InGamer: Oddworld Returns – Wil Bunce-Edwards discusses the future of the cult classic series [2011]

Date: December, 2011

Source: InGamer, Issue 1, pp. 6-7.

WIL BUNCE-EDWARDS, STUDIO COORDINATOR AT JUST ADD WATER DEVELOPMENTS, TALKS ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE ODDWORLD SERIES.

InGamer: So Last year there was the announcement that Just Add Water had acquired the rights to the Oddworld series amid a lot of fan speculation and rumours. How did that come about?

William Bunce-Edwards: Well my version of the story is going to be a bit off because I wasn’t with the company then, but it’s really all down to Stewart Gilray, our managing director, who happened to meet with one of the guys from Oddworld at the Game Developer’s Conference in 2008. At the time it was just a kind of “Hello, goodbye” kind of meeting, they didn’t really talk much. But after the Oddboxx came out, porting all the Oddworld games to PC, a mutual friend of theirs suggested that Stewart and his company “just add water”, which is where the initial relationship comes from. Initially Just Add Water were just going to port Stranger’s Wrath straight to PC, but Stewart wanted to make an HD version for Playstation and other platforms, and the guys at Oddworld Inhabitants were cool with that, so the relationship really grew from there.

InGamer: What kind of considerations have JAW given to the series’ reputation in taking over the franchise?

William Bunce-Edwards: From my point of view the reputation of Oddworld Inhabitants is one of good fan relations. Oddworld have always loved their fans because they recognise that everything that they have accomplished has been because of their fans, and without them they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell the stories that they have to tell. As for the games themselves: most of us in the studio have been Oddworld fans ourselves for years, so we feel that we really want to do a good job and stay true to the series and everything it stands for – that is, telling the emotional stories, meaning, commentary on social climates, and so forth.

InGamer: So would you say that the series’ past and its reputation have shaped how current and future Oddworld titles are being developed?

William Bunce-Edwards: We’re still in the process of remastering Stranger’s Wrath at the minute, but it will definitely affect future titles. But when we start working on Abe HD and/or other future titles then we’ll definitely stay true to the series’ reputation.

InGamer: And in what ways are JAW bringing the Oddworld series into the modern generation of gaming?

William Bunce-Edwards: A lot of time passed between when Oddworld stopped their own internal development and where we picked it up again. I think a lot of the problems that Oddworld were finding at the time were that game budgets were going up, production values were going up, and publishers were becoming more and more conservative with what they wanted to put money into. What’s really developed since then is digital distribution and with that the rise of social gaming – smart phone apps and the like.

InGamer: Do you think that’s an indication that future Oddworld games might be more socially-based than their predecessors?

William Bunce-Edwards: Some of them – as appropriate. We’re beginning development on Hand of Odd, which is an RTS-like game but is perfectly suited to the more modern release philosophy which is small ongoing development that people have access to early on. We can’t really give away any hints about it, we’re still far too early in development process. What I want to stress is that it’s not going to be something like Farmville in regards to social gaming. That kind of ethos and “gameplay” just isn’t what we’re after at all.

InGamer: Just touching on that – you mentioned Hand of Odd, which is an Oddworld strategy game that has long been rumoured among fans, does that mean it will eventually see the light of day?

William Bunce-Edwards: Absolutely. Hand of Odd is a game we’re going to be working on. We’re hoping for an early release in some form next year, with development ongoing.

InGamer: So do you think it’s possible we’ll see a return to the more traditional 2D platforming that the series is renowned for as well? Or will the series continue to evolve and branch out further akin to Stranger’s Wrath, in a more action-adventure oriented genre?

William Bunce-Edwards: Definitely both. We are going back to 2D gaming with Abe HD, which will be a 2.5D game. It’ll be just like the original Abe games, but taking advantage of 3D environments and character models, which will make for a much greater, seamless experience. We’ve also picked up a previously-abandoned title called The Broken Ballad of Fangus Klot, which is going to be a spiritual successor to Stranger. We still have all the work that was done on that, so that’s also a distinct possibility in the near future.

InGamer: Fantastic! So would you say that taking on the Oddworld series has led to interest being rejuvenated in the franchise?

William Bunce-Edwards: Absolutely. I’ve been an Oddworld fan since the beginning, back in 1997, and I’ve been involved with the Oddworld fan communities online. There’s definitely more activity in the places I and other Oddworld fans hang out. With the whole Web 2.0 thing you’ve now got Facebook Twitter – all sorts of different ways to communicate with the fans that we’ve never had before.

InGamer: And obviously fans of the series are going to be ecstatic when any future Oddworld titles hit the market, but do you think the series will be accessible to newcomers as well? Have steps been taking to spread a more universal appeal?

William Bunce-Edwards: Always. We’re definitely never going to produce anything where we potentially narrow or alienate part of our audience – Abe HD, for example, will be perfectly approachable to new gamers as well as fans. Same with Hand of Odd, and everything else we do in the future.

InGamer: Great. Thanks for taking the opportunity to talk to us about your upcoming projects, and best of luck with Stranger’s Wrath HD!