Weird West is, as you can imagine, a weird game – an immersive isometric system-only simulation that evokes the original Fallout games if their combat was in real time, as well as the excellent Dishonored. The latter should really come as no surprise, given that the Dishonored co-creator (and Arkane Studios co-founder) Raph Colantonio created Weird West with his new indie team WolfEye Studios.
It wasn’t quite a smooth launch for Weird West seven months ago. The bugs and other assorted quirks meant that the game’s early review scores – while still firmly in the “good” range – reflected a game that some say could have used a bit more time in the oven. But Weird West has come a long way in a short time. Working closely with the community, WolfEye not only fixed the game, but significantly evolved it, adding new systems and mechanics, plus dozens of little touches that really put the “immersive” in the “sim.”
Colantonio is an industry veteran, having made his first game with Arkane Studios, Arx Fatalis, in 2002. And yet Weird West’s journey has always been a learning experience for him. With Arkane being owned by Bethesda since 2009 and “indie” publishing being very different then than it is now, Colantonio hadn’t worked independently in a strange new game world where concepts such as “Early Access” and “Game Pass” are the norm. In fact, he admits he had some biases about Early Access and looking back, Weird West might have benefited from going that route.
“We never looked at things like early access because we thought it was just a way for developers to pre-sell their game and start funding it with the money they make,” he told me. “But it’s much more than that. It’s also helping people in the creation of the game, which gives you access to a wide diversity of opinions. For our next game, we will probably involve the community very early.
Weird West is a systems-driven game – the kind of game that’s vulnerable to a problem faced by many immersive sims, which is that players can engage with these systems to create incredible moments and generate emergent stories, or they can play the game while completely overlooking the systemic magic of the game.
For example, at the start of Weird West, you can bury your son, come back later to dig up the grave, and then use a bone from your son’s body as a weapon to get revenge on those involved in his death (an emerging B-movie story of revenge right there). It’s a game where towns can thrive or be overrun by ghouls depending on your actions, and where random NPCs you save earlier in the game can come back later to save you in a firefight – maybe even sacrifice themselves in the process. It’s deep, but Raph suggests the future of these games is to “keep the depth and remove the complexity.”
“I think there’s the heart of the game and the presentation, and sometimes the presentation gets in the way of people seeing the heart,” Raph explains. “Some players aren’t used to being left alone with a bunch of systems and finding out what they have. We’ve done our best to tutor Weird West, but I think we can do better, and by testing early with the community, we can better achieve this and include people from the start.
Instead of lamenting Weird West’s missed opportunity to evolve as an Early Access game alongside the community, Raph and WolfEye acted quickly after Weird West’s launch to make up for lost time with the game’s sequel. developers have implemented a table of suggestions for Weird Westwhere the community (and anyone who visits the page, for that matter) can vote and discuss new features to be added to the game.
““I personally don’t like the Game Pass buffet-style business model, but I can’t argue against it.”
With the help of this table, important updates have been added – major things like a much improved stealth system, alternate fire modes and a Reputation tab where you can track your reputation and connections in the world, up to to finer details. For example, based on a popular suggestion, when you knock out an enemy in Weird West and throw them on a bed, their friends will just assume that enemy is asleep rather than automatically knowing that they’ve been knocked out. . Upcoming user-suggested changes to the game include the ability to freely switch between characters after the story is completed, as well as a sandbox mode that lets you freely roam the west (with an increased number of activities and random quests planned for this mode in the pipeline).
The game’s continued evolution reflects Raph and WolfEye’s open, open-minded approach to game development. “We are open to anything,” he begins. “The game shows he has a long tail, and we definitely have more stuff in the oven. I don’t know for how long – we have three big things planned right now and after that it’s a bit like “let’s see what happens”.
Since Weird West entered development about four years ago, Microsoft’s Game Pass has become the “Netflix of gaming” that many have been anticipating for years, and a few months before Weird West’s launch, the game was unveiled. as a Day One Game Pass title. Many indie developers – especially newer studios – have praised Game Pass as a great way to get more attention for their games, while not having to worry too much about game marketing or sales. Weird West has apparently done well on Game Pass, with nearly a million downloads according to Raph, but despite that, he doesn’t think such subscription-based services are necessarily a good thing.
“I personally don’t like the buffet-style business model, but I can’t argue with it, so as a business we have to figure out what it means to navigate a world where it’s going to be a buffet of ‘subscription for everyone’, Raph tells me. “It removes consumer investment. This is also true for music. I used to buy a CD for one song on the album, but as I listened to this album over and over again, I discovered that the song I hated was now my favorite on the album. On Spotify, it’s like five seconds, ‘I don’t like the intro’, next.
But with an independent studio under his wing, Raph understands he can’t let idealism get in the way of pragmatism, and would even put his next game on Game Pass “if the money’s right.” He concludes: “Ultimately it’s about what serves the game best and what serves our ability to do so.”
Weird West’s countless updates speak to the game’s modular infrastructure, in that it’s relatively easy to add layers of mechanics and systems to the game. Indeed, Weird West has always been designed with the modding in mind, and one of the major upcoming updates will release the game’s robust modding tools to the community. “I’ve never done a game with modding, so it was always kind of a personal desire I had,” Raph explains. “You can create your whole own story if you want – whether it’s using your own templates or our own templates or additional templates that we’ll be releasing as well. I think people are going to be happy and have fun with that.
The development of Weird West has, like its narrative structure, involved multiple journeys. There was his journey to development and his journey since, which opened Colantonio’s eyes to the value of community involvement, especially for the type of games based on complex systems in which he specializes. The game’s own journey shows that if a developer has a vision that speaks to the community, they’ll always be willing to step in and help bring that game’s vision to life – before or after release.