Oddworld’s Inhabitants: Paul O’Connor, Sr. Game Designer

Oddworld's Inhabitants:  Paul O'Connor, Sr. Game Designer [Hosted by Oddworld.com]

Date: 02/01/2001

Interviewer: Oddworld.com

Interviewee: Paul O'Connor

po · Oddworld’s Inhabitants
This month’s Inhabitant Interview is with that Paul guy — what a blowhard! When he isn’t busy working on Munch’s Oddysee, Paul sometimes contributes text to the website. This introduction, for instance.

Oddworld’s Inhabitants are as diverse as the world they’ve worked together to create. Here’s where you’ll find interviews and other informative articles spotlighting the many creative folk that work at Oddworld Inhabitants. Be they headline players or behind-the-scenes heroes, the Inhabitants profiled here all share Oddworld’s ceaseless dedication to bringing you the best worlds and games that you’ve ever experienced.

Paul O’Connor, Sr. Game Designer img_main (1)

A Game Designer for over eighteen years, Paul has designed video games, computer games, role playing games, board games, and card games. His credits include Dragon Wars for Interplay, Sylvester & Tweety for Time Warner Interactive, and the Grimtooth’s Traps series of books for Flying Buffalo. Paul has also written hundreds of comic books for Malibu and Marvel Comics. In addition to leading the level and systems design on Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, Paul’s story skills have helped shape Oddworld and it Inhabitants since 1994. Paul is now Oddworld’s conceptual designer and writer, helping to get new games like Munch’s Oddysee and Hand of Odd off the ground as well as this website.

Q: Who are your biggest influences? Why?

Paul O’Connor: My creditors, especially Chase mortgage bank.

Creative influences: Joseph Campbell, Reiner Knizia, several lesser game designers, and a whole host of interesting people that I’ve met in this business. Campbell for articulating a meaningful structure for dramatic works, Knizia for brilliantly elegant game design, other designers for various tricks of the trade, and the many eccentric and brilliant outpatients this business attracts for life experience and comic relief.

Q: As one of the first Inhabitants, do you have any stories from the early days of Oddworld you could share?

Paul O’Connor: Not in a public forum, no.

Q: Who is your favorite Oddworld character? Why?

Paul O’Connor: I hate all my children equally.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Paul O’Connor: Play with my kids, travel, read, play wargames, pursue my own creative projects — mostly just enjoy not being at work. I make every effort to keep my work and home lives separate. You won’t find any indication of what I do for a living inside my home. When I come from work, I leave everything in the driveway, go inside, and become father and husband for my family. It’s not that I have any problem with work — it’s just that work is so demanding that it could easily consume the entirety of my life, which is something I’d regret.

Q: What kind of a place is the Oddworld Studio?

Paul O’Connor: Intense. Competitive. Sometimes violent. Dark. Quiet, most of the time. Always active. Comfortable. Familiar. Egalitarian. Orderly. Predictable. Intimate. Harsh. Open. Occasionally deceptive.

Q: List your top 5 favorite movies and/or books?

Paul O’Connor: Movies — there’s Goodfellas, and then there’s everything else. With books I’m all over the place, usually reading several at once. If you put a gun to my head I suppose I’m most fond of historical fiction, especially George MacDonald Fraser’s _Flashman_ series, as well as Forester’s _Hornblower_ books and O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series of naval adventures. I also enjoy science fiction, fantasy, history (with an emphasis on World War II and other American wars), and detective fiction of the Hammet school, including Chandler and Robert Parker.

Q: Where do see Oddworld in 10 years?

Paul O’Connor: Astride the fallen bodies of our defeated foes. Laughing, atop a pile of corpses. Occupying a throne of blood. Hail Oddworld!

Q: What do you like best about coming to work? What’s the worst part?

Paul O’Connor: The drive in is nice. I get so see some wonderful countryside, and with an hour round-trip I can knock through libraries of books on tape. I’m always happy to see my friends. I’ve worked with some of these people for nearly eight years, which is extremely unusual in a business where teams rarely stay together for more than one project. It’s always great to see Farzad’s latest production designs on the wall, and I enjoy seeing new levels as they go into the game. The worst part about work is the long hours. The drive home can be tough, especially if it’s late.

Q: Is it true you can’t eat junk food and still be an Inhabitant?

Paul O’Connor: This is a bit of an exaggeration. The boss provides fruit as a healthy snack, and I eat a bit of it. I’ve brought in stuff that might qualify as junk food and been none the worse for it. I think Sherry chided me once for drinking a soda pop at work (which is in itself a pretty rare thing) but that’s just Sherry being Sherry. I mean, I’m thirty-eight years old, for crying out loud. I eat what I like.

Q: What’s your background (education, jobs)?

Paul O’Connor: I dropped out of school to take work as a game designer with Flying Buffalo in 1980. We did role playing games. I wrote Grimtooth’s Traps while I was there. I took my first video game job in 1981, doing games for the Atari 2600. Since then, I’ve held several jobs in the game business, most notably with Alexandria Inc. starting in 1992, which kind of morphed into Oddworld Inhabitants several years later. I’ve also worked as a comic book writer and a stagehand in the movies. For a brief time I was a bag man, and was once pinned by sniper fire on my way to deliver cash to my mobbed-up boss. He died in prison.

Q: If you could change jobs with one of the other Inhabitants who would it be and why?

Paul O’Connor: I wouldn’t change jobs with another Inhabitant. There are times when I’d like to change jobs with the guy who runs the toll booth at the parking structure where I park every morning. He sits in a little booth, all glassed in, with good lines of sight. He can see you coming. He has a private toilet in there. There’s electricity, so he can plug in a laptop to write or play games. He can read in there. You want to talk about power? When you pull up to the booth, his word is law. He decides which cars shall pass, and which must stay. I could get into that.

Q: What is the longest “day” you’ve ever spent at Oddworld?

Paul O’Connor: Pretty long, but not so long as most of the other guys. I’ve seen dawn a time or two.

Q: How do you feel about Munch’s move to the Xbox?

Paul O’Connor: It’s not my job to feel anything about it one way or the other. To quote D’Artagnan, in the Three Musketeers: “Is the king accustomed to give you such reasons? No. He says to you jauntily, ‘Gentlemen, there is fighting going on in Gascony or in Flanders; go and fight,’ and you go there. Why? You need give yourselves no more uneasiness about this.”

Q: What at Oddworld are you most proud of?

Paul O’Connor: Our body of work and reputation for quality.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a Game Designer?

Paul O’Connor: Play lots of games — not just video games, but board games, role playing games, wargames, miniatures games, party games, strategy games … games, games, games. Take them apart, put them back together. Design a boardgame. Build the components, write the rules, test it with your friends. See if they can figure it out just from reading your rules. Pursue an education that includes critical thinking skills, writing, computers, drama, and communications. Develop interests outside of games. Take a job as a tester and work your way up. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.