Interview: Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath

Interview: Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath [Hosted by GameDaily]
Date: 3 December, 2004
Interviewer: John Gaudiosi
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning


The Oddworld series has been a little quiet lately. We sit down with Lorne Lanning to discuss the upcoming title and the future of the series.

Lorne Lanning and his gang at Oddworld Inhabitants have been creating Oddworld games since 1997, when Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee launched on PlayStation. Their latest offering, the Xbox-exclusive Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, has already been featured in a Discovery Channel documentary on Microsoft and has switched giant publishers from Microsoft to Electronic Arts. But the original vision for the action-oriented game, which allows players to switch between first-person and third-person perspectives, has remained intact over the years. The game is coming along nicely, both in terms of the graphical look of a Western and the deep gameplay. There is also plenty of Oddworld’s quirky humor, which is established both through dialogue and situations, as well as ammo. In the game, you can shoot skunks and other living creatures to take out your enemies. As you travel from town to town, you’ll learn of new missions from townspeople called clakkerz, who are basically chicken people. There are 5,000 lines of dialogue to propel the story and give the game a true sense of interactive entertainment.

Story has always been as important as gameplay to the Oddworld clan, which explains why Hollywood has been interested in this game world for years. (Lanning is represented by Hollywood talent agency CAA for this purpose.) The new game promises to supply an interesting tale that will come complete with plot twists and surprises. The action will evolve from Western-themed towns and mines to other environments along the way as the story unfolds. You take control of the Stranger, a cat-like bounty hunter who takes jobs to hunt down the bad guys. Since rewards are better served bringing the wanted in alive, instead of dead, gameplay challenges you to use your head as much as your ammo to track down and nab the baddies.

The ability to switch from first to third-person also opens up gameplay. One cool effect is that in third-person, the Stranger runs on all fours, giving his animal look real gameplay. By blending shooter, platform and puzzle elements with a massive story, this Stranger is a departure in some ways for the Oddworld crew, but it also feels very familiar and looks like it could open up the wonderful Oddworld universe to an even larger audience. And that’s certainly a good thing. For the lush worlds that Oddworld creates are unlike anything seen in games.

Lorne Lanning took some time out from his developing duties to talk about Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath.

GameDAILY: Can you talk about the evolution of Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath as the concept changed over the years?

Lorne Lanning: Actually, it amazes me that the concept for Stranger’s Wrath stayed very much on target from conception to finish, at least as it pertained to the production. The experiences from our previous titles have helped us to target a goal and to stay on that goal throughout the process of production. Yet, some of the core concepts came from various inspirational moments that have landed themselves in my files over the years. A thought here and there, something pisses you off, you write a note about a condition or a greedy baron…eventually these notes pile up and there is a wealth of high concept material. You then face a new project, you start sifting through this material and floating ideas around with the team. Then you start to see what falls out from it.

GameDAILY: What made you decide to go in this direction, far from the original games at least in terms of gameplay?

Lorne Lanning: We wanted to try out some new styles of play and bring some interesting innovations to action. We also wanted a clean break from the previous characters so that we had more room and flexibility with story and design. It was the right time to do it with the market changing in the way it has been over the past few years. Traditionally, our characters have been weak physically but strong at heart. In the case of Stranger’s Wrath, we wanted to inverse this model. For the Stranger we wanted a character who was very strong physically, but weak internally. Someone who wants to be someone other than who he is. In the process of finding his true self, he finds that he becomes something greater than he ever could have imagined.

GD: What was your inspiration for the central character in this game? And how influential are movies and popular culture in creating the Oddworld games?

Lorne Lanning: We wanted to birth a strong, mysterious loner who wasn’t quite what he appeared to be. We also wanted a style of play that would feel more like a great Sergio Leone shootout than the more traditional “shooter” games on the shelf. Sergio Leone is one of my all time favorite film makers, and his Clint Eastwood anti-hero (the man with no name) was also a character that I always loved, even as a little kid.

There were also some other story ideas that we’d been playing with that focused on the theft of water and the displaced people that were under the threat of genocide. This is a high concept I had been playing with because I always want Oddworld to unfold relevant stories that subtly reflect a mythical face for our times, and I believe that clean water and water rights are something that will be at the forefront of global politics and conflict as we enter the next century. So we played with a theme that reflected elements of the man with no name, then brought this inspiration into the universe of Oddworld in our traditional “cracked mirror reveals the dark side of globalization”. The story we wanted to create was very dark as a high concept, as all of our stories are dark at the conceptual level, but then we lighten them up with satire and a comedic cast. We play troubling reality against the dumbness and naivety of human nature.

GD: Who’s your audience for this new game and how do you think this game’s dynamics will attract new, possibly older gamers?

Lorne Lanning: It’s an Xbox only game, and even though we always aim for a larger market of people that might be more interested in gaming if only gaming were more interesting, we still can’t expect to sell past a healthy percentage of Xbox owners. Not many people will go out and buy a console game system who aren’t already gamers. This demographic is predominately older male, is heavily action driven, yet hungry for great action games that have quality stories and has more highly polished experiences. We’ve also been hearing some early press responses back from guys that started playing a preview build, go to the bathroom, and return to find their spouse playing the game – something that they say never happens. It’s always been a goal of ours to try to make games more entertaining and more appealing to a larger audience in general, but you can’t be unrealistic when you’re dedicated to a specific gaming console.

GD: Can you talk about your overall vision for the Oddworld universe and where this game fits in?

Lorne Lanning: The idea of Oddworld was always to create a world that was a cracked mirror reflection of our seldom reported yet saturated reality of moral bankruptcy and the dark forces of wreckless globalization. “Commerce without conscience”, as Gandhi would say. A reality that corporate media isn’t bringing to us because it would hurt its advertisers. Like Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons”, sometimes you’re able to say a lot more if you create a place that is so ridiculous – it just can’t be taken too seriously even if it has very serious messages embedded in it.

Like good conquistadors, we wanted to stake out a planet for our own selfish desires. This planet we called Oddworld. Much like George Lucas had created a universe of samurai monks in space with Star Wars. We are playing with the Dark Side of Globalization within the ongoing theme of Mysticism vs. Consumerism. In the latest installation, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, we sought to stake out some new territory that resides at a different location from the previous games, and we filled it with a completely new cast of characters while staying true to our core themes and conflicts – conflicts between the have-everythings and the have-nothings.

GD: Are there any updates on taking this game to TV or film?

Lorne Lanning: CAA represents my partner Sherry McKenna and I and we’ve been talking about the Abe film with various studios and producers. We’ve been asked to option the film several times, but we want to build a digital studio to produce it ourselves, so that makes the effort a bit more complicated. Hopefully, we’ll have some good news on this front in the near future.

GD: Will you continue to create sequels for Stranger, if it sells well, and then still introduce other character-driven games as part of the overall Oddworld universe? I believe you once called it the Quintology…

Lorne Lanning: The Quintology is something that is dear to my heart and that I’ve been building on for twenty years. It’s a five part epic that begins with the story of Abe, but these days with the increasing challenges of game technology… I’m hesitant to try to birth the rest of the stories as games first. Munch, our last game, started off as one of the Quintology stories but the technological challenges along the way changed the story into something else entirely. It lost its heart and that broke my heart, so after that experience I didn’t want to try another quintology story unless we had a completely functioning AAA game engine in hand.

If Stranger does well, which we hope it will, then there are plenty of places we’d like to take him. There are a lot of unexplored territories across the plains of Oddworld that Stranger would be just perfect for, so our fingers are crossed. A lot of talented people put a tremendous effort into creating this game experience, and it’s our hope that audiences will feel the love and pain that we’ve all poured into it.