Chatting with Oddworld [2002]

Chatting with Oddworld [Published by XBM Magazine]

Date: 01/01/2002

Interviewer: Nick Roberts

Interviewees: Lorne Lanning & Sherry McKenna


Chatting with Oddworld

Oddworld are very keen on healthy living—​they even make all their employees take vitamins every day (or put them under their tongues until the boss’s back is turned!), so packed with vegetarian food, vitamins and juice, we sat down around the Oddworld Inhabitants’ boardroom table to chat with creators Lorne Lanning and Sherry McCann about everything Oddworld…

XBM: You’ve made the decision to introduce a new character in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee instead of keeping Abe into the limelight, which is quite original. What benefits does a new character give the gamer?

Lorne Lanning: Even though Abe proved to be quite successful, Munch was always the second hero scheduled for the Oddworld Quintology—​we’re eventually going to have five characters. So now that it’s time for the second instalment, it’s time for Munch. Because he is new we were free to explore new types of basic control play mechanics. We also wanted to create a character that felt completely different from the usual biped‐type characters. We wanted something that made you smile as soon as you started moving him around. As you know, you’ll be controlling Munch and Abe in this game (switching whenever you like), you’ll find that Abe is more agile on land, while Munch is more agile in his wheelchair or in water. Yet they both stick to the world and control the world in a way that is completely dynamic.

XBM: What’s your favourite part of the game and why you think the gamer will enjoy that particular element?

Lorne Lanning: Wow, it’s very hard to narrow it down like that. This game is so different, has so many new things going on, it’s hard to say. Maybe it would be the way you switch between characters. To be playing with one completely dynamic character, Abe, and then to hit a button and instantly go to another location and have another completely different type of dynamic character, Munch, is something that we’d just never felt before. It seems so natural to do this, but it’s never happened so quickly and smoothly before in such a rich world.

XBM: How do the various plot directions work and how do they link to Oddworld games, past and future?

Lorne Lanning: This game takes place after Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, as all of the five parts to the Quintology will unfold in a linear fashion. The Quintology is basically the story of Abe as he follows the consumer food chain from his third world meat factory to the heart of consumerism in the big city. Each Oddysee game in the Quintology will get us closer and closer to the big city, while each one also introduces a new hero along the way.

XBM: Do you see Oddworld making the leap into movies?

Lorne Lanning: It’s only a matter of time. The stories of the Quintology were originally conceived and written as though they were motion pictures. So the original conception of these stories has far more content and details than a game budget affords us to communicate, but this helps the game versions of the stories to have a rich backbone.

XBM: You have mentioned that you want the Oddworld series to continue for years, and that this is step one for the next generation of consoles. What do you think you’ve achieved in step one and where is it likely to go?

Sherry McKenna: The most important thing we wanted to do was to make a game that created a story that you cared about, and created characters that you’d care about in the next game. So instead of just doing a shooter or an RPG game it was really important that Oddworld create something that you’d look forward to for the next game, and you know that it’s going to take place on Oddworld, you know that it’s not going to be something, like, totally different than what we’ve done in the past. You get that it’s a continuation, it’s a big, huge story. That was step number one.

Lorne Lanning: And then from a purely mechanical perspective, we’ve made the controls a lot simpler. Having the analogue controls is very nice, what used to be five button combinations is now one and it works effectively. We’ve simplified the way that you do GameSpeak, but we’ve increased its abilities. We’ve made the characters that you find not just be characters that you rescue,k but they’re also power‐ups for you. We’ve increased the humour value a lot, so there’s a number of those little baby steps that we feel pretty good about. But as Sherry said, it’s really laying that consistency to a greater universe that you feel that you’re going to retain the same spirit of each time you buy one of our products, then just enhance it so it gets better and better.

XBM: We detect a cross between Dr. Suess and The Three Stooges, but what was the real inspiration behind the Oddworld Inhabitants?

Lorne Lanning: The real inspiration is from the injustices that have taken place in world history and are still taking place today. Abe was inspired by those poor bastard diamond miners of South Africa who have long been working as near slaves for De Beers. Munch was inspired by those creatures losing the extinction battle every day to our gluttonous appetites, and also those hundreds of millions of voiceless animals being tested on in laboratories every day. Whether you agree that these modern practices are okay or not is irrelevant to hearing the stories of those that have become victims. So for today’s world these are great stories with a lot of heart. On the ‘business of art’ front, inspiration has come from people who have built quality entertainment universes like George Lucas, Jim Henson and Walt Disney.

XBM: There seems to be an anti‐industrialisation message within all the Oddworld games. Does this mean Abe and chums won’t be seen advertising root beer or beauty products?

Lorne Lanning: Our licensing philosophy has one rule: don’t tell us how to make content or tell our stories. By default, this counts out a lot of products and big corporations. For example; it’s okay with us if McDonalds licenses Abe… but they never will. They won’t do it because they will never put a character on their burgers who is an anti‐deforestation representative. McDonalds is supporting the clear cutting of rain forests at a rapid pace, so they wouldn’t touch Abe unless they could have us change the story. To which we would tell them to piss off. Our characters all have issues like this. Characters like Mario or Crash are completely consumer product friendly because they don’t stand for anything. However, Abe and Munch have some serious issues.

XBM: In the first game Mudukons were mute, in the second they were blind and in the third Munch starts off in a wheelchair. What’s with this fascination with disability?

Lorne Lanning: I guess it’s all representative of being a little guy in a big cruel world. I don’t think we’ve ever thought of them as having disabilities, it just comes naturally to us. We try to communicate characters that are underdogs and have lived with injustice, and these traits help us to tell a complicated background with a simple visual design. Of course, these traits also aid in creating humorous game mechanics.

XBM: The games industry makes more money than Hollywood. With games becoming ever more cinematic, do you see a day when Cinemas will become a novelty and interactive home entertainment takes over?

Lorne Lanning: It’s already happened for me. I don’t go to theatres anymore, I just wait for the DVD to come out. I guess it’s mainly because I don’t like when people talk during a movie, I don’t like that I can’t hit pause and go to the bathroom or roll another… uh… I mean get another beer, I can’t turn up the volume, the audio quality usually isn’t very good, etc. The list goes on and on. It also helps that I have a huge screen surround sound system in a comfortable living room. A lot of people that I know feel the same way about this. So yes, I think this time is right around the corner. Consumer electronics get cheaper and higher quality while movie theatres are getting smaller, dumpier, and more expensive.

XBM: What has the Xbox enabled you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do on the PlayStation2?

Lorne Lanning: Right on the surface, there’s just a lot more textures. I mean, one we made the jump from 2D to 3D in this game. But, a lot more textures…

Sherry McKenna: Just take a look at all the characters, we couldn’t do that on the PS2.

Lorne Lanning: So, at times in this game we’ve got four dozen characters on the screen at one time. That’s 48 characters all individually blinking their eyes, reflecting the light—​that’s a lot of horsepower and they way that the pipeline is configured on the Xbox, the graphic processor, the display is all very clean. Then there’s 64 Mbytes of memory, let alone what you can take advantage of with the hard disk. And it’s on DVD, and it’s important for us to be on DVD because our game added up to 5 Gigabytes of data, but the time all the movies and gameplay was in. 5 Gigabytes—​we would have to be on multiple mini‐discs if it were on the Nintendo 64, and the game wouldn’t fit into the n64’s main memory—​we use all 64 Mbytes of that main memory. It’s allowed us to get a lot more characters, a lot more voices and a lot more textures and in the end—​that’s a lot!

XBM: You’ve created a fantastic world and some amazing characters. What in‐particular has inluenced the look of these characters?

Lorne Lanning: For creatures, on a basic design side, on of the mantras here at Oddworld is that it can’t look like it came off a designer’s table, it has to look like it came from a mother. Meaning, it has to look like it could be a functional creature, it must have muscles and bone structures that make sense. A lot of the fantasy stuff in the world today make no sense, they kind of look cool for these two years, then they look really dated after that.

XBM: So where will the next step of the Oddworld journey take us?

Lorne Lanning: Working with the other developers and asking they’ve encountered on the Xbox, we all know that we haven’nt squeezed this machine yet. We’ve just got it to do what we wanted it to do and so I think that in many ways it’s going to be very challenging for the designers of the world to really optimise Xbox. We’re really excited about that because we have really ambitious goals and ideas, there are so many things that we’ve dreamed of doing, but it will take us years to write that code. Even though this machine is capable of so much today, it doesn’nt mean that you can write that code today. Hopefully the next game will push the Xbox in raw horsepower. We will really be pushing it when we take advantage of the online capabilities.