Retro Gamer: Abe’s Oddysee continues – Peter Chapman on updating a Playstation classic for a new generation [2017]

Abe’s Oddysee continues [Article hosted by Retro Gamer]

Date: 02/11/2017

Interviewer: Retro Gamer

Interviewee: Peter Chapman

Source: Retro Gamer. Issue 174.

We speak to Peter Chapman about the latest HD update of the Oddworld series
The Oddworld series has been entertaining gamers since the release of Abe’s Oddysee in 1997. Just Add Water revisited the classic game and overhauled it for modern systems by releasing Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty in 2014, and now it’s time for a new developer to continue the story with Oddworld: Soulstorm, a reimagining of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. We spoke to Fat Kraken Studios’ Peter Chapman to find out more.

Retro Gamer: How long has Soulstorm been in development for?

Peter Chapman: We started in earnest at the beginning of 2016, investigating technology and fleshing out our toolsets. One of the first things we did was to start to figure out what we would keep from previous titles and what we’d do completely fresh – ultimately, it’s much more of the latter than the former, but we went through a lengthy discovery process figuring out what would work in today’s landscape and what might feel dated and simply not fun. The very early process is about finding what makes Abe work as a character and how we make sure our games stay true to that. Abe’s journey is one of discovering empathy for his fellow Mudokons and using that to motivate him through puzzling and dangerous landscapes to complete his objectives. This is really the starting point for any game where Abe is the central character and, as developers, we have to work with our toolsets – and constantly push those as far as we can – to deliver on that.

Retro Gamer: What enhancements have you made since New ‘N’ Tasty?

Peter Chapman: Oddworld: Soulstorm was initially built on using pieces from New ‘N’ Tasty, and we’re still championing Unity, but we’ve moved from the version used back in 2014 (v4.3) right through to the latest. To be honest, not a lot of New ‘N’ Tasty remains, even at this stage in development: Abe is more mobile and unrestricted in his movement and controls; enemies are much more intelligent and responsive; the Mudokons feel more alive; and visually we’ve moved on considerably. It’s fair to say that very little remains of the previous game. Mechanically, it’s a very different experience – and while we’re keeping most of that under wraps at the moment we’re hopeful that once we do reveal Soulstorm fully the differences will become very clear.

Retro Gamer: Will Soulstorm feature any new sections?

Peter Chapman: Soulstorm’s a brand-new game and won’t actually feature any of the same encounters. Each platform, each jump, each puzzle, each enemy, they’ll all feel new. Abe might visit some of the same overall locations in terms of the storyline but they won’t ever play the same, or in most cases look the same. The story has been rewritten.

Retro Gamer: Is it going to be new or keep with Exoddus’ original themes?

Peter Chapman: It’s completely new, yes. It involves a couple of the same overarching themes as Exoddus, but it’s an entirely new story to go with an entirely new game. Oddworld’s traditionally kept some of its motifs and themes behind the gameplay layer and left a lot up to the player to gather and interpret, and that won’t change here, we’re just adjusting our focus a little from the sort of things the Psone games covered 20 years ago. Our strong characterisation will be present and correct, too – we’re at the visualisation stage of our cutscenes, for example, and they’re really starting to push the storyline forward. The game will tread on some themes we’ve not really covered at Oddworld before, and we hope that our trademark humour still manages to shine, despite the obviously very bleak tone we’ve set.

Retro Gamer: What do you think makes Abe such a popular game character?

Peter Chapman: For me, personally, I think it’s that he’s such an unwilling hero. His motivation started out just being one of self preservation, he never wanted to be a saviour or have people looking up to him, he’s just kind of landed in this situation and the only way to get out of it is to push through it. So he keeps on moving forward, trying to do the best he can in spite of showing no previous aptitude for heroic actions.

Retro Gamer: Why are there new character designs for the numerous Mudokon characters?

Peter Chapman: I think a big part of Oddworld games has always been their storytelling and worldbuilding. We have these fragile characters surrounded by danger and we want the player to empathise with them. The more relatable we can make them, through detailed characters and facial expressions, the more we hope the player will identify with their plight and sympathise with their predicament. The same ideas apply to the new Glukkon character designs. We want these characters to have their own personalities and for players to sense their motivations from more than just their actions or the dialogue that we put into them.

Retro Gamer: How much input does Lorne Lanning have?

Peter Chapman: Lorne’s input is there in everything we do. As creative director, he has a hand in every single aspect of the project, no matter how seemingly trivial. This ensures that everything has a distinct, cohesive style and voice, and Lorne’s with us constantly – every day – to ensure that not only does the work match up to the standards set by the brand and previous titles, but that it matches with his broader vision for the world he has created.

Retro Gamer: Are these remakes leading to a new Oddworld game?

Peter Chapman: Well, Soulstorm is a ‘new’ Oddworld game, so yes! It’s the second in a quintology that we have planned, plotting Abe’s evolution as a hero and the ripples that one act of defiance – running away from the board meeting at the beginning of New ‘N’ Tasty – sends out into the world. Soulstorm starts to expand the narrative beyond Abe, his factory and its immediate surroundings to tell a broadening story about how his actions are having an effect on society around him. In future games, we will keep expanding on those themes to show how the events of Soulstorm ripple out even further into Oddword’s society.