Interview With Oddworld Inhabitants

Interview With Oddworld Inhabitants [Hosted by Master Gamer]
Date: 11 October, 2000
Interviewer: Yvan Trembow
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning


Ivan Trembow: Since the last time I interviewed you about a year ago, what
have been the biggest accomplishments in the development of Oddworld:
Munch’s Oddysee?

Lorne Lanning: It would probably have to be the AI system that we’ve developed. It’s very exciting and extremely powerful. We’ve been aiming for a convincing sense of life for our characters and simulations. It’s taken a lot of planning and problem-solving, but we’ve got it up and running and it’s awesome.

Ivan Trembow: What have been the biggest pitfalls in Munch’s development from a game design standpoint?

Lorne Lanning: The actual game design was well established on this project a long time ago. The thing that’s been difficult is getting all the tools written for the game designers to use. Game design is often at the mercy of programming because the designers can’t fully lay-out or build scenarios unless the game mechanics have already been programmed. And of course, the game mechanics are never fully programmed until near the end of the project. This is always a challenging reality of game design that we have to deal with.

Ivan Trembow: Is Munch’s June 2001 release date pretty much set in stone, or is that a tentative release date?

Lorne Lanning: That is the delivery date for the PlayStation 2 version.

Ivan Trembow: It’s been no secret that Oddworld Inhabitants has encountered a multitude of shortcomings in the PlayStation 2’s hardware. What specifically have been the problems, and how have you been able to work past them?

Lorne Lanning: Well, the more ambitious you’re trying to be and the higher your standards are with a game, the more potholes you’re going to find in the system. When we found these potholes in the PS2, some of them caused design changes because the system wasn’t delivering what we thought it could. Other problems were solvable, but we had to invest time and money in areas that completely surprised us. All of the surprise costs or diversions ultimately came out of the game’s budget. Some of these were projected and expected because it’s a new system, and others were more debatable. As a developer, I’d rather be putting money into the game rather than hardware quirks.

Ivan Trembow: Would do you think might have have been Sony’s rationale behind such technical choices as only giving the system 4MB of video RA

Lorne Lanning:
I have no idea. If the hardware designers had asked good game developers, “What kind of system would you like to have?” it’s hard to
believe that we’d still be looking at the same configuration of hardware.

Ivan Trembow: Has it ever popped into your mind while struggling with the PS2’s
hardware that you could abandon the PS2 for the seemingly greener pastures
of the Xbox?

Lorne Lanning: Yes, but who’s going to pay the bills while waiting for the Xbox?

Ivan Trembow: Regardless of your long-term PS2 plans, do you plan on making games for the Xbox at some point?

Lorne Lanning: The Xbox looks extremely exciting and it’s our desire to take full
advantage of it.

Ivan Trembow: Are you aiming to give Munch’s Oddysee a higher or lower level of
difficulty than Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, or will it be about the same in terms of difficulty?

Lorne Lanning: In the past, our games have been more difficult than we would have
liked them to be. With Munch’s Oddysee, we’re striving for a balance that
increases the immersion and fun factor while reducing the frustration
factor. The menu screen will have multiple difficulty levels, and the
controls have been simplified greatly while giving the player more abilities
at the same time. The characters move around more smoothly and feel more
intuitive to control. We’ve spent a lot of time insuring that Munch’s Oddysee doesn’t let you get caught in conditions that leave you stranded or stuck just because you don’t have the twitch ability for some particular challenge. If you encounter something that seems too difficult, there are always going to be ways around it, ways to avoid it, or alternative solutions.

Ivan Trembow: You told me in our last interview that The Hand of Odd would probably be released six to nine months after Munch’s Oddysee. Has development on The Hand of Odd stopped or at least slowed down so that you can focus on finishing Munch, or are you still working on both games simultaneously?

Lorne Lanning: Both games have the same core of technology. Munch is the title that
proves this technology, and Hand of Odd is the title that will take it further into the multi-player zone. The problem is that the infrastructure for online console games has yet to reveal itself with solid clarity, so until it does, we’re going to be focusing on Munch’s Oddysee and Munch’s Exoddus much more than The Hand of Odd. As soon as we have a solid online model for a particular console system that works for us, then we’ll be putting efforts right back into Hand of Odd.

Ivan Trembow: The last time we talked, you spoke as if The Hand of Odd was a
definite PlayStation 2 game. Is there now a possibility that it will be
released for other systems instead?

Lorne Lanning: Yes. Hand of Odd will be released, but what system it will be on is
currently undecided.

Ivan Trembow: I remember hearing a couple of years ago that Oddworld was working on a full-length feature film set in the Oddworld universe, but I haven’t heard anything on it since. Is it still in the works?

Lorne Lanning: We have been and continue to be in talks discussing the Oddworld
movie, but nothing has officially started yet. We’re not in a big hurry.
We have serious ambitions when it comes to what Oddworld should be when it’s
on the big screen.

Ivan Trembow: Do you find that it’s a delicate balance to release info on Munch to
keep the press interested while still saving surprises for gamers to
experience on their own? What do you think is the best way to maintain that

Lorne Lanning: The balance is in not giving it all away. With a deep, rich, and new
type of game like Munch’s Oddysee, it’s a lot better to surprise gamers when
they actually play it, even if you told them a lot about the game leading up
to its release.

Ivan Trembow: Shortly before the Game Cube was announced, you told Hyper Magazine, “Nintendo has made it clear that they are a toy company only and have no interest in being a true media entertainment company.” What specifically makes you have these opinions about Nintendo?

Lorne Lanning: Well, when you’re a hardware manufacturer and you keep on hinting at unique, hybrid storage devices for your new system, I wonder where your interests are coming from. One example is that developers shouldn’t be negotiating how much memory their game can have in it like developers did in the SNES era and still do with the N64, only to be blind-sided by games like Star Fox and Zelda 64 that have special technology packed into the cartridge. This is technology embedded into the cartridge that third-party developers aren’t given access to. This type of business model has served Nintendo well in giving some of its own games advantages over third-party games that are competing in the same marketplace. One company shouldn’t be able to one-up the delivery system for its products, while other companies are forced to adhere to a status quo standard. This isn’t the business model of an entertainment company, this is the model of a consumer electronics or toy company. No real entertainment medium is dictated by a hardware company that much. Think about it. That’s like Panavision telling a major film studio to cut out certain parts of a movie. It’s like Kodak making the rules as to what can be shot on their film.

Ivan Trembow: What were your thoughts on Nintendo’s Game Cube announcement? Did it change your mind about Nintendo a little bit, or did it reinforce your previous beliefs?

Lorne Lanning: It sounds like a very specially-designed hybrid system that will now
use DVD. It seems like it could include some of the right steps into a more
appealing direction.

Ivan Trembow: How has Oddworld been affected by Infogrames’ buy-out of GT

Lorne Lanning:
Very little. Our relationship with GT was good, and our relationship
with Infogrames is good.

Ivan Trembow: Most games that combine multiple genres are decent in all genres and great in none. With all the talk of genre-merging in Munch’s Oddysee and Hand of Odd, do you think that’s a risky move to make? How have you managed to juggle the strengths and weaknesses of combining multiple genres into one game?

Lorne Lanning: Basically, all of that comes down to creative design and smart implementation. I don’t feel that this has been a risky move for us from a design standpoint. If the chemistry of the genre-merging is done well, then each genre is distilled to simple essences and the overall experience is heightened. This has been a risky move for us from a financial standpoint, though, because it takes a lot more work and money to pull off this type of challenge.

Ivan Trembow: Will Oddworld be one of the initial pioneers in online console gaming, or will you wait several years until it’s firmly established before jumping into the fray?

Lorne Lanning:
We have been designing for online console gaming for some time now
and are extremely confident that we have feasible and awesome content, but
we’re not going to rush into releasing our first online console game. We’ll
watch and when the time is right, we’ll hit the market full force. We will
release pioneering games, but we don’t want to be one of those premature
pioneers who end up with arrows in their backs.

Ivan Trembow: What are your thoughts on the Dreamcast? Do you think that it,
realistically, has a chance over the long run?

Lorne Lanning: It’s hard to imagine that it’s going to hold up against the new
consoles that are coming out in the next year.

Ivan Trembow: Is there any chance that Oddworld Inhabitants will ever make a
Dreamcast game?

Lorne Lanning: It could happen, but it’s highly unlikely that we would develop it
internally. Our own sweat and blood is focused on more powerful systems
that will handle more ambitious games.

Ivan Trembow: You have said in the past that Peter Molyneux is the person you admire most in the gaming industry because of his work on Black & White. Who are the next few people on the list after Peter Molyneux?

Lorne Lanning:
Miyamoto wears the crown to date for console games, but not for games that I really enjoy playing personally. Being a 35-year-old male and not caring about rescuing princess Zelda, I would have to say the crew at Blizzard. They build consistently solid games that are always fun and challenging. I also think that Ensemble Studios is a force to watch in the coming years. Richard Garriott also gets big kudos for Ultima Online. Even though stronger online games have come along since then, Ultima Online broke the online mold.

Ivan Trembow: You have also said in the past that Black & White is “dabbling with several concepts similar to Munch.” What in particular do you see as concepts that the two games share?

Lorne Lanning: I think it’s the elements of being in a persistent universe that focuses on a few central characters. These characters are shaped by the gamer in many ways, which in turn influences the behavior of the greater majority of the population on the landscape. Also, both games take into account the moral behavior of the gamer and allow the gamer to watch their moral decisions manifest in different responses from the game world. These kinds of ideas are going to help define the games of the future.

Ivan Trembow: This is a pretty deep-thinking question, but you’re a deep-thinking kind of guy, so here goes. On the surface, it seems that the power of the next-generation systems allows developers to focus on more creative details rather than technical details because the hardware is so powerful that there aren’t as many limits. Would it be accurate to say that because any half- decent company can pump out a game with awesome graphics, they won’t feel a need to focus on gameplay as much? Or that companies will have to spend so much time dealing with all of the PS2’s technical problems that they won’t have enough time to focus on gameplay?

Lorne Lanning:
If you’re dealing with a system like the PS2 where a lot of infrastructure code needs to be written, then you’re right. It will be a while before you start getting to the really cool, creative stuff. But with a system like the Xbox that uses DirectX, you will get to the creative stuff much sooner. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see a lot of disappointing games that suffer from the pressure of needing to be released before they’ve been able to pull themselves together. This next generation of consoles is going to reveal much bigger gaps between developers who can handle the pressure and those who just can’t cut it.