‘Outer Wilds’ Is a Story About Hope Wrapped in an Existential Crisis

Spoilers for Outer Wilds below!

Outer Wilds came out in 2019, a year that was chaotic and terrifying for a lot of folks. And yet, it was a full of hope, telling a story about community, crisis, and coming to terms with finality. A game where you explore a clockwork solar system might not seem like the best structure to deliver a narrative, but the folks at Mobius Digital managed to build a world that felt alive and full of history, even as it dies time and time again. Join Austin, Patrick, and Cado as they discuss their time exploring the solar system, having existential crises, and finding hope in the future. You can listen to the full episode below.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qjdwmw/outer-wilds-is-a-story-about-hope-wrapped-in-an-existential-crisis
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Oh well, there’s no open tunnel into this comet, I can’t get in before it dunks into the sun, but hey can’t be that important I’ll just finish the game” - me before listening to this podcast.

Guess I didn’t think too hard about the death of the Nomai while playing, but the explanation makes a lot of sense and makes the ghost matter feel way less out of place.
(I did notice that it crashes into the sun right before the supernova though and thought that couldn’t be a coincidence)

Anyway I only ended up looking up two things in my playthrough: one, the trick behind Ash Twin, not a bug in my game, a bug in my logic, (still don’t understand why doing the trick you do supposedly makes the warp work), and the whole thing about Giant’s Deep. My underwater phobia is so intense that I did not want to spend a second longer than I needed to on that panic inducing thing. I nearly stopped playing but I’m glad I pushed through.

A lot of this game for me was spent overthinking, and ignoring the most obvious directions, I don’t even think I explored the crater on Timber Hearth until late in the game even though Dark Bramble was the first thing I went to.

Just wanted to echo how damn scary this game is, it’s, as they mentioned, filled with so many phobias.

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I truly loved this game, from the mechanics to the music. It’s in my top ten, for sure. However. The end of this game made me sad more than hopeful. My whole life I’ve been the “oh we can fix it and save everyone” kind of guy, and the fact that that doesn’t happen in this game bummed me out. I recently had a full blown melt down recently, regarding death, afterlife, the end, etc. I finished this game right before watching the series finale of The Good Place, and that show absolutely devastated me. The show ends with the characters in The Good Place, and at the end of their time there they can decide to leave the place and have their matter returned to the universe. The thought of nothingness sent me in to a spiral, and I cried harder than I’ve cried at a TV show in a long time. Something about the finality of things really affects me. I’m not a religious person, so I don’t know what comes next, if anything. The thought of the end, of nothingness, terrifies me. And climate change certainly isn’t helping.

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I had basically the same experience as Cado when it came to the ending sequence. And unlike him, I wasn’t watching the end credits because I had a podcast to do, I was just done. I really wish I loved this game. I wish I had the patience to be like Austin and read every line of text and just appreciate the mystery of the world and the sheer sublime power of it all.

But I found almost everything about this game irritating. I’m with that one email writer who couldn’t get the ship to work. But more than that, I needed a walkthrough to even get started. I couldn’t figure out anything with this game. Then I wound up doing a lot of things out of sequence. I spent like an hour in Brittle Hollow trying to get through an obnoxious platforming section, crashing my ship to instant death half the time, or hopelessly ping-ponging around planets until I realized way too late what the little arrows meant, only to find in the room a solution to a puzzle I solved hours ago. (And I still don’t know how the Auto-Pilot works.)

Or say, the Comet, where I solved the “door”, only to die inside, then crash and die six times trying to get back there. I also didn’t realize time stopped while reading text, so I rushed through all the reading in a hurry and totally didn’t get any of story nuance. I just found the whole thing cold and pretty off-putting.

So much of this game would have been far more tolerable with an Ocarina of Time, like you had in Majora’s Mask. Let me speed up or slow down the gears of this clockworld. Or, just let me fucking Quick Save.

I respect the hell out of this game, it’s a great game, it’s amazing. But I’m staring at the outside, increasingly bitter I couldn’t have the experience everybody else seems to have had. Mine was miserable.

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I got stuck on the Brittle Hollow tower as well and I absolutely tried to fly the ship in there and platform my way through it before discovering the teleporter solution.

The other place I was stumped was the Quantum Moon. I was overthinking it because I thought the shuttle you can recall in Brittle Hollow was like, programmed to fly there, so I was trying to use my probe to hold the moon over Brittle Hollow while being inside the shuttle and launching it into space and it was a whole thing.

I feel like this might be a game I play every year. I don’t think I’ll ever really forget it and be able to have that joy of discovery again, but maybe I don’t need that.

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I feel like I didn’t learn this until reading comments on the GB GOTY thread, which i looked into after listening to the spoilercast yesterday. So much of this game operates as if everything is progressing on an atomic clock, it doesn’t feel like there’s a reason to expect this pause.

I had credits roll in a way incredibly similar to Day[9]'s first run, I remember listening to GB GOTY and understanding Jeff more than the rest of the crew (i think I didn’t look back at the map after the first time when it was empty myself), and I totally get the guy going for the fly off into nothing as a reasonable cannon ending.

Honestly, I think I should’ve remembered this old take on spoilers, and ignored Austin on this one. I would have enjoyed it more if I let enough more be spoiled so I could understand enough more about the gameplay that I understood what it really meant, as I may have had a better experience instead of wanting to just let this game end…

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While Dr. Walker’s Moses analogy is point on, I don’t think Ten Commendants and Prince of Egypt are the right big screen representaton of the point, since neither got to the time when Heberws entered their Promised Land. The latter does not ever feature Joshua, the leader of Hebrews’ campaign to take over Canaan.
The closest I have seen is a science fictional one, 2017’s War For the Planet of the Apes.

Ceasar died as the rest of apes entered their land as seen in the original Planet of the Apes. There is also a mixture of Passover’s origin and the Miracle of Red Sea: what is essentially the rest of human militray force got wiped by an avalanche while the apes survived by climbing up tall trees.

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Does anybody have a video of the alternate ways of getting to the Black Hole Forge (jumping on the rising Forge, flinging your ship up there and somehow sticking, and platforming through the broken ladder segments)? I’m really impressed that those solutions exist.

They remind me of a similar video I’ve seen where somebody entered the Tower of Quantumn Knowledge by jumping off the Crossroads and orbiting precisely around the black hole to fling themselves into the otherwise inaccessible part before it fell.

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I can’t believe how much just hearing the music brought me back to this game.

The only thing I had to look up during my playthrough was how to get to the Ash Twin Project. I didn’t regret it at all, because as soon as I read the solution I knew I never would have figured it out on my own.

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For some reason I explored very little of the Hanging City, which is probably why I struggled for so long to figure out the Giant’s Deep secret.

I really wish there were more games like this, which prompted a sense of genuine curiosity about the world around you, and was willing to forgo the sorts of macro-level systems that plague so many other games and prevent you from really settling into any sense of immersion.

It’s right up there with Undertale in being a showpiece for what games are capable of doing when they’re willing to forgo instant gratification design values.

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In response to the title and the one email in the podcast that asked whether the ending was hopeful or depressing, I wanted to add on to what they discussed in the podcast to say that I think the fact that the game shows you what happens after the end of the universe is important in of itself, even if it’s not diegetic.

Because you, the player, witness what happens after all the characters in game are long gone. I think that matters and was intentional, the game doesn’t end on a blank screen and a question mark so to speak. If the game is stating a thesis that observation and memory equal existence, then you seeing the ending and seeing what comes after the end precludes that what you saw was real and mattered.

In a lot of ways this is similar to Undertale for me, in that it posits the characters live on in your mind even if there is no more “game” to experience. I personally loved it and found it beautiful and hopeful, while simultaneously melancholy and nostalgic. I 100% cried at the end, the emotions are certainly many and overwhelming. I can totally understand someone reading a sadder interpretation out of that, but that’s what I took away at least, similar to what the gang felt in their takes.

Also on a more mechanical note the probe always fires in a different direction when you start a loop because it’s designed that way, and it’s not finding the Eye every time. Writings you find say it’s firing randomly in an attempt to find the eye, and only when you get to the Probe Tracking Module do you discover that it has been firing for thousands of cycles and found the Eye on like the 9300th launch or so, and is still launching randomly because no one has turned it off, despite you being on a much later cycle at this point.

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That song brings me back! I loved how Outer Wilds sparingly used music to punctuate moments in between all the longer stretches of solitude.

I definitely also spent some time trying to platform up that broken elevator to Black Hole Forge. but I gave up after a while. And I looked up the Ash Twin thing.

With Dark Bramble: I went through with the jetpack. Did anyone else do that? Going through with the ship seemed really hard when I tried it, and I was looking for a lateral solution because so many of the other puzzles had them. I think the Anglerfish game clues mentioned the fish ignoring smaller beings, which was why I tried it.

The auto-pilot I think would’ve helped a lot in not crashing so much, and I can see why that’d be frustrating. There are definitely some spots where the game could’ve been smoother and more clued in, though the scale of what they achieved is still amazing. They seem to have kept releasing patches which I think try to address some stuff. I’ve thought about the question of whether making Outer Wilds more directed might change something fundamental, but then the trade-off could be more people would enjoy it. Too bad you didn’t like it, I had a bit of that outside-looking-in feeling with DOOM 2016 (just felt noisy and constant).

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I do like the way you’re discussing possible accessibility options and improvements, with the general idea being “How could a game like this be accessible to more people, and not turn them, off because they get frustrated with the mechanics or difficulty?”

Many years ago, I sent a similar question to the Gamers With Jobs podcast, albeit probably not nearly as well formulated as the one you got. It was read on the podcast, but the answers were more along the lines of ‘games are too handhold-y already’ and basically ‘get good or don’t play it’ (I paraphrase, it was a long time ago and I would be hard-pressed to find the episode and re-listen). I do remember that I really didn’t much appreciate the way the question was handled at the time. In contrast to that, I really like the ideas and thoughts you guys had. it’s not the first time I’ve heard you discuss accessibility this way, and it’s one of the many reasons that make me keep listening to Waypoint Radio. Thank you.

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The podcast was a really nice way for me to remember everything I loved about the game. To think that a game I didn’t even play ended up at the top of my GOTY list and cracked at least my top 10 of all time.

I watched youtuber SB play through the entire thing, and can heartily recommend him if people would like to re-experience the game or haven’t yet seen it all. I think watching someone very earnestly go through the game and be as intrigued and awed by the whole spectacle as is appropriate is a very competent stand-in for actually playing yourself.

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Only just finished it, but it’s bloody marvellous, eh?

Felt like an adventure game and an immersive sim rolled into one.

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Thinking on it, for me flying the spaceship came easy because I’m used to flight and space sims that are trying to model newtonian physics. You’d have to have been really into Freelancer and Privateer clones to experience that I suppose. There are still a few out there, but they’ve never been mainstream. Otherwise you’d need to be into Kerbal Space Program.

Shoutouts also to Gravitron for teaching me about managing thrust to maintain controlled altitude and direction. It’s been a while but those games are like flappy bird. Hard as hell but weirdly satisfying.

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It did take me a bit to get used to the whole relative velocity thing, and learning the need to decelerate really early. I definitely overshot planets a lot starting out, and that’s where the autopilot helped.

Freelancer was awesome! I think it’s the only space sim(?) I’ve played. My recollection of it was that the flying was pretty straightforward A-to-B, though; I do remember learning to lead shots.

Also playing lunar lander-style web games (or even doing landings in Ace Combat) did mean I knew to feather the landings so I didn’t hit the ground too hard, and I wonder it that’s also a game literacy thing or if people know that intuitively.

Honestly, watching the Giant Bomb Project Kerbal Space Program videos was one of the most useful things I’ve ever done in terms of understanding the physics of planets and spaceflight. It made navigation in Outer Wilds feel relatively intuitive, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot while watching The Expanse.

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Anybody know if Will Smith’s play through is saved anywhere? I didn’t see it on his twitch history.

The emotional arc this game took me on as I uncovered the specifics of the Nomai’s projects for finding the Eye of the Universe is such a rare thing to find in video games. Going from being so angry at them for what I thought was their hubris causing a catastrophe to befall a future civilization, to being just completely devastated when I figured out what was really happening, to the grim determination to make sure that something would come out of the senseless brutality of the universe… I can’t think of any other game that’s really hit me on this level. Except maybe Link’s Awakening, but I was seven when I played that game so who knows.

Really though, the main thing I have to praise this game for is just absolutely sticking the landing on that ending. The ending could have been so corny but instead I’m barely holding it together trying not to bawl my eyes out as I’m trying to build a ladder so Solanum isn’t stranded out in the void and can come join our campfire jam band at the end of time and oh god I’m about to tear up just thinking about it

Also, I have to recommend if you’ve beaten the game and you know someone who you know would enjoy it and is going in fresh to sit down with them whether on a couch or over a livestream. Watching someone else discover things for the first time and just mess around in that solar system is a delight, not to mention all the things you’ll notice that you didn’t before! It’s absolutely WILD how often the Quantum Moon just shows up and I never noticed that dang thing until I knew what I was looking for. I was biting my tongue constantly because every time I saw it I got so excited!

Plus, watching my friend I saw a thing happen that was so mind-boggling that I had to spoil a mechanic for him because otherwise he’d have been so confused by it, that it may have set him back literal hours: when he fell into the black hole on Brittle Hollow for the first time on accident, you know, like you do, he somehow ended up in the middle of his freaking ship! Just, poof! Here you are in the middle of the ship, just like if you’d boarded it normally! The only thing I can guess is that his ship must have fallen in the black hole at the same time, because he had landed it on the other side of the planet, and yet there he was at the white hole station, inside of his ship!

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