Lorne Lanning Interview

Lorne Lanning Interview [Hosted by Daily Radar]
Date: 20 October, 2000
Interviewer: Daily Radar
Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20010413124002/www.dailyradar.com/features/game_feature_page_1669_1.html

We recently had a chance to preview Munch’s Oddysee and were impressed by the game’s visuals and creativity. It was one of the most eagerly anticipated titles for the PS2, but in a surprising switch, the game will now appear exclusively on the Xbox (with a possible publish to the PC). Although Microsoft hasn’t officially confirmed the agreement, an announcement is expected to come soon. To find out the reasons behind the move, Daily Radar spoke to Lorne Lanning, the president and cofounder of Oddworld Inhabitants, about the decision.

DR: Can you tell us how the decision to move Munch’s Oddysee to the Xbox came about?

Lorne Lanning: We were looking for the ideal system to release for. We had been developing for the PlayStation2, and the Xbox was an ideal system in our opinion — and in Microsoft Publishing’s opinion, Munch’s Oddysee was an ideal game for their console. And the excitement and the passion that Microsoft Publishing has toward getting the best games on their system – and supporting those games and giving them the full backing that they believe they deserve – well, that left us with the belief that Microsoft is the right partner to take the Oddworld property and fulfill its most gleaming potential.

DR: So it’s a launch title?

Lorne Lanning: It’s a first-party launch title.

DR: It’s going to be published by Microsoft?

Lorne Lanning: That’s right. I can’t commend Microsoft enough for how much energy and time and passion they’re investing.

DR: Did you go to Microsoft and ask what they could do for you because you were excited about the Xbox, or did they come to you?

Lorne Lanning: Microsoft came to us a long time ago and we tried to work something out. We were going through some publisher transitions with GT being bought by Infogrames. Things weren’t able to happen that day. And Microsoft has continued the investigations of how to get Oddworld on the Xbox since that time. Steve Schreck of Microsoft and Sherry McKenna, CEO of Oddworld, have been mutual fans of one another since his days at Broderbund, and that relationship has helped identify for each of us comfort zones and nurture trust and faith that we can deliver and they can deliver over the years, and that ultimately has helped to make this happen.

DR: In a recent interview with mastergamer.com, when asked if you’d thought of abandoning PS2 for Xbox, you asked rhetorically, “Who’s going to pay the bills while waiting for Xbox?”

Lorne Lanning: In the end, to choose to delay release, of course, means delaying revenue, and in the additional conversion that’s required it means increasing costs a bit. But this is something that Microsoft’s committed to and they’re giving us their full support. And we are a creative content production company and our greatest concern is releasing the highest-quality, most cutting-edge experiences. And so we have their full support, they are as excited as we are, and now we know who’s picking up the tab. [laughs]

DR: What about all the time and effort that’s been invested in the PlayStation2 development?

Lorne Lanning: It wasn’t fruitless. We learned a lot of things in doing so. The game was still able to move forward. It had not gone as fast as we had hoped, but we feel as though with the year that we still have going toward Xbox — it would have been great to building for Xbox all along, but it hasn’t endangered our ability to release this as a launch title with the Xbox. So, it’s just water under the bridge.

DR: What about all the fans who played the other Oddworld games on PSOne, and who saw the PlayStation2 movies and thought they looked amazing – how can you placate them?

Lorne Lanning: It was important for us to be able to make this announcement before the release of the PlayStation2. Because we had been building for the PlayStation2, we told the fans we were building for the PlayStation2 — and if we had not made this announcement before the release of the PlayStation2 in the United States and Europe, then we would feel like we had let them down. Many of them may have bought it with the anticipation for our title. We had gotten a lot of email and fan mail in that flavor. And so we’re making the announcement now that’s it’s going to be on Xbox.

It was important that we did it before we misled anyone, before they actually put their money down. So we’re making the release of this press announcement – you’re the first to know – before people have committed to a platform, and we believe that the people should know what the strongest platforms are, and the Xbox is the strongest platform out there. And we’ve made the announcement starting with you that we’ll be on the Xbox exclusively, so hopefully everyone will get that message before they blame us for buying a system under the wrong assumption.

DR: Will the game be any different than was intended for PlayStation2?

Lorne Lanning: We’ll be able to get more characters, more textures and more clarity of imagery. We had just done a press conference in Monterey [CA] – and I think Daily Radar was there – and verbatim, all the press said “hands down this is the best thing in the world we’ve seen on PlayStation2.” We had overcome our earlier difficulties. It took a lot of time and effort, but we overcame them. It would have been an outstanding game on PlayStation2. However, on the Xbox, it’s going to be even better. Even better looking, better playing and it will have more characters in there as a result on any one level. One is a clearly superior technology.

DR: Besides more characters, better textures — what will be different?

Lorne Lanning: Dynamic lighting, the throughput capability, three times the graphics power capability of the Xbox, compared to the other systems available, make a substantial difference in what can happen on the visual, visceral dynamic effects front – so it will be running all dynamic lighting, which makes for something that we’ve yet to see on console systems. The dynamic lighting – true dynamic lighting – has never been on a console system, and we’ll be seeing a lot of that on the Xbox. We were able to do that only in a limited fashion on the PS2. So that’s very exciting for us, because ultimately that heightens the experience of the visual effects and the overall lighting quality of the world, which is very important to Oddworld. There is bump-mapping, reflection-mapping and other capabilities in DirectX 8, and it’s up to you how to slice it up.

But DirectX 8 has a very powerful library and graphics base to be building off of. And so not only are we able to run more polygons on the Xbox, there’s a lot more memory. We now have 64MB of memory that we can slice up however we like. If we want 32MB of VRAM, we can do that. Whereas on the other systems, the most VRAM you have is 4-8 MB, and that’s never going to change because once a console system’s released it is what it is. So when you talk about 32 megs or 40 megs of VRAM, if that’s how you want to use your memory, you’re talking about a substantial amount of maps and data and polygons and animation information that can be stored in memory at any one time, which makes for a significantly different quality.

DR: Is it safe to say that you had a vision for Munch’s Oddysee and you had to change that when you got the PS2 development kit?

Lorne Lanning: I think that as a good game designer you should always have a vision for your game that’s a little bit beyond the development capability of a particular system. That’s a good policy. And it is safe to say that for Munch’s Oddysee, we were compromising different things for different reasons. And that’s a reality no matter what system you’re on. Suffice to say, on the Xbox, there’s a lot less compromise. It’s an extremely exciting system. In the end, they cannot build computers or game machines as fast and powerful enough for what we really want to do, but in getting as close to that end as we can, this system is the one that developers are going to be the most excited about, which ultimately means that game-players are going to be getting the best experiences from.

DR: What was Sony’s reaction when you pulled out of PS2 development?

Lorne Lanning: I don’t know.

DR: Do they know yet?

Lorne Lanning: I don’t know. We were just a third-party developer to Sony. And I’m sure some of the Sony people will be disappointed. However, we made the decision based on which hardware company was going to be supporting the most creative, ground-breaking titles, and Microsoft was clearly the one that is the most passionate about redefining what games are supposed to be.

DR: Is Hand of Odd also coming to Xbox, or is that totally on hold?

Lorne Lanning: Right now I’m not able to say any titles above Munch’s Oddysee.

DR: Is Munch’s Oddysee going to be released for PC as well?

Lorne Lanning: That’s up to Microsoft.

DR: Do you have any screens or gameplay movies on Xbox for us yet?

Lorne Lanning: Not as of this moment, but it’s soon in the coming, and I can say that it’s very exciting. The system is the most powerful system that can be built on today.

DR: The disappointing thing is that now we’re going to have to wait longer for the game.

Lorne Lanning: Well, this is true, but I think it will all be worth it. A less-compromised game is a better game to play.