Interview: Stewart Gilray, CEO of JAW Ltd

Interview: Stewart Gilray, CEO of JAW Ltd [Hosted by Expansive DLC]
Date: 6 February, 2013
Interviewer: Expansive DLC
Interviewee: Stewart Gilray


Oddworld is still kicking and very much alive. That’s the message JAW Ltd want to get across to everyone.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Stewart Gilray, CEO of Just Add Water Ltd, and ask him a few questions about Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath & their upcoming release, Munch’s Oddysee.

EDLC: How difficult has it been to move Stranger’s Wrath between formats; from Xbox to Playstation 3, then PC and Vita? The engine must have presented some serious development challenges for such drastically different systems.

Stewart Gilray: There were a few hiccups. The first being the main one. The original game is DirectX where PC, PS3 and Vita versions are all OpenGL, but this was the EASIEST way to do the work without having to re-write the entire rendering system from scratch. Once the Renderer was in OpenGL, we’d covered any big issues with the 3 target platforms.

EDLC: How would you rate the success of the re-release? Have most people been happy to see the return of Oddworld?

Stewart Gilray: We are pretty overwhelmed with how well it has done on the Vita. Top of the PSN charts in Europe for December. Number two in the US. We went up against some big names when we released, half-way through the month. The PS3 version did a little less in its launch month than the VITA version, but we were still, I think, 10th or something in the US Top Ten for December 2011, bearing in mind we released on Dec 27th there in 2011.

We still have a lot of work to do, getting word of Oddworld back out to gamers. The landscape has changed since OWI shuttered development in 2005. We’re all-digital now. We have to rebuild our fan base, in some respects. People are saying “remember Oddworld? They were cool games”. We’re shouting “We’re still here!”. We’ve got a lot planned for the coming months and years, so stay tuned.

EDLC: In terms of content, how much have you added to Stranger’s Wrath from the original release? Has the game expanded much or have you remained mostly faithful to the overall vision? Also, what’s your favourite sneaky implementation that most people won’t notice?

Stewart Gilray: We did loads to get Stranger’s Wrath up to date. New models, new textures, improved controls. For the PC, we listened to feedback and criticism from fans and finally managed to give them the game they deserved. The original release on PC back in 2010 was a difficult one for us. As such we took some flak; in some cases well deserved, in others not so much. But we came back from that stronger than we were before and we think we’ve done well with our community management and interaction.

We stuck in a couple of Easter Eggs. We put in 10 hidden “Rupture Farms” barrels, which contained the mythical Mudokon Pops, as well as some hidden bottles of ButtFlo near the toilets in Wolvark Docks. Doing that type of stuff was a lot of fun.

EDLC: Just to clarify this once and for all. Why were you unable to add cross-play functionality between PS3 and Vita versions of the game?

Stewart Gilray: The only reason we didn’t have save-games is a technological one. Cross-Save uses Sony’s TUS (Title User Storage) system which has been a part of their Network system for years. Here at JAW, we used TUS for the Level sharing system in Gravity Crash back in 2009, so to say Sony introduced it later is complete rubbish. The problem is that our save games are around 5MB, where TUS has a 1MB limit. 5 into 1 just does not go.

EDLC: As you recently revealed to us, leaderboard support is coming to Stranger’s Wrath. Do you have similar plans in the works that could further expand the longevity of the game, or after this update will all priorities shift to Munch’s Oddysee?

Stewart Gilray: We have to finish work on Stranger’s Wrath HD this month for all platforms as we have a lot of other work to be getting on with. For the first time, the entire company is working on the same project right now and that’s exciting. We have no other internal projects on the go here at the JAW offices, but we are still managing the final work on Munch’s Oddysee.

We’ve got an update for PS3 coming out soon, as well as the Language versions and VITA version too. If we had the time and bandwidth we’d possibly consider some type of multiplayer for Stranger, but right now that’s way, way off, perhaps we’ll do something completely new with that idea, but who knows.

EDLC: Have you added more to Munch’s Oddysee than Stranger’s Wrath? Will this feel a fresher, newer game than a straight re-release?

Stewart Gilray: Actually, we’ve done less with Munch, purely because it is so much older than Stranger. Stranger was released on the Xbox almost 8 years ago, Munch was released 12 years ago, so being able to play with the original levels in terms of adding stuff to the game was impossible. We couldn’t even add Easter Eggs. We did do full texture replacement throughout and the biggest change was the GUI and frontend, in terms of how much was changed.

The VITA version of Munch is interesting as we’ve used Touch a lot more in the game play than we have with Stranger, but that’s because it’s the type of game that has slower gameplay than the fast franetic action of Stranger.

EDLC: How much of the old code has been used to develop Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath? How many fixes and patches have been attached to the games in order to get them in a state you’re happy with?

Stewart Gilray: All of it. We literally took the final shipped projects, and restarted from there. We fixed a few things in both games, but they were both made so well in the first place that there was little/no fixes to make. I think the biggest change was with the controls for Munch’s Oddysee. The Xbox version used a system that had differences between TAP and HOLD for different actions, we felt that a system closer to the control system in the first two Oddworld titles was a better option, so we did that.

EDLC: What are your thoughts on the current standard of HD re-releases? When you see how some games are ported without true HD, utilising the same interfaces, are developers doing enough to make these games enticing to a new audience, or are they damaging the game’s reputation?

Stewart Gilray: This is a tricky question for me to answer. I’m all for people taking pride in their work and doing things correctly, but, to me, a LOT of those HD titles simply aren’t done that well. I find it amazing that ICO and SotC run at 30fps and NOT 60fps. It also surprises me how they do NOT comply with Sony PS3 TRC guidelines. As with any HD release, it’s exciting to be able to reach new audiences that missed the game first time round. Munch is over 11 years old now, so it doesn’t just feel like a rehash. However, a lot of HD re-releases seem like nothing more than cash cows. Which will just sell because of rose tinted glasses with fans.

EDLC: What development or addition are you most excited about in Munch’s Oddysee? What do you think people will identify with most of all, both as newcomers to the series and those who’ve played the originals?

Stewart Gilray: We knew we couldn’t do much with the environment meshes, so we knew we had to concentrate on the textures and the character models and the UI. So, we went to town to make sure they fitted together well and worked well together, and I think we’ve managed that. The hardest part has been the technology and getting it to work properly. The NDL engine is just so inflexible, it’s crazy, so we’ve done what we can with that.

EDLC: From a development point of view, what one feature would you like to see incorporated in the next generation of systems? What would be the dream addition as a gamer?

Stewart Gilray: I really can’t answer that, for various reasons, but mainly because I don’t know what to suggest. To me, perhaps, as crass as it sounds, no slowdown in games. Give me 60fps 1080p all the way.


EDLC: While we know what’s coming to the Vita version of the game, the PS3 update will feature.

3D and Move support added to the game package.
Leaderboards support
Reducing package filesize down to around 1.6GB
Bug Fixes

We thank Stewart for his time and look forward to the upcoming update for Stranger’s Wrath.