Outriders: Anatomy of a Skill - the Devastator’s Gravity LeapGetting Gravity Leap to work wasn’t a problem for the Outriders team. Getting Outriders to work with Gravity Leap… well, that was a different story…
Hi, this is Piotr Nowakowski, Lead Game Designer for Outriders.
Every individual power in Outriders is the result of hours and hours of development, testing, and refinement. From the combat team, to the artists, everyone on the team has played a role in helping these awesome abilities come to life.
To give you a sense of just how much effort goes into creating the gameplay of Outriders, I thought it would be interesting to look at the story of single power from each class - from conception through to the final game - and what exactly went into making them.
But not every skill went through so dramatic a change - some remained almost identical to how they were originally conceived. The Devastator’s Gravity Leap was one of those skills.
But that didn’t mean it didn’t cause us some headaches - particularly when it came to our level design.
What does Gravity Leap do?
For those of you who haven’t tried it yet, Gravity Leap launches a Devastator up into the air, where they can hover for a short time. They can then choose a landing point to smash down onto like a meteor, damaging everything around them. It’s an awesome skill for both combat and traversal - it gets you into the heart of the action in seconds, which is where a Devastator thrives.
Developing this skill’s functionality took a tremendous amount of iteration - constantly tweaking it to find the sweet spot where it just feels awesome - but compared to some of the others, it was smooth sailing.
What was more challenging - and something I think we underestimated early on - is how dramatic the impact on level design would be.
A new perspective
The defining characteristic of Gravity Leap is that it launches players up into the air… and lets them stay there. As a result, those players get a different perspective than the rest of the classes, who tend to keep their feet planted firmly on land.
This birds-eye view caused some problems early on - players would see parts of the level we didn’t necessarily want them to, and even try to access areas that they shouldn’t be able to reach yet.
As a result, we had to clearly define how high Gravity Leap should be able to go. We wanted the player to get a good view of the battlefield, not so high that the specific visuals in the level were damaged or exposed.
In addition, we intended the power to be a mid-range ability. The higher we raised the player, the further they could go when they came down to earth, so we had to find the right balance between the skill offering great mobility, but not too much.
for our level designers, We knew from the start that this incredible range of movement could cause some problems, but it turned out to be arguably the single biggest element they had to consider when creating environments.
Here’s quite a simple and obvious example: roofs. It would be no good if players had to scrape the ceiling when they used Gravity Leap.
Even so, we wanted to ensure we had a wide variety of different locations, from wide open areas to cramped interiors - this would provide visual diversity to the game and make the setting of Enoch feel more organic and believable.
One thing we considered early on was restricting certain skills in certain areas. If, for example, you were inside a building, players would be unable to use Gravity Leap, and encouraged to swap it out for a different power.
But this felt fundamentally opposed to the power fantasy at the heart of the game - giving players access to amazing abilities and letting them use them when and how they want. Taking powers away from the player made the game more restrictive and less fun - it would be a mistake.
The solution, as it so often is, was to just roll up our sleeves and make it work. We manually adjusted every environment in the game, making sure that there was enough room for the Gravity Leaping Devastator to move in the air. We had to work out the area volumes, and measurements for every space, and make continuous adjustments to ensure they allowed the skill to work as intended.
Not only did we have to ensure that Gravity Leap had room to manoeuvre, but we also had to make sure there was enough space for the camera to function too.
A cramped area, overhead object or tight corner all had potential to break our camera, making it incredibly difficult for the player to see anything. This impacted their ability to control their character, identify landing zones and keep track of enemies.
Another big challenge we faced was Gravity Leap kept ruining the pacing of the game. As you explore, there are ‘triggers’ that players cross that make events happen - such as enemies spawning.
With Gravity Leap, we discovered that players could bypass these triggers entirely, and in doing so completely ruin the carefully considered flow of the game!
Even within combat encounters themselves, Gravity Leap caused pacing problems early on. Let’s take a basic combat scenario as an example. You enter an area, and there’s a sniper straight ahead of you. While they’re taking pot-shots, you also have to deal with the up-close threat of Berserkers and the mid-range Riflemen.
This setup was constructed to be tense and tactical, requiring clever use of powers to make your way through the level and deal with the sniper. But with Gravity Leap, players could just leap into the sky and take down the distant threat right at the start.
One the one hand, this hurt our intended flow - essentially ‘breaking’ the encounter. On the other hand, it was incredibly empowering and satisfying - exactly what Outriders is meant to feel like. We knew it had to stay.
But how could we keep this flexibility and combat exciting at the same time? The solution was - you guessed it - hard work.
Every combat encounter in every level had to be hand-tuned and tested over and over again to ensure that the battle was challenging regardless of which targets the player went for first.
Every area we build has to survive the ‘Devastator test’. We constantly test and refine both the level layouts and combat encounters to ensure they can accommodate the height and movement range of Gravity Leap.
If we find that a part of the stage is, for example, causing camera problems or the flow of combat doesn’t feel right, we make adjustments over and over until it’s as good as it can be.
Of course, we don’t just do these tests for Gravity Leap. In the final game, there are quite a few skills that let players zip around the battlefield, such as the Trickster’s Hunt the Prey. All these skills undergo similar tests within the areas to ensure the level supports their use without issue.
But none of those skills give players quite the range of movement and flexibility that Gravity Leap does - so when we got a stage and that skill working together well, it felt just great.
I’m happy with how Gravity Leap works in the final game. It looks great, it feels great and it’s really satisfying to use - a testament to the incredible work the team put into both it and the level designs.
You can judge for yourself in the full game, available now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Steam and the Epic Games Store.
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