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

11598-0-1459679338

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