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]

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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]

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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/)

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