GamePro: A PlayStation 2 Oddysee [2000]

Date: February, 2000

Author: Air Hendrix

Source: GamePro, Issue 137, pp. 52-54

THE DEVELOPERS OF ABE’S ODDYSEE THINK THE PLAYSTATION 2 WILL OPEN MANY NEW DOORS FOR GAMERS—AND THEY’RE PLANNING TO PROVE IT WITH ODDWORLD: MUNCH’S ODDYSEE.

EVERYONE KNOWS THE PlayStation 2 will peel back our eyelids with amazing new graphics. But will we be playing the same old platform and action/adventure games? Or will all that impressive horsepower actually change our gameplaying experience?

Oddworld Inhabitants, the developer of the PlayStation’s highly original Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus, thinks its latest title—Munch’s Oddysee for the PS2—will deliver a new kind of gaming experience. Sure, some of it is hype, but a lot of what Oddworld Inhabitants has up its sleeve is, simply put, things that gamers haven’t experienced before. The following is a look at how an inventive developer is harnessing the power of the PlayStation 2 to hatch an excitingly new type of game.

IT’S MUNCH TIME

First, the setup: Munch’s Oddysee, targeted for release at the PlayStation 2’s U.S. launch in late 2000, follows the exploits of Munch, an amphibious creature captured and used as a lab animal by the diabolical Vykkers—mad scientists whose supreme technology places them higher in the food chain than even Abe’s nemesis, the Glukkons. Diseased and confined to a wheelchair, Munch gets lucky and escapes the Vykkers’ lab.

As he flees across Oddworld, he crosses paths with Abe, who finds that Munch’s Vykkers gear will help him in his quest to find the queen of his people. Abe basically kidnaps the helpless Munch, who’s none too pleased that Abe only gradually notices that Munch is about to croak. After a reconciliation and a meeting with an ancient oracle, the pair learns that the one way they can both get what they want—Abe’s queen and a cure for Munch—is to help a lowly Glukkon, Lulu, rise through the ranks. When Lulu’s status grows enough, he’ll be able to get them back into the Vykkers’ impregnable lab where both the queen and the cure are under lock and key.

WHAT’S ODD ABOUT THIS WORLD?

Sounds like your average PlayStation adventure game? Lorne Lanning, president of Oddworld Inhabitants, explains why it will be anything but: “There’s a simple algorithm for how the Oddworld series will evolve: greater population and greatly increased social dynamics,” he says. “It’s social gameplay that we’re trying to evolve—so that interaction between characters feels life-like, not gamelike.”

To explain what that means in terms of actual gameplay, Lanning says that instead of running to the right and hopping across platforms, Munch’s Oddysee players will make their way through 3D worlds where the landscapes and the workers living in them will be brought to life by the kind of advanced A.I. and simulations that the PS2 enables. In lieu of collecting, say, treasure from workers to increase Lulu’s status, Abe and Munch will interact with them, altering how the workers are treated and fed to affect their productivity. And what the workers produce will give Abe and Munch what Lulu needs to bump up his status and get an invite to the Vykkers’ labs.

NO MENUS, NO METERS

If Munch’s Oddysee is starting to sound suspiciously like SimOddworld, don’t worry. The game won’t contain a single menu, meter, or other interface. The player will be able to wander freely through a large 3D world, switching at will between Abe, Munch, and Lulu. There will be no time limit and no constraints, so if you spend time building up a factory or exploring some other nook or cranny, you’ll only benefit.

To interact with the workers you meet and bend them to your will, you’ll use GameSpeak, which first appeared in Abe’s Oddysee and enabled Abe to utter commands like “Follow me!” But with the PS2’s amped-up specs, which include 2 MB of sound RAM and 4.3 GB of DVD space (that’s four times the PlayStation’s sound memory and six times the capacity of a PlayStation CD), GameSpeak is evolving enormously. “GameSpeak has been greatly reduced in number of button combinations and greatly enhanced in outcomes. So it’s more like positive, negative, and a couple of specifics,” Lanning clarifies.

An in-game scenario might go like this: Say you want to recruit a worker—but his diet is awful and he’s in bad health because the Glukkons mistreat him, so he’s completely unresponsive. If you tap the positive GameSpeak button, Abe might compliment his haircut and otherwise flatter him until he cheers up and is willing to work. With a DVD’s worth of room to play with, Oddworld Inhabitants is planning on packing in a sizable variety of phrases and dialogues to keep the action varied and amusing.

SEE & HEAR THE EVIL

but without damage meters, how will the game tell you what you need to know about a worker’s health, a factory’s productivity, and so on? This is where the PS2’s visual and audio fireworks come into play—its amazing graphics processor can push a whopping 66 million polygons per second. Every species in the game has an enormous variety of possible appearances: If they’re injured, they’ll have a crutch; if they’re underfed, they’ll look emaciated; and if they’ve racked up enough status, they’ll strut around with gold chains and fancy clothes. “It’s replacing traditional information systems to be visible and logical before your eyes,” Lanning explains. “Kind of like what a good racing game does—Daytona started doing it way back when with its banged-up bumpers and so on.”

The end result should be a living, breathing world in which you walk around, talk to people to get what you want, and turn over every rock and stone as you play out the story line. Munch is fusing together elements from action/adventure games, sims, strategy games, and RPGs, and, throughout it all, Oddworld Inhabitants’ trademark sense of humor and wicked irony promises to keep this tale funny and entertaining.

THE NEXT LEVEL

These glimpses of the early-in-development Munch’s Oddysee are dazzling, and Lanning and the crew at Oddworld Inhabitants seem to have the drive and the passion to bring it to life. If they do, Munch’s Oddysee should be one of the first PS2 games to demonstrate that new systems can deliver more than just eye candy—they can and should offer new experiences.


THE VYKKERS

Diabolical mad scientists, the Vykkers make their debut in Munch’s Oddysee as a new breed of villain. They’re a twisted bunch, perpetually experimenting on lab animals… and enjoying it. Stranger yet, they’re a race of hermaphrodites, a fact the developers play for laughs as much as possible.


Health Diet Status

VISUAL METERS

Munch’s Oddysee delivers traditional game info (like health level) by changing the characters’ appearance insted instead of cluttering the screen with menus and meters. Here you can see how the apperance of one of Abe’s people, a Mudokon, changes depending on his health, diet, and status.


MUNCH

This black-and-white sketch gives you an idea of the look of Munch, the main character in Munch’s Oddysee and Abe’s unwilling partner. An amphibious creature, he can explore lakes and rivers that Abe can’t, and his GameSpeak is pretty different, too. Munch can extend and play his tongues as if it were a flute, mesmerizing other creatures like a pied piper-just the kind of freaky touch you’d expect in an Oddworld game!


Landscapes
These shots show players’ actions will visibly change the landscape of Oddworld: It will range from vibrantly healthy-if players take a native, life-respecting attitude-to decaying and cold if gamers go the industrial polluter route.

Hut
A groupe of Mudokons-Abe’s species-works around a native hut, gathering resources and performing tasks-until Abe comes and tells them otherwise!