Edge (UK): Munch’s Oddysee [1999]

Date: December, 1999

Source: Edge (UK Edition), Issue 79, pp. 24-25

Oddworld Inhabitants is combining its beautifully innovative side-scrollers with the power of PS2. Yes, it’s time to welcome Abe and parping chums into the glorious world of 3D.

The latest Oddworld game represents a revolution that goes beyond the obvious jump from 2D to 3D. There’s a switch from puzzle-oriented gameplay to the open-ended simulation of entire ecosystems – including the life cycles and social chemistry between the bizarre creatures that inhabit them. But that’s a measure of freedom available when developing games for PlayStation2.

“We’ve allowed more onscreen characters, more elaborate behaviours and larger worlds with more AI running underneath,” enthuses Lorne Lanning, Oddworld Inhabitants’ president.

“In short PlayStation2 allows us to completely rethink how a game should be built, how it should look and how it should be played.” And as anyone who has experienced Abe’s Oddysee or Exoddus will know, that’s quite a statement, as Oddworld games have never lacked innovation. Now as one of the first non-japanese developers to release image of its DVD-based game, it’s demonstrating ambition too.

Born out of a time when Lanning and CEO Sherry McKenna found themselves working on a movie ride for Universal Studios, only to decide that games were more interesting, Oddworld Inhabitants started out intending to release a quintet of game episodes within one universe.

The first chapter was completed with the release of Abe’s Exoddus. This was counted as a bonus game following the debut of Abe’s Oddysee, rather than a release in its own right. Work on the second episode, Munch’s Oddysee, started in late 1998. The ever-popular Abe is retained as one of the key characters. He rescues/kidnaps Munch, last surviving Gabbit, from a Glukkon medical research facility.

The Gabbits have almost been wiped out as they have been used as spare transplant parts for Glukkons suffering from lung cancer.

Despite their dysfunctional relationship, Munch and Abe have complementary attributes, even though Munch starts the game hating Abe. They eventually learn to get along and both are important to completing the game. Abe can possess living beings, while Munch, thanks to a RS232 port in the back of his head, can possess mechanical objects. He is also an amphibian, but Abe can’t swim.

The rest of their world is heavily populated, with creatures from Abe’s games reappearing in evolved 3D forms, as well as a raft of new beasts.

“Some of the new enemies will be much larger in scale,” reveals Lanning. “Some will have strange co-dependent relationships and some will be aquatic. You’ll also start seeing more herds.”

Important in the success of previous games was the enthusiasm with which female gamers picked up on Abe’s non-confrontational missions.

And using the accessibility that comes from a 3D environment, Oddworld Inhabitants is concentrating on expanding this core market.

A manageable camera is one key issue. Another is what Lanning berates as the ‘virtual idiot’ phenomenon of 3D characters – when the addition of a third dimension makes characters unable to pick up items or walk through doors without colliding with walls.

“We are working on a system that helps the game’s inhabitants identify where they are in the environment and also recognises what items of interest might be nearby,” Lanning explains.

“Picking up an item should be as fluid as it used to be in 2D.” The goal is to combine these tools with an environment that allows players to do what they want, for as long as they wish.

“We expect that once people start playing, they will find themselves getting interested in going off on their own and just treating the world like it’s a terrarium full of living creatures,” he says.

“People will want to nurture some things or levels for a long time, possibly days or weeks.” The core plot will take about 50 hours to complete. And around nine months after the release of Munch’s Oddysee, Oddworld Inhabitants will release its first online multiplayer version of the series, archy entitled Hand of Odd. Thanks to Sony, Oddworld finally has the chance to go global.

Format: PS2/PC

Publisher: GT Interactive

Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants

Release: Autumn

Origin: US