Date: April 1997 Source: Edge (UK Edition), Issue 44, pp. 34-35
Even though it’s not in 3D, a new reworking of the Flashback genre may turn out to be an innovative 32bit gaming experience
One of the more unusual console games at the last E3, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was only revealed to a select few showgoers behind closed doors. Initially called SoulStorm, it has its sights set on the PlayStation’s current platform champion, Crash Bandicoot, but seems to draw its inspiration from an older generation of more strictly 2D-styled platformers.
Developer Oddworld Inhabitants was co-founded in 1994 by Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, who are its president and CEO respectively. Lanning’s father worked as an engineer for console pioneer Colecovision, making him quite possibly the first ever second-generation games developer. He and McKenna were both enjoying lucrative careers as computer special effects animators until Lanning convinced McKenna that the new 32bit machines had the potential to take gameplay and graphics to new heights.
‘What was most important to us,’ Lanning explains, ‘was to create new types of play mechanics with a conceptual story that you get attached to.’ Starting with the technical limitations of the PlayStation and Saturn in mind, they began work on their first game, based on Lanning’s five-part story set on an alien planet, the eponymous Oddworld.
Abe’s Oddysee puts the player in the role of Abe, a member of an Oddworld slave-race who works in a meat-packing plant. Abe accidentally discovers that his masters are using his race as foodstuff, initiating his eight-level adventure. The game is made up primarily of side-scrolling screens similar to FlashBack, with a total of 110 screens in the first level alone.
But, maintains Lanning, the Flashback comparison is misleading. ‘There are a lot of situations in this game that are lifelike which makes it very different. You have to understand the characters’ personalities and behaviours, not just the mechanics. Understanding the characters is how you’re going to make progress further along in the world.’
It may be stretching a point to say that Oddworld‘s characters are lifelike, but many of the game’s quirky features are integral to the gameplay. For instance, Abe can tip-toe past sleeping enemies, and he has a chant power that enables him to take possession of the minds of enemy characters, whom he can then use to attack other foes.
Another new feature in Oddworld is a form of language that Lanning calls ‘gamespeak’. Partially inspired by the audio puzzles of LucasArts’ 1989 point-and-click adventure, Loom, it gives Abe a very basic vocabulary with which he can communicate with other characters. Using the directional pad, Abe can issue one of eight simple commands — phrases like ‘Wait Here’ and ‘Follow Me’.
Two-and-a-half years after inception, the game has finally been properly unveiled because, Lanning explains, ‘We wanted to have something to show before we started talking, to prove what we’re playing with is real.’ Oddworld should make for a refreshing change from the PlayStation’s diet of polygon racers and beat ’em ups. It’s certainly a daring move for a company to debut with such a deliberately retro platformer.
Format: PlayStation, PC
Publisher: GT Interactive
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Release: Summer ’97