The weird bunch! Oddworld Stranger exclusive interview!

The weird bunch! Oddworld Stranger exclusive interview! [Hosted by Computer and Video Games]
Date: 24 September, 2004
Interviewer: Computer and Video Games


Aside from the free beanie hats, one of our delectable treats of EGN involved grabbing an early Xbox presentation of Oddworld Stranger. The bad news was that we were not given a free Oddworld beanie hat. The good news was that the game looked t’riffic.

As you will have read in our recent first-look, the Wild West-inspired action adventure is a far cry from previous Oddworld games, sporting a free-roaming gameplay plan and a nifty switch from first-person blasting and third-person exploration.

It also appeared to be stark raving bonkers. Not only did half its cast make Ren and Stimpy look like civilised country gents, it also introduced a ‘live’ ammo system that enabled you to blast irritating chip-punks, stinger bees and gaseous skunks at unsuspecting villains. Stealth, action, humour and violent shoot-outs reminiscent of the greatest Westerns put to celluloid – Munch’s Oddysee this ain’t.

Impressed by our presentation of the game, we had a long chat with Oddworld Inhabitants president Lorne Lanning, who told us all about his warped little brainchild.

CVG: So is all the combat in first-person?

Lorne Lanning: No, all the shooting is, but in third-person you can also perform melee attacks. The strategic difference is that first-person mode allows you to move up to 15m.p.h. – it’s basically Halo. But in third-person mode, the longer you keep going, the faster you’ll get, and you can hit speeds of up to 55m.p.h. This gives you the advantage of being able to run faster than your enemies so that you can retreat.

The controls also shift more like a motorcycle mechanic too, so as you gain speed you’ll start banking at greater arcs when you turn. You’ll get this feeling of being a vehicle and being able to ram things. That’s the advantage. We wanted a lot more than just a series of Sergio Leone shoot-outs. In order to do that well, we needed a retreating ability. If it’s getting hot, you think ‘holy s**t’ I need to run and take a new position to deal with these guys’. The AI is persistent enough that the enemies will pursue.

CVG: You mention Sergio Leone. From the intense shoot-out you just showed us I thought it was more Sam Peckinpah. You know the end-scene from The Wild Bunch?

Lorne Lanning:
Well, we actually watched a bunch of Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ movies, you know, Clint Eastwood. It’s not based on them though, but definitely influenced.

CVG: I liked the way you could go around town and just chat away with any character, even if they were a bunch of squawking chickens. Is character interaction a big part of the game?

Lorne Lanning:
Definitely. Without spilling all the beans, you get to visit these different towns, which all start to escalate in their own issues as well. You’re learning about the bounties, and the townsfolk are learning about you. You’ll wander past an apple farm and someone might say [puts on a deep Southern voice]: “Are you the security guard here to pick up the money?” And you’re like “yeah that’s me”. And then you might go in a farmer’s house, and the people in the house react differently all the time.

There are lots of these different characters that you meet, who all develop personalities in an interesting and funny way. But as we get deeper and deeper into the world, we start taking on these different allies too. Because of all the trouble you’re creating, a war breaks out. The people who own this river start thinking that the little guys [the townsfolk] are making trouble for them, which is bad for business. So you end up helping these little guys, and as you’re battling, they’re like shouting: “we need you over here to defend the catapults.” And it keeps on going…

CVG: You showed us eight different types of live ammo, which you can hold at any one time. Are there any more in the game?

Lorne Lanning: You can actually hold nine different types including the sniper darts, but each of these ammo types have upgrades, so that gives them an extra layer of depth. Like you saw the chip-punk with the P.A. system which attracts more guards. Or the skunk with the gas-mask, that allows him to be more potent.

CVG: And you mentioned that you can buy other items in the game at the various town stores…

Lorne Lanning: Yes, you can buy these larger, breeding pouches so that the ammo starts breeding itself – it stops you having to collect it so much. There is also different types of armour for your character, useful information, a more powerful crossbow that shoots faster and has quicker re-load time, and ammo itself – you might not want to hunt it anymore so you buy it in bulk.

CVG: The Oddworld games are pretty damn weird. How far do you think you’ve taken the weirdness in Stranger?

Lorne Lanning: I guess it’s definitely less weird than Munch – Munch got more weird than Abe. We wanted to give a little more familiarity to the user [in Stranger] – not be as weird. But it’s definitely unique.

CVG: But it’s very strong on the humour though…

Lorne Lanning: Yeah, the humour is critical. And the humour is kinda crazy at times. It gets a little rude. The Stranger’s like: “What the hell’s that?” and you might get: “Hey, get yer punk ass out…” It’s very borderline. It’s gonna get a Teen rating no matter what, so we’re having more fun with the sarcasm of the characters. There are five thousand recordings for all the game characters’ responses.

CVG: So it’s pretty risqué and violent as well?

Lorne Lanning: Well, yeah, but we’re not really doing anything particularly controversial. In Abe we were blowing blood chunks too, but it’s done in a stylised way. It’s not like a guy’s on the ground and you’re blowing his fingers off one at a time. It’s humorous violence. And we’re not saying “f**k”, which normally takes you into the realms of mature gaming.

CVG: The last two games were more platform-oriented adventures. This one seems more like half first-person shooter, half third-person stealth adventure. Just how much have you developed the gameplay?

Lorne Lanning: Yeah, well you know the industry’s changed. I think Grand Theft Auto changed a lot about what people expect. The systems are getting more realistic. And we wanted more opportunity to expand the [Oddworld] brand and we wanted to introduce action.

That’s one of the reasons for refreshing all the characters – Abe would never do that [get involved in bloody shoot-outs] but Stranger would. We wanted to convey the idea that Oddworld is a much bigger place than any one of the games itself. We wanted to diversify the style of play so we could say this character is about this style of play and another character is about another type of play. If we were to go back and build another Abe game again, we’d use bits of this technology. You might get first-person high-powered grenade launchers and stuff.

CVG: Interesting you should mention GTA – with the way that Stranger was wandering around the town at the beginning of the game, interacting with the chicken folk, hitting them for fun and collecting missions, it did seem that there was a definite influence creeping in…

Lorne Lanning: Yes, well there’s a lot more depth in terms of the AI. We’ve always been after that sense of life. In old games, if you killed someone you’d go ‘oops’, well now we want you crying or something. This is the first time we’ve been able to marry that sense of life into the series, using this really strong technology.

And we’ve had a lot more voice capacity too. With the systems and the code we’ve come a long way. The AI is very deep. Not only do the NPCs make more persistent enemies, but they can also do more humorous shit with them, just by screwing around and doing things which maybe you shouldn’t.

CVG: So how does the structure work? Is it story-based or a case of collecting bounty-hunting missions?

Lorne Lanning: It’s both. You start off in a town, which takes you off into different missions, like hunting down outlaws and exploring different areas. You exploit all of that, and then you move onto the next town. But along the way you’ll encounter something different as well. It’s unfolding one large, epic story but it’s giving you more non-linear options along the way.

But as you can see yourself, the gameplay itself is extremely non-linear and that enables you to approach challenges in many different ways. The live ammo really helps with this.

CVG: So you mean you can be stealthy, you can employ acute tactics, you can be a sniper, or you can just storm in, live ammo a-blazing…?

Lorne Lanning: Yes, and that’s key – we wanted the user to have the choice. This is one of the main reasons for creating the live ammo, as it gives the player a number of different strategies and tactics to employ.

CVG: Finally, out of interest, just what kind of a creature is Stranger?

Lorne Lanning: Haha, well that’s part of the story, part of the mystery. You’ll have to find out