In its own words, dark and gritty sci-fi like Outriders is what Polish studio People Can Fly does best.
On a dystopian mission to find a golden world for humanity away from a dying Earth, your team of Outriders settles on the planet of Enoch, only to be pushed back into a 30-year cryosleep after a run-in with the enigmatic Anomaly.
You wake to find Enoch ravaged by non-stop war, and that your encounter with the Anomaly has left you Altered – able to control time, space, and elements like fire and electricity.
“We just wanted to tell a mature story,” Szymon Barchan, lead narrative designer at People Can Fly, says.
“Like in Bulletstorm it was a little more funny, so we’ve already delivered something like that. Now we want to show we can make a mature story too.”
“It’s just always in our DNA; this brutal approach,” Rafal Pawlowski, lead level designer on Outriders, continues.
“Many of us really love RPG games. It was our goal to make a game merging those two genres: RPG and shooter. As you can see, we set that challenge for ourselves.”
As a project, Outriders has been in full development for four years since People Can Fly’s split from Epic Games in 2015. The Warsaw-based studio co-developed Gears of War: Judgement with Epic, as well as working on the first iterations of Fortnite.
Now independent, but working with Square Enix to publish Outriders, there was always an appetite at People Can Fly to return to building its own IP.
“It was always there,” Pawlowski says of when People Can Fly knew it wanted to make its own series.
“We wanted to create this game we are presenting now really – the vision was very clear from day one. Co-op, RPG, shooter. Dark, desperate, sci-fi universe. Those were part of the vision from the beginning.”
“And gunplay, awesome gunplay with skills,” Barchan adds.
“Those were the cornerstones for this project. We wanted to do our own IP and have control and give it direction. We showed it to Square Enix, they love the idea and said: ‘go for it!’ That’s how it finally started.”
“We had the cooperation with Epic on all our projects going back to Painkiller, Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgement and Fortnite even,” Pawlowski explains. “All those experiences were crucial for us and maybe even helped us to make that decision.
“This is the most ambitious project to date for People Can Fly.”
Although the team at People Can Fly is trying to put together an effective story, they’re doing it with a create-a-character. It’s something that worked well in the Mass Effect series, from which Outriders seems to draw a lot of inspiration, but is still a tricky situation to pull off.
“When it comes to the player character, we always wanted players to have their own Outriders story,” Pawlowski says. “When you choose your path and create your character, you evolve with the world.”
“It is a challenge,” Barchan explains. “But we really worked hard on all the other characters you meet in the game. They’re not straightforward, black-and-white, so you have this shooting and skills gameplay, but we also want to show you a story.
“With cooperation between telling the story throughout the levels and game progression, we worked really closely on having the environment merge with the story. There was some iteration obviously, but we wanted to create this big universe that is really living, takes you in, and you can feel the surroundings.”