At PAX West last weekend, three writers from Obsidian Entertainment sat down on a panel to discuss how they brought the characters of the upcoming The Outer Worlds to life. Senior narrative designer Carrie Patel talked about the companion she wrote for, Ellie, and explained how developing a new series requires a lot of inter-team communication and defining touchstones like Firefly or Deadwood. Narrative designer Kate Dollarhyde discussed her own companion, Parvati, the supergenius engineer. The audience Q&A, for its part, made sure not to neglect the obligatory shoutout to Fallout: New Vegas, developed by Obsidian almost a decade ago.
Megan Starks, another senior narrative designer, got into some details about the protagonist's AI ship companion. In The Outer Worlds, you'll hop around planets on a ship inauspiciously called The Unreliable with the help of an AI called the Autonomous Digital Astrogator, or ADA for short. Starks describes ADA as "this giant box that just has a little face on it," a gag that might sound familiar to fans of Obsidian's past work on Fallout: New Vegas.
The previous captain of The Unreliable, Starks says, directed ADA to build herself a personality to make it easier for them to interact with one another. Over the course of The Outer Worlds, ADA continues with that goal, adjusting elements of her personality while interacting with you, the protagonist. At one point she'll try on a sense of humor for size, which may or may not work out for her. She'll also interact quite a bit with other party companions on the ship, Starks said.
Unlike other companions though, Starks said ADA will react to the paths that you choose to take on Halcyon but not necessarily how you'd think. "She's not a person. She's not human," Starks said. "So if you do decide that you want to be evil and destroy an entire town she might actually find that amusing."
Moderator Andrea Rene jumped in to ask if ADA could actually turn on the player. We already know that other companions in The Outer Worlds may disagree with your choices so strongly that they ditch you entirely. Starks explained how when it comes to writing character like ADA, her approach has changed over the course of her career.
"When I was a junior designer I thought it's really funny if characters are mean to you," Starks said. "That's not really an enjoyable experience. So usually when I write a character that I know you're going to be with for the entire game, no matter what your playstyle is they will actually like it for their own reasons. [I] have to come up with the motivations for why they would be okay with your choices.
"For [ADA], she needs a ship captain and a crew. If she doesn't have that then it's a type of death. She's just by herself forever alone. So whoever her captain is she's going to be loyal to them." Starks' explanation was more than either I or the moderator had expected, though a welcome insight into the considerations taken when creating game characters.
While confrontations can be amusing or interesting in short bursts, Starks is likely right that sustained, continual disagreement with a character you're stuck with for the duration of a game would begin to wear on any player. Instead, ADA will bring surprise not in the form of "ADA will remember that…" but in how she manages to approve of your potentially wicked ways.
Later on, Starks and Dollarhyde explain how the human companions will be much more opinionated. Felix, Ellie, and Parvati, The Outer Worlds' other companions, will approve or disapprove of how you choose to handle quests or which faction you align yourself with. ADA, by contrast, is the metaphorical "yes-man" if ever there were one, finding a way to agree with whatever choices you decide to make.
To hear the rest of the panel and audience Q&A, you can watch the Twitch highlight above. During the panel, Obsidian also released a new propaganda trailer from the corporate overlords at Halcyon advertising all the great jobs and entertainment on-world. The Outer Worlds will release on October 25th on the Epic Games Store.