How Outer Wilds Guides the Player

Have you ever wanted to explore the vast nothing of space? Neither have I. But Miranda played Outer Wilds and was very insistent on me playing it as well. After finishing it I can see why she wanted me to: it’s pretty good. But there was one aspect of Outer Wilds that stood out to me above all else: the rumor log.

For those who don’t already know what an Outer Wilds is: it is an open-ended exploration game where you explore a micro solar system. You play as a Hearthian – the only sentient species in the solar system. Their are traces of a long since lost race known as the Nomai scattered throughout the solar system and your objective is to explore while piecing together what happened to them.

Oh and there is also a time loop. You have twenty two minutes real time to explore before the Sun goes supernova and explodes wiping out all life. This is explained in game even if it’s a bit contrived, but it does help to give a story reason for why you keep getting brought back whenever you’re horribly killed in the expanses of space.

So, rumor log – what is that?

As you explore the known universe you’ll come across a lot of information. Scrolls and data banks of knowledge left behind by the Nomai are all over the solar system. In addition, you’ll make discoveries about how specific settlement on the planets relate to one another. Keeping track of this information in your head would be an inhuman task as there is far too much to remember.

That’s where the rumor log comes in. The rumor log tracks every discovery you make in a handy post-it note before pinning it to a board. This keeps all of the information you find centralized and also gives you reference material in the event that you forgot a piece of info.

Furthermore, the rumor log records how entities relates to one another. If you make a discovery that references a settlement you haven’t found that relationship is stored alongside whatever you just read. A connective line is drawn between the two entities, and the nature of their relationship is stored within the connection. As with before, this creates a useful database to reference in the event that you forget any information.

While what I’ve talked about up to this point is useful, none of it is exceptional. What truly exceptional about the rumor log is how it can be used for exploration. Outer Wilds doesn’t give you any direction in where or when to go places. It can be incredibly daunting to explore so much with no direction, but your rumor log maps out unknown entities that you can investigate further. Instead of bumbling around blindly, players can move to the next point of interest that appeared following their latest discovery.

As a result, the rumor log not only acts as an informational database, it also acts as a tool for exploration. I was constantly referencing it choosing new unknowns to investigate and as such never felt like I was aimless falling through space. Instead, I was making meaningful decisions about where I wanted to explore next.

As an aside, I think that it’d have been even more neat if you were able to place your own notes and connections within the rumor log. Unfortunately, I firmly believe that’d over-complicate things. If a player got the wrong idea they could end up horribly lost and frustrated. But the inner detective in me thinks that being able to create your own notes and map the connections between them would be far more mechanically stimulating.

So that’s the Outer Wilds, or at least my favourite aspect of it. It’s a neat game about exploring. It was a little bit directionless, but once I started using the rumor log I was getting a lot of the same vibes I did while playing games like Hollow Knight. Constantly making meaningful decisions about where to explore next and an overarching sense of discovery make this one a joy to play. Wellโ€ฆa joy to play most of the time.

Thank you for reading.

9 thoughts on “How Outer Wilds Guides the Player

  1. I loved this element as well. The way that the little nuggets of information drive you forward is not only helpful in this kind of open-ended design, but it sparks your curiosity about the planets and what you’ll find there! Going through the rumor log and finding the Nomai texts/messages on the planets were probably my favourite parts of this game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really does end up working as a well implemented solution for helping to guide the player in an otherwise directionless game. Plus it meant I didn’t have to keep notes in my notebook, which is something I’ve done for other games. XD

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Random chance I guess? I say it in the opening paragraph, but I wasn’t even planning on playing this one. But I did and then I wrote a thing because I enjoyed it and writing about games you enjoy is a lot easier than writing about games you’re “meh” or “blah” on.


      1. That was more of a rhetorical question ๐Ÿ™‚ I do not believe that you acribicly stalk my wishlist and/or youtube-watching list ๐Ÿ™‚

        The only thing I read from that article was the opening (that Mir forced you to play it) and that you wished it would give you the option to write down your own notes. I very much enjoy games that don’t give you any journal option (I don’t know what the rumor log is, yet) but require you to have an actual notepad with you while playing and writing down every detail that may or may not be a clue later on.

        It’s mostly older Adventure Games that do this, like Dark Journals (or something like it, I can’t remember). I always end up with two or three pages covered in notes…before I finish the intro cinematic xD

        Liked by 1 person

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