Bartosz Kmita is People Can Fly’s creative director and Outriders’ game director. He has been with the company since 2005 and has worked on games such as Bulletstorm and the Gears of War series.
Polish studio People Can Fly is no stranger to producing high-quality shooters, having developed critically acclaimed titles such as Gears of War: Judgment, Painkiller, and Bulletstorm. The company’s next game, Outriders, aims to be its most ambitious yet incorporating deep RPG mechanics, an expansive world, and high-mobility combat with an emphasis on special abilities. The game will also be among the first wave of next-gen titles releasing on both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. To see how the studio is putting this monumental title together, we interviewed People Can Fly Creative Director Bartek Kmita.
He shares how the team was inspired by Diablo and speaks to how they aspired to create an RPG shooter that offers tons of loot and deep customizations options. The creative director also elaborates on how they implemented the game’s dynamic difficulty system and built Outriders' large, dangerous, and realistic-looking world.
Having developed other shooters like Bulletstorm, Gears of War: Judgment, and Painkiller, what were your goals in creating a new IP, and how might have those experiences helped shape Outriders?
Creative Director Bartek Kmita: After a few years working with Epic on great games like Gears of War: Judgment and Fortnite, we were itching to create something new, an original IP that was distinctly ours. When the opportunity came along, we jumped at it.
Outriders represents everything we have done as a studio in the past; it is, in many ways, the culmination of all our experiences working on many great shooters. It’s also the representation of our passion as gamers. We love shooters, obviously, but we’re also big fans of RPGs. We knew that we wanted to create a shooter since we have an expertise in that, but we also wanted to experiment with deep RPG mechanics as well, which is new for us.
We resolved to create the game we always wanted to play that no one has quite made yet, which is an intense and aggressive third-person shooter with a deep customization system that allows players to define their own characters and ways to play, all set in a dark and compelling sci-fi world.
Were there any other games that influenced Outriders?
Kmita: Outside of our own development experiences, we were really inspired by classic RPGs, like Diablo, for example, which is one of our favorite games.
Considering Outriders is a shooter with RPG mechanics, how did you approach balancing both genres?
Kmita: The key element there for us is to layer a strong element of choice and ownership for players on top of our great third-person shooter foundation. That’s the core element of an RPG, the ability to play the role you want. Being an RPG is not just a matter of dialogue choices and things like that; it’s about gameplay, giving players the ability to choose how their character plays and expresses themselves through their actions. What class they’re playing, what skills they’re using, what weapons and armor they equip, and how they weave all of those things into their own distinct answer to the gameplay challenges we lay out for them; that’s how we give players the ability to create their own identity within the game, really own their Outrider, and play the role they want.
Image courtesy of People Can Fly
People have praised Outriders' high-mobility combat system. Did you know from the beginning you wanted to make something fast-paced, or did that design come through an iterative process?
Kmita: That’s one of those things that came to us very early on. We knew that we wanted to make a third-person shooter because we were going to have loot in the game, and we wanted players to be able to see all their cool new gear at all times. However, with us having a history with the Gears of War franchise, we didn’t want to make something that’s basically a new Gears game with loot, we needed to switch things up and create our own flavor of third-person shooting. We wanted to create a new third-person shooter identity.
The answer to that identity was with our powers. Our goal was to create a combat system that’s a near 50/50 split between guns and powers. We aimed to make a shooter where you don’t necessarily spend all your time shooting, but rather wielding incredible powers that decimate your foes. That decision clarified a few things for the team. Outriders are super-powered gods of the battlefield, so it’s important that players feel powerful. That means that it shouldn’t really be as much of a cover shooter as there’s nothing powerful about being hunkered down behind cover for the majority of a game. Players need to be more mobile, move faster, be able to heal more easily, and have access to their powers more often.
There is cover in Outriders, but how or if they use it is up to the player and how they build their Outriders. For some players, it will be an essential part of staying alive; for others, it might not be important to them at all. We even considered getting rid of cover entirely at some points but decided to keep it in so players would have more options for how to approach the game as freedom is one of the key pillars that defines how you play.
With the game featuring over 100 customizable weapons, how did you approach designing them?
Kmita: We wanted our world to feel grounded, dark, and dirty. That means no shiny metals or space lasers on [our alien planet] Enoch.
In the story, there is a storm called the Anomaly that fries all electronic equipment and sends humanity back to analog technology. This means that the weapons and tech on-hand needed to be ballistic and look like they’re old, worn, and often rebuilt or repurposed from other things. That’s just to begin with, though. There’s a journey to all aspects of the game, as your Outrider becomes more powerful, more infused with the Anomaly, and granted more amazing powers. The weapons and armor follow that development arc as well and become crazier and more twisted as you progress, both in terms of appearance and abilities. By the end, you’ll be equipping these amazing Anomaly-infused weapons that have mods on them that can do incredible and surreal things.
Image courtesy of People Can Fly
With four distinct playable classes, including the Trickster, who can bend time, to the Pyromancer, who can manipulate fire, how did you approach designing and balancing characters?
Kmita: We always wanted to take that core third-person shooting experience and layer an element of powers on top of it.
To start, we didn’t even have classes. We had a very open-ended system where the player could choose their own power sets. In our minds, that was the dream; complete freedom to create whatever character you wanted. We realized from early playtests, however, that it was too overwhelming for new players, and it was not received nearly as well as we imagined. We needed to guide players a bit more.
That’s where our classes came from, a need to direct players, but at the same time, not restrain them either. We knew from the start that we didn’t want to go with a rigid approach to our classes, where you have to lock yourself into that tank, DPS, or healer role. All of our classes needed to be completely self-sufficient, feel very powerful, different, and fun.
Each class follows a basic archetype, like bruiser, assassin, mage, and ranger, but also allows for great variety in builds, weapons, and equipment, to let players either lean into the archetype or subvert it and build something totally different. For example, the Trickster is an archetypical assassin DPS class with lots of mobility and damage, but you could build them to be a tank if you would like, or you could focus on their time-manipulation powers and create a crowd-control, heavy support character.
In the end, we’re really happy with our classes. The guidance and direction for new players are there, but we also let advanced players get really creative with their builds.
Can you share how Outriders' dynamic difficulty system works and explain how you incorporated it into the game?
Kmita: In Outriders, you don’t pick a difficulty at the start of the game. You start at World Tier 1 and advance automatically to World Tier 2 after finishing the prologue. From there, the players have to unlock their World Tiers, which they can earn by being badass.
The World-Tier system is intended to make difficulty more of an aspirational challenge than something you just pick at the start of the campaign. We wanted players to be incentivized to always push themselves to try to reach that next tier, achieve that next challenge. Higher World Tiers give XP boosts as well as higher chances of Epic or Legendary loot. The higher your World Tier, the faster you will power up your Outrider.
Image courtesy of People Can Fly
Considering the game features up to three-player co-op, how do you balance difficulty when players drop in and out of the campaign?
Kmita: Outriders will dynamically adjust the number and health of enemies in the next wave that spawns whenever a player joins or drops from a session. The more players in a session, the more enemies appear. This applies to captains and mini-bosses as well.
In terms of World Tier, the co-op sessions will always be set to the World Tier that the host of the session is playing on. The host is able to adjust the World Tier to suit the party at any time, but can never go higher than what they have unlocked.
Outriders features numerous enemies and unique, large bosses. Can you explain how you designed them?
Kmita: We designed enemies around that core combat loop of mobility, aggression, and the utility that’s tied to powers. They all play into the faster, more aggressive nature of Outriders’ gameplay in some way, and pose gameplay challenges that encourage the use of powers in combat.
Enemy soldiers or smaller creatures will flank players and flush them out of cover if they stay there too long, and give players plenty of “encouragement” to stay on the move and stay aggressive. They also challenge players to master essential functions of their skills, such as managing your healing mechanics, interrupting enemy cast bars, or crowd controlling enemies that rush at you. Mastery of the finer points of combat is essential for survival on higher World Tiers.
The planet of Enoch has been hyper-evolved by the Anomaly, changing the creatures on the planet into ferocious monsters seemingly designed to destroy the colonizers. The large bosses are the epitome of that. These big spectacular encounters really show players what the hyper-evolved creatures on Enoch can do.
Image courtesy of People Can Fly
Can you elaborate on how the team designed the game's large, expansive world?
Kmita: We wanted the world of Outriders to be a massive, epic journey, but at the same time, we didn’t want to go down the open-world route. We wanted something a bit more directed and controlled to design our encounters to a greater degree, rather than work with more emergent gameplay.
We came up with what we call the hub-and-spoke structure, where large, winding levels are connected to each other, all surrounding a hub area. The world and the player journey is made up of several of these hubs and spokes, and they will travel between them in their Outriders truck.
There’s a lot of freedom for players to travel between the levels and the hubs at will. At the same time, players will follow a directed main narrative path and experience tightly designed enemy encounters as they progress through each level.
With numerous, diverse biomes, can you share how the team was able to deliver such beautiful, realistic-looking environments?
Kmita: We imagined the world of Enoch to be a dark and devastated place, where the promised Garden of Eden the colonists came for has been twisted and perverted into a nightmare. The ghost of that promise is there in everything you see, a painful reminder of what could have been, but now, it is all covered in mud and blood.
It’s a journey into madness, where both the player and the Outrider character is a stranger from a different place and time, and are both experiencing this journey together. The further you go, the darker and more disturbing the world around you becomes.
The world was designed with that in mind, a mix of basic and dirty human construction, natural beauty, and pure terror. As it is a journey across Enoch, we are able to take the player through a variety of locations that are all very distinct. That’s a lot of work since we’re not able to re-use as many environment assets as if we kept the locations more similar to each other.
Having worked on so many Unreal-based projects over the years, our team is very experienced at getting the most out of the Unreal toolset when we create our levels. We’ve smoothed out our workflows, and we’re faster than ever in getting new scenes set up now. So, while it was a huge scope and a massive challenge for our team, it was possible due to our experience working together coupled with our intimate knowledge of Unreal Engine.
Image courtesy of People Can Fly
How was the team able to incorporate the awesome particle effects found in Outriders?
Kmita: We spent a lot of time testing different variations for the effects in Outriders. It’s something we’re always kind of tweaking, to be honest. Just having some fire is great and functional, but we want to make sure that when a Pyromancer summons a pillar of fire, the player can really feel it. It’s really important to us that our powers and the impact of the moves not just look great, but feel great in action. Unreal has some great particle and lighting systems that help us do just that.
We’re at a place where the limit can be our own resources rather than the technical specs of the consoles, and that’s really exciting.
- Bartosz Kmita
Why was Unreal Engine a good fit for the game?
Kmita: It was the perfect fit for us. We never really even considered anything else, really. We’ve worked with the Unreal Engine for so long, and we learned a ton working with Epic. Our processes and workflows, and our ability to tweak the engine to our needs are so advanced at this point that it didn’t make sense to go with anything other than Unreal for Outriders. It would be like going from flying to walking again.
Unreal is an incredibly powerful game-development toolset, and the features of the engine, along with all our existing assets for the engine, offer us the ability to jump right into prototyping and developing designs very rapidly, rather than spending tons of time figuring out how to make something work on our own.
As a leading game-development studio, what makes you excited about the next-generation consoles?
Kmita: There’s a lot of great new features in the new consoles, but it’s the freedom as creators that is the most exciting.
We always start by creating a game unrestrained by technology, imagining all the possibilities for what we can do. Once we’ve figured out what we’d like to do, we then have to begin investigating what we actually can do.
That’s when you find the constraints and adjust your vision. Maybe there can only be so many enemies on screen, or you can’t do a scene at that scale in-engine, or that interaction won’t work, or your thick, moody volumetric fog actually can’t look as good as you want during gameplay without killing performance, and so on. We’re at a point now where we don’t know what the constraints are, or even if there’s going to be any constraints. We’re at a place where the limit can be our own resources rather than the technical specs of the consoles, and that’s really exciting.
Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Outriders?