Interview with Lorne Lanning & Stew Gilray of Oddworld Inhabitants

Interview with Lorne Lanning & Stew Gilray of Oddworld Inhabitants [Hosted by]

Date: 03/04/2013

Interviewer: Media Snobs

Interviewees: Lorne Lanning & Stewart Gilray


Oddworld is a significant name in the video game industry, with each title being no stranger to several Game of the Year awards. My first experience with Munch’s Oddysee is one that I shall not soon forget. I then experienced both Abe’s Oddysee and Exodus which are prime slices of the platforming royalty. Stranger’s Wrath also possibly has one of the best stories I’ve experienced in a game,which is why I’m truly honored to have interviewed Lorne Lanning, designer and writer of every Oddworld game as well as being the voice of the classic hero Abe. Not to be outshined however, Stew Gilray, development director at Oddworld Inhabitants is also joining us. Shedding light on both their HD Remake of their original cult classic, Abe’s Oddysee and some old projects they’ve had in the pipe for quite some time. Without further ado, let’s take a trip back to Oddworld and chat their inhabitants.

Media Snobs: “Oddworld has a very distinct art style and game play compared to other games on the market, what are your influences on both art and game design?”

Lorne Lanning: The gameplay style was definitely the early platformers, specifically Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia, Out of this world, Flashback, and Blizzard’s Blackthorn, but we set out to take this classic style and mix in more story, character development, and visually rich production design that we were starting to see in games like Myst.

For the art influences, at the time I was pushing the studio towards environmental and world designs of deeper sensibilities that pulled from the heavy dramatic lighting / overly saturated flavors coming out of the European graphic novel scene. Books being done like The Metabarons, by Juan Gimenez and his absolutely mind blowing character, mechanical, and environmental production designs that fleshed out intense thinking into each object conceived in his worlds. But then we were taking the more intense color schemes that we were seeing with some new properties that were coming out of studios like Dark Horse, which was doing Pitt, and Spawn and others equally vibrant and with more depth than traditional comics had been doing (thanks to digital inking/printing techniques that were emerging). And we always loved the work of Simon Bisley and his super exaggerated facial expressions and emotional energy, and Wayne Barlow, with his deep dives into alien life and worlds.

When it came to story themes, we were pulling far more from the music and rock & roll examples rather than the relatively shallow messaging that was (and still is) dominant themes in the game sector. And of course from movies, where we were looking more at films like Apocalypse Now, Soilent Green, and Omega Man… mixed with real life inspiration coming from the dark side of globalization, that most people just wanted to ignore back in the 90s.

Media Snobs: “Despite being the chosen one, Abe is rather cowardly and dim witted was this a conscious decision when compared to every other generic video game hero?”

Lorne Lanning: We were definitely aiming for standing out from the herd, and so “yes” there was never anything non-intentional about Abe and the rest of the cast. Much thinking into exactly how they would come off was undertaken, and we were clearly aiming for an anti-hero of the day. Now back in the 90′s the day was filled with muscle bound prepubescent designs of “heroes” that justified shooting everything but didn’t really stand for anything that had a modicum of conscious intelligence behind it. No offense to the creators, who I love and had fun with their games, but I’m just calling it how the rest of the world sees it. Or in the opposite gender direction, there was the quickly over saturated anorexic huge bosom sex bomb with a gun. So yeah, we didn’t want our heroes to be in those categories, and those were the dominating categories. So we were definitely aiming for separation from the trends.

Media Snobs: “What is the state of both Munch’s Oddysee & Stranger’s Wrath HD on Xbox 360?”

Stewart Gilray: Nothing has changed since we last spoke out about it. Microsoft just aren’t interested. We were really happy when we found out New ‘n’ Tasty was okayed for xBox Live Arcade, though.

Media Snobs: “What differences can we expect from Abe’s Oddysee: New N Tasty?”

Stewart Gilray: Obviously, we’re going to be as faithful as we can to the original. A lot of comments made after the Eurogamer footage complained about this or that not being the same as the PSX version, but that was very early pre-alpha footage.

Media Snobs: “What do you think will make New N Tasty stand out compared to the other 2D platformers on the market?”

Stewart Gilray: It’s Abe, brought kicking and screaming into the 21st Century! The game is going to capture the nostalgia of the original for those that were there the first time round… Using the newest technology in the Unity game engine means we can make the most of the story using modern techniques. There were ideas we couldn’t implement in the original version due to limitations which are no longer an issue. For example, we’re able to have all the cut-scenes in-game now, which opens up a lot of options.

Lorne Lanning:
Evolving the classical platform play into the new tech without leaving behind what was great about the classic play style of platformer side scrollers. We call the target “nostalgalicious” and if we do it right then it should have that old proven feel renewed with schmantzier technology.

Media Snobs: “In early footage for Abe’s Oddysee, Abe was being chased by a horde of Meeches, this was later removed due to space issues. Will fans finally get to see their beloved hero chased by the ferocious Meeches in New N Tasty?”

Stewart Gilray: There were early tests with groups of Meeches in the game, but these were never taken further. This wasn’t necessarily a size issues though. Unfortunately, we don’t have any footage in our archives either.

Media Snobs: “Ever since I’ve read about it, it’s kept my mouth drooling, any word on Fangus Klott?”

Stewart Gilray: People ask us all the time about this or that game… We never stopped wanting to release all the games we promised. Circumstances simply prevented us from fulfilling that dream, unfortunately. We still want to do the Quintology. We still want to do other games in the Oddworld universe, including Fangus. There are ideas we haven’t even revealed yet we are desperate to do! Right now, our focus is on gaining some independent capital from the HD remakes.

Media Snobs: “With so many new IPs since the last Oddworld game, how has development changed?”

Stewart Gilray: Interesting question, and one I’d say we usually talk about via reflection on the past, IE “Remember when used to have to do all this stuff by hand.” Or “Thank god we have better tools today.” that’s the main difference from an actual development stand point we’re getting a lot more done today than we used to do via some excellent tools and middleware provision. Take for example something like Unity, it’s a multi-platform engine that has a relatively simple set of tools for platform conversion. But what’s really interesting about it is the fact that if there’s not a tool in it you want, either someone else has written it, OR you can write it yourself fairly quickly. If you look back at the days when we did the original Stranger’s Wrath on Xbox we wrote our own engine and tools, and whilst it was great to have the tools we wanted, it came at a price and that was the extended development schedule and process. There are basically more suitable options available today to help smaller companies achieve what they want to achieve.

Media Snobs: “Can you tell us about how Hand of Odd will stand out compared to other RTS games and other free to play games?”

Stewart Gilray: We don’t have anything to say about Hand of Odd at the moment. We’re focusing on getting New ‘n’ Tasty out the door!

Media Snobs: “HELLO, HELLO, FOLLOW ME, OKAY has become somewhat of an internet meme and a phrase happily uttered by your fans, is the phrase so simple because of hardware limitations of the time or perhaps an inside joke?”

Lorne Lanning: Well, hardware limitations did shape every element back in the 90′s, so this is always a massively influencing factor in the design decision making process. So that attributes to limited words being used, high repetition, and low compression quality. Yet our primary focus was to figure out how to control additional characters through the player’s main hero character, with the intention to ultimately make your character and the rescue NPC’s feel more connected and dependent on each other, but through voice commands. And how do we reduce that intended goal into the simplest set of repeatable actions that had obvious gameplay value that users would easily understand, even though we hadn’t see it quite done this way before.

But equally important, our aim was to increase the sense of awareness and life for the characters you were supposed to rescue. If you just clicked on or selected these characters, it wouldn’t necessarily have made you feel any more emotionally endeared to them and their plight. So on the one hand, it was just trying to figure out action commands with voice triggers instead of weapons, and on the other hand, we were attempting to maximize character appeal for the impression of life and an enhanced emotional sense of player responsibility over these little rather pathetic “digital life forms”.

Media Snobs: “I think I know the answer but I just have to ask, any word on a new Oddworld game?”

Stewart Gilray: We recently did a poll on the site asking fans what they would like to see next. Obviously, there are more variables affecting the decision, but the results were interesting to see! Quite a few of the team have a soft spot for Fangus, and we recently found a really, really early build for the original xBox in the archives. We also have the next game in the Oddworld Quintology, Squeek’s Oddysee in the queue. There’s so much to choose from!

Media Snobs: Thank you both so much for taking the time to answer all of our questions! and I personally can’t wait to see what you guys have in store!