The story behind The Outsider is closely linked to David Braben, a prolific game designer, recognized as one of the most influential figures in the industry, and to the company he founded, Frontier Developments. Braben started actively working in video game development in the early eighties while still being an undergraduate at Cambridge University and delivered his first title Elite in 1984, in a joint effort with fellow university colleague Ian Bell.
Elite was published by British software house Acornsoft, which mostly specialized itself in developing educational applications for the BBC Micro and the Acorn Electron, released in 1981 and 1983 respectively for the UK market by the now defunct Acorn Computers Ltd, also based in Cambridge.
Elite was revolutionary in several regards. For one, its deep mechanics and open ended nature, a revolutionary approach in a time when games used to be intense experiences set to just take some minutes of the player’s time. But it also became widely recognized for the technology running behind, being the first title to include hidden line removal in its tridimensional engine, a crucial first step in the transition between the primitive 3D wireframes and into what the more complex rendering engines would be capable of doing in the upcoming years and decades.
After the success of Elite, Braben delivered Zarch for the Acorn Archimedes, another family of home computers and the first general-purpose line produced by Acorn. Zarch would be subsequently ported to other contemporary systems under the name of Virus. It was just after this that Braben started work on the long-anticipated sequel to his awarded title Elite, named Frontier: Elite II, as well as foundation of his own game development studio, Frontier Developments Ltd, company which still nowadays operates with Braben as its CEO.
After publishing yet another entry in the Elite series, called Frontier: First Encounters and a sequel to Virus for the PlayStation, titled V2000, Frontier was keeping a steady flow of own-produced games covering different genres and platforms. From several expansions of the Rollercoaster Tycoon main series to A Dog’s Life for PlayStation 2 and two entries in the Wallace and Gromit game series, among others.
However, the title discussed here was anticipated to be the most ambitious project Frontier had worked in so far. Announced in the E3 2005 in Los Angeles, The Outsider was an action thriller with strong sandbox roots set to take place in the city of Washington DC and some nearby real world locations, such as the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Joint Base Andrews, and the Newport News Shipbuilding, where panic and martial law has taken over after the Air Force One has been shot down. The main character, CIA operative John Jameson has been wrongly pinned with the crime and must explore the city as a fugitive, fighting back when necessary and finding the clues to clear his name; all while running away and – ideally – keeping a low profile towards police and army forces.
The game’s plot was to be heavily motivated by the fear of terrorist attacks present back then in the occidental society and was said to reflect how a single man could feel and behave after being cornered and seemingly having lost everything in life. It definitely reminds of other widely popular action thriller films and TV shows of the time, such as 24, Prison Break or the Jason Bourne series. But more on that last one later…
Just looking at the available screenshots and trailers gives the impression that the game was meant to be yet another sandbox / open world game where the player must navigate the city and fulfill a – mostly linear – set of missions; all while blowing up facilities or driving some vehicles in the process. However, Frontier’s ambitions with this game were going far beyond this. As the tagline on the British developer’s website explicitly says “(…) The Outsider stimulates characters’ motivations in an immersive, dynamic world and storyline. This gives the player genuine freedom to change the story outcomes in a way not seen before.”
The aim was to bring something closer to Elite’s openness into a different genre and offer the player a range of opportunities to explore and discover. For example, the player’s choice between a stealthy and a more brutal interaction with the environment would have led to different consequences in the story’s progress and point it into different directions. Even in-game dialogs were influenced by this pursuit of freedom, with a quite generous range of answers to choose from in conversations with NPCs, allowing the player to get different reactions from them or again, conduct the plot in different directions.
Unfortunately, the development process of The Outsider underwent some ups and downs that led to the eventual abandon it suffered, after reportedly three years of preproduction work and another two of actual development work had been invested on it. The original publisher, Codemasters dropped its support with the title very advanced in development, which caused the dismissal of around 30 Frontier employees and rendered the company unable to cope with the enormous development costs. The exact reason as to why Codemasters would suddenly drop financial support for a title almost close to completion seems to lie in an internal change of policies and realignment of priorities after purchase of the English developer and distributor by the Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance Entertainment.
At least on paper, The Outsider was a very promising idea and this woke up the interest of Electronic Arts, company that noticed the resemblance between the game and the Jason Bourne franchise and proposed a reworking of the title to accommodate it in the Bourne universe, as from a market perspective it was safer to bet on well-known intellectual IPs rather than risking a lukewarm reaction with a new one. Sadly, this new iteration of the game did not go forward as negotiations did not fully fructify between both companies.
The Outsider has never been seen again since then, although Braben himself had stated back in 2011 that the game had been abandoned but not cancelled. A few years passed and Frontier kept themselves busy in the meantime with a hefty variety of titles, including new entries in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series, several Kinect games or the beloved Lost Winds and its sequel for Wii.
The latest first-hand information on the game came from Braben himself in declarations to Eurogamer during the Gamescom in 2014, where he stated that “it was stopped,” and “it probably is gone for good.” Considering how much The Outsider was aiming to revolutionize the story telling in games and just try to stick out from the rest of sandbox and action games, it is indeed a pity that we never got to experience David Braben and Frontier’s unique way of interactive storytelling by ourselves.
In 2014 Frontier Developments released Elite: Dangerous, the latest chapter in Braben’s space adventure series, developed thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game has sold almost 2 million units in 2016 and while Frontier Developments seems to keeping up their promises with Elite, we’ll still miss what could have been with The Outsider.
What do you think about this unseen game? Give your vote!
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- The Outsider [Cancelled – Xbox 360, PS3] - 11-04-2017
- Chroma (by Harmonix) [PC – Alpha / Cancelled] - 29-11-2016
- Lethal Encounter [N64 – Cancelled] - 26-09-2016
FRONTIER NEWS RELEASE
New screenshots released from forthcoming ‘behind closed doors’ E3 demo
CAMBRIDGE, UK – May 4th, 2006 – Frontier Developments Ltd. (‘Frontier’), the leading independent games developer, today released more screenshots from its major game for fifth generation consoles – “The Outsider”.
These in-game screenshots of early morning scenes show how Frontier’s engine can use lighting to great effect, showing optical scattering and various film grain/emulsion effects. They are taken from an early game location which will be shown ‘behind closed doors’ at the forthcoming E3 trade show in Los Angeles.
Frontier re-emphasises its position that cutting edge graphics are merely the starting point, they do not make a true ‘next generation’ game. Consequently Frontier has also been focussing on new game-play elements that are now possible on the new console platforms – Frontier’s aim with “The Outsider” is to bring the sort of freedom of action first seen in “Elite” bang up to date.
“The Outsider” is a gripping, high-tech thriller which radically enriches the player’s experience by abandoning the traditional, prescriptive, mostly linear story of current generation games, and replaces it by simulating characters’ motivations and aims. This gives the player genuine freedom to change the story outcomes in a way that has not been seen before – each player will get a truly unique, sophisticated, visceral experience rather than simply switching between ‘good’ or ‘evil’. The techniques used are enabled by the greatly increased processing power available on new machines, including the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Frontier is based on the prestigious Cambridge Science Park and is continuing its sustained growth – it currently has a number of vacancies on several unannounced exciting projects as well as ‘The Outsider’ for 3D modellers, animators, concept artists, game designers, engine technology programmers and game programmers, and is keen to hear now from top quality applicants who can contribute to the future of games at both senior and less experienced levels who are either already experienced in or new to the games industry.
The Outsider game web-page is at http://www.frontier.co.uk/outsider.
All media enquiries please contact: Alison Beasley, Lincoln Beasley PR
T: 01608 645756 M: 07966 449130 E: [email protected]
Further information on Frontier including details of current vacancies and how to apply directly can be found on Frontier’s web-site, http://www.frontier.co.uk.
The Frontier logo and “The Outsider” are trademarks of Frontier Developments Ltd. All other trademarks and Copyright are acknowledged as the property of their respective owners.
Frontier employs over 100 people, based in Cambridge, UK and is one of the games industry’s leading independent developers, having built upon the innovative creations of founder David Braben, co-author of the seminal ‘Elite’. Frontier works with a number of top publishers and is also currently developing for PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox, PC, and Java mobile phone handsets as well as the next generation of games consoles.
Frontier has a proven reputation for original game design and commercial success, and aims to revolutionise perceptions of what gaming is all about by using innovative technical and artistic approaches on all gaming platforms. It received three BAFTA nominations and several awards for its recent console games “Dog’s Life” and “Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo”, and scored a Christmas 2004 No.1 position in the USA with its RollerCoaster Tycoon® 3 PC, which has also been the recipient of various awards and a prestigious Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences nomination and is still high in the US PC charts 18 months after its release.
Frontier holds the publishing rights for Aardman Animations’ ‘Wallace and Gromit’ characters on mobile phones. RollerCoaster Tycoon® 3: Soaked!”, the first expansion pack for RollerCoaster Tycoon® 3, was released in June 2005 and went on to win ‘Expansion Pack of the Year’ award from PC Gamer magazine in the US, with a second expansion pack “RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Wild!” released in November 2005. Frontier’s game of the Oscar® winning ‘Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit’ was published by Konami in September 2005.
More information on Frontier can be found at http://www.frontier.co.uk.
The Outsider is a high-tech thriller played out against the backdrop of a living, crowded city based on present-day Washington DC and its environs including the CIA HQ at Langley, Andrews Air Force Base and Newport News Naval Dockyard. As a CIA operative the player has a mouth-watering arsenal of technology, combat talents and weaponry available to him. A shocking opening scenario wrongly makes him Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of the media and the public at large, but leaves many different ways to proceed: to wreak ultra-violent revenge, to turn the tables and exploit the shady organisations he is mixed up with for his own ends or crusading to clear his name.