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.
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.