Date: August 2019 Source: PlayStation Official Magazine – UK, Issue 166 (October 2019), pp. 6-9
Lorne Lanning on Soulstorm, Abe’s Oddysee so far, and the road ahead
“The hot-wiring of the fire extinguisher into a flame thrower […] is particularly gratifying but extremely volatile,” Lorne Lanning tells us. But the veteran director and designer isn’t admitting to a past of pyromania, he’s talking about the possibilities of Oddworld: Soulstorm’s crafting system.
“As Abe was always an action/adventure/puzzle class of hero, he always had to scrounge up ways to cleverly get around his challenges, but those solutions were always locked to the immediate problem and level at hand. This was very limiting in the number of ways the player could approach a problem and gave the player no stockpiling in how they would approach future problems,” Lanning begins, later elaborating on the thought process that led to crafting’s inclusion in Soulstorm, “It had to be clever and meaningful usages of crafting and not just to grind on the player for time (which is getting all too common today) so that we could expand his vocabulary in ways that thematically stayed true to the explorative scavenging lore while also giving the player much more agency in how they chose to conquer the game’s challenges.”
During our hands-on we learn the value of liberally applying elastic bands to all manner of craftables, from hurled projectiles that can knock out for incapacitate hard-to-reach Sligs to something a little more destructive. Anything involving fire, for example.
“I find myself attracted to the more volatile crafted outcomes like those that utilise our dynamic fire system,” Lanning says, adding, “What we strove for and love the result of is the organic and dynamic nature of the game’s fire effects, and the burn-down collapses it can create against burnable surfaces or conditions.” He then clarifies, “It’s just really gratifying to not just have a weapon that is used against characters, if one chooses, but also against the environment to alter its playable landscape. It’s something I always wanted to do in a game, but historically fire is typically a canned effect and not something that can stick to whatever it hits, be spread, and, if on burnable surfaces, grow.”
ODD AND CURIOUS
As enjoyable as experimenting with burning things is, Soulstorm doesn’t only encourage you to become a twisted firestarter, it wants you to be a leader. As in earlier Oddworld games, you can gain a following of freed Mudokons. Lanning says that in previous games, “They were beasts of burden you led through deadly obstacle courses in the hopes you would lead them to rescue, but they gave you no real support or power of scale, they just made your job harder.” Well, they have a greatly expanded role in Soulstorm. Lanning explains: “Followers are a plus multiplier for Abe. It is difficult to start a revolution or make change without them.”
Lanning later reveals more about their role. “In Soulstorm, it’s more than just saving X number of Mudokons. Here players can use the power found in numbers to solve their way out of more difficult situations that could be impossible for Abe to take on alone. [This fosters solutions such as placing] these more capable (and potentially lethal) Followers around a level to lie in wait as active agents that can be used to protect Abe’s (and each [other’s]) backs.”
The hope is that your Followers’ more proactive pattern of behaviour will foster evolved problem solving in addition to emotional investment. Lanning says, “The more abilities and AI we give them, the more empathetically tied to them we get. Then when they get rescued (or horribly whacked) the player’s emotional connection is a bit greater and the entertainment payoff is enhanced, leading to more hilariously devastating moments, which has always been a cornerstone of the Abe games.”
Abe’s games and the wider Oddworld mythos have had an interesting trajectory. Lanning explains the original five-game plan, saying, “Abe’s story arc would span the five games because his evolution from blissful ignorance to awareness to revolutionist takes time. To rush that transformation, and how that transformation effects change in small and large ways, takes time.”
Lanning has wanted to return to the quintology since the first game. “That first episode had remained largely intact as a modern fable that was reflecting contemporary times in a broken mirror, dark comedic way.” He continues, referencing New ‘N’ Tasty, “So, the chance to reboot from back where we originally got the epic off-track […] was an exciting opportunity.”
During our conversation, he describes the quintology as, “The epic of a pacifist who needs to lead a revolution.”
Lanning says he sees Oddworld Inhabitants’ games as more philosophical than political: “Since I founded the company with Sherry McKenna it was always about trying to make our heroes as non-politicised characters who spoke to issues that transcend politics and address the greater challenges facing our human condition,” later adding that that isn’t to say that creatives or games should necessarily shy away from political or cultural messages. However, as far as Oddworld is concerned, he says, “We don’t make revolutionary games; we make evolutionary games about revolution.”
* Get to know Oddworld’s Inhabitants here: www.oddworld.com/soulstorm.
Soulstorm is the follow-up to Oddysee’s reimagining of New ‘N’ Tasty. It is the true second part of the Oddworld quintology.
Lorne Lanning says, “Sometimes you must take a longer road to achieve your dreams.”
You can use your Mudokon followers much more strategically now.
Making the Mudokons proactive has increased players’ attachment to them.
Lanning’s pleased with the fire effects – and it is indeed very satisfying to burn things.
Using Unity, Lanning says, “created a pipeline that allowed us to create feature-film-quality CG far more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before.”
Lanning says, “Videogames are a form of art and they reach and interact with people in a way traditional forms of art cannot.”
“Once we’ve completed the second game in the quintology, we will start on game three, which will be called… no, I don’t know what it will be called,” Lanning says, then laughs, “I apologise for joking. It’s hard to say [right now].”