interview

MOM Interview: Michael Bross

Michael Bross, a veteran composer in the video game industry, is best known amongst Oddworld fans for being the musical mastermind behind Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath. More recently, he did the soundtrack for New ‘n’ Tasty and was involved at the beginning of Soulstorm‘s development. We want to thank him for taking time out to answer our questions.

bross

Magog on the March: You were the musical mastermind behind Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath, and you also returned to compose the New ‘n’ Tasty soundtrack. Did you contribute to the Oddworld franchise in any other way, such as helping to develop characters, locations, ideas or concepts? I ask because you’ve stated previously that you write short stories.

Michael Bross: I also contributed to sound design along with vocalizations of the some of the characters. The vocalizations really helped shape the characters themselves and who they are, so this was really a fun part of development. We had a lot of laughs.

When recording voices, I sometimes would wrote some of the scripts for the game characters at some of the locations in Stranger’s Wrath, though the design team handled most of that work. Really, most of my contributions are on the music and sound side of those games.

Magog on the March: You have said that Oddworld Inhabitants picked you out of 150 applicants. What were Oddworld Inhabitants looking for in a composer? What made you the right candidate?

Michael Bross: Actually, I was picked out of approximately 500 applicants. They were looking for someone who could conjure the right emotions through the music while also creating something unique. For me, luckily, I had a lot of experience working on games already, so that made it easier for me to hit the ground running there.

Magog on the March: Apparently, you weren’t familiar with the first two Oddworld games during the production of Munch’s Oddysee. What was Lorne Lanning’s expectations for the Munch’s Oddysee soundtrack?

Michael Bross: I did have some familiarity with the earlier games but I didn’t necessarily always follow the musical formula that was chiseled out before. Munch and Stranger, both being in 3D worlds, allowed me to think about how to approach music differently for those games. I did get some inspiration from the earlier soundtracks but Lorne also encouraged me to do something that was my own.

Magog on the March: Were you ever in contact with Ellen Meijers or Josh Gabriel? Did they influence your direction with the Oddworld soundtracks at all?

Michael Bross: I met Josh when I initially interviewed at Oddworld. With Ellen, I did talk to her a few months later but we didn’t have any discussions related to the projects. Josh and I still keep in touch here and there. Really, both Ellen and Josh contributed so much to Oddworld in the early days.

Magog on the March: You have described Lorne Lanning as a “friend” and “brother”. What is it like to work with him?

Michael Bross: He is inspiring to work with, and I have also found he challenges how I think about the work I do. There’s so much I’ve learned from working with him. He can also be tough and demanding, but I am grateful for the time I’ve gotten to work with him.

Magog on the March: What is your favourite game in the Oddworld franchise?

Michael Bross: For me, it would be Stranger’s Wrath. Not sure I can really be objective here, though. In working on the games, I form a different relationship to them as compared to fans of the games.

Magog on the March: Who is your favourite Oddworld character? Why?

Michael Bross: Probably Stranger. I like how he transforms from being a loner to a hero. Also, I really enjoy the Clakkerz. There’s so much humor around them.

Magog on the March: What was your approach to re-creating the soundtrack for the Abe’s Oddysee remake?

Michael Bross: There was a balancing act between respecting the original material while also doing the new. Really, creating the new elements was partially driven by the fact that the original source assets didn’t exist anymore for parts of the game, so instead of trying to re-create, we decided to do something fresh.

Magog on the March: Providing it doesn’t go against your NDA, could you tell us anything about your involvement in the upcoming Soulstorm? How does your work compare to your previous Oddworld compositions?

Michael Bross: I worked on the first phase of the project and created what I hope will be some exciting material for Oddworld’s fans. From that point, though, I left the project to pursue some other endeavors I was interested in.

Magog on the March: What is next for Michael Bross?

Michael Bross: I’m doing a lot of work on VR experiences these days, all revolving around Oculus. Also, I recently produced some work on Tencent’s Honor of Kings, which from what I understand is the biggest game in China with over 200 million players per month. And there is some new work of my own I’ve been in the studio and working on. Not ready to talk about that yet but soon.

Oddworld: Story Stones

“The Big Face” | Oddworld: Story Stones

For the second instalment of Oddworld: Story Stones, we’ve opted to do something a little bit less lore-intensive than our debut episode. While there are almost countless subjects we can tackle, we want to show a little love for some of the more familiar inhabitants of Oddworld too.

The Big Face is an enigmatic character who plays a pivotal role in Abe’s Oddysee as the spiritual advisor to the Mudokon Messiah. While little is revealed about the Big Face within the games themselves, there’s some interesting tidbits and nuggets of lore that have cropped up over there years, and we’ve compiled them all here for your viewing pleasure.

Oddworld: Story Stones

Introducing “Oddworld: Story Stones”

Today we have the privilege of unveiling the next stage of Magog on the March! For almost a year, we’ve been working hard to compile everything Oddworld in one convenient location. From dozen upon dozens of interviews, magazine articles, forum posts, and ancient, forgotten references excavated from the WayBack Machine. Our archives are growing every day. While we still have a long way to go, the Magog on the March is pushing forward, as strong as ever. And with the range of Oddworld content at our disposal, we now have the liberty to do something with it that’s worthwhile.

“Oddworld: Story Stones” is an effort to create compendious and completely sourced video dossiers of Oddworld’s varied inhabitants, culture and locales. They will be derived entirely from facts and collect everything that is currently known about each topic. Our debut instalment takes a comprehensive look at the frightening, yet enigmatic Guardian Angel character who made a brief appearance in the unaired commercial for Abe’s Oddysee. Although the Shrink was played primarily for scares—as well as a tidal swell of raw oddness—as with all the inhabitants of Oddworld, there exists an extensive history that we’ve excavated from various interviews, websites and literary sources.

Prepare to be blown away by the amazing depths of THE ODD.

For a transcript of this video, check out the drop-down box under the new “Rumor Kontrol” tab overhead, or just click here.

soulstorm

A Personal Take on Soulstorm’s Alternate Reality Game

The Magog on the March! News to cure your ARG blues!

Today our special guest, Sliglet, s’got a few words to say about this Alternate—whats-a-yer-call-it—Reality Game? The one being churned out by those chumps at Oddworld Inhabitants. Y’all know the one I mean.

Remember, neither Magog on the March or Rumor Kontrol endorse or really care too much one way or the other about Sliglet’s informed viewpoint. If you don’t like it, GET OVER IT!

Sliglet?

— N.C. Slig


DISCLAIMER: While this critique is built on facts, it portrays my own subjective opinion.

When I first heard about Soulstorm and joined the related communities, the ARG’s first phase had already started, so I only joined later, if I remember correctly, at the Message box[1] puzzle or maybe a bit later. For a long time, namely until the third phase, I had no big problems with the ARG, sure it was a bit slow sometimes, but one can bear with that. It was compensated by being dark, mysterious, vague, but not too vague and its puzzles were challenging but fair. And let’s be honest, an ARG, done by OWI? It was very exciting to see what kind of dark secrets will surface while we play this game.

I have to commend OWI for starting this project because a proper ARG takes tons of preparation and extra work from the developers and yet they decided to do it. However, sadly, there is hardly anything I can praise except these efforts.

 

spirit1
In an attempt to fill the gap between New ‘n’ Tasty and the upcoming Soulstorm, Oddworld Inhabitants has been tinkering with an ARG, which depicts the struggle of a renegade terrorist organisation fighting back against the evil Magog Cartel.

 

In my opinion, the ARG took a huge nosedive starting with its third phase and I’d like to explain the details of why I’m saying this:

– Ed, and nearly every other of OWI’s in-universe characters, are all very one-dimensional. Most of them are based on one “emotion” or goal only, which leads to them to become very repetitive and boring. There is no “character development”, as such. Ed was a cowardly whistleblower at the very beginning and he still is. If one compares his first few tweets[2] and his newest ones, there is hardly any difference between them. I can forgive that he doesn’t have much personality because that’s the point of his character, a nobody who does a lot. But there is nothing that connects us to Ed, that makes us care for him. He has episodes of anxiety and depression, but that’s about it. Another character, the revolutionary group Spirit of 1029 has stated many times how they are against propaganda, yet their tweets[3] are almost solely composed of these kinds of messages. “We will rise”, “A storm is brewing”, “Join us”, just to name a few. The only exception to this is ironically the Magog Cartel Twitter[4]. Their tweets are full of snarky and dark humor, reminiscent of the tone of the original two Oddworld games. If the aforementioned two characters were this well-executed, then while the ARG still wouldn’t be perfect, it would be much more fun to play.

– The newer puzzle rewards are abysmal compared to the work one has to do to solve them. Many of these contain vague, filler sentences that just frustrate the solver rather than provide enjoyment. As an example, it has been established early that the new SoulStorm Brew is not only flammable, but after ingestion the consumer develops a very strong addiction to it. Two days without the brew causes the addict to suffer lethal cardiac arrest. This information has been hinted at since March of 2017 and it has been confirmed in September. Yet puzzles following this revelation still tried to sell us this as new and shocking information[5]. But this is not even the most irritating example. Throughout the whole ARG we have seen the “We will rise” and “A storm is brewing” messages so many times, that the community became desensitized to them. They were no longer hype-inducing, instead they just made people sigh and immediately disregard them.

– OWI seemingly haphazardly/randomly/arbitrarily changes the ARG before our very eyes. I would have no problems with them modifying things up in the background, those puzzles and information which we haven’t discovered yet, but if something has already been revealed, then it should be left untouched or at the very least the change should be explained in-universe. A very prominent example is the second phase of the ARG. Over the course of months, we were supposed to uncover five pictures[6], which – as we later found out – were part of the game’s teaser trailer. However, one day the placeholder for the fifth picture just disappeared without any reason. To the community’s inquiries, OWI replied with “the initial phase of the ARG ended when [they] wanted to”[7]. Not only is this dishonest practice, it shows that the company was not prepared properly for this occasion.

– There have been multiple long pauses in the ARG. These were the following:

* July – December 2016 (with some minor activity in September)
* May – August 2017
* September 2017 – May 2018

 

gin6gii
The Soulstorm ARG started very strong and had a lot of support from the community. The exhaustive length of the experience, however, has created a lulling effect, and many players have since abandoned the hunt for more clues.

 

While it is indisputable that an ARG has to pause at times so development and real-life events can catch up, but in this case, neither of these pauses were communicated properly to the community. The characters just stopped posting as if they had dropped dead in their places. The lack of communication caused confusion multiple times, especially at the time of the third and longest pause. This could have been mitigated by simply having an in-universe event that causes the characters to go into hiding. For example, before the almost ten-month pause, Magog could have announced that it found the current hiding place of the Spirit of 1029, who could have released a frantic tweet explaining that they had to escape and erect a new base of operations, which will probably take a very long time. To add insult to injury, OWI had multiple times purposefully dodged questions related to the ARG’s status and one time even openly mocked a concerned ARG solver[8]. While this was done from the MagogCartel Twitter account, it still feels unnecessarily rude and unprofessional.

However, the problem that I think drove the last nail into the ARG’s coffin is the lack of direction. There is no official source from where one could comfortably start their solving career. It took the valiant efforts of multiple members of the community to make summaries, trying to give a helping hand to anyone who would like to participate. And, of course, total documentation isn’t and shouldn’t be expected to be provided, but a pointer, a nudge in the right direction or a quick recap would help the community greatly. At the time this article is written, we received “the ARG is still going on and there are older clues left unsolved” as a status report from OWI. This simply doesn’t work. The first part of the sentence is almost useless without any kind of extra information and the second part falls apart because of the previous problem. Even if people took the time to solve them, they would probably get some vague message about the oncoming revolution which equals to a laugh in their faces. This kind of vagueness is especially appalling, because in the older phases of the ARG OWI did create a recap[9]. It wasn’t perfect per se, but it was magnitudes better than the one-liner answers we get in the Official Discord.

 

pkbh4iu
Will Ed and the Spirit of 1029 achieve victory over the malicious Magog Cartel? Unless the most dedicated ARG players can find something to help motivate them forward, it looks unlikely!

 

All in all, the ARG had a lot of potential, but most of it went to waste because of completely avoidable problems. The continuous mismanagement and miscommunication made the majority of the ARG solving communities pull out their forces and because of this, only the most loyal fans remained. However, this is not the point of an ARG. An ARG should bring new people into the series, incite hype, and provide new information to the fans. In its current state, it provides neither of these. It is not exciting enough to pull in new people, it provides disappointingly few details to the loyal solvers and it lacks the distinct “Oddworld-feel”. If we would remove Brew and the Oddworldian creatures from this ARG, the remaining skeleton could fit almost any dark themed game.


References

[1] http://oddworldlibrary.net/wiki/Soulstorm_ARG_Summary#20160323
[2] https://twitter.com/edmudokon
[3] https://twitter.com/SPIRITOF1029
[4] https://twitter.com/MagogCartel
[5] http://oddworldlibrary.net/wiki/Soulstorm_ARG_Summary#20180530 - "This thing is lethal"
[6] http://web.archive.org/web/20170222211607/http://www.oddworld.com/soulstorm/
[7] https://imgur.com/fJbaXPc
[8] https://twitter.com/MagogCartel/status/968903190010847237
[9] https://us3.campaign-archive.com/?u=2b6dca21053bc375cbdad7077&id=b08e7b2d60&e=6a2b5665ee
soulstorm

SOULSTORM: What Exoddus was Supposed to be?

Since the initial announcement of Soulstorm, there has been a whit of confusion surrounding the exact nature of the upcoming Oddworld instalment. For over a year, fans have been scratching their heads and trying to dissect the scant information being leaked by Oddworld Inhabitants, as if Soulstorm itself is another piece of the meandering ARG. Is the game a sequel, a remake or a reboot? Will it be a 2D platformer? Is Munch a playable character? Who is Toby? These are just some of the questions that have plagued the dedicated fandom, and while several vague answers have been dolled out via various forms of social media, perhaps the greatest confusion surrounding Soulstorm is whether or not it is a course-correction on the Quintology, fixing the mistakes that the purportedly rushed Exoddus introduced into the storyline. In other words, is Soulstorm what Exoddus was supposed to be? Let’s try and figure this out.

To understand whether Soulstorm can possibly be a course-correction, we must first determine if Exoddus did indeed stray from Lanning’s masterplan. It has been well-documented that Exoddus was created at the behest of GT Interactive, Oddworld Inhabitant’s initial publisher, following the overwhelming success of their debut title, Abe’s Oddysee. Lanning states that he “never intended to do a direct sequel” and that the development team was “ready to gear up for Munch” by the time sale figures started to roll in.[1]

0017
The many iterations of Munch, as revealed through The Lost Archives, are a testament to the level of investment Oddworld Inhabitants had in Munch’s Oddysee, even before Abe’s Exoddus went into production.

A new game needed to be made fast. The Oddworld team, however, was not ready to delve into Munch’s Oddysee and have it finished and polished within less than a year. Lanning outwardly refused, not wishing to sully his intended vision of the forthcoming instalment.[2] Very quickly, the idea of a ‘bonus game’ was devised, one that would utilise the building blocks of Oddysee and promote a fresh experience, yet still fall outside of the realms of the Quintology.[3][4] This would simultaneously allow the development team to mature the A.L.I.V.E. engine, and allow Oddworld Inhabitants to deliver a new game for GT Interactive in a timely manner. Ergo, there was never supposed to be an Exoddus in the first place, a claim corroborated by Paul O’Connor. He says:

[Lanning’s] story plans didn’t include Exoddus, so we had to create a tale that fit ‘inside’ the envisioned continuity. We also didn’t want to do something that was exactly the same as Oddysee, so we opted for a different tone in the story.[5]

If this idea of an impromptu instalment is to be believed, then one could easily understand the need for Soulstorm to right the wrongs of Exoddus. Lanning, however, has never provided any evidence to suggest that what become Exoddus had a malignant, or even tangential effect on the proposed Quintology. In fact, he states the opposite, claiming:

Abe’s Exoddus was true to the vision even though we referred to it as a ‘bonus game.’[6]

In other words, Exoddus may have been a piece of the Oddworld story that was created out of financial necessity and hurried out to store shelves, yet a cognisant and empirical effort was still implemented in order to weave it smoothly into the overall Quintology. After all, stories are living beings, and sometimes they go off in wonderful directions that could never have been anticipated. How, then, would it be possible to fix what was never actually broken?

abe2big2
With a scant nine months to start and finish the production of Abe’s Exoddus, the game’s script had to be signed off in little more than a week.

Soulstorm is being billed as both “a complete reimagined remake of Exoddus” and “a brand new game”.[7] In other words, it is a new instalment inspired by the original, twenty-year-old story. This decision was made because of attrition. Following an audience poll that pined for an HD remake of Exoddus—in the same style as the recent New ’n’ Tasty—Lanning vocally detested going back to do that game all over again. He says:

I groaned, but then I looked at that: Exoddus was a game that we only had nine months on, a game I was never expecting to make. But I’ve looked at that game, for the next one, for Soulstorm – I’ve looked at what the old story was, and rewritten the whole thing. The drink, Soulstorm Brew, is still at the center of things, but that’s where the similarities end.[8]

Essentially, Lanning had already done Exoddus once; he didn’t want to make it again. This line of thought would be easy enough to empathise with, but matters are promptly obfuscated. 

Since the announcement of Soulstorm in early-2016, several Oddworld Inhabitant sources—including Lanning himself—have attempted to highlight the spectral nature of the beloved Exoddus, suddenly claiming that elements were either dropped or changed during the hasty production cycle. Such comments range from vague marketing rhetoric, to Lanning outrightly stating that Soulstorm will be what he “wanted Abe’s Exoddus to originally be”[8]. This is in direct contradiction to Paul O’Connor, who reveals that the only story threads dropped from Exoddus were those that Lanning thought were “a big, steaming pile of merde”, and even going further to state firmly that Lanning didn’t care about what happened in Exoddus, so long as it was “stunning” and “original”.[9]

oddworld-soulstorm
With a focus on Soulstorm Brew and a return to the monolithic brewery, Soulstorm is being built upon the bones of Abe’s Exoddus.

How do we make sense of such starkly opposed comments? It’s almost as if Lanning and O’Connor are talking about two different games.

And what if they are?

When Lanning discusses Soulstorm being what Exoddus was originally intended to be,[10] perhaps he’s not implicitly referring to Exoddus at all, but rather drawing attention to what was always intended to be the second instalment in the Oddworld universe. In other words, Soulstorm isn’t making up for any errors or misdirections caused by Exoddus—an otherwise harmless, if meandering instalment—it’s fixing an aberration that has been left in the franchise since the colossal failure of Munch’s Oddysee.

This is supported by many of Lanning’s revelations during the keynote at EGX 2017. Lanning says that the intention of Soulstorm is to move the plot forward, something Exoddus was never designed to do, and something that Munch’s Oddysee was curiously unsuccessful in executing. Furthermore, many of the elements that are referenced in the presentation seem to be borrowed directly from the parts of Munch’s Oddysee that were left on the cutting room floor. These include the oft-fabled return of Molluck the Glukkon, a deeper and more profound focus on interaction with fellow inhabitants, and a long-awaited integration of the Oddworld Population Control Scheme.[11]

3dz0qpc
One of our earliest Magog on the March articles dissected the EGX 2017 Keynote and attempted to find all of the references to Munch’s Oddysee and the extended lore.

To be even more precise, Lanning speaks about what “was supposed to be the second game in the Oddworld Quintology”. He says:

And I had this big vision of what that game was going to be. But the reality was: we needed to provide our partner a game in nine months, and that was not our plan. So what happens is, the story of Exoddus got reshaped into something that wasn’t really in line with that original vision … It was all related to the Brew. It was all related to flammable liquids, highly volatile environments in a slightly different storyline; and so it became something that wasn’t the original intention.[11]

While Lanning does indeed specifically reference Exoddus, it becomes clear that Exoddus is not guilty of any proposed crime when one takes into account that Munch’s Oddysee was always intended to be the second game of the franchise. When Lanning says that “the story of Exoddus got reshaped”, he’s really saying “the story of the second Oddworld instalment got reshaped”.

Suddenly, it all makes sense.

As the tentative release date of Soulstorm draws near, it’s important to recognise and attempt to harmonise the difference between Exoddus and its successor. The most simple solution to the conundrum is in accepting that Exoddus is (and always was) a bonus game, a tangential piece of the original Quintology—Abe’s Oddysee 1.5, if you will. Soulstorm, meanwhile, is the second piece of the new Quintology, an entry that has the ability to not only progress the overarching story toward its rightful conclusion, but also supplanting the need for the rejected Munch’s Oddysee. Soulstorm is not what Exoddus—the bonus game—was intended to be; rather, it is what the second instalment of the Quintology should have been. The difference, most certainly, is a fine line, yet understanding that difference is crucial to accepting and appreciating both the old world and the new one.


References

[1] Paul O'Connor, Abe's Exoddus Designer Diary, Part 3: Exoddus (https://magogonthemarch.com/designer-diaries/abes-exoddus-designer-diary/part-3-exoddus/)
[2] Retro Asylum, Episode 124: It's An Oddworld! Lorne Lanning Interview (https://youtu.be/EVDKKmx8AqY?list=PL4AJYR2UselUA6zR6dPWapySupmOmZVcu&t=3724) 
[3] Gog, Editorial — Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus (https://web.archive.org/web/20140122093946/http://www.gog.com/news/editorial_oddworld_abes_exoddus)
[4] Retro Gamer, Strange Empire: An Oddworld Inhabitants Retrospective (https://magogonthemarch.com/retro-gamer-strange-empire-an-oddworld-inhabitants-retrospective-2014/)
[5] Paul O'Connor, The Oddworld Yahoo Group, Posted on 3/4/2000 (https://magogonthemarch.com/paul-oconnors-posts-on-the-oddworld-yahoo-group-1999-2001/) 
[6] Adventure Classic Gaming, Lorne Lanning — Oddworld Inhabitants (https://magogonthemarch.com/lorne-lanning-oddworld-inhabitants/)
[7] The Sixth Axis, Peter Chapman on Soulstorm (https://youtu.be/2GHHkL51J-E?list=PL4AJYR2UselX2VynzBuqT2SGPm_OAA1eq&t=97)
[8] Waypoint, Discussing the Enduring Appeal of Abe with Oddworld Creator Lorne Lanning (https://magogonthemarch.com/discussing-the-enduring-appeal-of-abe-with-oddworld-creator-lorne-lanning/)
[9] Paul O'Connor, Abe's Exoddus Designer Diary, Part 4: Designer's on the Ledge (https://magogonthemarch.com/designer-diaries/abes-exoddus-designer-diaryvideogames-com/part-4-designers-on-the-ledge/)
[10] Caddicarus, Oddworld: Soulstorm at EGX 2017 — Exclusive Lorne Lanning Interview! (https://magogonthemarch.com/2017/10/06/egx-2017-lorne-lanning-interview-with-caddicarus-transcript/)
[11] Lorne Lanning, EGX 2017 — "Brewing Oddworld: Soulstorm" (https://magogonthemarch.com/egx-2017-lorne-lanning-brewing-oddworld-soulstorm/)
interview

MOM Interview: Elodie Adams

Today we were able to ask a few questions to Elodie Adams, Australian neo-gothic rock artist, best known amongst Oddworld fans for having her song—entitled “Born To Love You”—featured in the credits of New ‘n’ Tasty. We want to thank her for taking time out to answer our questions.

Elodie-Adams

Magog on the March: We’ll start off with an easy one: What is your favourite game in the Oddworld franchise?

Elodie Adams: My fondest memories are of playing Oddysee. The environments were incredible back then and of course still are today even though we’re talking 90s graphics. I’m a very terrible gamer buy I absolutely love immersive fantasy environments and the gameplay was/is so fresh and original.

Magog on the March: You once said in an interview that your were introduced to Lorne Lanning via a friend on Facebook. Could you please tell us more about your relationship with Lanning and the conversations that led to your involvement with “New ’n’ Tasty”, perhaps for the benefit of those who would like to work with Oddworld Inhabitants one day?

Elodie Adams: Ah. It was a very once in a lifetime sort of thing. Chance. Unfortunately the music industry is a cruel beast and I was just fortunate Lorne heard my voice. A friend told me Lorne had a Facebook account so I sent him a link to my YouTube demo and he actually listened to it. That never happens! He replied and told me he felt the lyrics were about Abe’s journey and his relationship with the Mudokons, which I felt was such an honor. It’s interesting as a songwriter, when you compose music with one intention and those listening hear something entirely else.

Magog on the March: What’s the story behind the song “Born to Love You”? Could you also give us your interpretation on how it relates to Abe, Oddworld and “New ‘n’ Tasty” itself?

Elodie Adams: Well I wrote the song about my relationship with the music industry. How it is sort of evil and tears you apart from the inside out without a care in the world but you keep going out of love for the music. I am sure Lorne can answer this question much better than I can. Actually he never discussed with me what his interpretation of the lyrics were… just that he had one.

Magog on the March: Some hardcore fans of the Oddworld franchise have voiced criticism at the inclusion of “Born to Love You” in “New ’n’ Tasty”, believing the atmospheric ode of that tied off the original game suited the atmosphere of the world better. What is your response to this?

Elodie Adams: Lorne created Oddworld and he loved the song that I wrote so his opinion is the only one I really pay any attention to. I have an incredible respect for Lorne. What the fans don’t know is that we also went through… maybe 10-15 or so revisions of the song so the final product is the one that Lorne himself responded very positively to.

Magog on the March: Did you get a chance to play “New ’n’ Tasty”? If so, what did you think of the final product?

Elodie Adams: Yes of course I did. I had to hear my song in the credits. I felt the developers did a wonderful job!

Magog on the March: What is it like to work with Lorne Lanning?

Elodie Adams: It was a life changing experience that I felt I was a bit too young for at the time. He really taught me what it’s like to work on a large scale professional project and the importance of creating a sound that is appropriate for the overall vision. Before that I was making music on my laptop on my bedroom so I definitely wasn’t prepared for anything of that scale! I definitely put my everything in to working as hard as I could and creating the best sound that I could. I grew up from being involved in New ‘n’ Tasty.

Magog on the March: Feel free to answer: Were you once an Oddworld “Fan of the Month”?

Elodie Adams: Yup that’s me as a kid! How embarrassing!

Magog on the March: Will you be playing “Oddworld: Soulstorm”?

Elodie Adams: Absolutely. How could anyone resist giving it a spin!

Magog on the March: What are you working on next in your professional life?

Elodie Adams: I’ve been dealing with some pretty serious health issues since then. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which doesn’t have a cure and means I’m constantly in chronic pain and… well you know, life sometimes throws challenges at you that break you before making you stronger and I feel that I’m just coming out the other side. I wouldn’t recommend getting an incurable illness.

Regardless of that, music will always be a part of my life whether I like it or not since it sort of follows me around like a stalker. I can’t stop melodies and lyrics from talking to me. It’s always been that way.

Honestly… I have no definitive plans for my life right now so we’ll see what happens. Life is funny like that.

interview

MOM Interview: Stewart Gilray

It is a big day for us at Magog on the March, for we finally take our own place in the annals of the Oddworld Archives with our very first interview. Today we were able to ask a few questions to Stewart Gilray, CEO of JAW Ltd., the man responsible for bringing the Oddworld series back from an extended period of hibernation with the well-received HD Remake of Abe’s Oddysee. Gilray was gracious enough to answer our questions, and we want to thank him for his time and willingness. It was very gracious of him.

stewart-gilray1

Magog on the March: We know that you’re an absolute fan of the original Oddworld games. Fans, however, have noticed that there’s quite a difference in the atmosphere between “New ’n’ Tasty” and the original “Abe’s Oddysee”. We believe this was a deliberate choice, and would like to know if this was an aesthetic decision made by JAW or under Lanning’s advice.

Stewart Gilray: Oh all the changes were directed by Lorne. We put some stuff forward, but the look, feel was definitely driven by Lorne.

Magog on the March: Do you believe that “New ’n’ Tasty” is what “Abe’s Oddysee” was supposed to be if the technology was available at the time?

Stewart Gilray: I don’t know to be honest, it wasn’t something Lorne and I ever spoke about. But I can’t answer for him.

Magog on the March: What do you think was the greatest success of “New ’n’ Tasty”? Conversely, where do you believe the final game could have been improved?

Stewart Gilray: I was pretty happy with the game, I think the greatest success was that the game was as well received as it was, bearing in mind the development team was only 13 or 14 people at JAW, with a couple of other externals. So a very small team. In terms of improvement, I would have loved it to run at 60fps all the time, but that’s just a personal preference.

Magog on the March: What was the origin behind Alf’s Escape? Was it a planned addition to “New ’n’ Tasty” at conception (the rumoured “Alf’s Oddysee”) and a necessary part of the Oddworld story or was it designed to take further advantage of the new assets and engine?

Stewart Gilray: It came out of various conversations, whilst it wasn’t planned at the start, the intention was to have some DLC levels post-release, and that’s what the guys built.

Magog on the March: Where is the special slig that you spoke about in “New ‘n’ Tasty”? Is it, perhaps, the slig boozing at Alf’s Bar, that may or may not be albino? The lighting makes it difficult to tell!

Stewart Gilray: It might be. You know who the albino slig is, don’t you?

Magog on the March: Lorne Lanning has spoken previously about a deleted scene from the original “Abe’s Oddysee” that depicted the Mudokon Moon being formed by a meteor shower as Abe escapes RuptureFarms. Was there ever a discussion to include this scene in “New ’n’ Tasty”?

Stewart Gilray: Not that I can remember, but bear in mind our first discussions on NnT or “Abe HD” were in 2011.

Magog on the March: Feel free to respond to this question: What happened between JAW and Oddworld Inhabitants?

Stewart Gilray: We’d worked with Oddworld for 4–5 years and really wanted a change, a chance to work on something different, and Oddworld wanted to move future development closer to “home” for them. It was a mutual decision.

Magog on the March: We don’t know if you’re aware, but it has recently been announced by Oddworld Inhabitants that the original source code for “Abe’s Oddysee” has been found and a team is currently working on it. Both yourself and Lanning spoke about the abysmal state of the source code in the lead-up to “New ’n’ Tasty”, and we we’re hoping you could share your own experiences trying to crack the code. Additionally, do you personally believe that a version of Abe HD, using the original assets, could ever be possible?

Stewart Gilray: We spent months going through archives and by the time we’d finished we had the source to Exoddus, and the assets for Oddysee, but not the source for Oddysee or assets for Exoddus… If they have found the source for Oddysee, I’m glad and can’t wait to see if they manage anything with them. In terms of an HD version of the original, I really don’t know to be honest. We had 640×480 assets for some of it, but nothing above that resolution.

Magog on the March: With the announcement of “Soulstorm”—a direct sequel to “New ’n’ Tasty” and retelling of the original “Abe’s Exoddus”—the future of the original Oddworld Quintology seems uncertain. We know that you had hoped to see the Quintology finally completed. As both a fan and the man responsible for the rebirth of the Oddworld franchise, what is your take on “Soulstorm” and this new altered Quintology?

Stewart Gilray: I know nothing about Soulstorm other than what’s public, so like you, I’m equally excited to see it and play it. It’ll be fun to play a new Oddworld release that I’ve—we’ve—not been a part of. As for the Quintology, no idea. I WOULD love to see it finished, as a fan.

Magog on the March: How serious were the discussions to finally develop “Hand of Odd” and other abandoned Oddworld games, such as “Fangus”?

Stewart Gilray: Lorne and I spent a lot of travel time talking about Hand of Odd, and we had some ideas for it. I’m not sure if it will ever be un-shelved. As for Fangus, having seen the assets and the project, I would LOVE to have seen it finished, no idea if it ever will though.

Magog on the March: Based on your close relationship with all of the Oddworld archives, out of all the games that never saw the light of day, which one would you love to play the most? Why?

Stewart Gilray: Right now that’s still Fangus, as it was the followup, NOT the sequel to Stranger, and I love Stranger.

Magog on the March: Who is Squeek?

Stewart Gilray: If I told you, I’d have to kill you.

abe's oddysee

Finding the Source: A Brief History of Oddworld’s “Lost Code”

Earlier this week, Oddworld Inhabitants made a groundbreaking announcement that a huge cache of archived Oddworld material had been found, which included the source code for Abe’s Oddysee, something that was believed to be lost—or, rather, unworkable—for many years. Today I thought we would take a moment to talk about the bewildering history of Oddworld’s source code, what it means, and the implications of this announcement.

ssae0006
This “HD Screenshot” of Abe’s Exoddus, which was used for promotional purposes, is believed to utilise the original, uncompressed, high-quality assets.

When Oddworld Inhabitants partnered with JAW, rumour quickly spread around the internet concerning a polished, HD upgrade of the two original Oddworld titles. Upon shaking hands with Stewart Gilray, Lorne Lanning handed the entire Oddworld archive over to JAW, which included thousands of discs worth of footage—at least 15 TB of data were collected by the team, all of which was preserved by Lanning et al during the closure of Oddworld Inhabitants in 2005. On those discs were models, assets, audio, and documents, ranging from Abe’s Oddysee to the unreleased Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot.[1] Gilray also declared that JAW had access to the source code from the first two games:

We’ve got the source code to both Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus. However, we don’t have final PSone code for Oddysee, and no PC code, but we have final PC code for Exoddus, and no PSone code. So we’ve got a mix.[2]

Of course, one must then beg the question that if JAW had access to the source code all along, why would they opt to build a remake from the ground up when a polished version of Oddysee and Exoddus would have performed with equal eminence, if not more? The answer is one of practicality and accessibility. In simple terms, the software used to create Oddysee and Exoddus is so archaic when compared to modern technology that the team could not find a way to work with the archived source. [3][4] JAW even reached out to some members of the original design team to try and understand how the old builds operated, yet even these high-profile veterans were stumped with the state of the source code.

One of the guys now works at Google in Munich, one works with Rad Game Tools, and another has just done some work with Lorne Lanning on his non-game related project.[5]

We must remember that the original Oddworld games were a helter-skelter mess from a design perspective. While the final products embody the spirit of two of the greatest digital experiences of all time, the men and women who were building these games were not seasoned game designers, and would do whatever they needed to do to achieve a result. As such, the code that is left behind was not tailored for posterity’s sake and appears to be quite unorthodox.

The abysmal state of the source code was further confirmed earlier this year when Truant Pixel re-created The Shrink for a new PS4 theme, and discovered challenges in transferring the original build of the geometrically complex character to new software. In layman’s terms, the team had to “selectively isolate and rebuild the model components”, and in some cases had to cover up missing pieces with clever replicas. In the end, it took “a couple of weeks” to update the single model of the Shrink into something that could be manipulated and used in modern software.[6] How long then would it take to update the entire game?

 

boardroom-feat
New ‘n’ Tasty was made because the original source code could not be easily manipulated for modern engines.

 

According to Alex Carroll of Oddworld Inhabitants, Square One is the company responsible for finally cracking the code that might allow the source to be manipulated in a more convenient manner. Carroll claimed that the narrative of the discovery was quite fascinating, saying further that:

We’re working closely with Square One who are technical wizards at this sort of stuff. Some of the source was actually missing but they’ve done an amazing job at getting it all recompiled, given the age of the tools and the code.[7]

Beyond the complexity of the source code, however, there is also the issue of the raw assets themselves. While there a couple of exceptions, such as the large matte painting of RuptureFarms, which was a digital construction produced by Steven Olds and used for the FMV sequences of Abe’s Oddysee, the majority of the assets from the original two games lack the quality to be updated into anything acceptable by modern standards. For this reason, not a single code of the original game was inherited by New ’n’ Tasty’s updated engine.

The old backgrounds are 640 × 240. We really can’t go backwards in quality.[8]

What does it mean, therefore, that Oddworld Inhabitants now has open access to the original source code of Abe’s Oddysee? Even if the code can now be manipulated, would it even be worthwhile to attempt a polished version of the two original games when the quality can only be improved so much. It has certainly been proved—take a look at the Happy Hol-ODD Days Christmas Card for proof—that the old sprites and animations can potentially be used to create a familiar, if limited, experience, but what is the extent of these ancient assets? How far can they be feasibly stretched? Is it really possible to bring a venerable version of Abe HD to the next generation of consoles and appease those who were disheartened with New ’n’ Tasty? I’m not sure it will be so easy, but time will tell.

One thing is for sure, we can now finally stop quipping about how the source code fell out of Lanning’s back pocket during brunch.

References

[1] Stewart Gilray, The Making of Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD (https://magogonthemarch.com/the-making-of-oddworld-strangers-wrath-hd/)
[2] Stewart Gilray, Oddworld Forums — Oddbox: AO & AE at higher resolution (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=473849&postcount=20)
[3] "Glitch", Oddworld Forums — Happy Hol-ODD Days 2011! (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=523883&postcount=51)
[4] Lorne Lanning, Reddit AMA with Lorne Lanning & Stewart Gilray  (https://magogonthemarch.com/qa/reddit-ama-2012/)
[5] Stewart Gilray, A glimpse into the future of Oddworld  (https://www.destructoid.com/a-glimpse-into-the-future-of-oddworld-248708.phtml)
[6] Unknown Truant Pixel Employee, Oddworld: Rebuilding "The Shrink" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jwSdzKcJBM&feature=youtu.be)
[7] Alex Carroll, The Official Oddworld Inhabitants Discord (Posted by OWI_Alex on 5/12/17 at 2:10 PM)
[8] William Bunce-Edwards, Oddworld Forums — Abe HD (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=527739&postcount=154)
abe's oddysee

Abe’s Lost Oddysee: 20th Anniversary Celebration

In celebration of Abe’s 20th Birthday—yes, we realise we’re a trifle late to the party, but we at Magog on the March always prefer to be fashionably late than undesirably early—we have compiled a handful of the elements that were dropped during the production of the original Abe’s Oddysee. From the curious Elum Traps that have piqued the curiosity of fans for two decades, to an unknown revelation about SoulStorm Brew that will raise an eyebrow in regards to the upcoming Soulstorm, today’s article should provide the hungry inhabitants of Oddworld with a tasty morsel to wait out the lengthy hiatus. Enjoy!


Elum Trap

Elum trap-teleporter

We start by taking a look at the Elum Trap, a device that was utilised by the Magog Cartel to capture wild Elums. It is a little-known fact that the poor, docile, honey-loving Elums were hunted by RuptureFarms in the same manner as Paramites and Scrabs, being served up as finger-lickin’ Elum Chubs. A poster for Elum Chubs even appears in the Playstation Demo of Abe’s Oddysee, but was removed from the final game. Alas, the Elum Traps were also absent from the retail version of Abe’s Oddysee, their existence and mechanics superseded by the infamous mounds of honey and those ravenous beehives.

Source: http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=2230&postcount=12

Speak No Evil About Possessing the Possession

Possessing

It is kind of stark to think about an Abe experience without the ability of possession, but if Lorne Lanning had had his way, players would have had to flail their way through RuptureFarms and the Stockyards without this handy slig-detonating ability. It has been well-documented that Lanning desired Oddworld to be a thematic experience, and adding to Abe’s inferior and feeble status, the Mudokon Savior would have needed to learn to survive without this spiritual firearm, only learning how to chant after his stitches were removed in the Monsaic Lines.

Similarly, Abe’s stitches would have been so tight that he lacked the ability to speak to his fellow Mudokons. GameSpeak, therefore, would have been locked out to the player until several hours into the game, raising a flood of questions about the puzzles these earlier levels would have entailed. We could have seen a very different game!

For the sake of the player’s sanity, however, both of these abilities were offered to the player from the outset. It is clear that from a storytelling perspective, however, that Abe does not possess the ability of possession until he has proved himself to be a survivor, likely after he was resurrected by the Big Face.

Source: https://magogonthemarch.com/2008-2/nathan-interviews-lorne-lanning/

A Different Abe

Early drafts for Oddworld did not cast our hapless hero as a floor-waxer and RuptureFarms Employee of the Year. Instead, Abe would have been a native fisherman living a green life off the fat of the land, being introduced to the industrialist lifestyle as the story progressed. It has been implied that the abandoned movie version of Abe’s Oddysee would have focused on this reversal of roles.

And yes, Abe would have had his noble pet Elum to keep him company when wandering the musty banks of Mudos.

Source: The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants (p.46)

Desert Buzzard

Desert Buzzard

This bulbous and ill-proportioned creature would have likely featured in the desolate wilderness of Scrabania. Not a sight for sore eyes, is he?

Source: The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants (p.82)

Sleeping Pods

Mudokon sleeping pods

These ominous sleeping pods, complete with visual entertainment and a SoulStorm Brew dispenser, were the designated sleeping quarters for the Mudokon labour force of RuptureFarms. According to the Oddworld artbook, the pods would have been glimpsed in the opening FMV of Abe’s Oddysee, but they did not make the final cut and are completely absent from the final game.

The sleeping pods did finally make an appearance in New ‘n’ Tasty, featuring in the background of Zulag 3.

Source: The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants (p.69)

The Shrink

The Shrink

By now, the Shrink—also known as the Guardian Angel—is a familiar face to the fans of Oddworld. Feared mostly for its infamous appearance in the unaired Abe’s Oddysee commercial, which was rewarded to players who managed to rescue all 99 Mudokons hidden within the game, hardcore fans also know that several of the spider-like Shrinks still keep the Mudokon Queen company within the bowels of Vykkers Labs.

Until recently, however, it was not quite clear what the Shrink’s purpose at RuptureFarms exactly entailed. Released by JAW several years ago, a variant of the unaired Guardian Angel commercial altered the Shrink’s final line, suggesting it was tasked by Molluck with acquiring a confession from the imprisoned Abe before his execution.

Truant Pixel’s short documentary concerning the new PS4 Guardian Angel theme also confirmed the Guardian Angel’s purpose, cementing the unaired commercial into the Oddworld timeline.

In his recent interview with Caddicarus, Lorne Lanning spoke openly about the Shrink, revealing its intended purpose within the RuptureFarms workplace. He said:

What the Guardian originally was is something we never got to do, cause we never so much got into the Mudokon lifestyle. So that was who a Mudokon would be sent to see if they started to have moral problems at work. It was like a robot face analyzing psychologically what you need to get productive. Sometimes [saws and syringes are] motivating. He’d say: “Get an ‘A’ on your test or we’re going to pull some teeth.

It was also meant to make a cameo appearance in New ‘n’ Tasty, but the model was far too complicated to justify its creation.

Source: https://magogonthemarch.com/transcripts/egx-2017-lorne-lanning-interview/
Source: http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=616575&postcount=328

Meeches

Meech

In the final version of Abe’s Oddysee, the Meeches exist only as a memory and a download of exposition. In the form of Meech Munches, the tri-jawed beasts—originally green in colour and altered to brown with reddish stripes later on—were one of RuptureFarms’ tantalising flagship products, no longer available due to the wild packs being hunted to extinction. If the disc space of the PlayStation Compact Discs had been big enough, however, Abe and the players would have had to deal with a third species of wildlife, travelling to a tropical biome where the Meeches nested, delving into yet another dark and dangerous temple, and earning the final piece of the mystical Shrykull tattoo.

 

Ironically enough, the first decent footage that Lanning saw of Abe’s Oddysee was a pack of Meeches running in the wild!

Source: https://magogonthemarch.com/emails-sent-to-matt-lee-2007/

Source: https://magogonthemarch.com/qa/reddit-ama-2012/

Source: https://youtu.be/8HGCtgocCL4?t=1973

SoulStorm Brew

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Yes, you read that right! According to an interview from 1998—thought lost for nineteen years until our team of blind slaves uncovered it in the depths of the internet burial ground—SoulStorm Brew was intended to make an appearance in Abe’s Oddysee but was dropped along with the other elements we’ve showcased today. Read what Lorne Lanning had to say about the addictive beverage and its importance in Abe’s grand story:

In the original story of Abe’s Oddysee, SoulStorm Brew was a very important part. But because of time and production limitations, we had to cut SoulStorm Brew out of Abe’s Oddysee. However, with Abe’s Exodus, we had the opportunity to tell the story of SoulStorm Brew, which happens to be a very important part of the overall Quintology. But because it was originally written to happen with Abe’s Oddysee, it had to be completely re-written to be able to stand on its own and ultimately take place after the events of Abe’s Oddysee. When this happens to us, then our internal writers get involved creatively on what should happen, when, and how. Then we work as a team to create something that works with the overall flow of the universe of Oddworld.

New ‘n’ Tasty was finally able to rectify this deficit of the deadly brew in Abe’s debut adventure. Scattered bottles were slipped into several landscapes and giving the audacious Alf a position tending an illicit bar in the depths of RuptureFarms, serving an early iteration of SoulStorm Brew to some lackadaisical sligs.

It begs the question: Will the rebranding of Abe’s Exoddus to Soulstorm, and the revamped story, reflect the greater beats of the Quintology that have been missing for years? We at Magog on the March certainly think so!

Source: https://magogonthemarch.com/1998-2/2969-2/

 

abe's oddysee

Abe’s Oddysee: A Case of the Parasites

In Lorne Lanning’s recent interview with Caddicarus, the creative mastermind behind Oddworld likened the dense mythology of the series to an onion, boasting many layers for the audience to sift through, always uncovering something new once they believed they had reached bedrock. Lanning claims that the audience’s level of engagement is inspired by the amount of work that a creator injects into their work to create the foundation of a world that is both interesting and believable.

Alas, only the tips of these lore-heavy icebergs—or lorebergs, as I call them—are ever uncovered, the bulk of the creator’s efforts hidden beneath the surface to maintain the sanctity of the world they support.  Sometimes, however, the ocean currents shift, the elements do their mystical dance, and Climate Change plays its part to make a few of these lorebergs sweat and reveal a piece of mythology that was potentially staring us in the face the whole time.

If we turn back the clock to ’97 and boot up our brand new copy of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, we’re greeted with one of the most breathtaking introductions to the Sony Playstation. We drift through the dystopian paradise of RuptureFarms, riding the miserable wavelength of Abe’s voice, until we find ourselves in the belly of the beast at the RuptureFarms Annual Board Meeting where the infamous mudokon floor waxer comes face-to-face with destiny.

The visual presentation at the Board Meeting, presented by Molluck and his trusty slig secretary, is bare-bones compared to the New ’n’ Tasty version, which is brimming with nuggets of lore that we will decipher in a future article. The slides serve a curt purpose of exposition, telling us what we need to know, i.e. the profits are falling and something needs to be done.

Yet there is a small detail that has rarely come up in conversation over the past twenty years, seen on the side of the sale statistic pages:

Molluck.png

What could those symbols be? They almost look like insignias. Are they just decoration? I’m not so sure, for the following reason. Under each symbol is a short excerpt of unintelligible writing, and each excerpt is a different length. This suggests some sort of description or dialogue, perhaps commentary. But what entities could possibly be commentating on the statistics presented at the RuptureFarms Board Meeting who aren’t already present?

Lorne Lanning has already provided the answer:

Then you have the Glukkons, Vykkers, Gloctigi and Oktigi—the Oktigi are a more powerful as families. So, in Stranger, Sekto is an Oktigi. They’re more primal to the evolution than the Glukkons so they’re not even full land‐forms yet. They’re parasites. When we do make the movie and you see the boardrooms of the Magog Cartel, they’re all modelled after parasites, leeches, flees, ticks… but they’ll be sitting there in Armani suits.

— Lorne Lanning, Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning

They do look strikingly parasitic, don’t they? The last one even looks suspiciously like an octigi! And if we interpret Lanning’s vision for the abandoned Oddworld film and apply it to what we’ve seen in the games, it’s not hard to apply these symbols seen in the RuptureFarms Board Meeting to corresponding investors, providing feedback and commentary on the state of the company’s performance from their luxury suites in Nolybab.

What do you think? Have we already seen a glimpse of the investors? Was this why the symbols were sorrowfully missed in the revamped introduction of New ‘n’ Tasty, because their appearance so soon could be construed as a spoiler? Perhaps we can infer their prodigious appearance from their symbols. Or perhaps we could choose not to, otherwise we might all have nightmares. After all, we all know that powerful entities control the fabric of Oddworld, and the price of failure is steep:

There are scenes in the film I want to do where Mullock, after he fucked up and he’s being taken to the boss and he passes his mom who says “You blew it,” and he has to go down and meet the investors. They live underground; like how I said about how the world is separated. He takes an elevator ride down 1700 storeys and a little midget guys picks you up as an escort, but as you go down and the temperature increases, they’re getting bigger and bigger, while the security guards from up above are dying and sweltering from the heat.

— Lorne Lanning, Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning Again