You may not have heard of the game Outcast when it came out, but in 1999, the idea of an open-world game with factions, procedural dialogue, and other unique mechanics would have sounded like something out of a time machine. And yet, there it was! Loud, proud, and dripping with inspiration from French sci-fi comics and films.
As it turns out, the game's creators love the world they built so much they decided to give it a polished upgrade for 2017. Today, Outcast: Second Contact launched on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4, and it's a unique remaster of the original game, preserving its audio and general gameplay while upgrading its visual assets and a few collision detections.
And on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough to talk with one of the developers who worked on both the original game and Second Contact: Franck Sauer, who did art direction for the original game.
You can watch our full conversation with Sauer up above, but in case you're hopping in a time machine back to 1999, we've collected a few interesting highlights for your perusal below.
Outcast: Second Contact is able to use old code and audio thanks to Unity
If you quickly glance at videos of the original Outcast, then look at the modern game, you may be surprised how much the controls and audio are so similar to the original. That's because, according to Sauer, it's a lot of the same old code, tech, and design under the game's hood. By using a Unity plugin to keep the old game running in the background, Sauer's colleagues were able to build new assets and a new UI that could be layered over the old game.
That does mean a few old animations look slightly stilted, but as you can see from our time with the game above, it gives it a unique feel that bridges the decades from 1999 to 2017.
It's worth noting that there are other game engines out there that could have performed the same task, but it's interesting to note that we've reached a point in technological development where new engines can help developers restore and republish their older games.
Outcast's unique look and feel is fueled by old-school tech limitations
Since a lot of Sauer's original work on Outcast was with the game's art direction and style, he was able to explain where the game's look came from, and how everything from the level design to environment choices had to do with the limited tech available at the time.
For instance, in the case of the "rice paddy field" that defines the game's first area, Sauer says that the limited ability of the so-called "voxel assets" they were using helped this grassy, staggered area feel possible. Since even making these 3D assets look good was a challenge for the day, Sauer and his colleagues were able to get creative and use them to create environments that suited their design, which in this case, was a staggered rice field.
In another case, when we commented on the maze-like structure of the area, he pointed out that the map editor developer Appeal had developed at the time required editors to look at the area from the top-down, like a 2D game. This gives the space a far more labyrinthine feel than many open-world games have today.
Compared to 1999, players are "better educated" about games, which makes marketing them "easier"
As we have noted many times on the Gamasautra Twitch channel, marketing games in 2017 is really hard. But how hard is it compared to 1999? From Sauer's perspective, it's a lot "easier" because according to him, the people who buy games are better educated and don't need to be taught about what a game "is."
That obviously doesn't wipe away the modern marketing challenges game developers face, but it's a reflection that helps see developers how far we've come, and dream of a future where modern sales challenges fall away like ones of old.
For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.