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Outcast: come on in out of the cold

Tuesday, 8th April 2014 10:03 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Outcast is on its way home from time’s exile, and it’s doing it without the fetters of a traditional publishing contract. We speak to one of the original directors on resurrecting the beloved cult-favourite adventure.

outcast

Outcast

Developed by Appeal and published by Infogrames, Outcast released on PC in 1999.

One of the first fully 3D worlds with open-world gameplay, praised for its narrative, AI and aesthetics.

Boasts a unique sci-fi world ripe for exploration on your trust steed.

Outcast Reboot HD is expected on PC in late 2015 if successfully funded.

Developer Fresh3D includes members of the original Outcast development team, and acquired the rights from Atari last year.

What exactly is it about Outcast that makes it such a cult-favourite part of the gaming canon?

“I think it probably is a combination of many things that makes it special,” creative director Franck Sauer told us.

“The visual design for one gave Outcast a look like no other. But it was also one of the first 3D games to offer open worlds with non linear gameplay. I think Outcast has a good, timeless story, and a great universe.”

That’s not to say it was perfect, of course, and one of the aims of the reboot is to iron out those little wrinkles which make the original seem dated, including buggy quests and an alarmingly ancient camera system.

“Player control and animation, and camera control from the original won’t work. That’s why we’re simply dumping them and creating new ones from scratch,” Sauer said. “Quest information needs to be streamlined and presented in a new way, so all UI and interfaces navigation will be redone.”

Fresh3D is also hoping stretch goals will provide the budget to overhaul animations, as well as motor skills – the interface between AI and animations.

Sauer was quick to reassure us not too much will change, though.

“It’s more about getting the general pacing up a little and removing the noise from the information given to the player so he can be less easily lost,” he said.

If the reboot goes well, Fresh3D is hoping to spend more time in Outcast’s memorable universe.

“We think the Outcast universe is so vast, and so little has been revealed in the first opus, we have a tremendous opportunity for creating a franchise with a lot more worlds and places to explore and exotic creatures to interact with,” Sauer said.

Given the team’s willingness to add to the Outcast canon, it’s a little surprising it didn’t just leap into a whole new sequel. Sauer told us it comes down to budget: a full-blown triple-A sequel might have a budget of around $20 million, he said, which is beyond realistic expectations for crowdfunding.

“Even if we managed to reduce cost and rely on digital distribution to remove the middle men, we would still be targeting the $5 million bar. That’s still a lot, and something that we think the Outcast community alone would not be able to support,” he said.

“So we thought it would be better to first reboot Outcast to broaden our audience by creating a modern game with top notch production value for modern gamers, but also please our fan base with a idealised version of their favourite game that stays true to the original while providing a host of improvements both visually and gameplay-wise.”

As for why Fresh3D didn’t take its new IP to a publisher – well, it’s a long-ish story, and unfortunately quite a familiar one. The team took the opportunity afford by Gamescom 2013 to tour publishers, meeting with various responses.

“Some were not interested for various reasons, and we can understand that. Fair enough. Then we met with those who appear to be interested. You might think that since they are established publishers they would have a professional attitude and share a common vision of how to handle such a project, but the answer is simply they don’t,” Sauer said.

“What we got from some was a mixed bag of ridiculous answers, ranging from ‘this is a European project it will fail in the US’ to ‘ok we’ll do this, we take all IP and we pay you at minimum wages but it needs to be on x platforms and be ready tomorrow’. I mean, some of the publishers we met were just a bad joke, really.”

Fresh3D managed to narrow its options down to “serious contenders” but felt uneasy about committing to a deal given what it saw of the companies’ management.

“If they know the original game and enjoyed it, they would proceed further and try to figure how to setup a working deal. But let me tell you this, there was absolutely no formal market analysis to back their decision, it all comes down to individuals,” Sauer said.

“What happens if they change management during production? What happens if the marketing guy doesn’t have a clue on how to promote your product, or worse doesn’t give a shit because he’s planning to change job in the middle of the launch? I know internal launch meetings and the like are supposed to help, but where is the developer control over that? Nowhere.

“You do your homework and then just pray for them to handle your product right. You might say it’s in their own interest to sell the game? As curious as it sounds, that’s not always the case, because large organizations rely a lot on internal politics and sometimes (I’ve seen that, believe me) someone with internal power would softly kill a project because it serves his own interest better.”

“There was no way we would do any serious money from the sales of the game afterward. Large publishers are fully in control of the money flow within their multiple-companies organisation and they can easily redirect any money as they please so that you pretty much get a small percentage of a small percentage of a small percentage. So we thought: you know what? Let’s do it ourselves.”

Despite these reservations, Fresh3D finally came close to striking a deal with one “top-tier” publisher – but in the end, it balked at the prospect of seeing little reward for its hard work.

“There was no way we would do any serious money from the sales of the game afterward. Without going too much into details, let’s say large publishers are fully in control of the money flow within their multiple-companies organisation (distributor, publisher, producer) and they can easily redirect any money as they please so that you pretty much get a small percentage of a small percentage of a small percentage,” Sauer said.

“So we thought: you know what? Let’s do it ourselves. We know our game better than anyone, we can self-publish and sell the digital release ourselves to any digital stores, and in the end we can still use a large distributor to ship the physical release if we need to.”

Sauer said the staff of Fresh3D aren’t hoping to make enough to buy sports cars; it just wants a fair go, and control of its work.

“It’s about staying in control of the creative process and IP ownership, and making enough money so we can later invest in our next game and not give away money to some suit. It’s a win/win contract between the developer and the gaming community,” he concluded.

Fresh3D is seeking $600,000 to fund Outcast Reboot HD through Kickstarter.

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7 Comments

  1. The_Red

    Original Outcast was mindblowing. Visually, it was at at least 5 years ahead of its time and some of the vistas in the original are still impressive (If you can get past limited voxel budget and resolution). The gameplay also felt really free, engaging and rather fun. There was a sense of place to Adelpha/world and players were actually free to choose their path. Their actions, objectives and other victories actually affected the gameplay AND the world by limited enemy supplies among other things, all of which are still missing in most open world games. The only lacking part was the story IMHO.

    Can’t wait for this reboot.

    #1 7 months ago
  2. TheWulf

    I’m with you, #1.

    I do worry about their audience, though, and I just hope we can pony up enough money for the sequel to happen. I’m finally understanding what I dislike about the mainstream and it’s extoverted ideals — it’s vanity. The obsession with familiarity comes from personal vanity and being attracted to themselves, so they just want to ball themselves up in that.

    I’m the opposite in that I find that repugnant, I want to get away from that, and from earth, and just explore new things. I’m not vain, I don’t have an overpowering fetish with human perfection, cosmetics, and whatever else. I can play something that’s entirely weird and bizarre to me and be okay with it. Just thinking back to some of the things I created in Spore and Darkspore, and how I long even for more games like those where the creativity can just flow instead of just locking me down into human vanity.

    I think vanity is the desperate virtue of the vapid minded, in that they can’t focus on anything bigger, so they might as well focus on how they and their world look. They make themselves look good, and sexy, with all the brands and all of the cosmetics, and they want sexy heroes in video games. I tell you, what I’d give for just some unused ethnic minorities even. Or a portly person.

    Can I play a portly person more often, please? Why is being portly a crime? I love chubby characters and it bothers me that there’s this extroverted ideal of almost Aryan perfection that keeps other body types out of games. I look at stuff even like fantasy games, like Dragon Age, or Skyrim, or sci-fi games like Mass Effect, and everyone is sexy. I mean, even the popularity of the asari comes down to how they’re perceived as a slightly exotic extension of human vanity and sexiness. So they are the best aliens.

    This continues to bother me, and I’m sad that I’m such a minority.

    I want to be alien things, I want to explore alien worlds… that’s my longing. I don’t have human vanity, which is why when a thicko calls me a narcissist that’s frankly and genuinely the funniest thing ever to me. I mean, have you looked in a mirror, lately? The person calling me a narcissist is far more likely to be responsible for what narcissism actually means because of their vapid obsession with human perfection.

    They mean egotism. But they’re not bright enough to understand that. The dummies. :p

    But that vapid, soulless attachment to perfect human physicality. Guh. I mean, I like humans because I am one. But I also realise that we have more body types than ‘sexy and lanky,’ you know? I also realise that we have more ethnicities than ‘caucasian and tan.’ I’ve never really seen a genuinely dark protagonist in a game because publishers are scared to do that. And even when we have asian protagonists, they’re altered to look more caucasian. It’s ridiculous. It’s xenophobic. I hate it.

    When I played Uru, I was a portly hippie exploring alien worlds. I loved that. Those were some of my favourite memories — because playing a fat character was just so completely unknown and amazing to me. And that’s sad. We can’t even explore other worlds because we can’t even explore the more interesting aspects of ourselves. It’s reprehensible and irredeemable.

    And I will keep harping on about this because I want people to understand how vain and fetishistic they are. They have a fetish for what they see in the mirror every morning after they’ve put their face on, they have a fetish for bodies under a certain weight, and this is the kind of really vapid stuff they get off on.

    It’s okay to be imperfect, and honestly, the imperfections are beautiful to me.

    I want us to be less xenophobic, it give me such longing and soul sickness that we’re just this locked down into homogeneity, that the only prominent zeitgeist any more is the status quo.

    It’s getting to the point where people almost seem ready to have Aryan, perfect, straight, cis-gendered, caucasian, normalist, fundamentalist pride parades.

    What a messed up world this is.

    So, yeah, I’m genuinely excited about things like this, because I want to explore alien worlds. But I worry that there are just too few like me who want to do that. I worry that this kind of thing will never be popular because how fetishistic we are with our vanity. And that’s frustrating to me. Nope! Can’t be creative! No money. So… I really want to believe that this will be successful and we’ll see an Outcast 2. But the cynic in me says it’ll never happen.

    I’m excited about it, but I’m already prepared to be disappointed and depressed.

    #2 7 months ago
  3. TheWulf

    And in case anyone’s confused by the comment of putting their face on, I mean that men are every bit as responsible of this when it comes to hair gel, grooming, clothes, brands, and so on. I’ve never known a man who doesn’t ‘put his face on’ every morning, for the extroverted world he’s about to step out into.

    Screw that. I have long, thick hair and I like it that way. I’m not going to have short hair styled into the latest fashions. Bugger off. I absolutely despise that there’s any pressure for me to do that.

    I just realised that because people are so focused on one gender, they might perceive that wrongly as a slight against women. It isn’t. It’s me being frustrated that I have to conform to male standards of beauty. It’s something that angers me. Not to mention how much prejudice I get for being mildly physically deformed, which is so wonderful.

    I hate that homogeneity, I hate having to pretend that I’m just one of the faceless herd, with the same branded face. A face that I have to put on each morning. No thanks.

    #3 7 months ago
  4. TheWulf

    I miss the edit function.

    Honestly, I think that was the underlying moral of the Phantom of the Opera. That people couldn’t handle him being disfigured and different, so he had to put on his face to be at least somewhat appealing. It’s an indictment of modern culture, which I exist so much on the outside of.

    #4 7 months ago
  5. fihar

    @TheWulf
    You’re not special

    #5 7 months ago
  6. VTchitcherine

    @TheWulf

    Wulf, for someone who claims to despise vanity you spend an awful length of time in publicly professed, verbose self-praise in contrast to the retrograde Other you delineate to be most other people. It’s not a physical vanity but it’s actually more odious due to the impermanence and unimportance of physicality (incomparably more sins have been committed in the name of intellectual and moral self-certainty). Rather than railing against a nebulous self-defined and transparently self-serving Other, you should consider not externalising human failings in a hypocritical pean to yourself in the comments sections of frequently tenuously related stories on video games.

    Further consigning people for having the effrontery to employ a non-literal usage of Narcissism (a figurative image rather than a literal one) to the realm of ‘thickos’ seems to be the domain of quite a literal-minded thicko who resorts to petty semantics to dismiss valid criticism.

    #6 7 months ago
  7. Armitage Shanks

    outdone yourself again Wulf,another doozy for the cringe channel forums,cheers buddeh

    #7 7 months ago

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