarch critical path, there's still all the faction content and all the other side content. You can blow through the Monarch crit path somewhat quickly if you're not doing everything. But there's so much to do.
RPG Site: When the main game launched, was there any overall feedback, whether from reviews or social media, that the game received that you wanted to specifically address in the DLC in some way? Either regarding gameplay mechanics or game story.
Matt Hansen: I think to an extent there was. As with anything else, so much of the creative decisions that we do are based on how people perceived the content that came before this. So we absolutely were listening to those things and trying to exemplify the things that they loved and address the things that were not hitting home for people.
As far as really specific things, I don't know that there was a ton. By increasing the level cap, we're introducing some cool new skill unlocks that allow for some pretty empowering ways of handling combat and conversations and stuff like that, which I think a lot of people were hungry for - more specialization if they wanted it.
But beyond that, I don't know, that there were too many specific criticisms that we saw that we're like, 'we're gonna fix that'. Obviously there is a lot of stuff we've added in patches related to UI experiences and such, but nothing that is strictly tied to the DLC.
Carrie Patel: I agree with everything Matt said. I do think that one criticism and general challenge for us in making a game like The Outer Worlds is the challenge of giving the player a player-driven experience from both a story and a gameplay perspective. The player is in the driver's seat and it's a mostly open-world that you can go in at any pace, you can do a lot of stuff, you can do a little stuff, you can kill this guy here, etc. How do you give the player all that freedom while also maintaining a credible and present antagonistic force?
You can author a very closed, tight linear experience where there is beautiful pacing between the forces acting against the player and the moments of response to that. But that takes some of that control over the experience away from the player. Then, on the other hand, you can have these completely open experiences where the player is given a lot of freedom but the pacing can suffer, depending on what the player decides to do.
So, we wanted to try as best we could to solve for that by giving the player threats and sources of antagonism that would be more present for them. This would remind them of the threats and the stakes, without boxing the player into particular moments or encounters - locking them into things that they either didn't want to do or didn't want to do at a particular time. Recognizing that we wanted to be consistent with the base game's offering of freedom to the player, I think we did a good job of finding a way to bring those threats out.
Matt Hansen: Yeah for sure. The Gorgon Asteroid is a dangerous place and we wanted to find ways to bring that danger to the player while allowing some freedom for the player to kind of shrug it off and go 'I don't really want to deal with this right now' if they choose.
RPG Site: You touched on this briefly earlier. Was there any particular thing that inspired this setup for Peril on Gorgon? I'm just curious, was there anything larger source of inspiration that you wanted to do your own take on.
Carrie Patel: This is very high level, and I wouldn't say this is quite 'oh, we wanted to do our take on this'. There was sort of a seed that germinated into some of the inspiration for how we wanted to approach the character and the human side of this story. When we were in the early planning stages for the Gorgon story, Kate DollarHyde referenced the Manhattan Project and the idea of a large, complex, and collaborative project that's ambitious in scope; a project that is doomed to create something that will, in some ways, will be horrible.
Not trying to get into spoilers here, but we wanted to explore what it means to be part of that, what that means for the individuals who were a part of a project like that. And I think for us, that was a very rich jumping-off point for how we explored a lot of the characters and the moments of reflection the player can have with them.
Matt Hansen: Tying into that, it wasn't initially an inspiration, but we as a team sat down and watched part of HBO's Chernobyl. We wanted to see a story where there is a very dangerous situation that has a lot of ego tied into it and a lack of accountability. How do people approach that? And how do those people fall apart? It wasn't an initial inspiration, but it definitely helped drive some emotional character for the DLC.
Carrie Patel: That made for an interesting team movie night.
Matt Hansen: Oh, yeah, it was a high-anxiety evening for sure.
RPG Site: One component of The Outer Worlds that people attached to were the companions. How do the companions fit into thisDLC story? Will they have their own comments or interactions with the storylines, the quests, and everything that's taking place on this asteroid? I really hope they don't just tag along as mute allies for battle purposes only.
Carrie Patel: How can you think that of us?
Matt Hansen: (laughs) You can put that worry to rest. The companions are not only involved and present, they're actually a critical tool that we use in telling the story of this location. Because the Gorgon asteroid was an abandoned facility that is incredibly dangerous, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us to populate it with a ton of NPCs that are going to be friendly to the player - though there are some pockets of them. But there are a lot of areas that you'll explore where there aren't people to give that expositional background on things. The companions allowed us to interject a lot of humanity into those moments as they are exploring them with you and reacting to the variety of types of things that you'll see - both grim and humorous.
Carrie Patel: Given the magnitude of the revelations that the player uncovers, these are things that have had huge impacts on many of these people, their lives, and their communities. Leaning into our companions there to reflect on this idea and hammer home the emotional impact of these sort of revelations. When you consider what Matt said that we couldn't populate this dungeon with friendly NPCs, those sorts of constraints then became an opportunity for companion interaction. We can give our companions important moments of reflection here.
RPG Site: Is there anything else you want to say about Peril on Gorgon that we haven't touched on already?
Matt Hansen: We touched on it briefly, but I think people are going to be really excited by the new options that are available to their players as they increase in level. The new perks and skill unlocks are a ton of fun to play around with, and they help further drive home the various player fantasies that we love our fans to be able to play out throughout the game.
RPG Site: Is there an example of a new perk or skill that you think players might really like?
Matt Hansen: I don't want to give too much away. Broadly, the skill unlocks themselves are really creative and have almost superhuman ends to really investing in something like persuasion or handguns or whatever. It opens up a lot of really fun gameplay.
RPG Site: That's sometimes a fun thing with these sorts of RPGs is how when you get to like those really high-level skills, you can end up becoming something like a silver-tongued sharpshooter demigod able to persuade anyone to do anything with these ridiculous skills that you end up getting by the end game.
Matt Hansen: Yeah, there's a lot to be said for balancing a game well and keeping it a challenge constantly. But there's also a ton of fun to be had with the character-building - I maxed out handguns, I should be able to, you know, be this crazy quickdraw with ridiculous accuracy. This is very much what some of those high-level skill feels like.
RPG Site: This is more of a nuts-and-bolts question, but I saw that this DLC was dated for PC, PS4, and Xbox. Will this come to Switch at a later time?
Carrie Patel: It will, but we don't have a date yet.
RPG Site: Thank you for your time.
The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Epic Games Store on September 9.