Outer Wilds — Banner

UX critique: The Outer Wilds game [ 1/2]

Ankit Passi

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Introduction

After sitting in my Steam wishlist for, I guess a year now, I finally purchased one of the most underrated games — from my perspective, the Outer Wilds.

It is an action-adventure space exploration game developed by Mobius Digital, and it was actually released in 2019.
In my opinion, Outer Wilds = No Man’s Sky + Interstellar.

I mean, If you are a fan of Sci-Fi, Story-based games and prefer less action, but more exploring and finding of things — this is the game to play.
If this sounds like something you’ll enjoy, give it a try.

Purchase Outer Wilds, which is now available on PC through Steam and Epic Games

Outer Wilds — Guitar

The Focus

Okay, so the main focus of this Medium piece is to critique the UX of Outer Wilds.
I will be dividing this critique into multiple parts — and the main focus of this post is to critique of Starting screens.

I will be going sequentially, describing each aspect of the interface and then adding my personal thoughts and opinions.

Full Disclaimer: I am trying to understand the UX of Video Games and how UI is constructed to provide specific nuances to make up the entire game experience.
All of these will be my personal experience and opinions.

Played on PC using XBOX Controller

Splash Screen and Main Menu

Outer Wilds — Splash Screen 1

First Splash Screen

Starting with the first touch-points of the game — i.e., Splash screen, which answers the question of “What is the best way to play this game” (Controller, by the way)
It was a well-done screen; stops for an appropriate amount to read the text.

But I do feel that some minor animation can be involved in this screen to convey the themes of this game, just like the screens following it, which basically led us to our next section.

Outer Wilds — Splash screen 2

Second Splash Screen

The name of developers and publishers appearing in a constellation, with stars glittering in the background.

It just feels right and lovely, and it starts to feel like I am now pulling into a world with stars — unlike the previous screen.

Outer Wilds — Main Menu

Main Menu

The main menu of Outer Wilds is actually a continuation of the second splash screen.

As the name Constellation from previous screens is now dispersed. The Camera rotates to bottom to reveal the actual screen, which takes 4~5 seconds to show the screen fully and interactable.

The screen has 2 parts:

1. On the Left
We have the logo and the Buttons to navigate.

One of the hidden feature that I accidentally discovered about the logo itself was the word “Wilds” in the Outer Wilds stars to break off slowly with time, as to depict the instability of the vast wilderness of the Universe, which I feel another way of reinforcing the story narration to the Player even before the game actually starts.

2. On the Right,
We see the black circle at the bottom.

After 2 seconds, a campfire bursts out, with its own trail of smoke to reveal a small planet with lush Pines or Spruces, which itself is rotating. And after that the menu on left starting coming in one by one, revealing all the available options.

3. On the Bottom Left,
We see the version count of the game — which is actually both an insignificant but essential aspect to include in the Main UI.

From Thematic Perspective

Both of the aspects of this Main menu were very well-done. It is soothing, calming, tries to share what world we are going to explore here.

And the addition of its excellent score by Andrew Prahlow is just phenomenal.

Outer Wilds — Main menu animation

UX Problem

One of the main issues that I encountered with the Main menu is that I have to wait for the menu to load entirely as it reveals itself in a fade-in animation, which takes around 3 seconds to render completely and Screen is not interactable during the animation.

That makes around 5~6 seconds in total before I can jump back into my spaceship.

All the screens up to this point can be easily pushed forward/skipped by spamming button A on your Controller, but here I have to wait and then make my selection — always the first selected option of the Menu “Resume Expedition” because there is nothing much to do in the Main menu itself.

Another reason I feel this is a UX issue is that game is just tightly wrapped in a fantastic narrative.
Players like me, who had already spend 10–12 hours here, want to start the game as soon as possible, without any interruption, which is precisely what this part brings — An Interruption, which I think is pretty unwarranted for games like this.

I think it can be solved either by reducing the Animation duration or make the menu already selectable.
Still, I do want to hear the developer’s perspective on why this decision was made.

What I felt missing

I actually felt missing in the game is the name mention of Mobius Digital anywhere on the Main screen.

I actually like mentions of the developer as it gives me a hotlink to actually visit and explore the developer itself on their website., which is specially true for indie-developers who are releasing their first game.

Profile Name — Another thing that I feel missing that ties directly with their “Switch Profile” functionality are the lack of mention of — What profile currently is active.
I have to go into the switch profile section to see what is the currently active profile.

So for the games that actually handle profile management, it is actually pretty important to let players know upfront what is currently active profile.

Exploring the Actions

Game Loading Screen

Loading Screen

I was eager to look at it when I just started the game was; how is this game loading screen going to look like.

Every game has its own unique set of loading screens, from Free roam in Assassin’s Creed to Wind whooshing and text-helps in Witcher 3.

And to my surprise, Outer Wilds has one of the most simple but highly effective loading screens.
As you can see in the image above, it just replaces the Resume text with the “Loading….0%”, which is very much with the theme and character of this game — Simplicity and elegance.

But one UX issue that I did face was when the game starts loading, all the other buttons still look the same way. So I thought maybe I could still navigate to different options, but I can’t.

So in this scenario, it is essential to change the state of other buttons to render them “Disabled” to avoid visual confusion.

Outer Wilds — Option Screen

Options/Settings

The options menu was designed beautifully. And pretty accessible from both Controller and Keyboard.

One thing I actually like, just like seen in some big AAA games, the performance cost of each setting in the Graphics Tab with the help of subtext description on the bottom.

Tabs are easily navigatable using the Left and Right buttons on Controller and via Click on KB-M.

And there is still a third option to “Swap Tab” for the users who really don’t want to use either mentioned controls; this gives a much wide range of controls to use.

What I felt missing

The ability to instantly view the effect of your graphic settings will look like is pretty standard now and being implemented in almost all AAA games, but I felt amiss here.

To view what is the effect of your graphic settings is to just close the menu and see the impact on the Main menu Planet on the right; hence there is a to-fro between Main Menu and Graphics section.

So I feel that needs to be implemented in all modern games now. Even a picturesque show of the graphic effect — just like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, might be more than enough.

Outer Wilds — Profile Management

Switch Profile

Now I’ve talked about this feature in the Main Menu section, which is applicable here.

This screen has some design issues, as the text size of the name of the currently active profile is actually pretty small and not emphasized at all.

As all the emphasis is taken for the “Create New Profile” part.

Both are essential aspects of this section, emphasizing the Current one, as this information is not present anywhere else in the Main menu, with a secondary focus on the Create New Profile button.

Outer Wilds — Credits

View Credits

View credits are pretty standard implementation.

One feature that I rarely see in any game is the ability to increase the scrolling speed of the Credit text.
The reason for this is, some players, like me, are actively looking for some hidden post-credit content (thanks MCU). So that leaves us with 2 choice

  1. Sit back and wait for it, or
  2. Skip it entirely

There should be the implementation of changing scroll speed functionality in the Credit screen.

Outer Wilds — Quit Game Screen

Quit Game

The game has a single-click quit action, which is actually understandable because, during the gameplay, when a player quits, the game shows a confirmation prompt.

So having multiple confirmation prompts doesn’t make any sense because, in the main menu, there’s not much you can do.

Conclusion

Outer Wilds is a really great game, and currently, 15 hours in and still a lot is left to explore. And that wraps up the portions I wanted to cover in this post, and We’ve only started scratching the surface of this fantastic game.

In the next post, I’ll deep dive into the actual Interface and HUD elements of Player and share my thoughts on it.

This is my first article related to Game UI and its description. I plan to make a similar type of post for other games as well.

So, any feedback as to what can be better while making these types of Medium pieces will be much appreciated.

Purchase Outer Wilds, which is now available on PC through Steam and Epic Games

Follow my other work on www.ankitpassi.com

Ankit Passi

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Ankit Passi

Product Designer & Copywriter. I explore and write about anything that strikes interesting.