Developer Diary by Christopher Leonard, Assistant Producer for Munch’s Oddysee™

Games Web: With the November 15th launch creeping ever closer, what aspects of the game are folks working on the most?

Christopher Leonard: Fine-tuning, AI, collision, performance, etc.  The game is more or less locked down as is. We’re at the state now where we’re making very minor decisions concerning very specific areas of the game. The large-scale grandiose concept create time is long past. The gameplay is done. The graphics are done. The sound is done. The UI is complete. The movies are done. Making any sort of global change at this stage of the project would be horribly detrimental.

Games Web: Is this “crunch time” as crazy as people make it out to be?

Christopher Leonard: Crazy as in “No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy?” Crazy as in crazysexycool? Crazy as in exciting and all-consuming? Or crazy as impractically passionate? In any case, the answer is yes. Making a video game is a collaborative art process that requires a sense of team unity and cooperation, hard work and dedication, creativity and innovation, and a commitment to a shared vision. It’s a grueling process that takes you away from almost all other aspects of your life, but ultimately, when you see your vision come to fruition, it’s worth it. The process, the journey is humbling, but the chance to be a part of it, to create a commercial art product that will entertain and possibly inspire people has been an experience beyond words. No matter how long the hours are, no matter how stressful things get, I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of this process. We get to do something that most people in this world are never given an opportunity to do: create. And regardless of the amount of work that entails, I’m thankful for it.

Games Web: Are you seeing the “Xbox difference” really starting to fall into place during these final stages?

Christopher Leonard: We’ve seen the “Xbox difference” the moment we came to the platform. I can’t speak for programming, but yet I will. The Xbox has a familiar PC architecture, it’s more powerful than anything else out there, and it’s packed with all the bells and whistles. More important than the hardware though is the support structure at Microsoft. That’s the true “Xbox difference.” Microsoft is just as dedicated to Munch’s Oddysee as we are. Any help we’ve asked for, they’ve provided. When we ran into problems, they devised solutions. Microsoft has been far more than just a typical publisher – the company has been a partner to Oddworld, providing assistance every step of the way, and that’s the real Xbox difference. Microsoft has given us the luxury to develop games in a stable, structured and supportive environment. Having the most powerful hardware out there is quite the ace up the sleeve, but what will really push Microsoft and the Xbox to the next level is the wonderful developer support the company already provides.

Games Web: After working with the game for so long, are there still moments during play testing that surprise you from a gameplay perspective? For example; finding a different solution to a problem, creatures/characters reacting to your actions in Odd ways, the amazingly lush 3D around you, etc.

Christopher Leonard: All the time. We have an incredible group of testers on this game and they’re always finding alternative solutions to puzzles, not to mention some interesting AI reactions. Personally, I’m continuously impressed with the graphical polish of the levels, the smoothness of Munch and Abe’s animations, the amount of voice we crammed into this game, and the wonderfully subversive personality of the title. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of a Slig calling you “Fartbreath” when you move out of its range. There’s nothing like watching the camera pan back as a gaggle of Scrabs nip at your heels (and your head).

And my personal favorite: I am constantly amazed at the Meep Herder Village level. The aural and visual ambiance of this level is transporting – hearing crickets chirp, birds singing, the Meeps baaing and the crackling of a dying campfire in the distance; watchig the Meeps’ languid chewing of cud as they hop away from Munch and Abe, checking out the Mudokons chilling by the campfire, and just reveling in the relaxed aesthetic of the level. It moves at a slower pace, a more contemplative pace, and for me, it’s a refreshing break from the usual non-tedium of running from hungry wildlife, ordering Mudokons to work/attack, possessing BigBro Sligs and gunning down all the enemies – you know, all that boring stuff.

Games Web: What are you looking forward to the most after this game ships?

Christopher Leonard: Spending time with my fiancée again, playing with my puppy, sleeping, and getting my hands on all the new games coming out this fall. I’m a video game addict and I can’t wait to sample all the big holiday titles coming to all of the systems. Oh, and seeing what my friends think of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee!