GameSpy Interview with Lorne Lanning [2004]

Date: 16/07/2004

Interviewer: Raymond Padilla

Interviewee: Lorne Lanning

Raymond Padilla:
So this Oddworld game is a lot harder, a lot more mature then the previous ones. Yet it retains all the, a lot of the charm of the previous ones. How were you able to do that?

Lorne Lanning:
Well, a lot of late nights, and years of hard work. When we first set out on this title what we wanted to do was, we wanted to say if we achieve this, in the way we were intending, then the audience should be saying “wow, I never would have expected this from Oddworld, and it could have only come from Oddworld.

Raymond Padilla:
Definitely I think they’ll say that.

Lorne Lanning:
Well that’ll be great. And then, it’s a highly designed game. A very highly designed game from an innovation level, as well as a practical level, and also trying to keep brand consistency. And we felt like in the day of Abe and Munch it was one market. It was a different world at that time, and we said “well, we want to break from Abe and Munch and we want to explore some new innovative territory, but we’re true to the Oddworld brand.” So what does that mean? How do we grow it up? How do we get more edge? And yet at the same time keep what’s endearing about it. And the end result is Stranger.

Raymond Padilla:
The gameplay is also a bit different too. I mean, it still contains a lot of the third person action elements, but there’s a lot more, first person shooter too. So it’s like, Oddworld goes to Halo, or something.

Lorne Lanning:
Well, you know Halo was an awesome game. And when Halo released, and we were playing it, I was “wow, this is really, really a great game.” And I said “you know, there’s something with shooting that we can do that hasn’t been done before,” and I’m not exactly sure what is was. And, at that time we set off to start exploring some new territory. And we said “look, what can we do different with shooting that isn’t being done, how can we take what feels great about shooting, and what manifests well in games with shooting, but put a whole different twist on it,” and that’s where the live ammo came from; where you’re shooting animals off of your bow. You know, living creatures, and you hunt them. And that leads us to a whole different, sort of, we wanted to manipulate the NPC’s, the enemies in the world, in ways that you normally don’t in games. And we wanted a greater sense of life and interactivity, and them witnessing you, in a different way, so that if you’re playing it, and you’re really in the heat of it, it feels, for people watching, and I’ve heard this a few times today, they go “it feels more like a show or movie, you know, the way it’s going in and out of first and third, ” and we said “yeah, we were really inspired by the Sergio Leonne westerns.” In that, you’d have these long shoot-outs in a town, and by the end the town was trashed, and it wasn’t just a shooter where you see something, you cancel it, you cancel it, you cancel it, or you’re cancelled. And, we wanted a more, a longer battle to ensue, and various twists on it. So, we wanted to enter into action territory with a different type of intensity than we had ever done before. And with a different twist, than we had seen anyone do as well.

Raymond Padilla:
So the main character isn’t as cute and slimy as Abe and Munch. What’s his deal?

Lorne Lanning:
Well, Stranger’s more of a mysterious, lone, bounty hunter. And you’re not quite sure with what’s really going on with him, but you realise early on that he’s got some health issues that he needs to raise a lot of money to get fixed. And it seems to be a life threatening condition, so as you start going through the game, the obvious is bounty hunting to start raising money. And all I can really say at this time is that the plot thickens, and it starts taking turns in ways that one wouldn’t expect; leading to more of an epic conclusion.

Raymond Padilla:
During the demo you showed some of the character interaction in the different towns, and how he goes about getting bounties. So, how were you able to set up such a world that’s so alive?

Lorne Lanning:
A lot of AI. A lot of AI. The AI is very deep. I mean, you have it on a simple level, which I consider the secondary play. How do I gather information? How do I interact with people? If I just bump into someone there should be reactions. They should feel like they’re aware, and they’re witnessing what I’m doing in the world. And we want that, because we want you to feel more connected to all the characters, whether you like them or not. We want you to feel. If you don’t like them we want you to feel for not liking them. And there’s only one way to really achieve that, and that’s increase a greater sense of life within those characters. And that means, greater depths of AI. Now, on another front on the AI, you have the persistence of what happens in combat. And you see a lot of dodging and taking cover, and these guys are really persistent, and really they’re doing smart things. And we wanted to push that into some realm where we hadn’t really been seeing it done. And it was a lot of hard work, and sort of setting a really high mark to go “if we achieve this, we’re really pulling it off, can we achieve that?” And, the truth is, we achieved a little more than we thought we could achieve. And that’s really a testament to having a great team, and a great engineering team. So the team at Oddworld today is stronger than its ever, ever been. And it synergises really well, and out of that chemistry, we’re just able to collectively get results that none of us could get individually.

Raymond Padilla:
You touched on live ammo before. Can you explain that system and how it works?

Lorne Lanning:
Well, one of the character traits of Stranger, is he doesn’t like guns. And so he has a double barrel crossbow that attaches to his arm. And he doesn’t shoot bullets or arrows, he shoots little animals. So you hunt little vermin, in the world; little critters in the world. You hunt them, and then they become your ammo supply. And then those ammos have different effects, that allow you a completely stealth approach, a completely aggressive approach or anywhere in the middle. And that was very important to us that the game didn’t play one way, and that every time you played the game it would play different.

Raymond Padilla:
And you can mix and match the different animals you have?

Lorne Lanning:
Yeah, so it’s double barrel, right? So you’d say “well, ah, I’m gonna choose this on the left, left trigger, and this on the right, right trigger.” And then that forms a chemistry that you can now use, and the combinations, you still keep finding. And in fact, even though there’s a limited set, there’s only so many ammo types you’ll get, we’re constantly finding, even us, designing the game, that we never thought to use “this one, with this one, in this circumstance,” and then you get a better pay off. And a lot of the pay offs we’re looking for are “okay, I did the work, I did the work, I did the work, I want a, I want a good laugh, you know, I want a good set up, I want to feel like I really stuck it to that guy,” and that’s what we were really searching for too. It shouldn’t only be a reward, a challenge reward, it should be an entertainment reward as well. “That was funny the way I tricked him into this trap, or they way I did this.” And we wanted that to be available to you at all times, not just in the specifically scripted events. And the truth is, it’s just a lot of hard work and a bunch of smart people focused on the same problems.

Raymond Padilla:
So this live ammo system, it’s added a whole layer of puzzle elements that you just don’t see in first person shooters. Can you give me an example of mixing and matching the different animal types and beating an enemy?

Lorne Lanning:
Sure, sure. Let’s take stealth for example. So, we have one of the animals you get is a Chippunk. All right, and it’s called a Chippunk because he talks a lot of trash. And when you get him on your bow he talks trash to you. And he’s also aware of what’s going on. So if you get hurt, he’s kind of like “hey, that must of hurt.” He’s giving you feedback. And he’s sarcastic. So if you fire him out into the world within the range of an NPC, he starts talking trash and they’ll go “Argh, I hate those varmints,” and he’ll go over and try to stamp him out. So you can use that Chippunk to maneuver the guy wherever you want him. So you can set him up. And let’s say you want to quietly lure him away from the other guys, and then take him down without anyone knowing. Then you might use the spider; the spider bola, we call it the Bolamite. And now I’ve got my Chippunk, and I’m drawing him to me. And then spider bola, boom! I hit him with my spider bola, and he wraps up in web and he’s bound up and gagged on the ground. And I can just bounty him secretly. And that’s one example of how I can pick these guys off one at a time. Another way is the skunk bomb. I can skunk a guy, and he just starts throwing up. So he’s incapacitated, he’s immobilised. And now I can just run up and I can bounty him with no damage. And one of the key things in the game that we’re encouraging, that I think is, I don’t know that it’s ever been done in a game that shoots is we encourage alive versus dead. So what that means is, you could go through and kill every body, but you’re not going to earn the money you could have, had you bountied guys alive. Alive or dead has two different prices to it, and so does their whole gangs every character that you’re hunting has a different value alive versus dead. And that, incenivises you to take, maybe a more complex strategy.

Raymond Padilla:
Instead of being all Rambo?

Lorne Lanning:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So you could be all Rambo, and you’ve seen some moments of that, but if you do you’re not going to earn as much. So we feel like you want that perfect mix where “I want, I want to earn more, I’ve earnt enough, no, I want, I want to have some fun in a different way,” and it’s available to you when ever you want.

Raymond Padilla:
Cool. But animals can also be upgraded too?

Lorne Lanning:
Yeah, yeah. So like the Chippunk if you fire him out into the world with range of someone, he’ll attract one guy. But the upgrade for the Chippunk is a little PA system that he wears, a little, speakers on him. And he’s speaking loud enough to attract three guys. So that’s how the nature of that upgrade would work.

Raymond Padilla:
That’s very Oddworld.

Lorne Lanning:
Yes, yes. So we want, everything has a unique twist to it, a sarcastic twist. And then the subtext of what we’ve always been about, that’s deeply there too. But I think it’s too early. I don’t want to start to reveal what those major plot points are.

Raymond Padilla:
But early on, he’s basically going after twelve bounties?

Lorne Lanning:
Yeah. There are a number of bounties, and you go to a number of different towns, and then they have outlaws that are giving them problems in different ways. And then you choose based on how much that reward is worth, you have a choice of “arr, am I gonna go after this guy, not that guy,” the value, the higher the value, the higher the difficultly. And then you go out and start hunting them, and speak to people to find out where they are. And we wanted you to really feel like you were on an expedition, on a journey. And we wanted it to feel very analogue and alive, we didn’t want it to feel very digital and cammed.

Raymond Padilla:
And then after you get those twelve guys, the real stuff goes down, right? But we’re going to have to wait for that. But it’s third person action, first person shooting, sarcastic humour, and that innumerable Oddworld style. That’s Stranger in a nutshell?

Lorne Lanning:
Ah, yeah. Live ammo is what we call the ‘Razor Ex’. “Ah, so this is Stranger in the GameSpy readers, we hope you enjoy Stranger and I hope to have a job soon and be in another game.”

Raymond Padilla:
Lorne, thankyou very much.