Interview: Lorne Lanning Discusses State of Gaming, New Oddworld

Interview: Lorne Lanning Discusses State of Gaming, New Oddworld [Hosted by GameDaily]

Date: 05/09/2008

Interviewer: John Gaudiosi

Interviewee: Lorne Lanning


We recently caught up with Lorne Lanning to get his take on the evolving game industry, the impact of user-generated content, and what he plans to do with his new Oddworld game.

SAN JOSE, CA–Acclaimed video game creator Lorne Lanning has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to his creations. The co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants is working on a next generation Oddworld game, as well as some other interactive products. He’s also going to direct Citizen Siege, a CGI movie produced by John H. Williams (Shrek) that will also spawn a game. But that project is currently in “development hell.” Lanning recently took the stage at Nvidia’s NVISION 08 conference to discuss the advances of digital art and the use of video game engine technology for film creation. Afterwards, he sat down with GameDaily BIZ for this exclusive interview on the state of gaming today.

GameDaily BIZ: What are your thoughts on where gaming is headed?

Lorne Lanning: Personally, I think the consoles are a problem. Years ago I was excited about consoles, but anything that makes development more expensive, rather than better, faster, cheaper, I think is a step backwards. When I look at what’s happening, it’s a bit disappointing because the consoles are running into a place where affordable games are having a rough time getting out there.

BIZ: What about the PC gaming business?

LL: The other thing happening on the other end of the spectrum is communities — connected gaming. Personally, I’m more excited about what I see happening on PC because I see it allowing for more smaller games to be sold that can be delivered to anyone who’s connected at much lower price points. PC games also allow people to build their game as they chose. There’s a big difference between spending $50 or $60 on a game and hoping I love it and buying a game for $5 and then buying additional content for that game, so by the time I have invested $50 in it I really love it and I’ve personalized it a lot more to what I’m interested in. And I’m sharing this experience with a global, connected audience.

BIZ: So Electronic Arts’ release of the Spore Creature Creator is a step in the right direction?

LL: Yes, smaller and growth-oriented communities is where I see things going. Look at Spore and the Creature Creator. The Sporepedia already had more species registered in a few weeks than exist on the planet Earth today. That’s what happens when people get excited about what other people are creating and what user-generation content can do. Of course, no one knows that better than The Sims. People are more engaged when they can personalize and control what they’re doing.

BIZ: As a game designer, how do you see your role evolving with this shift to user-created content in games like Spore and LittleBigPlanet?

LL: I think what we’re talking about with user-generated content is if we’re putting the power in the gamers’ hands, then it really depends on the power of the tools that we’re giving them. Some designers are shifting more away from a narrative to create a play box where you can create your own narrative. Gamers are not only interfacing with the game, but with the tools designers are providing to build the game experience. In the past, the focus might have been on what experience am I delivering to gamers. Now I have to focus on what power am I giving them to deliver their experience. I think the design task is equal in many respects, but the idea of flipping it to more controls to the audience is pretty radical and this is a pretty major shift. I think it’s very positive.

BIZ: What do you want in a gaming experience today?

LL: What’s amazing to me is that a marketing exec at a game publisher will look at my demographic and say, “Oh, they’re not buying games anymore.” And they’ll keep designing games for other people. What I want is games that have evolved with me with the limited disposable time I have in my daily experience. We’re really getting tied to everything more constantly. Our life is getting chopped up into micro-fragments that we have to better manage. When I’m home, I’m still getting e-mails from the office on my Blackberry. What I want is an experience where, when I’m bored as hell, I can nurture it, when I want something fast, I can experience that. But I want to experience that within the world I’ve been nurturing. I want competitive stuff, but I want anti-social gaming.

BIZ: Is that what the new Oddworld game will be about?

LL: Something’s next and we haven’t been talking about it. We’ve tried releasing information really early — Munch’s Oddysey was the best example of that and we’ve learned some lessons there. We’ve tried holding information back until almost the last minute and we’ve learned some lessons there. Ideas and innovation are like a fetus in the womb. There’s a reason no one gets to see the baby for nine months. Ideas incubate in privacy better, longer. We have been taking a while (with Oddworld) and that is disappointing to some fans. But we believe if we deliver excellence, they’ll be thrilled. All is forgiven if you do it right.

BIZ: Will Oddworld still involve your notion of a digital back lot bridging interactive and linear mediums?

LL: Yes. We’re also trying to really merge the filmmaking, the television making and the game making as singular experiences. Not only because we think it’s fun and interesting and that’s what excites us, but we think that’s where the tide is going. The retailers today don’t want to carry anything below a certain price point. We see gas prices changing the price of manufacturing of plastic and delivering games to stores. Eventually, retail is going to largely go away for gaming. It’s just a matter of time. But the gamers want that.

BIZ: What impact have you seen online social networks have on gaming?

LL: When it comes to MySpace, we’re working on something now and one of the things I often say is, “MySpace is nice, but once I read about how someone really is, there’s no way to kick their ass.” It’s a social community and we all have billboards of ourselves, but we’re not really interacting. The challenge we’re tackling is how do we take the MySpace page, which is really just a projection of our personal expression, and turn it into our mobile existence.

BIZ: So you’re looking at mobile gaming?

LL: When we look at display devices, really the television monitor — even when it’s 130 inches big — it’s still a stupid device. We’re looking into a universe of infinite possibilities and dimensions in these virtual worlds and we’re still watching it through this static, stupid, flat screen. But we exist in a 3D world and 3D space and we relate to things in a 3D nature. Our interfaces are really behind. Really, as we’re walking down the street, our MySpace page should be floating around us. And if I choose to be looking at specific pages like MySpace people into electronica trans music, then I should be able to set that setting on my eyeglasses and check it out while I’m walking down the street. The world of information that’s becoming available to me is through the devices that I’m wearing naturally — like the phone.

BIZ: Thanks Lorne.