First posted on 08 December 1999. Last updated on 21 October 2008.
Douglas Freese is the game designer and programmer of Outcast. Developed by Appeal, Outcast is a unique adventure game that mixes action, adventure, strategy, and role-playing elements. Over 4 years in development, Outcast's distinctive design and technology allow for more dynamic gameplay and interactivity between the player and game characters. In this exclusive interview, Freese talks about the production of Outcast and what holds in the future for this series.
- Can you tell us your position at Appeal and your role in the production of Outcast?
- My position at Appeal was programmer/designer. As far as my role in the production is concerned, I began programming camera routines and the in-game movie engine. Towards the end, Appeal allowed me to create the quests, story, all the dialogs and movies.
- Was Outcast the first game you worked on? If so, what were your previous programming experiences? If not, how many and what games have you been involved previously?
- I'd created a few student projects at Digipen, the computer game college I graduated from, but working for Appeal on Outcast was my first game job.
- Can you tell us how the idea for Outcast was initially developed? When did you start working on it?
- The three founders of Appeal, (Yann Robert, Franck Sauer and Yves Grolet) got tired of playing adventure games that were linear in nature. To be a true adventure, they believed the player should be able to go about accomplishing tasks whenever they desired. I was hired two years after the project had started and then worked the additional two years it took to complete Outcast.
- Outcast was in development for over 4 years. Usually, critics think that when a company works on a game that long, the end product often becomes an unfocused mess. Why did it take Appeal that long to finish the game?
- Well, to be frank, we were done with the game a year before we released it. We just felt it was so cool that we didn't want to release it until we used it to impress all our friends and pick up dates.
Honestly, it took Appeal a long time because they were a new company and most of the workers there were first-timers, like myself. A lot of work hit the cutting room floor and that will always extend a project, so I'm told.
- Some gamers are disappointed that the game does not support 3D hardware acceleration. What did Appeal choose a software only graphic engine to power Outcast?
- Four years ago, 3D cards were not as abundant as they are now. Appeal understood that graphics were going to need to be more vibrant and dynamic in the future, so they went a route that used voxels. Since 3D cards aren't voxel friendly (yet), the time it would have taken to just adapt Outcast's polygon engine to the 3D cards of today just wasn't available to us.
- Can you tell us what are the advantages of using voxels instead of polygons in rendering Outcast's graphics?
- Voxels allowed Appeal to design intricate outdoor settings that don't have that flat, planar look of most 3D games. After staring at voxels for two years, I can say that almost all games today strike me as cold and sterile. That's why most levels in 3D games are in factories and hallways, big flat planes are abundant there.
- Some critics whined about the silliness of the lead hero's name "Cutter Slade"? Who chose this name and why was this name chosen?
- One word answers all: Marketing.
- Outcast features strong character roles and great character interactions. What gave you or Appeal the ideas to create these characters? Are they based on people from real life or are they entirely fictional?
- They're all from my mind, I'm sorry to say. Sitting back and examining each of the characters, I'm sure I could point to a bully at school or an episode of Fat Albert that really moved me. As far as Cutter is concerned, I had an easy time with his dialog because we both were in alien lands (him Adelpha, me Belgium) and we both had something to accomplish. Many of my events from everyday life in Belgium helped shape the characters.
- Each of the 6 regions in Outcast features a unique landscape. Who were responsible for creating these landscapes? Are they based on real places?
- The art department, headed by Franck Sauer, laid out some great levels, I'll give them that. But I was not there for that part of the project, for when I arrived in Belgium, the levels were %95 done. We did a few touches here and there, but it was all the artists vision. I do believe they took some inspiration from local earth locations, but this was done to allow fast recognition of certain world elements.
- Outcast runs on only 3 screen resolutions, up to 512x384—relatively low compared to the standard in other 3D games. What were the reasons for this limitation?
- If I remember correctly, it's because the game engine couldn't perform fast enough at the higher levels. Voxels are the reason on that, I believe.
- Can you summarize the technological breakthroughs in programming Outcast, such as motion modeling and GAIA?
- On that, I'd have to refer you to Appeal themselves. I rarely got outside the realm of story, movies and dialog.
- Outcast has been hailed as an evolutionary product in the adventure genre by combining action with traditional adventure elements. Can you tell us your thoughts on the role of mixed genre, such as action/adventure, in the future of adventure games?
- Any future attempts at the genre of action/adventure I hope will take some cues from Outcast and include a dynamic storyline. To me, that's the most intregal part of trying to make a game like Outcast. Action is great and should not be overlooked, but when the action comes, the reason for it as laid out by the story gives it more tension.
- Are you an adventure gamer? If so, what are your favorite adventure games?
- I play almost all types of games (as any game designer should, I feel). LucasArts games were a large part of my college days, I'll admit, as were some of the Sierra titles (Kings Quest, Space Quest). Lesuire Suit Larry was a particular fav (Dewey Cheatem and Howe, you gotta love that!).
- Do you think that the adventure genre is dying or dead? If so, why? If not, what and how long do you think it will take for the adventure genre to be revived?
- It's on the respirator, that's for sure. There's so much intense action out there that players are edgy about sitting in front of a computer, reading or listening to lots of dialog. In our short attention span society, the products that give us the quickest fixes are the ones that will get the business. That's why wrestling is some of the most watched shows on cable now, it's why trailers show all the explosions in the movie and it's why FPS's dropped developement on single player storylines.
Do I see a future for the genre? I'm not sure. The market dictates what's needed or not. If the audience wants to see more games like Outcast, their dollars will cast that vote. One thing is for sure, if a game makes big dollars doing adventure, others will follow.
- What is the future for Outcast? Will there be an Outcast 2? If so, what features will Appeal plan to implement in Outcast 2?
- When I left Appeal after Outcast was finished, plans were in the work for the story on Outcast 2. Since then, I've seen posting that say the same thing: Cutter will return to Adelpha, but not the Adelpha you'll remember from the game. As for the features, I think that's going to depend on which platform they design the game around.