Please note, this page contains some spoilers for Outer Wilds
If you’d like to experience this (rather excellent) game without knowing anything beforehand, we recommend you go play it first, then come back!
We love Outer Wilds.
At it’s heart, it’s a creative and impressive physics simulation, wrapped around an adventure mystery game that spans an entire solar system.
As part of our “What If” series, we here at Etch Play like to imagine how the core experiences of games can be made into expanded experiences with companion apps, websites, and marketing campaigns.
With that in mind, allow me to introduce something hypothetical that we've put together. Settle by the campfire, hit the unmute button up there to really help set the scene, and read on...
As anyone who has played Outer Wilds will know, the Ship Log is a vital asset on your journey, because it maintains clues for you, even after you die. With every death in the game (and they are numerous), the entire solar system is set back 22 minutes, and you set out again to try and uncover more of the mystery. What the Ship Log provides, is a small piece of permanence that makes forward progress manageable.
It has two primary functions: First, the rumour mode, which is regularly updated when you uncover new locations, and objects in the game world that might indicate where you need to go next.
Secondly, it has a map mode, which works in synergy with the rumour mode in that it allows you to see the planet that the clue has originated from, and set a HUD (Heads Up Display) marker that helps you navigate back to the location to do more research.
When playing the game, I find myself checking the Ship Log at the start of every loop in time, to mull over the clues I have at my disposal, and to plan my next journey. What if there was a way to extend this experience? What if I could be thinking about the mystery even when I’m away from my console or PC?
The Remote Ship Log Tool (or RSLT) would be a companion web app, available for free online, that aims to do exactly that.
Setting it up would be easy – you’d enter a code into the app, displayed on screen in the game on the Ship Log computer. This unique identifier sets up a sync, which means that from then on, your Ship Log in game and the one on your phone are kept up to date with each other. A seamless experience where uncovering a new location in the game, is immediately reflected on the app (okay, maybe a slight delay while the information gets sent over the internet, but you know what I mean).
The Ship Log information is then entirely at your disposal, and easily navigable on a mobile device. Even while you’re actively playing, the RSLT becomes a second screen experience, allowing you to quickly review clues on your phone (and even see new ones you’ve just unlocked) while you’re playing, without having to go back to your ship and waste precious looped time.
And, when you’re not playing, why should you have to stop pondering the mysteries of the Nomai? Whether you’re commuting, hiding in the kitchen at a party, or just hanging out on your phone over lunch – you can jump onto your RSLT at any time and review the available rumours. Maybe if you review your rumours again, you’ll realise something you’ve been missing…
The RSLT would also bring the map mode from the Ship Log into the palm of your hand, allowing you to plot routes to mysterious worlds and see the areas that your rumours correspond to.
In addition to being able to refresh your memory of the solar system’s geography with ease when you’re not in your ship, the RSLT map functionality would also allow you to set HUD markers for key locations. Pick one in the app, and see it automatically reflected in game.
You’d be able to do this even when you’re not playing, so that when you start the next loop, you can get off to a flying start.
In terms of added functionality, the RSLT is also equipped with the ability to accept user input from your phone’s keyboard. Use it to make notes against specific locations to remind yourself of any tips and tricks for survival, or write your theories and next steps down against individual rumours.
Once written, your notes will stick around in the app until you delete them, and show up on the in-game ship log too. So when you’ve had that brilliant idea on what to try next in your sleep at 2am, you can jot it down into your RSLT and it’ll be right there waiting for you when you next wake up on Timber Hearth.
We’ve all been there. You’re exploring, and you decide to take a brief space-walk, only to realise that you’ve drifted a little bit too far away from your ship. Maybe it fell into a black hole. Or the Sun. Ships can do that.
If you’re lucky, you’ve found somewhere to explore which has enough oxygen to keep you alive until the next supernova, which means you’re not done yet. But to make good progress, sometimes you need the Ship Log to help make sense of what you’re seeing. The beauty of the RSLT is that it reduces your dependency on your beloved spacecraft and means you can still make progress on this run, even if you can’t necessarily fly anywhere. Use the RSLT to make the most of this loop, then find somewhere with a good view.
Of course, the RSLT is only theoretical at this point. But it’s easy to imagine the other functions it could have, if it were invented. An encyclopaedia which recaps some of the information in the Observatory? Sure! A live photo feed from your Scout, allowing you to pan around and look for pesky ghost matter? Why not! An audio player that plays sweet solemn banjo recordings from Riebeck? That’s music to my ears.
Outer Wilds is an exceptional game, packed to the brim with joyous sci-fi concepts. The RSLT, in all it’s hypothetical glory, brings some of that imagination just a little bit closer to home, out of the game itself and into our world. We think that’s a mission worth launching.
The Remote Ship Log Tool is part of Etch Play’s “What If” series, where we imagine extending game experiences with marketing ideas, companion apps, websites and services. If you'd like to chat to us about how our thinking can help you to maximise player engagement, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org