Exclusive: Lorne Lanning speaks to TotalGames.net!

Exclusive: Lorne Lanning speaks to TotalGames.net! [Hosted by TotalGames.net]

Date: August 2001

Interviewer: Richard Melville

Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20010803120051/http://xbox.totalgames.net:80/features/featuresfull1.epml?features1.REF=1163&newsFormat.REF=11&featureType.REF=1

Legendary long locked Oddworld producer and the main man behind the forthcoming Xbox title Munch’s Oddysee speaks to TotalGames.net. Lorne Lanning waxes lyrical about the final game and, erk, the Future of Videogames.

TotalGames.net can report that E3 2001 was home to some of the most technologically advanced games we’ve ever seen. The Xbox line up featured playable versions of Halo and Gotham which are both fantastic and ensured that quality software will be available for launch. Leading the Xbox assault was a near complete version of Munch’s Oddysee. TotalGames.net caught up with Oddworld producer Lorne Lanning and talked Xbox, Munch and the future of gaming over some Starbucks coffee and muffins.

TotalGames.net: You’ve worked with the Xbox for a few months now – what’s it like?

Lorne Lanning: “The system is so clean and well designed – the pipeline to the main processor is really simple. The thing about the Xbox apart from it’s brilliant design is memory. To make beautiful pictures, you need memory”.

TotalGames.net: The controller is better than using a PC keyboard too – you must be happy with the controller?

Lorne Lanning: “Yes, control is important, to a large degree the designers think about the hardcore gamer and nothing else – they just say ‘hey it works for me!’ and that isn’t the case on a platform like the PC with so many combinations of controls. There’s no game that a controller can’t work with, unless it’s a text based RTS or something.”

TotalGames.net: Have you completed your vision of what Munch should be – obviously it’s changed through conversion to the Xbox but how has this effected the initial design?

Lorne Lanning: “What I had hoped Munch’s Oddysee would be is not what the final game is but it’s not because it couldn’t have got done on the Xbox – it’s because of our own engineering efforts and design learning curve. The platform shift from PS2 to Xbox has changed the game and had an effect on our work time and budget. We had a lot of wasted effort along the way – a lot of the things I wanted to do we will be able to do on this generation of consoles though.”

TotalGames.net: What’s on the next console then, how far do you see games design in a technical sense?

Lorne Lanning: “What I’m dreaming of is living in a game city that’s populated and everybody in that city has jobs, they come home, walk their dogs, take drugs or do whatever right? What I want to be able to do is take one central character and cause an accident downtown and watch the whole city freak out because they can’t get to work, the dog isn’t fed and they can’t get the kids to school. Then you could see mass hysteria unfold. But that means we need thousands of characters, and that’s what I look towards Xbox 2 for – a machine that is ten times as powerful and that’s where my dream starts to unfold”

TotalGames.net: How easy are the Xbox developer tools early on compared to the documented problematic PS2 ones – we saw an Xbox munch remarkably quickly so the code must’ve been easy to port?

Lorne Lanning: “The transition was remarkably smooth. What helped us was knowing what we’d have when – we haven’t put much audio in at the minute because the final audio chips have not arrived. With the Xbox we’ve had a great relationship with Microsoft – we knew what we could plan for. Still, building games is a bitch! We’ve made motion pictures and theme parks and games are harder – no one can break your movie! You don’t have this vicious audience wanting to break the game on you saying ‘Ah! I broke it!’. That’s what I do when I get games – I try to test it. “

TotalGames.net: Is games designing and production going to get easier with progressive platforms – new hardware brings new problems surely?

Lorne Lanning: “Our problem is that we have internal problems like any developer when designing but it’s really annoying when it really should work but doesn’t – if you talk to the console maker and they say ‘it should work’. You think ‘How is it possible that a system can be designed in such a way that is so old fashioned that making games isn’t fun?’ When you’re passionate about building games you need to concentrate on your own problems like we do on Xbox because we have little problems with the hardware compared to before. I can’t comment on GameCube because we don’t have Nintendo dev kits.”

TotalGames.net: What about multiplayer games and the online community – what do you make of it all on a personal level?

Lorne Lanning: “Online games mean that the performance bar is raised each time – look at what Cormack did with Quake. Within genres the better product wins through…You’ll never see Nintendo do that – to say ‘here’s our core engine – see what you can do with it’. It works for Quake and Half Life.”

TotalGames.net: It leads to more diversion when the gamer starts tinkering with their own game too or making their own?

Lorne Lanning: “Sure. Look at what’s happening in music – we have hundreds of genres but not at retail – you show up and there’s ten categories. It’s the same for games but when you’ve got a different distribution channel like the web or broadband, when it’s all hard disk space you see that nature of what can be built and sold. The problem is that the creative people don’t always have the marketing savvy to sell their game. The more we open up the opportunities for people, the more we see can great ideas manifest sooner”.