It’s An Odd World After All: Lorne Lanning Gamespeaks Part 2

It’s An Odd World After All: Lorne Lanning Gamespeaks Part 2 [Hosted by GameZone]
Date: 21 January, 2005
Interviewer: Louis Bedigian
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Not-So-Odd Conversation With The Oddman, Part 2

GZ: How many worlds are there in Stranger’s Wrath? How big are they, how long are the missions – how long will it take you to collect the most difficult bounty?

Lorne Lanning: It really depends on how you approach it. We have about a dozen-ish bounty missions. Each one has a pretty significant combat fight because you’re dealing with the whole gang. The overall length of the game, we figure a pretty hardcore gamer is going to get through the game in around 11 to 12 hours if they’re really cranking it.

Someone who’s milking the game, there’s no telling how long. They’ll talk to all the characters, explore all the environments. And the environments themselves, we were really striving for major acreage so that it looked like you were in national parks, not that you were in game levels. I think we succeeded on that level pretty well.

As you go through the game the levels start getting larger and larger and larger so that the sense of your background is changing but also so that you feel like you’re getting into a bigger and bigger place. We have heavy portaling and streaming in the game, so only five times throughout this entire experience will it actually bring up a loading screen. The rest of the time you feel like you could be covering miles and it’s all seamless with no hiccups.

And if I’m heading off to a bounty mission, sometimes it might take me five minutes to get there, sometimes it might take longer because there might be some obstacles in the way. Some sort of life circumstance like “oh I need this guy to operate a device, and when I find him I can get across the river.” Mini-goals like that to introduce variety and change of pace. So in general the acreage is pretty big. At times you’ll be looking at an environment across the lake, maybe almost a half a mile away. You pull up your telescope zoom, you study the grass on the other side of the lake and you’ll still see chipmunks hopping around the field. If you’ve got sniper darts you can pick them off from that far away. We really wanted a consistently persistent world where if you see it, and you can access it, you can go there and it stays interactive.

If someone’s approaching the game in a very stealth-like way, they might spend…you know we saw this in early testing. We’d say, “Go into first-person and shoot this or that.” And the guy goes, “No, no, no, I wanna pick off one guy at a time. I never wanna alert anyone. That’s the challenge I’m going for. I bet I can beat these 20 guys by picking them off one at a time and never letting them know I’m here.”

So if someone’s approaching the game that way, it’s gonna really extend how long the game and the missions are. If someone’s approaching it full balls out, going for all kills with damage weapons, getting the bounties as quickly as they can, and is a really good gamer who can stand up to a lot of enemy fire, then they’ll get through the experience that much quicker. We’re still averaging that’ll be 11 to 12 hours on a quick run.

GZ: As an artist and game developer, how attached do you become to your characters?

Lorne Lanning: I think it’s like parenting: you wanna kill ‘em half the time and the other time you love ‘em. I think a lot of what makes us maybe a little more attached to the characters is that we do our own voices. Everything’s done in-house, nothing’s farmed out. When the animators are working on the characters, the guys that are doing the voices are here. I do a lot of them myself. That adds a sense of life and humor that we get to keep on tweaking with throughout the experience.

You know we always want more. We’re still dealing with 2005 technology, and you wish you had more memory, you wish you had a lot more capability because ultimately you want games to emulate the richness of real life. But in the meantime you try and shuffle it up with whatever’s most intelligent.

In terms of characters and their personalities, and how we approach them and how we develop them, we get pretty attached to them because we are really trying to saturate them with character so that they’re reeking with humor and oddity and sarcasm and wiseass traits. If we do that right, even though we’ve been working on the game a few years, we should still be laughing when we play it.

We generally feel there’s not enough humor in games, not enough general entertainment value, which is very different from challenge value. So at Oddworld I think we do get more attached to the characters because we live with them a little longer. We’re trying to inject more life into them in AI and in the way they behave in the world. And when they can keep us laughing for long periods of time we think we’re on the right track. And if they keep making Sherry McKenna smile we still have a job.

GZ: Which characters do you voice?

Lorne Lanning: Stranger, Mr. Sekto, [and the] natives, which are characters you really start to encounter after more than half-way through the game. All of them. And most of the characters in the pre-rendered movies, which are some of the outlaws, a Vykker doctor, natives, Stranger. So probably about 60% is what I do myself.

GZ: You mentioned that you always want more power. Are you happy with the way Xbox turned out? Did it end up being as powerful as you anticipated at the time?

Lorne Lanning: It actually did. I think capable game designers should always want more power. But realistic game designers are figuring out how to design for what’s available. So the designer factor should be higher than your ability to implement, that’s my philosophy.

This is the second game we delivered on Xbox and we think it’s a brilliant machine. The idea was completely correct. The development environment should be conducive to creativity, not stifling to creativity.

As we enter the next generation of hardware with the Xbox 2 and the PlayStation 3, we’re looking at a staggering learning curve for everyone who’s building games for it because they are non-direct in how they have to be coded and how your engines have to be built. It’s all multi-threaded environments with multiple chip processors that make it very complicated.

What that ultimately adds up to is cheaper manufacturing costs, and that’s good for hardware sales, but more expensive game development costs, and that at the end of the day is not serving the consumer as well as it could. Ultimately what you want is tools that allow creativity to manifest with less dollars. That way we get more variety of games, cheaper games that are better, and if we lived in that world, I think we’d see a lot more innovation happening.

We live in a world where development environments are still really hard. The Xbox is the best development environment that has existed in consoles but it’s still not easy. Building a good engine is still a really difficult thing to achieve. But it’s an amazing box with the memory and the streamlined processor alignment, and the amount of ram that’s in there. We’re pretty impressed with the Xbox, and in actuality, we ended up with parts Stranger that exceeded the visual quality that we initially set out to get.

GZ: I heard that you want one of your future games to be very political. Is that true?

Lorne Lanning: That was a comment that was taken out of context. We’re really not talking about that at this time. The only thing I would say is that I think it’s time for more socially critical games to be emerging the way that we see socially critical films and TV shows.

How would that make for good gameplay? In the case of a movie you’re watching the story, but what do you envision as a good game?

Lorne Lanning: Nice try! [Laughs]

How could I resist?