Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning

Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning [Hosted by The Oddworld Library]

Dates: 17 July (Part 2), 25 July (Part 3), 1 August (Part 3), 8 August (Part 4), 15 August (Part 5), 22 August (Part 6), 29 August (Part 7) and 5 September (Part 8) 2008

Interviewer: Nathan
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

In April 2008, Oddworld Forums administrator Nathan found himself in California and made good on an opportunity to meet up with Oddworld’s creator, Lorne Lanning. After lunch and an in‐depth discussion of American politics, the Middle East and current videogaming, Nathan brought out a list of questions suggested by unwitting forum members. What followed was an epic interview, so vast that we had to split it into eighths to publish it all. Each Friday over the next two months will bring you the latest segment of this long‐awaited Q&A.

Part 1: Citizen Siege and current projects

Nathan: So, how are things going on Citizen Siege?

Lorne Lanning: Slow as molasses. I can’t really go into it at this time but far slower than I would like. What I can say is that if you look at the Academy Awards for the last two years, every nominated film was in development for four to eight years before it was greenlit. That’s Hollywood.


Nathan: Can you give an indication of when you think it will be released?

Lorne Lanning: No. Hollywood is largely a waiting game. When we made the decision to shut down the Central Coast operation, a lot of it was because we were well aware of how long things can take when you start making films. The truth is that game production is so demanding if you’re running it within your own studio that you really don’t have time for anything else. What we decided to do was to close the operation so that we could buy time— that’s what we’ve been doing: buying time. We haven’t really been in a big hurry to make sure that something hits the market. What’s been a bigger concern for us is that what we make is something we’ll be proud of and that it will have excellence. There have been several attempts to start at different stages and we chose not to because we weren’t happy with what we believe the end result would be, what the quality would be and what the controls would be. We’ve been very fortunate in that we can afford to take more time. Yes, I do wish things were happening faster but that Academy Award example is the perfect one; I mean, four to eight years for every one of those motion pictures over the last two years.

Nathan: You’re also working on TV shows and other things simultaneously?

Lorne Lanning: Yeah, we have another show in development, a television series. We have partners on that— I can’t mention who they are—but they’re very well known and they’re really excited. This is something we got brought in to look at to see whether we could help them. Looking at that, we decided that it would be a great partnership and that’s in progress.

What I can say is that we want to do things radically different. Not being ones to follow the status quo, radically different means that it takes much more time and is tougher to convince other people that it’s valid. The most important aspect is using the latest and greatest in game technology to deliver the films and deliver episodics. I’m focusing more and more on episodic stories. We have friends from Bad Robot, who make shows like Lost and Alias; J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. We’re big fans but they’re also fans of Oddworld. I look at writing scripts and the monumental task of getting everything right within 100 minutes— it’s an artform and a huge undertaking to make sure that that 100 minutes is just singing perfectly and contained. Whereas I look at what these guys do with TV shows like Lost and Alias and I love the idea of not resolving everything, of leaving things open. That’s, in a way, what the Quintology was about; I had a big story I wanted to tell and if I can deliver it in digestible chunks then, over time, I can tell a much bigger story.

Part 2: The Philosophy of the Abe Film

Nathan: I was looking this morning at a photograph from some magazine of a flowchart of the Abe film’s plot and what struck me was how different it was from the game. That’s one of the biggest discussions we have; how similar the movies’ plot will be to the games’.

Lorne Lanning: Very similar at a thematic and basic plot level, in that the games were, to me, almost symbolic ideas of what these stories were. You can only tell so much of the story in a game medium. You know, the lines of dialogue we can wrap up in a few pages for the whole thing.

Nathan: Hello. Follow me!

Lorne Lanning: (in Abe’s voice): Hello.

Lorne Lanning: You know, the first Abe was slightly different. I thought I was the voice of ‘Hello’ in the first game but actually it was Josh Gabriel and that was cleared up later. We both did all these recordings. He did Abe’s voice by biting his tongue and saying ‘Hello’. I wanted him a bit more goofy and a bit more legible. So, it’s funny that on the first game it was actually Josh on the button and in the second one it was me.

Anyhow, knowing that I wanted this core story to remain largely intact, that was, on a basic level that the slave rises and frees his people in the face of a contemporary dragon. In the medieval ages the dragon— King Arthur’s dragon— was your inner demon. That’s what had to be conquered. For you to become a knight, you had to kill a dragon. The dragon was your dragon, your id, your shadow, your baggage of the ego that, mythologically, was where the origins of that dragon came from. So what is that dragon in the modern world? Well, if it were World War II, that dragon is the Nazis. If it’s the Cold War, it’s Stalin. Go back far enough and it’s Genghis Khan.

Well, who is that dragon today? It’s the multinational global corporations, in many ways. Not that all corporations are bad— I’ve never said that. What I feel is that when we have non‐democratic organisations who make decisions for most of us and we have no choice in that matter then things are out of balance. Then we find ourselves as cogs in the wheel that is, in Abe’s case, soon to be devoured by the machine.

The story of the film is very much in line with that; a slave labourer has an awakening that their days are numbered and the retirement plan is a lie. So that basic structure stays in place. But now we have the ability to tell it cinematically and not just what with we can achieve in little, minute movies spread throughout the game.

Nathan: And new characters?

Lorne Lanning: And new characters and relationships. Part of the reason why we’re taking so long on this stuff is that we really want epic scale. You know, in animation, I don’t really feel like we’re seeing epic scale, for the most part. There is great animation being done. I guess Happy Feet is sort of done on an epic scale but it’s still in that children’s genre. Whereas, I want to make it feel like Lawrence of Arabia, like Apocalypse Now; these big landscapes and worlds that we can get immersed in. I believe if we do that correctly that we’ll really see a new face of animation.

It’s really important to us not to go out there and just say ‘We did it!’ but to actually do something that makes a difference. The faith that I have when I look at what people around the world do when they get passionate about something, in particular a piece of content like Oddworld, is that it’s an interesting mechanism to get people together and have them discussing ideas. The more awestriking that visual is presented, that that story is presented, it has more of, for a really poor choice of words, a Shock and Awe value. The more that we can achieve that ‘Wow! Grand!’ sensation, if it has substance at it’s core, then it has a longer lasting taste. It sticks with you longer. Star Wars did that well with the first films and it stuck with people forever. Part of the reason was the scale of the fantastic qualities that it was delivering we hadn’t seen before. My ambition and dreams are to achieve that scale. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap, so it’s going to take time.

Part 3: The Plot of the Abe Film

Nathan: How similar is the Abe movie going to be to what you originally envisioned, before you created the game? The example that comes to mind is that the art book said that Abe originally was going to be a fisherman and then he became a slave. Now he’s going to be a slave in the movie…

Lorne Lanning: You know, it’s interesting. I had him as a number of different things and I was trying to find the most appropriate one. In the case that he was a fisherman, the meat processing plant was more of a religious institution that was dictating policy over basic ‘human rights’. For example, I’m not for whaling but I’m all for the Inuits being able to practise their traditions. On the one hand that may seem contradictory, but on the other I don’t believe it is at all.

So, when we look back, the dynamic of what was Abe’s relationship with the powers that be, to his people, what was the mechanism that he was going to find it, which was always going to be based on the earth, based on his culture; what that would all be, that’s never chanced. But at times he’s been a fisherman, a floor‐sweeper, a ‘midwife’ to cattle. In the case of fishing, he had a closer connection to the land. In RuptureFarms, that connection was with cattle. In many cases, I always thought of Abe as a ‘Critter‐whisperer’; one who could tell what the animals felt and he could connect with them. Living in a modernised world he was very alone in that respect. Everyone else could see cattle as product, whereas he would see them as friends.

Jane Goodall was one of my favourite people ever. She has a fascinating way of talking about who her greatest teachers were. If you’re familiar with her work, you may know that she was a complete renegade. No one took her seriously and they didn’t trust her research, even though her findings were impeccable and ground‐breaking on many fronts. She gives credit that her greatest teacher ever was her dog. Being around her dog and being that close to an animal, gave her insights that she felt she could never get from a collegiate atmosphere. I strongly believe in that connection between man and nature and man and animals. That embodied the truth that Abe would find in his life.

On the other hand, Molluck is a man who completely believes in everything he’s doing. He becomes a man who’s worked really hard for everything he’s gotten. He has that grandfatherly style of ‘You work hard, you have discipline, I built these companies…’ and he’s encountering something that our forefathers would have encountered when they worked for a company for 20 years and all of a sudden there’s a young CEO and young executives running it and they’re ousted and pushed to the sidelines. He’s going to become very disillusioned and Abe is the catalyst because Abe screws his profits. Abe set free all the meat— which was, in the game story, his co‐workers.

Nathan: Which it might not be in the movie?

Lorne Lanning: It might escalate beyond that. In the game, to keep it fairly simple, the people are doomed and Abe finds out. He looks out for himself first but then realizes he must look out for more than that. In the movie, Abe’s actions will lead to what causes his people to be doomed. So it’s more on his shoulders; it’s more his fault and that he can’t live with. So the emotional components are much more wrenching in what would be the bigger screen story.

Nathan: So his spiritual power of possession, was that just a game mechanic or will that come through in the movie as well?

Lorne Lanning: It will likely not come through in the first movie, it would be something that develops over time. I wanted it to be that the ability for Abe to possess should have been earned and learnt by the gamer. When we were coming out with a 2D game in a 3D world at the time, we needed to start off with something much more unique to hook people in. So we shifted that. One of the reason why Abe had stitches was that we wanted to GameSpeak as something you had to learn as well; when he goes underground and they finally cut his stitches he’s then able to talk to his peers and start rescuing them. Then, the realities of commerce settle and you think ‘But if we’re not successful, we’re never going to be able to make another game.’ So the decisions you should make are towards the best playing game. In making those decisions, we decided to make Abe able to possess right away and speak right away. I think that was the right choice for the game, though for the story I had had that ramping in over time differently.

Part 4: The Relationship Between Abe and Sam

Nathan: That leads into one of my questions; there are a lot of different stories of why Abe was stitched. What is the official reason?

Lorne Lanning: You know, I had hoped to reveal this in movies later, but I’ll tell it because I think it’s fascinating. This gets in to who Abe’s mother was. Abe’s mother was largely modelled after my mother, who died a couple of years ago. Sadly, we weren’t very close.

A little side‐note: I watched Johnny Depp talk once about his character in Edward Scissorhands. They said ‘How did you create that endearing connection? You can just feel what he was feeling.’ He said ‘Well, really, I was my first dog. No matter what I was feeling, no matter what an ass I was to him, he always looked to me and was always loving. He never lost that charm and innocence.’ Taking that as a framework for how real‐life things influence characters, I always saw my mother as a tragic character. Part of it was the day and age that she grew up, part of it was the circumstances in lower‐middle class America and not being formally educated. It’s the decisions people make. My mother married a man that she didn’t love because she was worried about raising two children. The fallout is that when you think you’re doing the right thing, it might not be. People make these tragic decisions in their lives that they then live with regret from that time on and that had profound effects on their children. In the case of Abe’s mother, being modelled after my mother. My mother had an addiction to pharmaceutical pills. She was a nurse and was addicted to painkillers at a relatively young age due to back problems. It’s very common in this country, unfortunately.

In Munch we reveal that Labor Eggs are how the factories are populated. We didn’t really get into that 100% but the idea is that when you’re a Glukkon and you buy a factory franchise, you say ‘Let’s open a RuptureFarms or a FeeCo Depot,’ you can buy employees as eggs. You launch them into a little daycare centre which basically means that they are born into labour. They’re kept ignorant and know nothing of their heritage and their people, who they really are and what their purpose is beyond servicing someone else’s needs.

It’s a long answer to get about to Abe’s stitches and mom. To bring that about I wanted to build up that tragic relationship, like in the movie Sophie’s Choice. To be put in the circumstance that this character is put in, in Nazi Germany is horrific to even think about a choice that someone is forced to make. In some ways, when I saw that movie, I was reminded of some things that I knew about in my family’s history. Nowhere near as tragic, of course. It’s absurd for me even to make the comparison. But emotionally, when I see the dynamic possibilities, that was influencing me.

So, to make a long story short, when these factories came in to the landscape of Mudos, where Abe’s people are from, they were squeezing out the indigenous culture. So this is equivalent to the cultural genocide in Tibet, what happened in South Africa with the diamond mines or what’s happening in South America with mineral rights and oil rights. Basically, people are just wiped out and their lives destroyed.

Mudokons are a superspecies. All the employees in the factories are actually related— they’re from the same mother. There’s a few of these queens around but they’ve actually been dying. So the Glukkons make a deal with a Mudokon queen; it’s kinda like making a treaty with the Native Americans, it was not a good deal. But they promised the Mudokon Queen, the mother that breeds all for the tribe— watching her children starve, watching the cultural genocide unfold on them, watching these horrors that were happening to them— she was made an offer that her children would always be taken care of, that she would always have a place to stay, she would be fed and clothed, her children would be fed and clothed, they would have jobs. It’s basically a sell‐out to the Western industrial system. She made that deal and now she can’t back out. What she’s seeing is what that deal really led to and now she’s just a worse addict. So Abe’s mother is completely strung out. She loves her children but has a very schizophrenic relationship to them— ‘I love you honey, I love you honey. Now go to the corner and get me a dime‐bag.’ Just to be clear, that was not how my mother was. My mother was a decent person and a beautiful soul who got caught in the consumer mechanics of our of modern world. Her condition was simply the inspirational source and it was powerful to me as I lived it. But great entertainment is when we take those experiences and turn them into something even more dramatic. We exagerate it for effect and impact. But as an inspiration source… It is the kind of the very human yet bizarre result of alcoholism and other dysfunctional ails that many families deal with in this country.

What happened when Abe was born was that he used to cry. A lot. In my mind Abe was always more sensitive than the rest. In indigenous cultures, androgyny is more sacred. So I always saw Abe as a more androgynous character, that had a higher sensitivity to the natural world around him because he embodied more the male–female energies that in shamanistic cultures were seen as more spiritual trait. Being born in this factory, he’d cry and cry and cry. He was like the ultimate pain‐in‐the‐ass baby out of many babies. Imagine a factory nursing centre and this little brat won’t stop crying. So his mother, in an attempt to keep him shut, was faced with the situation that she had to shut him up or they were going to chop him up because it was disturbing cattle, it was disturbing various things. So she sewed his lips to shut him up so that he wouldn’t be hurt. And that was one of the reasons why Abe was different from the others.

Nathan: So in a way it was an act of love?

Lorne Lanning: It was an act of love that brought about a brutal action.

Then later, it’ll stand out as more of an oddity to him in particular. He’s holding on to them for reasons he doesn’t really understand. I’ve known people with hearing impediments, vision impediments, physical challenges in one form or another. What has interested me on a human, cosmic level was when solutions come and someone says ‘You’re colour blind? We can fix that now!’ and the person says ‘You know what? I don’t want it fixed.’ I’ve witnessed that people hang on to their oddities or uniqueness even though the don’t always logically understand. In Abe’s case, in time he will come to embrace and get more of an understanding so when those stitches come out it’s going to be one pretty karmic experience.

Part 5: Glukkon History

Nathan: This is one that has cause a huge amount of fights in the forums. Paul O’Connor, in his Designer Diaries for Munch’s Oddysee, mentioned as a plot point the Gorman Disenza virus and we’ve been trying to work out whether that’s something he made up to prove a point or whether that’s something that was actually meant to be in the game.

Lorne Lanning: Yeah… So… Okay… I’m glad you asked me about that. No one’s ever asked me about that before.

Nathan: Uh oh. You can’t imagine the arguments we’ve had about this. I think I’m about to lose a bet on this one…

Lorne Lanning: Gorman Disenza (pronounced Die‐senza) that’s something that he and I co‐created as a design solution that I was mandating. To ‘Gormandize’ is to gorge. It’s gluttony. I wanted to create a disease that afflicted only the extremely wealthy. Like you could say that Sickle Cell is only inflicted on a certain race. So I wanted to create something that would only afflict the financial elitists, the greed mongers, the corrupt CEO class of our world today. Like, how great would it be if we could say ‘Oh, only the Rockeffelers, DuPonts and Rothschilds are getting these illnesses.’ The whole idea of Oddworld, in many ways, was taking grand concepts and turning them in to archetypes. A concept of disease that would only affect a behaviour of a species, rather than genetics or the condition of a species; I liked that because it made it more archetypal in my mind. So, I took the word ‘Gormandize’ and then we were looking at names of diseases and we came up with ‘Influenza’, so ‘Gorman Disenza’ sounded like it might be a disease.

The idea was that this afflicted the Glukkons; they’re a superspecies as well. We have the Glukkon queens that are like all‐powerful matriarchs that are competing against one other. The Glukkons that you know are the Abes of the Glukkons— they’re the little guys. Molluck the Glukkon— he’s just a chump in the scheme of things. Sure, he seems like a big guy out here running the third world meat plant but then we come out here and look at DuPont or Proctor and Gamble. Now, you’re going to be an executive at Proctor and Gamble and you’re going to say ‘Very good, welcome aboard! We’re sending you off to… the middle of the Sahara Desert to run our gas line.’ So Molluck is a guy who got shafted out to the third world to manage this factory and he’s just out there until he can afford his house in Lake Como, so to speak. His mother is Lady Margaret, who is a member of the Magog Cartel.

Now, one of the things The X‐Files did beautifully was that as you got closer to what you thought was the core, these people you thought were all‐powerful were just pawns in a game. And I believe that’s how life works. It’s always ‘Follow the money, follow the money.’ Every time you really want to know what’s going on in the world you’ve got to just follow the money. So in Oddworld, I wanted to have more of that invisible transparency, that you just go up and up and up and you think this guy is king and he’s getting browbeaten by the guys that really employ him. Then you find out they’re not at the top of the game, someone has employed them because the world is very mysterious that way in that it hides who’s really in control.

Now, there was another phenomena that I witnessed in life; what happens to children that were left inheritances and what do they do to one another. The parents don’t even really want to leave their kids anything, they just want to buy their own immortality. I knew people who were so phenomenally wealthy that, rather than leave their kids an inheritance, they were more interested in funding research that would solve answers to diseases in order to save their own lives. They didn’t really care. Or, we look at what happens amongst the royal families in the Middle East where the princes kill each other as they come of age. There’s a very weird sort of affliction that happens to the super-wealthy and then their offspring.

So in the case of Gorman Disenza… Not Molluck’s mother. Not her mother but her mother. So, Molluck’s great‐grandmother has Gorman Disenza. And when she should have died, a hundred‐plus years ago, she didn’t. She’s so hanging on to living and so void of spiritual essence that she chose to be cryogenically frozen with a whole set of legal conditions as to how her wealth should be controlled; how much money should be earned every decade. Lady Margaret, who should have been the heir of the family fortune— not all the Glukkons’, she’s just one queen in one industry— was denied her inheritance by a grandmother who should have died long ago but is still asleep in cryogenic with only three months left to live, but she’s prolonged that a hundred years. The only time she’s awakened is if the profits on her investments drop to such a degree that her offspring obviously aren’t handling the family business well.

Now, in the second piece of the Quintology we were to meet Lady Margaret. Then in the third piece we’d find out that the character who we thought was an emperor is actually a pawn and was deprived of her own birthright by ancestors who were so greedy and so diabolical that they screwed the pooch on their descendants.

Now Maggie’s grandmother was to be reawakened in the third piece of the Quintology and she’s going to be really pissed off because that means the clock is ticking on the 90 days she has left to live. So if she’s awakened because her investments start losing profit— which is caused by Abe’s actions— then the real bitch is awakened and things get much worse. What I wanted to see was that the actions of one little guy eventually start affecting entire economies of nations. Then we get to see what happens when the big boys get upset— they get brutal.

The cure for Gorman Disenza is in the blood of the Gabbits. One of the reasons why Munch is the last is because they were researching them to find the cure that she was financing through various research associations. Like half the cancer research organisations here on earth, if you look in to them you have to question their validity. They’re vast money‐making machines; I don’t remember the name of the one I’m thinking of but less than one percent of all the donations they get actually go in to research. The rest of the money goes in to funding what’s there and advertising to get more funding but no research is going on. They’re shams. There are Nobel Peace Prize winners who have written books about this.

So, when she wakes up the shit is really going to hit the fan. It’s kind of like Anne Rice’s book Queen of the Damned; an Egyptian queen is reawakened in the modern world but she still thinks it’s the old world. So I wanted to have that concept of John D. Rockefeller brought of cryogenic sleep and he still thinks ‘Well just go in and beat all the workers until they do their job’. It makes their world dive backwards in to even more primitive stuff.

Munch is the last survivor of the Gabbits so as a research subject, he’s extremely valuable. When he gets free, it launches a big hunt for him. She’s going to wake up, the last Gabbit has gone so the research has stalled. She’s pissed.

So that’s a long answer that goes forward in to what’s happening in the world. But that’s where Gorman Disenza comes from.

Nathan: I don’t even know if I should tell people this. It’s going to blow their minds.

Lorne Lanning: Sherry and I don’t have any illusions about what made Abe a success. There’s largely one real reason we’re here talking about this today, and it’s because of the fans. Because of you guys. These games released years ago, but it continually amazes us in how the fans spread the stories that we’ve created to others. To their kids, to their friends, families, whatever. It’s inspiring to us how Abe is permeating minds years after his release. These stories were and are so very important to us. It’s my skin I’m showing. It’s all out there and it’s vulnerable as an artist and human being because so much of me and what I care about in the world is imbedded in these stories. It’s not easy to put your heart of there to be shot at, but we take the chance to make fools of ourselves in the hopes of doing what we love and inspiring people along the way. The Oddworld fans that continue to post forums and YouTube compilations and write about our games and stories… Well, it may not be the wisest thing to talk about some of these things at this point… but I do know that Sherry and I feel that we owe it to the fans. So… Yes, I do hope they appreciate these insights to the universe and its characters and history. It’s not something I would normally reveal in a press setting.

We really want to bring these worlds to life, that’s why we didn’t do certain deals we could have done. I want these whole stories to unfold and part of me feels that it’s tragic if we don’t get more Tolkein‐esque stories where one creator can keep guiding them through times. That seems partly endangered. That’s my mission to try and deliver this stuff.

Part 6: Fangus and Stranger

Nathan: Something that always bugged me. The announcement of Fangus was only really a week before you announced that you were shutting down the SLO offices. Why was Fangus announced like that?

Lorne Lanning: Fangus was a deal with a different publisher and some things happened. The fans don’t really understand the industry. It’s okay— you can’t expect them to. The press doesn’t really report accurately the industry and they might not even understand either. There are practices in the industry where publishers will sometimes try and leverage your overhead against you for better terms. So we had made a deal and then they tried to change that deal. So we said ‘No. That’s not how we make deals.’ Ultimately, we cancelled Fangus. Without getting in to the legal side of things.

Nathan: Was the decision made before that announcement?

Lorne Lanning: The announcement was made and we thought it was going strong. It was more than a week; it might have taken a while to get out there. There was all good intent on it and then some things happened which we didn’t see as the basis for a reliable relationship so we though that the best decision at the time was just not to move forward with that relationship. We still have Fangus; we still have that possibility and it’s a story I’d still like to tell. I didn’t like where it started to go. It was one where we were going to give it more to the team, then they started to shape it a little more human and I lost some interest as it started to get shaped that way.

Raymond Swanland and I were really interested in developing a part of Oddworld that was more like where Eastern Europe meets Russia. Russian Mafia coming in as a political force and sheep herders being ousted but I wanted to do it more like the dynamics between cats and dogs. All these Russian Mafia guys are going to have this feline heritage and the sheep herders were more like dogs— but imagine dogs evolving 50 million years later. That’s what Fangus was. In that one illustration that was released of him, you can see some canine‐like qualities and he was going to be super bad‐ass as a character but I didn’t want to lose the really neat opportunity of having this really very different type of story in the world. Even the title, Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot, was different, not Oddworld: Fangus. It was going to be a different type of experience and we were going to use the Stranger Engine on it. We had a lot of it running. At the end of the day we felt that the right thing for Fangus was not to do it.

Nathan: So it was meant to be on Oddworld though?

Lorne Lanning: It was a decision we had to make, we were waiting to say where. On the map, I knew where Fangus was happening. But I also wanted to give the crew a chance; there were a lot of people who were really excited about making their own game. So I gave them the ability to make their own game but they didn’t want to stick with this ‘crazy’ stuff, they wanted to go with some more human designs and I just lost interest. So I said that I was going let this run but if it’s going to be so human, it’s not going to be on Oddworld. What I really wanted to do was have it be on Oddworld but in a different location, where it would have its own mythology on the other side of the world. So… here are problems that happen in Alaska and those are things that take place in the Middle East. They really had nothing to do with one another.

Nathan: In Stranger’s Wrath, how do the various creatures, particularly the outlaws, fit into the typical Oddworld Universe of Industrial, Native and Wildlife?

Lorne Lanning: We never publicly revealed that there was an underground, Outlaw class which is basically a black‐market class. So we can say that China is communism, here we have capitalism, in between the two we’re seeing where capitalism is meeting communism and there’s an importation of product and exportation of jobs. All these things affect us all but what we don’t ask is what are the black markets. Who’s just feeding off it; working on the underbelly of what’s there? So the Outlaw class is meant to be elements that aren’t quite one or the other. They’re ragtag remnants of species that once had some level of significance but are now renegades that band together— like Ali Baba’s forty thieves or something. That’s why we tried to do them as various different species. In Stranger’s Wrath we didn’t really associate them in the political or industrial context. They are like bounty hunters in America; guys making money any way they can. That was the outlaws.


Nathan: So there’s not just one species group?

Lorne Lanning: No.

Nathan: Jo’ Momma. Is she a transvestite or is she a female?

Lorne Lanning: Wait a minute. The character Jo’ Momma?! She’s a female!


Nathan: Do they have a queen or are they a sexual society?

Lorne Lanning: That’s a good question and I don’t remember exactly how it was left. That was one of the ones that was more the creation of the game design team. They wanted one that was more absurd. Every time we make a game, we always have ten times more dialogue than we ever get to record, ten times more cinematics than we actually get to do. There were all these jokes that they wanted to play with about a really bad momma from a trailer park that all the tough boys would never mess with. So, no, she was just one tough momma.

Nathan: Jeez, I think I’m losing every argument today. I was convinced she was a transvestite.

Lorne Lanning: Well, we intentionally had a guy doing the voice but were didn’t get that controversial.

Part 7: Abe’s Moon, Re‐releasing the Games, Hair Gel, and Other Topics

Nathan: There were two different stories about Abe’s Moon, one that it was ancient and that the Mudokons used it to prove that they were superior and one that it was created by asteroids just at the moment where he realized that he was a saviour. Either of them correct?

Lorne Lanning: Well, in Oddworld there’s usually more history to whatever a mythos might be. The idea that it would be magically created at the moment of Abe’s freedom is a little too deus ex machina for me. It would be a little too much like god is on their side. Now, whose side God is on, if that’s how we want to think about it, should always be more clouded. What I always saw with the moon is that it’s an enigma. So we wanted to make sure that the shape of the Mudokon hand was almost unmistakable but at the same time you could never be sure and neither would they. It could become more of a radical faith, ‘We are the chosen ones, God put our hand there’ or it could be ‘Maybe we just fit in to the universe, maybe we’re a piece of everything.’ It could have been very holistic or it could have been very patriarchal and orthodox. That, later, would appear as a fear for the Glukkons, who would have a different type of superstition. In many ways they’ve denied mysticism, went more towards science and industry. Then you have the Glukkons, Vykkers, Gloctigi and Oktigi—the Oktigi are a more powerful as families. So, in Stranger, Sekto is an Oktigi. They’re more primal to the evolution than the Glukkons so they’re not even full land‐forms yet. They’re parasites. When we do make the movie and you see the boardrooms of the Magog Cartel, they’re all modelled after parasites, leeches, flees, ticks… but they’ll be sitting there in Armani suits.

Nathan: So the Magog Cartel isn’t just Glukkons?

Lorne Lanning: No.

Nathan: So how does Munch’s moon fit in then?

Lorne Lanning: Going back to Abe’s moon; there’s this idea that there’s something that keeps it mystical for them. But we’re not 100% sure— that’s why it was critical to me that they were formed by asteroids, so you could see the craters. There are all kinds of myths in human history about what the shapes on the moon really are. In this case it’s a little too obvious. So how that would shape thinking and different radical mentalities should reveal more and more of itself over time. Then, Munch’s moon was supposed to be more of a thing that was witnessed— that asteroids helped form it— but it wouldn’t have been as clear as the Mudokon hand. It would have been like ‘You see, it is the Shroud of Turin in the water stain on the side of the freeway,’ like happens here all the time. We wanted to create these devices that would help represent the theme that when we have faith that we are part of something larger, how enlightened are we to take the faith this way or that? And if we’re not enlightened, how does that endanger others?

Nathan: Any chance of a re‐release or maybe a free download of the Abe games?

Lorne Lanning: Yes. They will be re‐released on Steam. We’re doing that now, starting with the Abe games. They’re being tested as we speak. They’ll be at a really reasonable price point. I’m getting the impression that Steam wants to sell things cheaper, so that more people can get them. We’ll see how the sales go and then we’ll decide whether to finance the conversion of Munch and Stranger to Steam as well. We are huge believers of digital distribution; that it’s the answer. So we’re huge supporters, philosophically, of Steam and everything Valve is doing. If Oddworld has a company that it’s really admired, it’s Valve. They have very different types of content. I think Gabe Newell is one of the smartest people in the industry, hands down.

Nathan: One member called Paul asked what hair gel you use.

Lorne Lanning: *laughs* Nice Paul. Well, I’m trying to get off my addiction to hair gel. It’s non‐alcohol…

Nathan: You don’t really have to answer this.

Lorne Lanning: No, I want to answer it because it’s Aveda and I believe in Aveda because it is one of the real pioneers for sustainable industry. They’re amazing.

Nathan: And they’re using it as an advertising point as well, which is good that that tactic has developed them a market.

Lorne Lanning: And they were really early adopters of this; they were doing it before it was cool. They’re sincere. Knowing some of the girls that I do, they say ‘OH, YOU HAVE TO USE AVEDA!’ so I’m using hair gel less over time.

Part 8: The Last Bit

Nathan: I’m not even going to bother reading this because it’s three paragraphs.

Firstly, and perhaps most pertinently, I’d love to have some better idea of what to expect from the Oddworld film, and how it will differ from the Oddworld of the games in terms of its plot and the Oddworld Universe itself. Will familiar and well‐loved characters and concepts be there, like Big Face, Alf, Elum, possession, wells, SoulStorm Brew, etc.? I worry that if Oddworld changes too much it will alienate the fans, but I don’t want that to stop Oddworld evolving into something greater. I just want fans to be prepared to love a different kind of Oddworld if they have to.

Lorne Lanning: The Oddworld that we’ll make will change in some respects but only for the better. We only had the budget to make a game and that afforded some cinematics, which is really where we know the personality of Abe. Now if we had a lot bigger budget, the tools are grander but the vision stays the same so it will expand what we knew, it will get deeper than that but it shouldn’t lose what made Oddworld great. I don’t think the Oddworld fans will be disappointed with where it goes. It will get more edgy. The thing is that, for us keeping Oddworld— and we were offered a lot of money to sell the company— we made the decision that it was time to move on and get into linear entertainment and that’s going to take a while, especially the way we wanted to do it, which was to control what we created. That’s pretty much impossible today. We knew that was going to be a challenging battle and we’re still fighting it and still excited about it. The idea was much more than we were able to tell but if were able to deliver in those first games something that revealed the heart and soul of where this was, then maybe that would stick and linger with the fans. So when the time would come and we’d really be able to saturate it to a much greater level of depth and realism and the authenticity of that world, then they’ll just love it more. But if we license it to someone like Disney and then they made a version, I’m not sure that I would like that. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.

Nathan: But you would have a nice happy ending though…

Lorne Lanning: [Lanning hesitates.] The ending of the entire Quintology is a massive tragedy. It’s not pretty.


A little bit historical, but I’m still curious as to exactly why different characters were used in Stranger’s Wrath, mainly Grubbs rather than Mudokons and Wolvarks instead of Sligs. Lorne has hinted that it was to avoid upsetting the fans’ expectations of the existing characters, but I’d love to have examples of exactly how the new races differ from their predecessors, and what Lorne could accomplish in storytelling and cracked mirror observations about our own world by having these alternatives. This isn’t to say I don’t love the new characters.

Lorne Lanning: Part of that is that Oddworld isn’t just that one package so when we had the ability to go in to Stranger, I wanted to explore a different part, an area that will connect later. Let’s go to some new territories, flesh out some new characters. Let’s have some fun and not just stick with the same things. For us, it’s every day, 70 hours a week for years so I wanted a break from those characters and a chance to explore some new territory on Oddworld and birth some new characters like the Wolvarks, the Grubbs. I also, at the time, was very sensitive to water rights. Water is what we’re going to be fighting over. Today it’s oil, tomorrow it will be water. So I wanted Stranger’s cast to be a completely new cast.


Nathan: There was an element of Chinese architecture and style as you got further up the river, was that a reference to the Three Gorges Dam?

Lorne Lanning: Yeah.

Nathan: Yay! Finally get one right!

Lorne Lanning: Three Gorges blew my mind. So many million people were going to be displaced and what was covered up. How the Chinese moved them was not so much of a concern for the people giving the orders. What was really tragic is that here are these ancient cities and towns and they’re just going to flood them. But the housing they’re building for the relocated people is horrific; concrete condos. So they take them out of this wonderful heritage, history and culture and just stick them in there and say ‘Well now you’ll have a job in a factory and you’ll be fine.’


And a more sentimental and trivial question, are Lorne and Sherry (and/or Bross) ever going to bring back the Oddworld theme (the one heard in several different styles in the starts of AO and AE, running through several of MO’s gameplay vis videos, and at the very start of the Icons episode)? I love that piece so much, it hits all the right emotive and scalar tones, and is really very beautiful.

Lorne Lanning: The Oddworld theme… That was Josh Gabriel’s music.

Nathan: Wasn’t it Ellen Meijers?

Lorne Lanning: Ellen Meijers (pronounced ‘Meyers’). That was his wife. Josh is a real composer. Ellen was sound design, very technically astute, very capable in all ways but Josh is a really amazingly unique composer. There is so much audio work in the game but the bits that are truly ‘composed’ was primarily Josh. Munch and Stranger were all Michael Bross and he’s awesome.

Nathan: Actually, what’s the likelihood of him bringing out the second album any time soon?

Lorne Lanning: I think he’s working on it, dealing with it. He’s building up his own brand now so I think it’s all good.

But with the Oddworld theme; it’s funny; when we created that music… I was saying that we need a theme. I always thought of with The X‐Files— which actually used to be the hold music when you called Oddworld. Josh’s favourite commercial branding was the Duracell battery ‘Bong gong KUNG’— he said ‘Three notes, man, and you know what it is, we’ve got to get that.’ So then we had the Oddworld theme and we did variations on that. So, in taking it to the next level we’ll be experimenting more and more with that. I would call them echoes of the original and then embellishing them with more time, money and budget.

I really appreciate what you guys have done over the years. For Sherry and I, it really just blows our mind that you guys stay active on it [the Oddworld Forums]. It makes us feel guilty some times but then I figure that they’ll forgive me when we reveal something great.


Nathan: Well, this will keep us going for a while. Thanks for your time.