Three guesses which games are major inspirations for Outer Wilds’ narrative and in-game text! If you guessed offhandedly snarky titles like Grim Fandango or Curse of Monkey Island, then you win bonus points, because the easy answer is “pretty much any Zelda game.”
Weirdly, I have not played much of Majora’s Mask, which is obvious OW design influence; I was a latecomer to consoles, so my first experience with the Legend of Zelda was on the Game Boy Color, and the charmingly bizarre characters and races in Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages made a big impression on me. In Oracle of Ages you have the Tokay, friendly giant lizards obsessed with meat that steal your items when you land on their island and go around saying off-kilter things like, “There’s a winding maze beneath this island. Maybe.” Oracle of Seasons has the subterranean-dwelling Subrosians, a secretive be-robed species who are really into digging for ore chunks and dancing. That’s also where you’ll find the Subrosian Smithy, one of my favorite places in the Zelda multiverse, where your choice of dialogue when requesting a job is between “Make it fine!” or “Do whatever.”
The point I’m trying to make is this: my favorite games have always been the ones full of interesting characters and unique races, because that’s what really sucks me into a story and makes me feel like part of the world. What would Ocarina of Time be without the Gerudo and Gorons and Kokiri and Zoras?
The earliest member of the space program was a character called the Outfitter—really, the Outfitter was the space program. I liked them; they were this grumpy Hearthian who ran their interstellar sporting goods store on the cheap and just barely trusted you not to hurt yourself with a probe launcher.
The Outfitter was eventually written out when the Timber Hearth Space Program was introduced, so they ended up being broken into the Coach and the Rocket Scientist. The Coach got most of the Outfitter’s grumpiness, snark, and capability, while Rocket Scientist inherited a love of technology and a somewhat blasé approach to safety.
If you played one of the earlier builds of Outer Wilds, you might remember that the Hearthians were originally mostly jerks who thought the space program’s existence was silly and unnecessary. While it was a fun dynamic to play with, it also effectively ostracized the player from their own civilization, because it really just came across as the town bullying anyone in the space program. We wanted to make the player feel like they’re part of the world, to the point that, even when you’re blasting into space for the first time, there’s still that tiny bit of nostalgia that comes from leaving your friends behind. This comes partly from player-character relationships:
The Coach was revamped to be the player’s longtime friend and mentor; the townsfolk show an interest in your launch day; the Rocket Scientist cares enough about your existence to (begrudgingly) install safety features in your ship, or at least not remove any more of them.
Lately, we’ve been focusing on the Nomai, the ancient race of aliens that lived the solar system back when a Hearthian’s total cell count still numbered in the single digits, and one of my biggest goals when writing them is to give them a very distinct feel as a species. The Nomai are a scientific race and infinitely curious, which is a wonderful trait to have if you want to invent modern conveniences like gravity cannons. When creating them, we pulled from way back in human history when science and philosophy were more closely intertwined (think early mathematics or physics) and imbued the Nomai with that particular approach to the world. Combine that with an inquisitive nature and you get intellectual thrill-seekers, traversing the universe with no firm destination or goal beyond finding something interesting and
learning from it.
We’ve done a lot of work on the Nomai’s history and culture, and I’m very excited to implement the full narrative in Outer Wilds because there is going to be much, much more to discover about them in the finished game.