We’ve got lots of things to talk about in this update about our new art style!
The New Art Style
We know a lot of people were surprised by the upgraded art style in Outer Wilds, so here’s our Art Director, Wesley Martin, with a little more information on what’s been going on behind the scenes.
Welcome to the new and improved Outer Wilds! We spent a lot of time refining and iterating on our art style to create this new direction that is better for performance and game design, while still retaining the charm of the original Alpha. As we get closer to release, we can give you some sneak peeks into the different places you’ll visit, but for now I’d like to talk about the fundamentals of what we changed and why we changed it.
When we first started on full production of Outer Wilds at Mobius, our original art style was inspired by early American plein air painters. We chose the old style because it was simplified, but still felt naturalistic, which allowed our small art team to build out the game at a consistent level of detail. As we worked on taking the designers’ greybox level designs and brought them forward to final art, we ran into a number of challenges that our painterly art style didn’t handle well.
First, level designs in Outer Wilds require a lot of precision in 3D space with intersecting ramps and tunnels scattered across the differently sized planets of the solar system. Making such complex level designs on the small, spherical planets of Outer Wilds proved to be very challenging, and didn’t mesh well with our painterly art style. Second, it was difficult to strike a balance between small level detail seen on foot and large-scale vistas seen from space without the expensive cost of hand-crafting multiple versions for different scales. Finally, our approach made it difficult to tune level design after our final art pass, which made it difficult to iterate based on playtest feedback.
Working with Annapurna, we tested a variety of approaches from higher detail and more realistic to stylized and cartoony. We eventually found a solution in the graphic simplicity of national park posters, which not only felt true to the naturalistic feel of the Outer Wilds’ Alpha, but fixed a number of our production problems. By creating geometry with sharp, stylized shapes, we were able to clearly define walkable surfaces for players and adhere more closely to the design greyboxes. By using simplified textures with large-scale gradients, we were able to create a sense of depth and make the planets look good while on foot and from afar. In addition, because we had spent time iterating on the art style, the design team had time to dramatically improve the level design throughout the game before our new final art pass.
This new art style works much better for design and performance, and matches our original aesthetic goals better than anything else we have tried. While developing the art style, our tech team created a number of useful tools that help with building spherical environments, and with Annapurna’s support we were able to expand our art team to meet the increased time cost of making this more detailed style. We’re very excited to finally show the new art style, and we hope it makes you excited to play the game!
Outer Wilds will be at PAX East next week. If you’re going, you can stop by and play the game!
We are very proud to announce our collaboration with Annapurna Interactive.
With their help and your continued support, we will be releasing Outer Wilds this year! The game has come a long way and we are really excited to finally give you a peek at our new and improved art direction.
Check out our official website for more screenshots of the game. You can also follow and share our Steam page.
We will be showing the game at PAX East at the Annapurna booth. Stop by and say ‘hi’ if you’re there!
It’s time for another update. We’re looking at a UI upgrade and proxies today!
Until recently, some of the Outer Wilds' UI had remained unchanged. Some of our UI even dated back to the original student build about five years ago! However, this month we’ve made a huge push to update all of our fonts, menus, and player UI to final assets.
A collection of a few assets we’ve implemented into our new and improved menu.
One of the reasons, we have started this UI overhaul was to support localization. We are just beginning to prep for translators to transcribe our dialogue and text into a few different languages, which in turn, will require varying text box sizes.
We also implemented a few design changes to a few key UI. Specifically, we’ve implemented a new rotating thruster UI into the player’s helmet for when you look up or down. This was designed to help players understand what they’re jetpacking towards. This has proven especially useful underwater, where up and down are not always as clear.
One of the big things we’ve been doing to help game performance has been creating proxies. We sat down with our proxy maker, Nicholas Kim, and our gameplay engineer, Jeffrey Yu, to get a closer look at how we’re using proxies.
What is a proxy?
Jeffrey: Proxies are basically “cardboard cut-outs” that we use in place of the real objects when you're far away from it. We can't keep every single level element or complex geometry in our game active all the time, or else the computer will start choking on processing all the stuff that you can't see or interact with.
How is a proxy made?
Nicholas: Generally, its taking the existing model and making it as low res as possible while still getting the overall shape of the original. In making a proxy we have to keep in mind its polycount and its look when making specific textures to encompass all the structures on a planet. We use a combination of Maya and Zbrush to Decimate and combine existing structures into a low res mesh. Then we polish UVs to get a general coloring and look that will pass as a Far Proxy
What are the difficulties when making proxies?
Nicholas: There are special cases when making certain proxies. One difficulty comes when trying to find a balance between Terrain Meshes and Structure meshes, which are both fighting for poly count while making it a single mesh. Other difficulties happen when trying to get a certain look while also dealing with limiting the material/shader for specific textures. There's a special balance in trying to scale UVs and textures. You’re ultimately trying not to make an obvious repeating pattern in terrain at a far distance.
Why are proxies important to ‘Outer Wilds’?
Jeffrey: Since Outer Wilds does not have discrete levels, we must load and unload things as the player moves through the Solar System. So as you leave a planet, all the complicated bits are turned off, and in its place, a proxy planet, fades in. This frees up memory and processing power for when you enter a new planet, and then the process occurs again in reverse. This allows for a more immersive experience without the need for loading screens.
Will implementing proxies stop dynamic events from happening when you are not on the planet?
Jeffrey: Thankfully no! While we reduced the complexity of the visuals, the dynamic systems of each planet are still being simulated at all time. For example, Brittle Hollow will keep being bombarded by meteors that are still being simulated, but we don’t need to spawn the fancy visual effects we have when they crash if you are not anywhere close to that planet.
Until Next Time
Stay tuned for the next update where we’ll have more news, insights, and reminders for all of you!
Updates on our games, our process, and the joys of being Mobius Digital.