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Giving players the ability to bump off any NPC in The Outer Worlds was 'insanely hard'

What happens when a studio decides to give players total control over life and death? According to The Outer Worlds senior designer Brian Heins, it can present one or two hurdles.

Plot armor in video games is nothing new, and most feature a handful of lucky NPCs blessed with immortality because they hold the keys to a certain quest-line. 

Heck, even in those games that promise players complete freedom, you'll often come across one fortunate sod who's immune to everything from baseball bats to mini-nukes because they might give you a quest in 20 hours time. 

While it can be a tad jarring, it's an understandable design choice that means those who like to play fast and loose with morality won't inadvertently lock away content when they 'accidentally' lob a grenade at their companions' feet. 

What happens though, when a studio actually decides to give players total control over life and death? In a recent interview with Polygon, The Outer Worlds senior designer Brian Heins revealed it can present one or two hurdles.

"[Designing a game that lets players kill any character] is insanely hard. Any NPC that is critical to a quest or some information, we have to have backups for the player," he explained, referring to developer Obsidian's decision to let players snuff out whoever they like in the upcoming sci-fi RPG.

"Anyone you see, you can kill, [so] there’s got to be a way to get whatever they were going to give you, whether it’s a terminal entry or you can loot something off of their body or there’s a chest in their office that you would now lock-pick to get the information from. We gotta start figuring out all of those."

Essentially then, you need to have a contingency plan that will account for a character's untimely demise at different points in the narrative. Beyond that, though, you also need to make sure any remaining NPCs react to those shifting circumstances in a believable way. That means more time spent in the writers' room, increasingly complex quest lines, and more cash spent on production.

"When we’re looking at the quest itself, we have to now have updates that will fire to show, ‘OK, you got this information by doing this,’ and make sure that the [dialogue makes] sense," explains Hines. “So that adds complexity [and] also the localization budget goes through the roof.”

If you're keen to learn more about The Outer Worlds' development, be sure to check the full interview over on Polygon.

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