Outriders: Anatomy of a Skill - the Pyromancer’s EruptionIt started with a simple dream - broil enemies in a volcano of your own making. But making this a reality for Outriders players was no easy task…
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.
We’ll start with one of my personal favorite Pyromancer powers - Eruption!
What is Eruption?
Eruption is an area of effect attack that - as it sounds - makes a volcano appear among your enemies.
They’re first hit by the initial damage from the explosion, and then take additional damage over time from the lava that flies around.
Here’s what it looks like:
The original idea
Some ideas for skills came about because we had specific gameplay needs to address, others because we just thought it would be insanely cool. Eruption is one of the latter.
The idea came pretty naturally when we thought about the Pyromancer class - you’re a master of fire, heat ash, so what’s the ultimate realization of that? Let’s let players summon volcanoes directly under their enemies!
It sounds pretty awesome - and for the player it is. But for us, developing the Eruption skill was one of the most difficult challenges we faced.
It was problem after problem - every time we thought we’d resolved one issue, another one... well, erupted.
Free targeting fails
The first problem we faced was targeting. Being able to accurately deploy the skill is hugely important, especially in a game as fast-paced as Outriders. Our initial idea was that you’d be able to place the volcano anywhere you want on the battlefield. However, it was almost impossible to get the power into a place where it felt good.
For example, say you have enemies on the second floor of a building, or they’re hiding behind cover. In those cases, it was very hard to see the marker - sometimes it was out of sight, other times the player avatar obstructed the view.
To get around this, we played around with different camera options - pushing the view out further when you use it, or tracking the marker with the camera. Unfortunately, both also made longer and more cumbersome to deploy… and far less fun.
Faced with these failed experiments, we had to accept that a free-targeting volcano was not going to work.
A volcano… grenade?
Our next idea was to make the skill a grenade. The Pyromancer essentially ‘threw’ the Volcano at foes - it would arc and land where they lobbed it.
The problem with this approach was that players kept catching the volcano on cover, making it spawn in the wrong place - often right where they were standing! It didn’t feel precise and as such it wasn’t satisfying to use.
After all these tests, it became apparent that the best solution was to have the Volcano trigger directly on enemies. While the player has less direct control, it’s snappier and more precise when used in the heat of battle - and not overpowered because enemies can still get out of the way if it’s not used strategically.
What’s more, it supported the Pyromancer’s playstyle much better than anything else we stried - players have to mark and kill enemies with skills to heal, so being able to do so quickly is essential.
With the targeting issues solved, and the power working, it was time for the artists to go to work. We’d been working with prototypes and very basic visual effects, so now we had to make it look as good as it felt.
This was not without its own challenges. The art team built an absolutely beautiful volcano - lots of fire, fury and particle effects. The problem was that it did obscure the action somewhat - especially for other players.
The Pyromancer is a mid-range fighter, so they could stand back and watch the volcano erupt from a distance. For the Trickster and Devastator, who rely on getting up close, they would suddenly be immersed in a screen-filling burst of lava, making it hard to navigate or see their targets.
Even for the longer-range players, it ruined the action though. For example, when killed with Eruption, enemies explode and burn - it’s really satisfying to watch. But the excessive effects on the power meant you couldn’t see all the enemies bursting and limbs flying. As a result, it didn’t really sell the raw power of the ability - it detracted from the feel.
So the team had to tweak it and tone it down. But taking it too far ended up making the eruption feel small and weedy - not very volcano-like.
It took a tremendous amount of iteration, with information going back and forth between us and the art team to find the sweet spot - the perfect compromise if you will. Now, Eruptionlooks powerful, but not so much that it affects anyone else’s experience.
As you can see, Eruption wasn’t an easy to skill to develop - but we got there in the end. Now, it’s one of the hottest powers in the game, satisfying, strategic and really, really fun to use.
Developing powers is hard work - sometimes you face problem after problem, like with Volcano. Other times, they work too well - take Thermal Bomb, for example.
When we first implemented this skill it had a chain reaction effect - when enemies died, they explode and damage all around them. Unfortunately, that meant that when a Pyromancer entered a combat area, they were able to essentially take out the entire enemy force in one go, enemies bursting one after the other like big gory dominos.
For the Pyromancer player, this was amazing fun! For their poor teammates who now had nothing to do, it was… less so.
Overcoming challenges like this, however, is part of the fun of game development. Ultimately, all our hard work paid off because the powers in Outriders feel brutal, satisfying and snappy to use.
You can see what we mean when you play the game - available now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
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