Fun Generation: The Making Of… Abe’s Exoddus [1998]

Date: October 1998

Description: This article was originally published in the German magazine Fun Generation. This translation is neither sanctioned or approved by Oddworld Inhabitants or Fun Generation and should be read on a conditional basis.

Source: Fun Generation, Issue 33, pp. 26-29.

At first glance, anyone who deals only superficially with the two Oddworld titles could form a hasty opinion: This is just an attempt to cash in again. The truth, however, is that Abe’s Exoddus was not planned from the beginning and was conceived at the urging of GT Interactive. It was felt that the hiatus between Abe’s Oddysee and its intended sequel, Munch’s Oddysee, was going to be too big, and to cut a long story short, Oddworld Inhabitants agreed to produce an unofficial sequel.

This decision was not entirely without consequence. The production schedule of Abe’s Exoddus was so tight that the company had to essentially double their roster, expanding from a mere 30 employees to 60 dedicated thinkers. The extended Oddworld family is now working on new ideas and implementation.

The immense cost of the extended production team carried no complaints with GT Interactive, who understands the core Oddworld Inhabitants’ philosophy: Investing in the future.

The Story

Perhaps the biggest challenge with the development of Abe’s Exoddus was expanding upon the established Oddworld story. Originally, the plan was to tell a five-act “Quintology”—which is already written and being kept safe in the drawer—and, following Abe’s Oddysee, should have directly continued with Munch’s Oddysee. When developing the first part of the Quintology, however, many concepts did not make it into the final game as intended, some of which are being adapted for this intermediary instalment. Therefore, Abe’s Exoddus will act as a bridge between the two originally planned titles.


The Technique

The technology side of production was a much easier task to tackle. The team resorted to utilising the existing engine from Abe’s Oddysee, only implementing new graphics and opponents into the game when required.

In order to maintain a high quality of standard, all Oddworld assets are first created on a Silicon Graphics workstation. Assets are then scaled-down to the hardware capabilities of the Sony PlayStation. The end result of this outstanding procedure allowed the first Abe game to stand above all others, with any competition on the Nintendo 64 looking vain in comparison.

Lorne Lanning is largely responsible for the creation process of all of Oddworld creatures, allowing for many of the incredible designs we’ve seen. The process begins with an initial sketch that is then moulded into a plastic model with grid lines. This model is next digitized point by point. It is then the responsibility of the graphic design artists to adjust the three-dimensional asset and give it a realistic look. This is done by adjusting both the color and texture until it replicates the original design. Sometimes, of course, an asset may lose some of its aesthetic value when moving from a model into a computer environment, and when this happens it’s back to the drawing board.


Lanning & Whiteboard
Concept:
Lorne explains the story from Abe’s Oddysee to Abe’s Exoddus and Munch’s Oddysee. Based on the drawings and pictures, you can tell that while Abe’s Exoddus is an elaborate expansion of the debut instalment, Munch’s Oddysee will enter uncharted territory. We are keen to see if the Oddworld Inhabitants will succeed in uniting such an immense number of genres in one game.

The really amazing thing about Oddworld Inhabitants is that despite Abe’s Exoddus being a two-dimensional game, such an elaborate method is used to make the world feel real and alive. A great focus is given to the creation of each character, ensuring that every muscle movement is realistic and that every body feature is optimal.

In terms of acoustics, the German and the American versions differ considerably. Lorne Lanning proves himself to be a versatile talent in the American version, providing the voices of Abe, the Glukkons and even the Sligs. Sometimes this might involve speaking, or it might be limited to a simple grunt of sardonic laughter. The German version, meanwhile, has been re-recorded, and luckily, Abe has been given a nice new voice, much better than the one used for Abe’s Oddysee.


Screenshot(1)
Hardcore Gamers:
All levels are tested to excess. The programming team is just ten meters away, finishing new sections. The levels are analysed on video tapes — only when played in slow motion are the smallest irregularities noticeable.

Interview
Lorne Lanning 1
FG: I’m a bit surprised now, honestly. I did not expect so much from Abe’s Exoddus, at least not so many improvements. Is it not incredibly hard to start all over again, especially after the very successful performance of Abe’s Oddysee? It was a damn good game! How do continue on from that?

Lorne:
First of all, thanks for the compliment. It’s always good to hear praise, especially after all the effort that goes into our projects. To start, you have to know where the goal is. Our original dream of the game we really want to make is currently absolutely unattainable. It’s still probably a good ten years away. You know when you look back, you say to yourself, “Whoa! That was back then!” You’re very proud of what you achieved. That’s a little bit of how it is. One then obviously wonders: “What do we do with Abe’s Exoddus? What is actually possible that was not fully realised with Abe’s Oddysee?” We tried to get more emotion out of the characters, a little more interaction, and a few newcomers. It’s all fun stuff. There’s a lot going on, and believe me, we haven’t shown off everything, not by a long shot. You always have to keep one eye fixed on the future though. You do what you can with the technology and think about where you can then go with it. If you know where you’re going beforehand, it’s much easier to find what you still need to do, each step of the way.

FG: Originally, there were never any plans for Abe’s Exoddus, you were supposed to make Munch’s Oddysee next. If GT had not asked you to make a Bonus Game, would you be making Munch’s Oddysee for the PlayStation?

Lorne: Not a chance! It would not have been fair to the player.

FG: Surely it would have sold well though! Think of the money you could have made!

Lorne:
Sure, but in the end everything depends on what scale you think. And we think on a very big scale. Maybe we would have made some money for the near-future. But you just have to look at something like Tomb Raider 3. Does anyone who finished that game feel really good and have a clear conscious? You make a little bit of money for a while, but the receipt will certainly be around for a long time. We’re more interested in creating something that will stand on its own, which means there will be no compromises for the sake of a quick profit. Take a look at the team currently working on Abe’s Exoddus, everybody has a role. And the longer it takes, the more expensive it gets. Maybe we could have made a brand new game faster, cutting it short or long, but there would have been compromises.

FG: Sherry has compared Oddworld to the X-Files. She says that the reason Chris Carter’s TV series is so successful is likely attributed to the way he plans all of his stories out in advanced, allowing the show to roll out without having to worry about the future while production is underway. If the Oddworld Quintology behaves the same way, does this mean that you already know what will happen at the end of the story, or even why Abe’s mouth is sewn shut? Are you really developing the Oddworld games around an already existing story?

Lorne: I could tell you each story detail exactly. The thing with Abe’s stitches will be cleared up in Munch’s Oddysee.

FG: And on which system will we get to find that out?

Lorne: I really can’t say for sure yet. The Dreamcast looks very powerful, in any case.

FG: I guess you already have a developmental system for the Dreamcast?

Lorne: Yes, we have one and we’re seeing what it can do. We’ve completely dismantled it. This is the only way you can get a good idea of the hardware.

FG: What’s your opinion? Do you know what it can really do?

Lorne: It’s undoubtedly the best hardware available today, no question.

FG: Does the Dreamcast then provide what you think you will need to make Munch’s Oddysee a reality?

Lorne: We still have to analyze that, which is not an easy task. The Playstation you have initially in terms of hardware power yet also underestimated. And now, years later, some games are running on her that could never be imagined in this way. There is this area between the factors “What could it do” and “What will it really accomplish?”

FG: We know Munch’s Oddysee will play in a 3D environment. Can we ever expect another 2D instalment though, or will everything be 3D from now on?

Lorne: Sure, anything is possible, but it isn’t very likely. The reason is simple: Oddworld in 2D is shallow, there’s so many restrictions with the environment. With a 3D world, however, we could get completely lost there. Of course, a lot of work needs to be done, otherwise the experience will be no better than the 2D games. It’s a difficult tightrope that we need to walk as move forward. I’d like to make this clear: We will not develop a 3D game in the same manner as other games in the genre. Munch will be something completely new and independent and it will look so much better than everything we have right now, no matter what platform we release on. Some might think that it’s not possible, but it will all be a kind of magic show. Think about kidnapping players into a world. A magician doesn’t need to do anything else other than fool their audience. That’s how we’re going to do it.

FG: Okay, let’s just assume that Oddworld continues to be very successful. Will you have spinoff games like “Abe Or Alive” or “Abe Turismo”?

Lorne: If that’s the case, those games would have nothing to do with Abe. Maybe we do “Mudokon Turismo” or “Glukkon Fighter”, just something with one of the other existing characters. If you develop a racing game of a beat’em up, the main character isn’t as prominent as with something like Abe’s Oddysee of Abe’s Exoddus. The story is pushed into the background, it’s just meant to entertain you. The story isn’t a vital element of those games. A beat’em up is a beat’em up. You can try and nail down a story there somewhere, but the fact is that it still remains a beat’em up.

FG: Your games have a lot of crazy characters and whimsical detail. Where do you get your inspiration from?

Lorne: I think you have to first distinguish between inspiration for the story and then ideas for the characters. The story comes from all the problems that currently face humanity today, and what we’ve had to deal with in the past. What are we doing about pollution? What about overpopulation? Or how are we fighting back against racism? There are so many things wrong in this world: Injustice, lies, greed, envy. These are all the things that inspire me, as well as the question of eradicating all of those negatives factors. Mankind is unimaginably large and has such a comprehensive history that one really needs to wonder if we will ever see the “light” again. As you can see, the story comes very naturally. The characters come mostly from nature. I’m really fascinated by everything, event he most insignificant creatures. I watch videos of ants, beetles, birds, elephants or even dinosaurs. I also like to go fishing. I like this interaction between me and the fish, tricking them with bait and trying to catch them. This interaction I have with different species gives me a lot of my inspiration. When I see a bird glide over the surface of the water and a fish react to it — honestly, that’s really inspiring.

FG: This is really interesting. Normally, you just hear statements like “Our game is really good, more levels and better graphics”. It’s clear you care a lot about what you’re doing.


Lorne:
Richard Garriott has given us a big compliment — which means a lot to me because I love the way he creates whole worlds. I always liked the Origin’s motto: “We build worlds”. He was asked recently what he thinks is missing in modern games, and he said that almost all games have no soul, that there’s no innovation, no mature experience — except for Oddworld! I said, “Great! But I could never use such a compliment.” Even though I’m honoured, because the thing about the soul and the new experience, that’s exactly our goal. And to make that happen, you have to consider the project as a serious art form — not just something that’s fun or that you can work at on the side. You don’t just want to blow something up — it’s an art form, which means that you need to know about art. All of it: Film production, drawing, poetry — what is the difference between Pink Floyd and the Monkeys? Unfortunately, not a lot of people in the industry today are not seriously involved in art at a critical level. I find it fascinating how childlike the videogame industry is. I don’t mean that to be negative, it’s just simply a very young industry. You still have this idea that we’re playing with toys. If you could look 50 years into the future, you’d see that they aren’t toys —this is the real future. And because so many of the current designers don’t realise this, everything is going to get very interesting as start to see the pioneers of the next generation. We shouldn’t be thinking about toys anymore, and when the technology is finally available, we will shine the most. Munch’s Oddysee will make everyone aware of us. Everyone will think to themselves: Whoa! This is a game that shouldn’t have existed for ten more years! It must have come from a time machine, we’ve never seen anything like it before! And it works, it’s great! Mom, look at that! Grandpa, you should see this!” There is a huge difference between toys and art. To be honest, in order to make art, game designers need to be thinking about which trick to use next. But to do that, you have to change your whole thinking process. You have to know where you’re going, what parts will be the most intriguing. Most importantly, you need to ask yourself: Why should someone spend $70 on this? If they make such an investment, they should learn something in return, they should feel something. We want to have characters like what Disney have, because at the moment there is only one spectrum of emotion for player; usually one is closer to the joypad than the hero. You should be able to laugh or cry — and Munch’s Oddysee will certainly make people cry. Our heroes might be silly and entertaining, but there is still a lot of emotion involved. We are tough on one aspect — fun, fun! The game needs to be fun, because there is a heightened expectation, and we can’t disappoint. A lot of companies try to compromise by giving the game a cool motif, something like: “Look, you can now chop off their heads. This makes this game cool!” Really, however, they should be saying: “Oh, I really can’t believe something like that is happening with this character!”

FG: We know you want to make Oddworld into a movie, and you said you don’t really care how long that takes. When you do eventually make the Oddworld movie, there will have to be a sequel, right?

Lorne: That’s right. Currently, we have a movie planned for each Oddworld game. My idea is that the first movie will combine both Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus. It sounds complicated, but it will be charming. We’ve done a lot of background work. We’ve built the world, the working conditions, the relationships between the races, the families. You can’t do all of that in a game. Imagine if Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings started as a game — though he already had the whole story in mind. That’s what it’s like.

FG: Thank you very much for an interesting conversation, and good luck with the upcoming projects!

Lorne Lanning 2


Munch’s Oddysee

MO

Originally, the player would have had to a much longer break after Abe’s Oddysee — Munch’s Oddysee was supposed to come next. As it is in life though, it is always different than you think! At the time of our visit, Oddworld Inhabitants was working in parallel: Part of the team was creating designs and level structures for the Next Generation episode, while the rest was dedicated to finishing the Mudokon’s PlayStation farewell.

When the player finishes Abe’s Exoddus, they get a nice message: “Munch’s Oddysee — Coming 2000.” A voice then announces that we shouldn’t even dream of playing Munch on our 32-bit system!

There’s no secret about what’s coming, and everywhere in the Oddworld Inhabitants building there are character designs, extensive game specifications and lots of content. The conclusion to be made is that we are really set for a huge step forward. There will be more enemies, bigger levels, more varied graphics — all of it in a contemporary 3D setting.

As you can see from the interview, Oddworld Inhabitants are currently favoring the Dreamcast — no wonder, since there are no development systems for the PlayStation 2 yet. However, we strongly suspect that the next Sony console will definitely be considered for the next Oddworld adventure.

The use of the graphics engine by Epic Mega Games (currently known as Unreal) was also confirmed, yet only in the sense of a basic engine. This means that while the best mechanics are used, saving a lot of development time, there are the necessary finishing touches and improvements that need to be made.

Although the enemies, environments and the story are already in a relatively advanced state, the main character is still shrouded in silence. According to Lorne Lanning, Munch’s head design is about 85% complete, but in the same breath, he mentions that he thought something similar of Abe once upon a time. Ultimately, the design of the lead actor may be completely turned upside down!


During our tour of the Oddworld Inhabitants building, we had chance meeting with a nice gentleman who is currently working on Munch’s Oddysee.

Someone

FG: What is your job at Oddworld Inhabitants?

Odd: I am currently working on a solution to rewrite the level editors of Abe’s Exoddus for Munch’s Oddysee.

FG: Is that even possible? Isn’t there a big difference between 2D and 3D?

Odd: Here’s the real problem: For one, I currently don’t have any solid hardware to focus on. For another, nobody still know 100 percent what Munch’s Oddysee will look like. However, due to our schedule, we are already working as far in advanced as possible. We’re ready for the next challenge.