Outriders: Anatomy of a Skill - the Technomancer’s Pain Launcher

Pain Launcher is one of the most spectacular skills in Outriders… but it started life as something quite different. Here’s the inside story behind that wonderful turret-y goodness.
By Duncan Heaney

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.

When you want to dish out a lot of damage in a wide area quickly, you won’t find many skills better than Pain Launcher.

This aptly-named power is one of the most purely destructive in the game, perfect for damaging groups of enemies and interrupting bosses. When activated, the Technomancer drops a mortar on the battlefield, which launches a spread of explosive missiles in a wide line ahead of them.

It’s spectacular, effective… and started life as something quite different.

Outriders Pain Launcher

The origins of Pain Launcher

When we first started work on Outriders, there were no classes to choose from. Instead, the idea was that players would have maximum flexibility to create their own custom builds from the very start of the game - they’d get to mix and match skills and stats to create a character that matched their preferred playstyle.

One of the skills we implemented fairly early on was an airstrike - what would later turn into the Pain Launcher power. Back then, it wasn’t a ‘power’ at all - instead, you’d throw a smoke grenade and Jakub back in your convoy would launch a barrage of missiles at the marked location.

We spent a lot of time building this ability, even taking care to include little details such as the rockets always coming in from the direction that the convoy would be - even if you couldn’t see it. It worked pretty well… at least until we introduced the classes into the game.

Mtashed Technomancer showcase

Class warfare

The problem with giving new players complete freedom on how to build their character is that most will have no idea where to even begin. During testing we discovered that new players found it confusing and daunting to create a character, particularly since they had no knowledge of how the game works yet.

We realised we needed to educate them first, so we introduced the four classes as a way to introduce some possible playstyles - for example, the Devastator initially fills an up-close tank role, while the Technomancer focuses on ranged and support skills.

The flexible customisation is still there, but now it’s introduced when players have a solid understanding of the gameplay.

This new system made for a better game, but it also had a knock-on effect on some of our skills, including the air-strike. For one thing, it made it far less exciting.

Outriders screenshot

The power of lore

Outriders is all about letting players do really cool stuff. In a game where Pyromancers can summon literal volcanos, Tricksters can freeze enemies in time and Devastators can launch themselves across the battlefield, would a relatively normal air strike feel particularly special?

We all felt that it wasn’t a particularly inspiring skill. It worked well, and we could even make it look great, but it wouldn’t make you feel powerful. That’s partly because you weren’t doing it - Jakub was, back in the truck.

It also didn’t really fit the lore we had created. The central idea behind Outriders is that the characters are altered by a mysterious anomaly, so all powers should be a direct result of that change. As a result, we put the airstrike aside and focused on creating other skills that better suited the world that we had created.

Even so, the idea remained in our minds. When we came up with the idea of the Technomancer - an Outrider who can turn scrap into weapons on the battlefield - we saw an opportunity to bring it back in a new form.

Creating Pain Launcher

Of course, it wasn’t just a case of taking the skill we had previously developed and sticking a new name on it. Pain Launcher went through some fairly dramatic changes over the course of the development process.

While the basic concept of a missile strike area of effect attack remained, almost every element of it changed - so much so that it essentially became something completely different.

For example, the first Technomancer-specific version of the power worked very similarly to the original air strike - you marked a point and it was blanketed in missiles. The problem was, while it was fine in pure gameplay terms, it didn’t feel very satisfying to use.

We realised that the problem was that it was too simple and predictable… and predictability is boring. Forced back to the drawing board, we asked ourselves: what can we do to make this skill this feel more rewarding?

What goes up…

Our solution was to make players also responsible for the positioning of the missile launcher construct itself. This gave the player a whole new range of strategic possibilities.

For example, while the original air strike had rockets coming down on a location, we made Pain Launcher have them go up first. This simple change, combined with the ability to manually position the construct, greatly expanded the skill’s utility.

For example, if you drop it right next to a large boss, the rockets may hit it on their upwards trajectory for insane amounts of damage. Alternatively, you can try to set the construct to materialise in front of a group of foes so that it gets them all in the same attack.

We also played with the delay between deploying the construct and the rockets going out, to add an element of timing. All this made the skill trickier to use, but also far more rewarding. When you use Pain Launcher well, it feels great because you earned it.

Targeted testing

Another element that changed from the original concept was how the missiles landed. We experimented with at least five different firing patterns to find one that best fit the free-flowing gameplay we were going for.

For example, in one test we tried out a mortar that sent all the rockets to the same place. Another sent all the rockets flying out at exactly the same time in a massive storm of missiles.

Both these approaches had some merit, and could be very satisfying, but they also felt like a glorified rocket launcher - something we’ve seen in shooters many times.

In another build, Pain Launcher dropped rockets at random in a wide area. The damage was massive, but the effect was random - sometimes it could kill a boss, other times you hit nothing at all. We all agreed it was a little too unpredictable.

In the final version, you place the turret and the rockets fire forwards, with a wide spread and in a straight line. After all our tests, this is the pattern that felt best - you can place it properly and achieve tons of damage, but there’s also scope to get it wrong.

That margin for error is important because it means that when the player gets it right, they really know it. That’s a big part of why it feels so good to use.

As you can see, Pain Launcher was a skill that took a lot of time and thought to get right.

The original airstrike was one of the very first skills we made for Outriders, and Pain Launcher was one of the last we finished. Throughout much of the game’s development, we weren’t even sure whether it would have a place in the final product.

We felt more confident as we iterated on it and made it more skill-based to use - and once our incredibly talented artists showed us how cool it could look, with the construct materialising and lots of explosions, we were convinced it was a worthy addition to the game.

Now it’s among my favorite powers in the game. It may have changed almost completely from the original implementation, but it’s also more effective, flexible and far more fun to use.

You can judge Pain Launcher for yourselves in the final game - out now for PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Steam and the Epic Games Store.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these deep dives into some of the powers of Outriders. If you’d like the inside story on some of the others, check out the full series here:

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