EGX 2017: Lorne Lanning – Brewing Oddworld: Soulstorm

Date: 22/09/2017


[0:00 — 0:53]

Lorne Lanning: Hi, everyone! Thanks for coming! I wanted to thank EGX, because they were really generous. They gave us this whole room and invited us out to talk about things, and so that was great. And it was worth the 14 hour flight to see you all here, so thank you. 20 years ago, Abe, 20 years ago… I started dreaming of Abe, in setting the foundations for the story that would, in years to come, become the company 25 years ago. And somehow, you know, just even the other day like Abe games from 20 years ago the original games keep on selling, and people keep on liking it and that was just a total shock. But I’m gonna sign a little more light on what the whole idea was from the beginning, in how we see Soulstorm as an opportunity to sort of reboot what the original vision was [1:55].

And in the meantime, these are some of the groups that are working on the project around the world: designer Raymond Swanland, he was with Oddworld from the beginning; Frima Studio in Quebec, is engineering and game design and art being done there; Fat Kraken Studio who’s right in the front here, art and design, bad ass guys; Secret Panda Society in Washington, D.C., DJs working on some of our more gloomy dark and depressing music, that’s going great; Testology, which is helping us from day one, test out the game, we’ve been working on it for 18 months; Sabotage Studio is also in Quebec. So we’re managing about four time zones on the phone every day. And sharing screen, thank God for Skype. Thank God for Slack. Thank God for Trello, any of you in production I think you’ll know what I’m talking about, but it allows us to actually do production on the run on iPhones, like it’s amazing. So this has been in motion, these are people working on it. There will be more by the time we’re done, so it’s quite an effort.

And I wanted to recap a little bit about why the decisions we made on Soulstorm, and what it actually is. So when we did New ‘n’ Tasty, we saw that as an opportunity to sort of redo a classic fable that we felt good about how it kicked off the original idea for the Oddworld “Quintology”, which was supposed to be a five-piece epic that eventually would unfold. But the truth is, you know, time, business, partnerships, realities, new consoles… Those realities helped kind of steer us a little bit in a different direction. And without getting into all the details, there’s no sour grapes but that’s just time and reality and it changes a lot of things. And it influences a lot of things. But with the success of New ‘n’ Tasty, and the way we saw New ‘n’ Tasty, which was: it was a fable that we wanted to keep the original script [4:00]. We wanted to keep the original ignition of what that story, the beginning of Abe, was. So we rebuilt a twentieth century story, retaining the same script, and we did it with 21st century technology: that was New ‘n’ Tasty. And we had asked the audience, we had asked the fans when we were starting to make New ‘n’ Tasty, “if we succeed with this, and you’re happy with us, and you don’t want us to just go away; what would you like us to do next?”. And to our surprise, people were saying Abe’s Exoddus [4:31]. That was the highest ranking redo, and we were like “oh, huh”. So Exoddus was kind of an emergency game for us. It was supposed to be the second game in the Oddworld Quintology. And I had this big vision of what that game was going to be. But the reality was: we needed to provide our partner a game in nine months, and that was not our plan. So what happens is, the story of Exoddus got reshaped into something that wasn’t really in line with that original vision [5:06]. And maybe that was okay because at the time I wasn’t as experienced game designer. And I was really overshooting the boundaries of what I thought we could do. It was all related to the Brew. It was all related to flammable liquids, highly volatile environments in a slightly different storyline; and so it became something that wasn’t the original intention. The crew did a great job, the team did a great job executing it. But I saw this years later: it was in the demotivational posters section of the web somewhere, and I agree! I agreed that it was kind of half the heart but it was twice the game. A lot of people liked the game better, but they felt like it lost some of what made Abe a little more dark and mysterious and with full of heart. And time and reality can do that, at times. So we said, “well, if we’re going to address the idea of Exoddus, let’s go all the way”. So let’s scrap the Exoddus that you saw, and you knew, and let’s go fresh back to that original vision; but now on top of the side-scrolling platformer genre and turn the volume up to 11 on a lot of different levels. So this is a brand new game. It’s brand new. And the original vision of it was much more epic. We really wanted that deeper story we wanted to get deeper into the characters, get deeper into the world and deeper into the actions that Abe would evolve upon.

And along the way, when we were creating this IP, one of the things I was fascinated about was: what is it that; how do you create a brand that people felt this strongly about? That when I grew up, there was a lot of like outlaw biker culture around me. There was a; a lot of women had like Beatles lyrics tattoed on their arms. And I would see like this deep passion for properties and creation that other people have made, that people were willing to make this type of a commitment to. And I was like “wow, how do you build something that people feel that strongly about?”. And it usually came back to depth and it usually came back to: it meant something much more to them than just a company or a logo that they thought was cool. It meant a lifestyle and meant a way of living, it meant something deeper that resonated with them on a deeper level. And we started shaping Oddworld that way that we wanted you, the fans, to feel like what I believe led to great IP: Star Trek, Star Wars, movies, Kubrick movies, things like this where you feel that the creators have a lot more depth and research into that then you’re able to discover [8:00]. Guys watch Game of Thrones? Yeah? No? You know, watch Game of Thrones, it’s sex and everything, man. Sex and dragons [laughs]. You got to check it out, yeah, it’s pretty cool. So that depth we really wanted you to feel, and then as our games started coming out, we started to see people actually making this greater commitment, which is, the characters were resonating on a different level. And that was leading to this like flurry of challenges for us. Which was like “how do we read, address, when people have solidifed something and if we decided to start changing things, you know, does that mean more death threats, does that mean like where is this going to go if we screw up what these people felt this strongly about?”. And this is just a fraction of what we’ve seen out there. And so it gave us a different sense of pressure, of really trying to retain that original intention and deepening and thickening it, rather than just becoming an IP that’s being exploited because it makes good business sense, blah, blah, blah, you know. We see that all over the world. But we wanted our games to get better with time.

And we wanted the property to get deeper with time. And what was it really based on in the first place? So the Oddworld Quintology was really about, you know these are historic control systems. And I was always fascinated with, my family had a lot of history in a lot of different ways, whether it was the Bolshevik Revolution; of Latvian, whether there was the Native Americans—part Native American—like, you know, people’ve had a lot of difficult times through Earth’s history. So this was even back to the Egyptian period of how it was looked at for control systems. Where are we? Probably most of us, right. And where is, like Pharaoh, right? Today that’s CEO of J.P. Morgan or something, you know [10:06]. And so for Oddworld, we were looking at it, we go: this was Oddworld’s population control structure. And really this was, so we got: at the top, you’ve got ancient financial; you know it’s kind of like the Illuminati, you know, pyramid idea that you all probably see on the web and stuff like this at different times. And Oddworld was always supposed to be this dark side of globalization reflecting the real world. So whether or not the real world is this way, it’s great material to mess with, you know it’s just like great fodder. So at the top we’ve got like the oldest money families in the world and they control dollars and think tanks and globalist bankers and economic… all the way down you got the majority. And on Oddworld we call that the 99.987%. And that is where Abe emerged. And this is really where Abe becomes a big problem to the pyramid. So what happens is Abe’s actions are gonna start sending like “oh, it was slave, he worked in a meat processing plant and then he finds out that the retirement plan’s a lie and he’s just gonna wind up chopped meat and that’s not very good”, but we didn’t necessarily, as an audience, start thinking about the financial ramifications of what happens when you shut down a big meat factory, when you start having economic impact, the people that’s going to shake up higher on the pyramid. So Abe’s going about his journey, he starts shaking up more and more. So in the beginning with RuptureFarms as that take-off place of Abe’s Oddysee. Abe’s biggest crime is: he didn’t just piss off his managers, he didn’t just get in fights with the security guards, he didn’t just get busted by the cops, he’s fucked with the CEO of a major corporation that has a lot of investors [12:00]. There’s some young people in the audience, I’m sorry [laughs]. That’s some major investors and that is not easily forgiven. And that’s where the second game in the Quintology that we’re calling Soulstorm. It’s taking off from these economic ripples that are just going to get worse and worse. And they’re gonna start feeling it. And we’re gonna start waking up. Like if you thought Molluck was the top of the bad guy in this world, we’re gonna have a big change of heart on what’s gonna fall on him for screwing up someone’s investment. Like Game of Thrones or Star Wars: you thought Darth Vader was the bad guy, but you find out the Emperor is even worse; then you find out the Emperor is kissing ass to this big giant—it looks like a grey alien, at least in the last one. And eventually these ripples are getting all the way up to the top. And as that’s happening, it’s starting to shed cracks through the population control, economic control structure. And so that as basically those cracks are raising up, things are getting worse. And as things are getting worse, what’s happening and what’s going to be happening through the epic is that Abe’s stoking the fire of revolution and that’s really what this has always been about. So he’s starting to stoke that fire just out of the need of, he just doesn’t want to end up ground meat, you know. He just doesn’t want to be the next tasty treat. But that’s unacceptable because of the economic ramifications that are going to happen. And what’s that going to do is start bringing down the royal shitstorm upon anyone involved with Abe. So he’s gonna sort of be branded and become more like the bin Laden of Oddworld. It’s like, “this guy’s got to go, he’s screwing up, he’s raising prices at your Happy Meal!”. Think about it, he’s got to go, right? So even the consumers, even normal people, anyone above that bottom slave layer is gonna start resenting Abe’s impact. Just like New Yorkers would resent, if you raised their morning lattes $2 a price; New Yorkers would invade any country, if it meant not raising their lattes $2 of a cup. and then eventually the goal is: take out the Eye of the pyramid! That’s Abe’s journey is that he finds the only way that lower class is ever going to have a chance, is they topple the pyramid.

So in that beginning, there was two forms of currency that we saw there being employed: our world is primarily focused on one, it’s the almighty money and on Oddworld we called it Moolah. And with Moolah you can buy physical things, you work in the physical world, you manufacture for people, you service people, you do whatever you got to do to make the buck. That’s how you earn the buck and then you can buy things in the physical world with that buck. The other form was a spiritual currency. This currency was something you get from having more empathy, from helping people, from doing the right thing, from having followers that believe in you. And that would become a secondary currency that operates in the same landscape. So cold hard physical world currency, that you get through labour, finding things, stealing, thieving, picking pockets, whatever it takes. And then the spiritual currency, you’ve got to sort of be in line with the Force, as Yoda would say. And we wanted to embody that into something that was becoming more central part of our gameplay; and that’s yet to really manifest in Oddworld, but Soulstorm is gonna happen. And then Soulstorm was really based around a Brew, a Brew, another company with a happy face logo and telling you everything’s wonderful and dandy and it’s at a sale price today, come get some. Except it really held some deep, deep evils. There were again going to the pyramid control structure to keep that slave class in place. Soulstorm is revealing that story in greater depth. And this was a fan art that was created, and I was like “oh, wow, that’s perfect!”. Because that’s more of the embodiment of sort of what the Brew really is.

Now, has anyone been following our ARG? At all? Okay, a few people [16:10]. So the ARG is all backstory, that’s what we’re touching on. And what I’m going to show you right now is what we call the teaser trailer to the backstory.

[16:25 — 17:30]

So you got to see that first, no one’s seen that yet. As you could tell, we’re really lightening the mood, yeah. It’s getting back to that origin, you know. And in doing that, another thing that we were dealing with, we were trying to create in the beginning was these 3D databases, you know. When we started; launched Oddworld as a company in 1994, its 3D software was still pretty crude. Toy Story the movie had yet to be made, and if you look these are really all “Abe” [laughs] like, there’s Abe, and we said “well, Abe has stitches the other doesn’t, right”. But we didn’t have the time or the money to try and make complex 3D animated characters that all had different personalities. So they were kind of digital clones of themselves. And those were just constraints that we lived with, trying to create a more interesting 3D birthed in 3D property, and there wasn’t many at that day, you know. Mario had just sort of made the conversion but there wasn’t like big game IP at that day that was born in 3D. And we wanted to be that but at the time we still couldn’t do hair, we couldn’t do cloth very well. I mean, it was, you know, it’s twenty-some years ago, right? It’s my hair, it’s a confession too. And then, so we, in upgrading the characters to this 21st century of tech, there’s Abe from Exoddus, which was basically the Abe from Oddysee. And it was like “how do we take Abe and make him more mature? How do we get our textural quality, our rendering quality up into more of that Industrial Light & Magic of creature quality and all that?” [19:16]. So this is the new Abe. But he’s reminiscent of the old Abe, but hopefully even more empathetic. And as we look at things like his tattoos, things that; I was just talking to Caddy. And owe him a dinner because he; you guys are familiar with the YouTuber Caddy? Yeah. Hand for Caddy, he’s been a huge supporter [Applauds]. Thank you man. So he sent me pictures of the tattoo and of course I didn’t believe they were real, because I thought he just drew him on there, was messing with me like most people do. And I said “I’ll take you out to a great dinner if that’s true!”. And then it turned out there was two, so I owe him two great dinners now. This is just like “damn, that gets expensive”. But we had an interesting problem because these tattoos and the symbols in the beginning of Abe’s Oddysee, they were kind of simple but really, they should have had more magical qualities integrated them into, like voodoo or like various mysticism practices around the world. We wanted to get that, but we didn’t want to change the design. So the design, just like Abe, had to get more complex. But that complexity didn’t take them away from their origin so they just evolved but they didn’t change. And that goes to the characters too. So now, finally, we’re able to, because you guys supported us through New ‘n’ Tasty, and we’re self-financing this ourselves, so we’re not a huge entity. We just put, we’re kind of crazy, we just put it all back on Red. And if we do it right, we have the faith that you’re going to support us.

So this is Alf, before he was Abe’s database with the one hat, but this is the new database, these are the 3D databases [21:00]. And these are what’s going in the game: this is Toby, so Toby’s a new character that’s on this venture and as you can see in some ways, they’re getting even more endearing like Toby because the world’s getting that much darker and more intense. So if you got to have a really dark and intense world, you need even sweeter guys to, like, light on fire, or something. And that happens and in this we look at Molluck and where he was; and this is the Molluck from New ‘n’ Tasty, which was basically the Molluck from Abe’s Oddysee with slightly better texture Maps but we didn’t have the budget to take them to the next level. Like we’re doing now. And the next level is to get them closer to what we would call a film [21:43], a film quality that’s not a cartoony vibe, but it might have some animated type styling and the new Molluck is taking on another degree. So this is Molluck post-lightning bolt hitting him in the head. And I’ll focus a little more on where he’s going. But on all these Glukkons, also, they were just the same model, Squash and stretch, they were, you know, anything we could do to try and separate out the differences of personality but we had to do it in really practical efficient ways. And this time as we go through the Glukkons, we always looked at them more like they were the cousins, would be Glukkons but they’d have different genetic traits. So as we go across the different cast of characters of Glukkons and starting with the eyes. We wanted to get much deeper into who they were. And I was telling someone, I go “yeah this guy’s incompetent” and they go “no, he’s not”. And he’s like “well, in some ways, but not others”. So we wanted to focus more on those personalities, deeper and richer. Molluck post-RuptureFarms. So now he’s got the mark of Cain, you know, across him. He’s blind in one eye and he’s got a serious ax to grind [23:02]. We’ve renamed all the Glukkons that come with the other factories, so Aslik, Dripik and all these are different guys now, as we’re getting more away from what that original story was. This is focusing on the later story. And these are the databases.

So Abe’s shaking up this cartel of C-class entrepreneurs that come from families that basically breed managers at the C-level CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and they’ve been entrenched in their businesses. Kind of like Game of Thrones. For so long, you know, this house has been in power for a thousand years, an alliance with that; these guys have been so entrenched for so long that they live in a different reality from where the slave class lives. And they’re arrogant. They’re arrogant and they’re prejudiced. And they would neve imagine that this could happen: what’s left of RuptureFarms, because of some damn Mudokons that are just on the bottom of the totem pole. So Molluck finds out that no one’s even gonna believe him, what went down. So they think he just burned the place and was out for the insurance and got caught, right? He’s trying to be like “you guys need to be aware this is Mudokon uprising happening!”. They’re like “right, right, yeah so what are you up to?”. And their incompetence and their extreme prejudice is going to start supplying the path for Abe to succeed. And these are new, this is the new Feeco Depot. It’s going to be the way that he’s able to succeed is their arrogances, their prejudices, their mindset of what the slave class is and how, what is beginning to happen, should have never happened, and they don’t even believe it’s happening, to their detriment. This is Necrum [24:55]. And these paintings are really, actually, huge, like we’re doing them in like 16,000 lines of resolution; this is Raymond Swanland painting on the left. Glukkons by myself and Kris and Tom who’s bringing them all out in ZBrush and all; a few different parties in different studios around the world helping to bring these guys together. The new SoulStorm Brewery which is like factory of ultimate enticement, feeling like a casino in Vegas on the landscape, but it’s really one of the darkest, the places of one of the darkest most manipulative origins that’s going on. That’s really the mystery of Soulstorm to be solved in the game.

Now the other thing we don’t realize we’re shaking up yet and the property is the societies, the organizations, the foundations, the temples, the orders that these prevailing financial powers have nurtured themselves into over the years. So this is like the “Stock Gluks”. There’s a class of people that run the slaughter yards, breeding of meat and distributing of that and it’s like a deep order, you know. Not that unfamiliar with like the Masons or the Templars with different groups that have entrenched in business over the years. And so we spend a lot of time on the medallions and the awards of this class and their groups. This is those that operate the trains on time. We call it the “Iron Chronos Guild and Temple”. The diggers, those that are robbing the bones, those that mined bones for different pharmaceutical products for different consumer products for different reasons. “The Society of Alchemic Science” which gets into who’s designing the Brew and what is it really, and how deep does that go.

And now, as we get into, we wanted to do a much longer Question and Answer this year because last time we were here, everyone wanted it longer, so I’m trying to get to the end. Now I’m not able to show you game footage today. Because we’re in process of securing some larger partnerships to get us physical distribution again, and there’s announcement to be made with that and we’ve been asked to hold back on those types of materials until those deals are done. But I tried to do the next best thing, which is: show you the problems that we started to have to solve, based on followers [27:43]. And followers is what Abe’s really about if we go to who Abe is as a game, we go, it’s really about followers and thinking puzzles, right? Like what is Abe? And you go “yes, it’s kind of smart puzzles that you have to solve but you solve them through action, and it’s all about rescuing guys”. But what we want to do is: the more followers you have, the more power you have, the more spiritual power you have. So what I’m going to show you here is this is just the UI. And a game screen behind it is black, okay [laughs]. Sorry. But the UI will hint that more of what we had to deal with them managing all this. And so here I’m gonna start to play, and what you’ll see is, down the bottom we have a system that had Abe’s health, his inventory, his Chi status, and as he collects followers, these followers are becoming much more difficult to manage. And the reason is: in the previous games, even New ‘n’ Tasty, the Mudokons they couldn’t even jump over a gap, right? Let alone hoist up or follow you through a traverse of conditions. So they were very limited capacity, beasts of burden, and while they helped your high score, they didn’t help you. They weren’t like allies that could fight for you, that could be used like Tower Defense and placed in different places and do things and be set to different aggressive modes where you can arm them. And where you can manage a lot of them. And all that is happening now in Soulstorm. But what that meant was: it becomes a more dynamic environment where sometimes your Mudokons are not all on screen because you’ve put them to work doing other things, right? So how do you manage that, how do we manage that on a VU level? So this is where we had to create the icon system of the Muds following you. So this is as you “hello” and “all of you”; and you start gathering larger groups. And you start gathering larger groups of them. Two things are happening: the accumulation of the meter, you can tell how many are following you, you can tell if they’re being put to work or being damaged or whatever; but as you crease more followers you see that glow that’s your Chi. So your spiritual power is increasing which means the things you can buy with that currency are opening up and increasing. And you can tell even if they’re immediately in your vicinity or not, if they’re taking damage they’re flashing red, if they turn red if they get killed. So it’s basically giving you more ways to monitor what’s happening with these guys that are much more dynamic and much more than just beasts of burden, but becoming active allies on the screen with you at the same time in mass quality.

Now as that’s happening, in a world of flammable brew, if you saw the early releases we did on Soulstorm, we said “we’re gonna get more dynamic, we’re gonna get more highly volatile, it’s gonna be slightly darker and it’s gonna be a lot more intense”. So let’s just say Brew, one of the side effects of Brew is that it’s highly flammable and everyone’s addicted to it. So the combination makes for some extremely dangerous and gameplay that start unfolding, which means in the Oddworld of Abe, he had to have a; he now has to have a much more robust inventory which in the past he didn’t have. It was like one for one you got a rock to throw it; a bag of meat to get the meat so you could deal with Paramites or Slogs. It was one-to-one, but we needed a much more complex system if we’re dealing with guy catches fire because I used Brew but I don’t wan’t him to die. How do I put him out? And that led to needing to have many more pickup items. Now if you just saw that’s Abe collecting items in the world, which led to. So in that landscape where you need a lot more managing that meant we needed a lot more abilities to manage and that meant we had to create an inventory system and now Abe has a robust inventory system that is largely like consumer products that he can get, and those consumer products he can start converting into weapons. And he can then start with collectibles crafting those weapons into more specialized things, so inventory system and crafting [33:00] has become a key part of what Abe does to get all these Mudokons through the world safely, hopefully. And in this game you’re trying not to ideally kill the Sligs either. So a perfect play: nobody dies. That’s hard as hell. You know? It’s, there’s a lot PTSD trauma that’s gonna take place before you achieve that goal. But that’s our goal, is that in the ideal world it would have been able to traverse this very dangerous landscape, and do that without killing anybody. Not even Sligs.

Where this game picks up is where New ‘n’ Tasty left off; and where New ‘n’ Tasty left off was with 301 freed Mudokons. So this game begins with 301 freed Mudokons that you’re going to try and take with you through the journey because they don’t just disappear into the ether, they’re gonna stay with you. And at times, in real time, in play, you’ll be managing the survival of this many guys on screen at one time. Now unfortunately, like I said, I’m not showing you game screens, I’m not showing you gameplay but I just gave a big indication of how this is a very different game but it builds on what we believe was at the heart of what made Abe special; and it reignites our part two of the five in the Quintology. So that’s what we’re showing today, and we’re opening up to Q&A for the rest.

[34:45 — 43:47]