Navigating a lonely spaceway with Out There’s developers

Out There interview - 01

If you’ve read our review of Out There you’ll know it’s a lonely space exploration experience riddled with mystery. It’s also a tough game, full of content and offering no guarantees that it’ll ever fully reveal itself to you. It’s for these reasons, and more, that we concluded it’s one of the best new games on Android and iOS this year.

Shortly after release we got in touch with developers Michael Peiffert and FibreTigre, inviting them to join us in dancing about a mysterious black obelisk, communicating with a giant space baby and quizzing the resurrected Frank Poole, all to try to understand more about the game and its genesis.

AR: Out There seems to be a very lonely experience: the solo space explorer, the far-flung sector of space, the apparently abandoned artefacts players may encounter, and the fact that most of the life that can be encountered will prove incomprehensible! Was that loneliness and solitude always envisioned as a central part of the game?

FibreTigre: Yes, it was decided at the very beginning, and our first trailer described Out There as a “dark and melancholic adventure”.

It was easier to explain in what a “no-combat” game this way, because after all, a battle is a kind of familiar interaction.

AR: So no combat and no violence has always been a part of the game’s philosophy and design?

FT: Yes, Out There has been crafted in being a “plausible” space adventure. In space, the main danger comes from cosmic rays, loneliness, if not madness.

AR: If it’s possible to avoid spoilers in answering this… what’s the deal with the references to quantum theory and multiple travellers in the ship’s log entries? 

FT: The whole game plays with plausible theories and physics effects. There’s some kind of easter eggs with the multiverse in one adventure, but quantum theory intervenes in many aspects, one being an upgrade module of the shields that use a stream of virtual particles taken out of the void energy. This kind of module doesn’t exist yet, and won’t ever maybe, but there are virtual particles issued from the void energy in quantum theory.

AR: Striking a balance in games of this type can be very tricky: if resources are too scarce the game becomes impossible to complete and frustrating to play, and if they’re too plentiful it becomes a cakewalk. Are you confident you’ve struck the right balance? Was a lot of playtesting involved?

FT: Yes, playtesting was of utmost importance for Michael, and the game has been tested every day since early October. Without beta-testing, the game could have been released early November. It helped us a lot to balance the game. Believe it or not, but initially the game was much more difficult, as with the current build, Michael and I finish 100% of our runs.Out There interview - 02

AR: Are you planning to add more to Out There now that it’s released? More content, perhaps, or additional features like scoreboards (something that I personally would like!)?

Michael Peiffert: The iOS and Google Play versions include achievements and leaderboards.

The lore of Out There is extremely rich and we are currently thinking about how we could expand it.

AR: The artwork of Out There is a strong point, from the clean, sharp art for the ship and alien designs to the very distinct astronaut character design with his few simple colours and thick bold lines. What were your key sources of inspiration for the game’s art?

MP: As a space lover and graphic designer, I have many sketchbooks filled with my cosmic fantasies. My drawing is strongly inspired by those naive pulp comics books (I use brush and ink on paper). On the other side, I use Japanese Anime techniques with a computer for the colorization. The result of this hybrid style is something dark and fascinating. And it fits perfectly with the atmosphere of Out There.

AR: I’ve only run into a couple of bits of repeated content so far in a fair few hours of play, which gives me confidence about the adventures still to be had! How many of these pieces of story did FibreTigre and yourself include in the game? Do any of them connect to one another?

MP: There are 300 adventures. They are not directly connected but are rather breadcrumbs of the whole story behind Out There.

AR: Out There is of course the production of a French team, and in early builds I saw some of the text wasn’t perfectly translated into English. Despite a few hiccups here and there the quality of the writing is now great and clearly the work of someone with a love of science fiction. Do you and FibreTigre have any particular favourite SF tales?

FT: I love SF and I have been writing SF short stories. Out There is inspired by many tales, The Stars My Destination being the main inspiration. I would say that my favorite SF novel is A Fire Upon the Deep.

AR: Following on from that, who handled the English translation? If it was another party did they have much free reign or ws it a requirement to keep everything very close to the original French?

FT: I translated the game into English and then it was proofread by a professional. I have to say that the adventures in French and in English are not exactly the same because sometimes the strict translation from French to English were even clumsier than now.

I have a funny story about the translation. In the beginning of the game, the hero obtains a Space Folder, a device that allows him to go to any star. So he says something like “The whole galaxy is within my reach!” And the proofreader noted this and told me: “You should say ‘The galaxy is now my oyster!'” It’s very idiomatic but the association between the galaxy, the space folder and a oyster was too much for me. Would Palpatine say “The Galaxy is now my oyster”? So we didn’t include any oyster in the translation.

Out There interview - 03AR: What would you say the key influences behind Out There are? I detect a hint of the DNA of Starflight, plus of course 2001: A Space Odyssey

FT: One of the influences is a French game called The Ark of Captain Blood. If you mix it with Oregon Trail, and a bit of gamebook adventures, you have most of what Out There is.

AR: So go on, then… tell us what happens at the end of the game! I bet I’ll never get there alive. 

FT: There are three endings. Even though they are different, the three of them enlight a different part of the whole story so you need the three to understand what happened. We don’t like spoilers, but you might find the way back home. Let’s hope “home” is still the same as you left it.

AR: What’s next for Mi-Clos? Will it include another collaboration with FibreTigre?

MP: When I first approached FibreTigre for this game, I knew we would make something special. It turned out that our skills are complimentary and we have much respect for each other’s. Now, we have completed this game and it is like what we planned to do. I think we have all the ingredients of a functional team here!

Not to mention the many game pitches we thrown at each other that would be exciting to develop.

AR: Here’s an open platform for you to speak to Arcadian Rhythms’ readers… anything you’d like to say, or recommend to us?

FT: One of my favorite games is a not well known game called Gladius from LucasArts (PS2/Xbox). I recommend it to your readers.

MP: Keep dreaming guys.

AR: Thank you both very much! 

[Out There is available for iOS and Android. For more on Mi-Clos and FibreTigre, navigate those deep space links.]

Out There interview - 04