Interview with Oddworld Team [Hosted by Prima] Date: 17 September, 1997 Interviewer: Rusel DeMaria Interviewees: Lorne Lanning & Sherry McKenna
RDM: Could you speak about the genesis of the story behind Abe’s Oddysee and the underlying topical elements?
Lanning: This story of Abe’s Oddysee is the first of a five‐part series, the Oddworld Quintology. It’s been brewing for seven, almost eight years. I always wrote short stories with fantastical characters and worlds, but they were disjointed from each other. When we began talking about forming the Oddworld company, I started putting those stories together.
The underlying philosophy in the games is what’s happening to the human soul at the expense of consumerism and entertainment. Kind of the Joseph Campbell riff.
McKenna: The history of the company is worth mentioning. We were doing a motion‐based ride film, for Japan, at Rhythm and Hues. Lorne kept trying to tell me that we should be doing games. As you know, I didn’t like them, don’t understand them, etc.
He kept saying ‘Don’t you understand— it’s about “owning the content”?’ I didn’t even know what he meant, since I’d always been a vendor of services. I kept blowing him off. The thought of giving up my career to do games was an insult. I did high‐end special computer graphics.
One day, Lorne told me a story. I love stories, and he spent a few hours telling me the whole thing. I was enthralled, and immediately saw the possibilities. I wanted to make a movie out of his story. He said, ‘No. We’re going to make five games.’ I was deflated and furious! I hate games— they’re awful, they appeal to 12‐year‐old boys.
They reward the player for being a villain. You get rewarded for killing, shooting, for being the bad guy. So we looked at several games. I’m embarrassed to say I got flustered and confused by them. I couldn’t handle menus, inventories, etc. It was difficult for me to manoeuvre around.
Games have no sense of orientation from screen to screen— the character shows up in different positions. There’s no continuity of movement. I was embarrassed to play these and get confused. Lorne spent two years to convince me to do these games.
I was horrified by the graphics in games. People critique movies when the small details aren’t right in the computer graphic special effects, but they take off their critic hats, come home, and play these awful‐looking games and never complain.
I didn’t want to lose my reputation … Lorne said, ‘How about if I guarantee you that the graphics we do in a game would be of film quality?’ I said, ‘Sure, right.’ That didn’t seem likely, so my career wasn’t at stake. But he guaranteed it.
RDM: Can you talk about the overall vision?
McKenna: Lorne is concerned with the environment and the universe, and I’m concerned with humanity, and people, and the state of our health. It’ll all be incorporated in these games,’ he said. We’ve got similar interests, and his story was in synch with what I want to tell. He wouldn’t destroy the rainforest for a ninety‐nine cent hamburger that came from cattle raised in the ex‐forest land, and I didn’t want people to eat ninety‐nine cent hamburgers because of their health.
Our job is to get our philosophy across without hitting people on the head with it. When I did the motion‐based films for Universal, I had to throw away a lot about what I knew about filmmaking. I realized it was an interactive medium— I did the Back to the Future and Hanna‐Barbera attractions. I realized that making people laugh was important, really key to them enjoying the experience.
Abe’s irony and humor is present in this game, and if people are imprinted by it, so much the better, whether they think about Joseph Campbell or whatever. As long as they are a good time, who cares?
RDM: Let’s talk about Abe…
Lanning: The perspective is about knowing where he lies in the food chain. Abe has his odyssey. The second game will be Munch’s Odyssey. He and Abe work together. The third is Squeek’s— and all three of them will work together. By the time we’re at the fifth game, you’ll be controlling five individual heroes.
One sound byte to sum up Abe’s situation— ‘You thought you had a good job.’ This is also parallel to our own experiences. What was interesting to me is how decent people all over the world are involved with work that is ultimately affecting us all in destructive ways.
I used to work in the South Bronx, in the fruit and produce terminal for the entire New York tri‐state area. I was paid to load and unload trucks, with forklifts, etc. It was like the third world, in some ways, because I drove through the city, or took the subway, and there were hungry people everywhere.
At work, we had to dump 27 tons of cantaloupe off the edge of the dock. This kind of thing was routine. It was because of some business practices and legislation about what were acceptable methods of dealing with excess. I would watch cantaloupe juice run through parking lots, inches thick, and be hit by the irony that people we starving right outside the gate. And we couldn’t give all this food to them! It really bothered me.
Because we live in such a complex society, we’re caught up in our jobs. We’re a logger, cutting down ancient redwoods, but we’re really just trying to feed our kids. McDonald’s hamburgers are destroying the rainforest. We’re all guilty in a little way, and we’re all innocent in a little way, too.
Abe is just a guy doing his job. Chopping up Paramites and Scrabs. Oh well. At least he’s fed … The issue is, as we’re approaching the next millennium, with our population about the double, we’re really invested in our own destruction, as cogs in the larger system— until conditions get so harsh and overwhelming that we can’t deal with the system or buy into it anymore.
Abe came around as a conceptual point of view from this place. We hope people have a lot of fun playing Abe’s Oddysee, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll make some of them think a little as they see Abe’s world from his eyes.
- This is the earliest known interview with Oddworld Inhabitants.
- This is the earliest known mention of Munch and Squeek, two of the Quintology’s planned heroes.
- Rusel DeMaria wrote the Official Strategy Guide for Abe’s Oddysee.