interview

MOM Interview: Farzad Varahramyan

Farzad Varahramyan worked as a production designer on Abe’s Oddysee, Abe’s Exoddus and Munch’s Oddysee. He was gracious enough to answer our questions.

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Magog on the March: How much creative persuasion did Lorne Lanning have over your artworks? Did he have a strict aesthetic or were you allowed free reign with what you created?

Farzad Varahramyan: Once Lorne felt you had absorbed the “visual DNA” of Oddworld he was very generous, especially at the beginning of preproduction, so we could explore the craziest and coolest concepts that he was imagining. There was also a lot of times where Lorne had very specific visions and he knew where every nut and bolt needed to go. Whether it was specific or open exploration within the rules of Oddworld, it was always creatively fulfilling and Lorne was truly gifted at getting the best work out of any of us.

Magog on the March: Why did it take hundreds of iterations—as evidenced by “Oddworld: The Lost Archives“—before reaching to the final Munch design? Was it a painful process?

Farzad Varahramyan: Lorne had an epic story in mind with multiple key heroes, spanning 5 major games, before we had even finished Abe’s Oddysee. So any spare cycles we had, I or the master: Steven Olds, we’d sketch up the latest iteration of Munch. Lorne would come up with the craziest and newest premises for Munch all the time. I staid on Munch the longest so I had the privilege of discovering him with Lorne.

The process was definitely painful at times, but it was this “pain” that Lorne taught me would ultimately result in a great character. You had to put in the time and pain to explore as much as you could.

The important thing to remember was that each time, the process, saved a small but solid bit of the concept that would eventually make it, in one form or another, into the final. For example, about halfway thought when Munch became amphibian, the top fin on his head survived all the way through to the end, despite most other elements getting scrapped. The concept was the fin was functional but also a deterrent for above the water predators that may see it and think they were dealing with a more predatory sea creature. At the core of the character, Lorne always wanted an abused and lovable soul.

Magog on the March: Which unincluded creature do you think fits the most into the Oddworld universe?

Farzad Varahramyan: I think most of us that worked at Oddworld were very sorry to see Elum not come back after Abe’s Oddysee. I think it may have been a gameplay reason for it, but we all just loved the character and how Abe and it interacted.

Magog on the March: What is your favourite part of the entirety of the lore?

Farzad Varahramyan: I don’t think I was alone in this, especially those of us working on the games: it was the idea that this beautifully spun lore and story was a metaphor for our own real world and the conflict of the natural clean world Vs. the capitalistic and materialistic values that are still destroying our real world. This was pretty deep and unique stuff, especially at the time where most games were about the usual sequalized genres you see to this day. Lorne was really onto something worthwhile and as he and Sherry used to say “games with nutritional value”.

Almighty
This photo was kindly sent to us by Farzad Varahramyan. Here is the description provided by him: “It’s a photo of the original sculpt I did for the Almighty Raisin. It was laser scanned for accuracy and re-built in engine.”

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

Farzad Varahramyan: Easy: Abe! I think Steven Olds’ visual design DNA for the world that Lorne imagined was a game changer. Steven came up with the visual foundation of what Abe became and the world he lived in. It also required the back and forth with both Lorne and Steven to refine Abe into the beloved character he is to this day. Collaboration like that is the true genius.

I also think that’s one of the most admirable things about Lorne: collaboration. He is pretty much a “great concept” generating engine, but one of the great things about Lorne is that he knew a great idea no matter who it came from and immediately knew how to weave it into the larger scheme. I think that requires true creativity, and it needs to be divorced from ego.

Magog on the March: You were responsible for “Abe being able to drink a Brew, pass wind, control the gas and detonate it whenever it was positioned“. Are there other ideas of yours that you should get credit for?

Farzad Varahramyan: I think the credit you give me on the exploding gas, goes to illustrate what I just said about Lorne’s ability and detachment from ego, to take an idea he thinks is good and turn it into something that actually works. It’s one thing to have a fun idea, the real work is when the whole team agrees this is a worthwhile idea to pursue and actually figures out how to make it feel good and look fun for the player experience. The real credit goes to everyone that made that idea actually a fun game feature.

Magog on the March: You produced many artworks for the Oddworld universe. Roughly how much of the Quintology was put to paper before you departed the company?

Farzad Varahramyan: I left when my last responsibility on Munch was done. I had created some open ended explorations of environments and locations for Oddworld/Mudos, but that was about it for me.

Magog on the March: You didn’t work on Stranger’s Wrath. What is your opinion on some of the character designs, such as the Clakkerz and Grubbs? Do they feel Oddworld to you?

Farzad Varahramyan: At the time I was at Oddworld working directly under Steven and then Lorne, I’d say the most successful designs, or the one’s that felt Oddworld, were the one’s that had something very familiar that drew indirect lines of reference to real world animals or creatures. If you look at Steven’s Scrabs, Paramites, or one of my favorites: Sligs, they all have varying degrees of familiarity and you draw indirect lines to what they may remind you of: arachnids but not quite, squids but not really. I hope this make sense.

Magog on the March: Why did you choose to leave Oddworld Inhabitants after Munch’s Oddysee was released in 2001?

Farzad Varahramyan: The honest answer is I was looking for greater responsibility as a creator but at the time there was no opportunities at Oddworld. Lorne was very magnanimous as always and understood my reasons. He had mentored and trained me well, instilling in me his drive to create and direct. I’ll be forever thankful to Lorne. He helped me grow into the creative visual director I am today.

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

Farzad Varahramyan: After a fruitful 23+ years as a studio art director, I’ve decided to launch my own business as a freelance creative visual director.

I decided to go back to what I love doing professionally the most: and that is to be brought in at the pre-production of new concepts or re-imagined properties and help visually develop them. It’s what I enjoy doing the most professionally.

Personally, I’m developing original art/design projects that I hope to start making available to the public starting in 2019.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.