GameSpeak: Our Interview with Lorne Lanning and Stewart Gilray

GameSpeak: Our Interview with Lorne Lanning and Stewart Gilray [Hosted by HBHUD]
Date: 16 January, 2013
Interviewer: HBHUD
Interviewees: Lorne Lanning & Stewart Gilray


Today we’re lucky enough to sit down with Lorne Lanning and Stewart Gilray; Lorne is the creator of the classic Oddworld series and Stewart is both the CEO of Just Add Water (the folks behind the recent rerelease of Stranger’s Wrath) and the Dev Director over at Oddworld Inhabitants.

HBHUD: First off, thank you very much for sitting down and answering our questions today, I’m sure you’re both very busy with Stranger’s Wrath launching on the VITA. On that note, what has it been like bringing what was an Xbox original game to these new platforms with new capabilities?

Stewart Gilray: We wanted to bring the two Xbox titles back to PlayStation, but we wanted to give them a spruce up, so we decided to work on various aspects in that regard, we started a short list of Characters, GUI and ingame environment textures. We then spent some time going through the environments and rounding various items that needed it, e.g. Barrels and pipes.

It was great as we decided to add in extras, like Easter eggs and unlockable concept art and videos, showing how the original team working, to be able to do that was great fun as well as a good learning experience for us.

The main example I give for the characters is how the main character went from 3,000 polys up to 20,000 polys.

HBHUD: If memory serves you guys put out a big update for the PC version of Stranger’s Wrath after the HD rerelease on the PS3 last year, it’s great to see a product evolving on as many platforms as possible so long after it’s launch and I was wondering if we’re going to see any more changes to the PC version with the VITA release?

Stewart Gilray: No, the VITA version had a couple of changes but that was more down to restrictions and changes do to the VITA rather than improvements; “Stranger’s Wrath HD” is a specific title, which is on various platforms, PS3/PC and VITA, with the only differences being platform specifics.

HBHUD: Moving onto the actual series itself, I’ve wanted to ask what the inspirations were for the Oddworld series? Themes of corporatization, environmentalism, manifest destiny, slavery, and many other high minded concepts have been represented in it over the years and I’m curious where all that and the grotesquely cartoony art style came from.

Lorne Lanning: We were aiming to capture a special sweet spot that I believed to be an inevitable compounding theme for our planet (earth), where the increasingly visible diabolicalness inherent in Capitalism collides head on with the unpredictable consequences of the slave classes awakening.

We often thought of the property as “Muppets meets the X-files”, a hilarity of dysfunction born out of the ugliest of our criminal elite’s practices and behaviors.

HBHUD: When Abe’s Oddysee was released it seemed there was a lot planned for the Oddworld setting, but then after Abe’s Exoddus this sort of shifted and Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath went in very different directions from the original PSX games. Was this change in creative direction intended from the start or did something happen to change the future of Oddworld?

Lorne Lanning: Many things happened. The stories and creative approaches to innovative gameplay where the most important things to us. We tried to retain these signatures as time, technology, audience perceptions, and financial conditions changed. If you’re aiming for success, you need to adapt quickly to changing tides, financial perceptions and conditions, as well as technologies and gameplay styles. These factors all influence the decisions when building games in succession.

HBHUD: Obviously we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence for the franchise now with these rereleases and I’m curious what the thoughts are towards continuing the series? I seem to remember hearing that a new game was on the way after you guys finished the HD rerelease of SW but I may just be imagining that.

Stewart Gilray: Indeed, we’re working on Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee New ’N’ Tasty which is a from-the-ground-up remake of the original game. It’s a 2.5D title, IE it has 3D art and 2D gameplay, with a scrolling camera, opposed to the originals flip screen system. We’ve been in production now for a number of months, and it’s really starting to come together, we plan on talking about it next around E3.

Lorne Lanning:
We hope to always be creating new games, but it’s all about financing them and we are revitalizing the games and property without publisher support. So while we’re moving at a slower pace, we are at least moving upward. Our hope and intent is that with each success were able to scale into financing entirely fresh content.

HBHUD: If/when a new game in the series comes about what direction would you guys put it in? A return to playing as Abe or the Stranger? An another try at the regrettably cancelled Ballad of Fangus Klot (a game I personally was really excited about)? Or would you go with something completely different containing new characters and themes.

Lorne Lanning: It really depends on the time and climate. What installed base will be the most viable and is their audience of hard core, casual, or social gamers to deliver to. This will shape the choices. Just like when the Xbox released: MS believed the property to beat was Mario. So they gave great support to us on Munch’s Oddysee. They believed their market was going to be casual, but at release, the price point of the Xbox combined with the success of Halo, shifted their attention from casual to hardcore game development. In some ways, Stranger was reactionary to that changing climate. There was what everyone thought was going to happen, then there was what actually happened which was very different.

I personally love all the characters we’ve created, and have much depth yet to explore with each. But timing and market conditions will shape the decision when it’s time to start paying for those future developments.

HBHUD: Lastly is there anything you want to say to the diehard Oddworld fans out there who’ve been with you since the PSX days?

Lorne Lanning: I don’t think I can properly express my full gratitude. It’s something that makes me want to cry when I think about it. I know Sherry McKenna is brought to tears once every few months by the on-going stories that fans continue to share with us. And I mean seriously mind blowing stories, both in the inspirational as well as the horrific sense. We always aimed the property to address an instinctual human need for fairness, compassion, and hope. Something I believe are massively deficient elements in our inherently corrupt capitalist system. But honestly, I never expected to gain first hand insights into the intense and often times surreal challenges that so many people have been though. People who claimed to find inspiration in our games and reached out to share their stories. It’s been incredible. It’s been humbling. It’s something we’re grateful for. Somehow they found us. Hopefully we’ll never disappoint them.