Retro Gamer: Inside The PlayStation (Excerpts) [2018]

Date: December 2018

Source: Retro Gamer, Issue 188, p. 20

The simple fact that a company of Sony’s stature was taking an interest in the console market was a noteworthy development in itself. “It was a big part of us getting started,” says Lorne Lanning of Oddworld Inhabitants. “Sony was a company that really made quality hardware, and it was an entertainment company as well — it owned movie studios and record labels. Sega and Nintendo weren’t that. The idea that a wide spectrum multimedia entertainment company was stepping in was really interesting, and it was happening right at that time when the industry was projected to have tremendous growth.”

(p. 24)

Of course, the PlayStation still offered 2D games, and even some devs working with 3D graphics chose to exploit the hardware’s 2D capabilities. The primary reason for this was that despite the PlayStation’s strengths, its real-time rendering capabilities paled in comparison to what was possible in the VFX industry. “We had extensive experience of 3D computer graphics. What I knew, due to polygonal resolution, texture mapping, memory footprint and all that stuff was that overall the 3D quality of the PlayStation in the scheme of computer graphics would be pretty lame looking,” says Lorne, and he’d know — both he and Oddworld Inhabitants cofounder Sherry McKenna had worked on visual effects in the film industry. “To the gamer, it was a novelty to have 3D. On the PlayStation, the first Tomb Raider was the best usage of extremely limited computer graphics at the time. They really did a lot right to get the best image quality you could get in those days.”

However, Lorne and the team at Oddworld Inhabitants wanted to make something that looked good — not just good for a videogame. “For me it was like, ‘Our graphics can be much better than the 3D rendering of the day, but it’s going to have to be played in 2D.’ When I told my partner that she was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about, it’s going to be a 2D game? We do 3D graphics,’ and I was like, ‘Trust me,'” recalls Lorne. Fortunately, the market for such an approach was proven early on in development. “We were in production and already running on Abe’s Oddysee when Donkey Kong Country came out, and it was like, ‘Oh, perfect — they just showed us a couple more tricks that we could learn from.’ They made the same choice — they said, ‘If we prerender the characters and the backgrounds, we’ll get that really 3D look but it’ll just be being pushed as sprites.’ We could prebuild everything in Maya, we could render it out in whatever resolution we wanted, and then we could scale it down to make it fit.”

(p. 26)

Choosing CD-ROM would prove fruitful for both Sony and its roster of developers. For Lorne, CD-ROM was essential to the creation of the Oddworld games. “That was part of the reason for choosing to get into games at that time, just that games were going to CD-ROM storage devices. When CD-ROM came out, it was like, ‘Ooh, well that’ll hold enough memory that you can have 500 screens for the game, 1,000 frames of animation for each character,’ you weren’t looking at the limitations of a cartridge.”