Gettin Odd with the loonies!
When I first saw Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, like many people, I was pretty much confused. A side scroller, in the middle of the 3DFX revolution? You can't be serious.
After playing the game, however, I quickly realized that not only were they not serious, but those weirdos at Oddworld Associates were onto something truly original, and mind-bogglingly enjoyable. In an age where technology frequently takes the place of storytelling and character development, the Oddworld quintology (or decology, actually) stands alone as a series where the characters come first, and are always worth the price of admission.
This last week, the news broke that the CGI sequences for Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, the second game in the Oddworld saga, have been entered for consideration for this year's Academy Awards, making it the first game to do so. While the jury will be out as to their nomination for quite some time, the fact is, that the kids at Oddworld Associates are definitely striving for something new amongst a sea of mediocre games. Oddworld co-founder Lorne Lanning took some time away from finishing up their second title (and planning the third) to answer a few questions for loonygames.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman, editor-in-chief.
How did the initial concept for Abe's Oddysee develop? Abe's Oddysee is the first of the Oddworld Quintology.
The Quintology is a series of five games that will ultimately tell one massive story. Each game in the Quintology incorporates a new hero character that will join up with the previous games hero character. For instance, the next game in the Quintology will be Munch's Oddysee. Munch is a new character with problems of his own and you can bet that he is also an unlikely hero with a twisted background and one hell of a dilemma. Abe will find Munch and they will team together to work towards a greater cause. By the end of the Quintology there will be five central hero characters that all work together in one massive game that is not even comprehensible with today's technology. Fortunately by the time we wrap the final game in the Quintology it will be ten years from now and the technology will be significantly advanced from today's. Along the way each Quintology game will take significant leaps in terms of technology, innovation, gameplay, and overall size. Each of these will take about two years to produce.
In the meantime, we will be building some bonus games that help fill in the story and take the last Quintology game's engine and hero characters to new places with new levels of character interaction. So in the next ten years you will probably see 9 or 10 games that all take place on the Oddworld. To us Oddworld is another planet that is absolutely huge. Abe's Oddysee has just set you down on this planet and you've just seen a tiny portion. The Inhabitants and Gamespeak are something that we see as a interactive digital equivalent to Jim Henson's "The Muppets". Or as we would say, "The Muppets meets The X-files".
Did you always intend to make the game a 2D side scroller, or was this decision made after the storyline was created? We could have gone with what the critics would think is a newer real-time engine, but doing it with the current hardware systems means that we would greatly compromise puzzle complexity, character personality, animation quality, and background art beauty. We are not willing to sacrifice these qualities because the press thinks a better game needs to be in 3D. A lot of people appreciate finer qualities in a game and do not just want the latest POV shooter engine or the latest roving 3D engine. A lot of people want more entertaining experiences and they are finding themselves with little to chose from on the retail shelf. We are aimed at making characters have more life, using their behaviors to challenge your mind, and weaving it all together seamlessly and beautifully within a cool story that actually has some thought behind it.
The current 32bit systems just don't have the power to do 3D and do the other things that are important to us. We are giving game players something that is unique in its experience, in its look, and in the gamers relationship to how it's played. We are not doing "me too" kind of games. We're pushing in a different direction and a great deal of people recognize it's uniqueness and it's fun playable value. Some people think it is important to make 3D games, we think it is important to make more entertaining games.
Is the character Abe based on anyone at Oddworld? No. Heís based on all the little guys in our world. The unlikely hero. A guy just doing his job and then one day finds he has in up to his neck in hot water and that his efforts could make a big difference.
Who played Abe's voice? I do Abe's voice.
Were you surprised at the success that Abe's Oddysee had? I must admit that we always had very high hopes for Abe. We had to have high hopes in order to justify the costs of such a game. To build games like this you need to be committed to believing that you are building something that people will really want to play. Otherwise you'll cut to many corners in trying to save costs and ultimately the game player gets shorted.
Abe's success means that we are on target with the dreams of what our company was originally founded upon. It proves that what we believed people would want to experience is in fact true. The success also shows how the market can expand.
We get more mail from girls and adults than anyone would ever have believed. Our original intent was to give characters more life (we call them Inhabitants) and more personality while introducing new concepts (not just technology) in gameplay.
Was there anything you feel was lacking in Abe's Oddysee? Anything that if you had more time you would have liked to have seen put in? When Abe's Oddysee was released we watched all the chat groups and forums on the net very closely. When we saw that some people were having difficulty and were getting frustrated it devastated us. I personally couldn't sleep at night. We really poured our hearts into this game and we wanted everyone to love it. Some people weren't bothered but others were. We found that the biggest problem was our save feature and another was that they had to die often to learn the solutions to puzzles. We knew that you needed to die to learn solutions, thatís why we gave you infinite lives and actually encouraged dying. But when hundred of thousands of people start playing your game it's weaknesses get revealed to you very quickly. If we knew earlier we would have fixed it and it would have resulted in less frustration. As it stands we have fixed both problems in Abeís Exoddus and it will be even more enjoyable than the first game.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Dan Zalkus. This interview is © 1998 Jason Bergman & Lorne Lanning. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and totally not cool.|