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The Story Behind Twitch Plays The Outer Worlds

Oct 22 2019

One day in September at the Private Division office in New York, a publicist turned to a backend engineer and said, “How do you feel about crazy, stupid ideas?”

Four hours and one working prototype later, The Outer Worlds became a game where Twitch Chat commands control a streamer’s character — shooting, jumping, melee attacking, and running right off of cliffs. With 29 commands and an arbitration system that pulls new commands from chat every half-second, this Twitch integration provides viewers nearly direct control over a game they don’t even own.

“The goofier of an idea you have, the better,” says Matt Hurtado, backend engineer from Private Division and author of the Twitch integration for Twitch Plays The Outer Worlds. “There are so many people with so many crazy ideas out there for what they want to do and how they want to interact with the game.”

From there, Private Division took the prototype to developer Obsidian. After explaining how it worked, reviewing previous Twitch Plays, and laughing over the potential chaos only Twitch Chat can cause, game co-directors Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky (as well as the rest of the team at Obsidian) bought in.

Beginning October 22, at 3pm PST, a Twitch stream of The Outer Worlds gives viewers control of the protagonist (or possibly antagonist, depending on the whims of Twitch) in-game completely by using chat. Commands can be issued by any logged-in viewer; the most-issued command in a given half-second time window is the one the game acts on.

In rare cases where this leads to trouble — say, a character getting stuck in a corner due to too many conflicting commands — “The Board” (the entity that runs all of the megacorporations driving everyday life in The Outer Worlds) will step in to resolve the issue before ceding control back to chat.

This feature makes The Outer Worlds a first-of-its-kind preview experience on Twitch; as close as players can get to playing a pre-release version of the game without having to download and install a client. It’s the full game, live and in-person through the power of Twitch Chat.

Twitch integrations — chatbots, Extensions, Drops — are the building blocks of interaction both inside and outside of games and streaming content. We’ve seen everything from card game deck builders to speedrunning challenges made manifest in a variety of developers working to get their games in front of more players. The Outer Worlds takes it to a new frontier with this special preview combined with the chatbot interaction.

“The hardest thing to overcome is figuring out a way to translate chat into an interactive medium,” Hurtado says. “But once you’ve got that piece down, it’s fun to mess around with!”

Catch it live on Obsidian’s channel October 22 at 3pm PST. The Outer Worlds is available October 25 on Xbox One, PlayStation®4, and Windows PC.

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