Date: June 2015 Author: Oddworld Inhabitants Source: The Vita Lounge Magazine, issue 2, pp.8-9.
June 6th, 2014. It’s approximately 12 hours before we board on plane that’ll take another long day to get to Los Angeles (when Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty will be playable in public for the first time in front of thousands of people at the video game industry’s biggest annual event – the E3 Expo) and there’s an incoming message from the office.
Thankfully, it turns out that it’s some good news – New ‘n’ Tasty is running a lot better in certain areas due to some low-level work with the engine recently – but we’re going to need to move fast if we want this new build to replace the one we’ve already approved for E3. And these optimizations come with a rather important caveat: they’ve not been extensively tested, and the game’s currently making the PS4 run a bit hotter than normal!
Lorne Lanning – Oddworld creator – gets the call – he needs to make a rather spontaneous decision on what to do next – and there’s a rush to an internet connection nearer the airport with the test kit PS4 to grab the build and try it for ourselves. It’s true – the game’s running better: closer to 60FPS in certain areas – and if it holds out over the next few hours, we’re going to need to find a way to try and get this out there before the whole thing is locked down.
Cue a long night of playing the E3 demo areas (we were showing up Monsaic Lines at the expo) repeatedly, and then an even longer flight with the PS4 taking up most of he hand baggage space in order to ge the game visible and playable on the likes of GameSpot’s live show and Sony’s floor stage, an emerging USB stick with the game installed firmly seated inside a wallet, and a rather nervous first check of our email on landing in LAX.
It was happening, we’re swapping out the build. One that had been tested for weeks had been opted-out in favour of one that’d been played not much more than an extended session the day before, and had tweaks that were described as “experimental”. We had three days of press booked up to play the game, and they were going to be writing previews that would ultimately determine the reception of New ‘n’ Tasty based on a version they’d played probably as much as most people in the office had.
Turns out it was all just fine in the end. The press reaction was great, the game held up nicely and it was clearly the right decision in retrospect. At 5PM on the Thursday of E3, just as the Sony rep was walking around switching off all the TVs to close up the booth on the very last day, we looked across at Lorne – who had been hammering interviews throughout the entire week – smiled, and said “we did it.”
Oddworld was back.
It’s a common question: why would you remake a game that so many people hold so dear in their hearts? The original Abe’s Oddysee, released on PlayStation in 1997, is so fondly remembered and cherished that it was always going to be something of a battle to satisfy our life-long fans as well as try to create a rich enough experience that those new to Oddworld would be interested. It goes well beyond a simple balancing act – Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty’s development process involved constant community interaction at every step of the way to ensure the final product at least matched up to Oddysee’s lofty ambition.
In fact, it was our community that decided we should remake Abe’s Oddysee in the first place. A poll on oddworld.com asked the fanbase what we should do next (after developers Just Add Water had remastered Stranger’s Wrath for PS3 and PS Vita) and Oddysee was the clear winner. Ultimately, our community named the game and even helped decide on some trophies and achievements.
But with the prospect of such a task came the opportunity to turn the project into more than just a ‘HD remaster’, and New ‘n’ Tasty would become a fully ground-up remake, eventually becoming its own game that – whilst true to Oddysee’s characters, storyline and spirit – felt like it was starting to stand up on its own Mudokon feet. In went proper physics, analog movement, new gameplay mechanics (like the ability to drop grenades, talk to multiple Mudokons and free-aim throwing) and a few new areas, a fully 3D free-scrolling camera and fully animated backgrounds. Oddysee was suddenly alive.
Series creator Lorne Lanning will reference Soylent Green, the 99%ers, capitalism and exploitation, but while such influences are clearly present in the Oddworld themes, the game never intends to push them too hard, instead preferring to let the player decode the subtleties of the plot, told mainly through the cut-scenes. That said, Oddworld has always been a story-based series with topics very much dear to Lorne’s heart, and Oddysee set that in stome from day one – but many players simply enjoy the games as adventure platformers, with a dash of puzzling thrown in.
What does stick out, though, is the humor. Abe’s slapstick physics in New ‘n’ Tasty were designed for hilarity – he’ll get caught up on ledges after a grenade blast, legs swinging widly, or fellow Mudokons will catapult through the air as gun – happy Sligs dish out their own heavy-metal brand of security. And everyone remembers the fart button, present and correct in the remake, of course.
And then there’s Gamespeak – at the time, back in 1997, this was revolutionary and even today, with New ‘n’ Tasty, it’s still great fun to use and absolutely distilled down to ensure it’s never out of place. Abe can talk to other Mudokons, get them to follow him, wait and – in Exoddus – work for him. Gamespeak also allows Abe to converse with the natives later in the game, via a set of whistle puzzles played out like a simple Simon Says ritual. Gamespeak, coupled with Abe’s ability to possess certain other characters on Oddworld, gives the brand one of its many important identities that people remember.
We think it’s all this that made Oddysee such a popular game – people could relate to Abe, they grew up with the lovable character – and it’s what made the fans want to see it remade over anything else when we polled the audience.
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But while many of the puzzles and environments in New ‘n’ Tasty are clearly based on those from Oddysee, we changed just enough to make everything feel new and exciting. Some sections will pang at your memories of the original, but now you’ll see working machinery grinding up Scrabs for novelty meat snacks; you’ll see patrolling Sligs in the far background; a working furnace; a barren desert stretching off into the distance – and there’s an omnipresent sense that the world is a functional, grounded one whether Abe’s there or not.
And with all that came much more emotion and feeling from the game’s inhabitants. Mudokons are more numerous, they have individual personalities and they’re much more responsive to Abe’s wants and requests. They’ll chatter to each other, they’ll get annoyed with Abe when he makes them mad, and they’ll stroll up to where he’s lying (with a soapy cloth) to wipe up the blood if our hapless hero takes one too many bullets in his travels.
We also tried to make the player’s progress through the game a little smoother. Checkpoints are more frequent, but there’s always the ability to quiksave wherever it’s needed, meaning repetition from some of the game’s trial-and-error sections is less of an issue. Coupled with the multiple difficulty levels, New ‘n’ Tasty’s a somewhat easier ride, although that’s mostly borne from the fact that so many Oddysee players never managed to make it out of RuptureFarms originally anyway. We even moved and swapped around some areas in the very beginning and added in subtle tutorial sections to ease new players in, while still keeping the odd gotcha here and there, like the ‘condemned’ door towards the end of Zulag 1.
When everything is rebuilt from scratch, there are obviously going to be some parts of the game that resonate better than others. But we’re confident that New ‘n’ Tasty represents a direction for the brand that we wanted to experiment with – and the critical response at launch suggested that we’d hit a few of those lofty targets. It was important to bring Abe back to the forefront, back into the fold, and on numerous levels we’re really glad we listened to the community.
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When it comes to the PlaySation Vita version of the Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, we’re looking at a faithful port of the PlayStation 4 version without any particular compromise to the gameplay. It’s still the same game, but one we’ve had to squeeze down a little visually to make it all fit. The real bonus here is that New ‘n’ Tasty suits the mobile format perfectly – it’s a great game to have ‘on the go’ with bite-size sections, and quiksave means it’s an ideal title for the daily commute.
We’re showing the game on PS Vita for the first time at E3 this year, a full 12 months after the PS4 version was first shown. A lot has changed since then: the game has been released on PS4, PS3, Xbox One and PC, with many updated and patches along the way – but the community has once again been our focus – and we’ve adjusted multiple aspects of New ‘n’ Tasty since launch. But now it’s the Vita’s turn, and knowing that it’ll be coming off the last twelve months of feedback, we can’t wait and to see what people think of it.
As for the future, well, we’re now in the early planning stages for Exoddus. Again, we’re wanting to create something special, from the ground-up, that takes the current mold of remasters (Munch HD, Stranger’s Wrath HD) and remakes (New ‘n’ Tasty) to their most logical conclusion. But even that’s not going to be the end of Abe’s adventures – indeed, the story of Oddworld is really only just beginning.