Almost two years ago, I was casually scrolling Twitter when something caught my eye. It looked kind of like Stardew Valley in space. I was (and still am) a huge fan of farming RPGs, and so I reached out to the developer to learn more about this in-development game called One Lonely Outpost.
One Lonely Outpost was barely a prototype at the time, but the developer Brad P. had promised me that we'd stay in touch. Fast forward to today, and he had a playable (albeit very early) version of the game for me to check out.
It's difficult to emphasize just how excited I was. I love farming RPGs. I love city builders. I love space colony games. This had elements of all three in an interesting new mix, and I was quite keen to jump into it. After I was done, I had a quick chat with Brad over email about the future of this upcoming game.
Spring 1, Year 1
My adventure began as a lone starship pilot in a tiny shuttle flying through space. Before I knew it, I had touched down on my brand-new planet.
The preview build was a little different from how I would expect the actual finished product to play out. I began with an inventory packed with dozens of different seeds and some fields were already tilled for me. I had some basic instructions from the developer, but I was otherwise left to fend for myself.
The opening moments of One Lonely Outpost bear many similarities to Stardew Valley and other farming RPGs. You have basic tools, a plot of land (some of which needs to be tilled), and that's it. It's up to you to make the most of the opportunity given to you, and that's one of the things I love so much about these games.
One Lonely Outpost's Omni-Tool is Handy
Tools are a big part of farming RPGs. Typically, you'll have different tools for tilling soil, watering plants, chopping down trees, mining ore, fishing, and all sorts of other functions. One Lonely Outpost does things a little differently.
This is, after all, set in the far future. Players are instead equipped with the "Omni-Tool," a handy device attached to your spacesuit gauntlet. This lovely piece of tech can do it all depending on the context. Standing next to a gigantic alien crystal? Hold down the button and you'll start to mine it. Staring at a budding strawberry plant? Push the button and you'll water it.
"[The Omni-Tool] will replace your various tools with functions built into it," said One Lonely Outpost's designer Brad P. "You will upgrade those functions individually though, so most mechanics will remain similar. It has some new functions too; a vacuum to deal with dust storms and such, for example, is one."
My first immediate thought was that this just freed up nearly half of my hotbar. This sentiment was echoed by the game's designer and co-lead programmer.
My second thought was wondering how well this would actually work in practice. I've had my fair share of disasters with context-sensitive controls like this—goodness knows how many times I intended to do one thing and accidentally did another because I wasn't quite positioned correctly.
I think the Omni-Tool of One Lonely Outpost can work well and be a game changer, but implementing it will be tricky. So far, it seems like One Lonely Outpost is on the right track.
"The Omni-Tool Gauntlet is also hooked up to your backpack, which is your quantum storage inventory, life support, and battery pack, all of which can likewise be upgraded," Brad said.
Not So Lonely After All
I spent a fair few minutes messing about on the farm before I decided to explore. Was this preview just the farm itself, or was there more to explore? I was happy to discover that there was a sort of "village" area with a handful of colonists who have already arrived. The finished product, however, might not be quite so populated at the beginning.
"In the final product, you will begin alone, and other colonists arrive one by one, unlocked by meeting certain criteria, usually involving other NPCs being unlocked, a cleared landing site, and a certain level of total farm sales, as well as a variety of other more specific conditions," Brad explained. " We sometimes say on the team, half-jokingly, that loneliness is the antagonist, and you are surrounding yourself with others to defeat that. It's what we all do in life, after all."
That, however, was not my experience in this handcrafted early version of the game. Instead, a few ships had already touched down on the ground outside of my farm. At one point, a new colonist arrived on an empty launch pad. The spaceship gracefully touched down, and the woman inside gracefully stepped out... and immediately faceplanted upon taking one step on her new home planet.
"[The] planet is very similar to Mars: barren, lifeless, and desert-covered. Unlike Mars, it has a thick atmosphere and is temperate. It also has elemental oxygen, though it has lots of CO2 as well. The elemental oxygen is puzzling because that rarely happens naturally, but that's part of the planet's mystery for the player to uncover!" — One Lonely Outpost Designer Brad P.
This was Sally, and her job was to make sure everyone's mental health was up to par on this brand-new world. She might have some problems of her own (like with walking), but she seemed like a neat gal with a strong sense of empathy.
In total, there were just five other colonists with me at the start. At first, people will be living out of their spaceships, but you'll gradually work to upgrade this ad-hoc housing into fully-fledged permanent homes.
"Overall, the town as a whole will have 4 upgrade tiers from 0 to 3," Brad explained. "Tier 0 is basically the start of the game, with not even other NPCs. Tier 1 is landers, Tier 2 is prefab/quick-assemble structures (including Lander-conversions/extensions), and Tier 3 is full permanent dwellings with all the comforts of a normal home/shop/etc.
"By the end, you have a town with paved streets and tourists visiting - and you will have built it."
Get Your Butt To Mars (Kinda)
If one were to search for One Lonely Outpost on Google, one of the top results would be the game's official website. It bills it as "The Stardew Valley on Mars." It's a good short description of what players can expect, although it's not entirely accurate.
"Early in development, we did toy with the idea of making it actually be Mars, but not only is Mars pretty visually monotonous, it would also have lore issues with how advanced we wanted society as well as limit the sensible elements we could put on the planet, given how much we now know about the peculiarities of Mars and how difficult it will actually be to colonize it," Braid said.
There are more than a few space nerds out there who might bring up several important facts about planets like Mars. As the fantastic survival film The Martian eloquently demonstrated, you can't just stick plants in the ground and have them grow. The devs of One Lonely Outpost, however, have done their fair share of research on the subject.
"You are in large part limited in how many things you can plant by how much organic fertilizer you have available," Brad explained. "There's also the harsh alien environment to consider for seedlings, so some plants will need to be sprouted indoors, then transplanted outside. Transplanting life onto a barren world is difficult, and we want to show that in an intriguing and immersive way."
A realistic depiction of farming on a planet like Mars could have made for an interesting and challenging game. Instead, the team behind this title believes that fun and ease of use come first.
"[In] the end we opted for a future where we could select what would be the most fun and immersive challenges, rather than the most realistic in a current-day technology sense."
One Lonely Outpost is still very early in development, and these things might change. From what I can tell, it seems that they're still trying to strike the right balance between fun and realism.
"We do keep a mind towards believability though - that's important to us as well," Braid said. "Most things that concern colonizing planets we know of don't really apply - such as the dust problem on Mars (our planet has an active hydrosphere, so dust isn't as dangerous for the lungs), or the radiation problem, which we just couldn't figure out an elegant way to work in as a mechanic."
Ancient Aliens and Curious Choices
Compare any two games of a genre and you'll find some differences. Stardew Valley, for example, has combat in the mines and the Skull Cavern. Its spiritual predecessor Harvest Moon generally does not feature any fighting whatsoever.
"In OLO, we plan to have the combat portion of the game be fully optional when it comes to farming and 95+% of the town development.
"We're also considering implementing a mechanic similar to how [Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale] handled combat, where you can hire mercenaries or convince villagers to accompany you in, and do some or all of the fighting for you!"
Your adventure in One Lonely Outpost will be able to go one of two ways. If you're fine with combat, you'll be able to delve into procedurally generated alien ruins. If not, you can explore a much safer desert area. Either way, you can get the tech needed to expand your homestead and the colony at large.
"The Joja Mart vs Community Center [choice in Stardew Valley] felt like a false choice to me; it's obvious which one is the right choice," Brad elaborated. "I want OLO to present a true choice to the player - one where there's a good reason to pick either option."
I Want To Know What Love Is
Farming RPGs often have some kind of romance or marriage mechanic. One Lonely Outpost will be no different. As Stardew Valley refined the gameplay of Harvest Moon, so too will One Lonely Outpost seek to expand on the presentation of its spiritual predecessor.
"[Married] life [in Stardew Valley], though better than some Harvest Moon games, was still a bit shallow for my taste," Brad said. "We plan to expand on that greatly with cutscenes and day-to-day interactions.
"In fact, we hope to expand on [all of] the character interactions. For example, certain characters will gain more relationship points from just talking to them every day than gifts. Others might prefer playing two-player minigames with you. Others still will be tricky to befriend in more unique ways. But of course, give people enough gifts, and they'll still fall for you in classic Farming RPG style - it just might take a little longer."
Preparing For Liftoff
Making a game requires a team, and One Lonely Outpost is no different. Brad P., Laura, and David are the project co-founders with programming and writing duties split among them. Art is headed up by Nateo, with Richard and Shon adding their support. Robert and Kunal serve as junior programmers, and Larry acts as a level designer.
Music, like many indie games, is being handled by a contractor. In this case, it's being taken on by Bashi Boizu, a talented musician whose past work includes Littlewood, Roguelands, and Magicite (among other games).
The groundwork has been laid, but several important questions remain. When can we actually play this game, and what is it going to cost us?
Brad had planned to launch on Kickstarter this month, but he ultimately decided to hold off. This was probably a wise move considering how the crowdfunding process typically goes — it's often a good idea to build up a following first. One Lonely Outpost is doing exactly that.
If things go to plan, we can expect to see the Kickstarter campaign launch sometime before the end of 2020. From there, a playable Early Access version will go live in the spring of 2021, and the full release will follow a year later in Spring 2022. You should expect to pay $15–$30 for this brand-new farming RPG by then.
For now, Brad hopes that more people will follow the game's social feeds. If One Lonely Outpost seems like your kind of jam, you can follow One Lonely Outpost on Twitter and join their Discord. You can also keep up with development over at onelonelyoutpost.com.
TechRaptor conducted our One Lonely Outpost preview on PC using a copy provided by the developer.