Creating Enoch: how we built a new world for OutridersLead Narrative Designer Szymon Barchan on what it takes to create an entirely new sci-fi setting.
Hello everyone - my name is Szymon Barchan and I am the Lead Narrative Designer for Outriders.
When we first started to plan the game it was really important to all of us at People Can Fly that we create something new. The company had previously been part of Epic, and worked on some big franchises, including Gears of War and Fortnite, but we felt a powerful itch to make something that was entirely our own.
And we did - Outriders is a brand new IP, set in a completely original sci-fi universe. It’s a dark, desperate setting, where chaos and tragedy lead to pain and savagery, and humanity is stripped back to its basest state.
But all of this doesn’t just appear. It takes a lot of time and effort to create an entirely new universe - I thought it would be interesting to give you a short look at how the team approached this particular challenge.
Finding a clear vision
The first thing we had to do when conceptualising the game - before we started thinking about the story, characters or world - was to create a clear vision of what we wanted the game to be.
We knew three things right from the outset. Firstly, it was really important to us that we try to make something that was both ambitious and original. As a company, we made our name on shooters - it’s in our DNA, it’s what our fans would expect, and it’s what we love to make. So we knew that would be a big part of whatever the game would be.
At the same time though, we wanted to mix things up a bit. Almost everyone here is a fan of RPGs, so there was a natural attraction to incorporating elements from that genre into the new project.
The final element was a particularly important one - it had to be new. We wanted to create something that was ambitious, original and distinctly ‘our’ game.
Fleshing out the idea
It was the Game Director, Bartek Kmita, who came up with the core concept for a really intense RPG shooter, and that basic idea really resonated with us. So as a first step was to hold a big brainstorm, with almost everyone from the company was involved.
As we discussed the game, and bounced ideas round, the art team suggested this very dark, savage science fiction setting. It was appealing, and we loved it, but it needed context to make sense.
So at the same time, we started thinking - what’s the story of this game? Where are we going with this? As we discussed options and possibilities, it became clear that this setting demanded a very rich, in depth narrative. What’s more, we knew we wanted to tell a complete story with a clear beginning, middle and end.
So the art design inspired the story, which in turn inspired the artists, and so on. In essence, we started with a large blank piece of paper. Bit by bit, the whole team was able to add new layers and details until eventually the full picture emerged.
One of the most important elements to get right was the setting where the bulk of the action would take place. We knew early on that we would set the game on a sci-fi planet, but we need to make sure that this new world felt unique and distinctly ‘People Can Fly’.
Outriders takes place on a planet called Enoch. It’s meant to be paradise - and it seems like it is at first - but something called ‘the anomaly’ changes everything.
One of the key things we had to decide is what is the anomaly and what would it do? By asking ourselves these questions, we found our way to the idea that it strips humanity of their technology - basically low-tech science fiction.
Stuck on a dangerous world without technology, and constant problems, every moment for humanity becomes a fight for survival. Society degrades and people start degenerating to their primal instincts. Life becomes a competition where everyone must fight tooth and nail for their place on the planet - and they’re won’t be getting help from anyone else.
It’s a concept that I think works great - not only does the shooting and looting gameplay make perfect contextual sense, the unique tone of the offers up enormous potential for storytelling. That’s something we’ve definitely run with, as you’ll see in the main campaign as well as the many sidequests!
It’s not enough for Enoch to simply look dark and savage, we need players to really feel it. We wanted to really drive home how utterly ruined this planet has become, and make the desperation of the people living there seem real and believable.
So to achieve that, we make sure that players can spend a significant amount of time exploring the planet - before the anomaly drags everything into chaos and violence.
When you first arrive on Enoch, it’s a very beautiful place - green fields, open spaces. We want the beginning of the game to seem like paradise is within your grasp. You can explore, look at the local creatures and chat with your friends and colleagues.
Then we hit you with… certain events (spoilers!), time passes and you can immediate see just how wrong things have gone. Everything is run-down and rusted, and the once idyllic areas have become cluttered and packed in.
So through the environments we set the tone of the game. These early areas will drive home just how brutal life is in this ruined paradise.
As you explore in the game, you’ll travel through all kinds of different environments, from wide open areas to tight interiors. There’s an amazing amount of diversity in the locations, but they all have one thing in common - they were designed to tell the player something about this new world they inhabit.
Creating a setting that supports gameplay choice
I’ve talked a lot about the setting and the conception, but there’s another more practical element to consider about the setting to the game: making sure it supports the gameplay.
Outriders is an incredibly ambitious game, designed around giving the player as much choice as possible. For example, the game can be played solo or online with up to three players, so the level spaces have to be fun to navigate for any number of players at a time.
Then factor in the fact that Outriders lets you play as different classes and even customise your playstyle - for example, you can create a run and gun type character or a cover-based sniper. The combat arenas have to support it every type of playstyle - while still feeling organic to the world we’ve created.
So how do we do this? Well, as our talented Lead Level Designer Rafal Pawlowski will tell you - it’s about constant iteration.
His talented team is always trying out new ideas, new layouts and new geometry. They test and refine, test and refine constantly - they’ve been working on these areas for more than four years now.
We’re all pretty happy with the environments in Outriders as it stands now - they’re fun to navigate, support lots of different play styles and serve the narratively brilliantly. But Rafal and his team will continue to experiment and improve them until we all feel they’re as good as they can be.
So that was just a brief look behind the scenes of how we approached the creation of Outriders’ world and setting. Creating an entirely new IP is daunting to be sure, but also hugely exciting. We hope you like what you’ve seen so far.
Outriders is set for release in December 2020 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One consoles and PC. The team at Square Enix has been hosting regular Outriders Broadcasts that give you a really close-up look at the game - I recommend you take a look if you haven’t already!
Finally, to stay up to date with the latest news, updates and other information about the game, make sure you follow People Can Fly and Outriders on social media: