Date: May, 1998 Source: Next Generation, Issue 41, pp. 82-83.
Can Oddworld Inhabitants retain its characters’ magic and exorcise the frustrations of Abe’s first game?
Bringing a 2D game to market last year may have been ludicrous, but that is exactly what Oddworld Inhabitants delivered. “You’d have to be insane,” says Oddworld President Lorne Lanning, “to do that when everyone thinks that only 3D games and sequels will sell. But we see things differently.”
Lanning and company show no signs of pending sanity as they prepare to release the follow-up to Abe’s Oddysee using the same 2D engine (with a few enhancements). “The current 32-bit systems just don’t have the power to do [both] 3D and the other things that are important to us,” says Lanning. “We are giving gameplayers something that is unique in its experience. We’re pushing in a different direction. Some people think it is important to make 3D games; we think it is important to make more entertaining games.”
Pushing the genre won’t be easy, and sequels are usually critcized for not demonstrating an advance in technology over their predecessor. That could be why Exxodus is not part of the planned quintology of Oddysee games. In fact, players won’t see the second chapter until Munch’s Oddysee is released on next generation consoles in 1999.
But for now, players will continue Abe’s story where it left off. In Exxodus, our hero Abe learns that when he shut down Rupture Farms, he unknowingly created an ingredients shortage inside another Glukkon fast food corporation called Soul Storm Brewery. As a result of the shortage of bones, the Glukkons have begun mining the ancient Mudokon burial grounds. Once again, saving the Mudokons becomes Abe’s main objective. This time, however, says Lanning, the game will be significantly bigger, the overall gameplay will be more balanced, and Abe will boast some new powers that give players greater control of the environment.
Adding the right features was the simple result of listening to gamers, Lanning says. “When Abe’s Oddysee was released, we watched all the chat groups and forums on the Net very closely. We saw that some people were having difficulty, enough to make us take notice.”
Enough notice that Lanning couldn’t sleep some nights, determined to correct the problems with Exxodus. He explains that the biggest issues were the save feature and the fact that players often needed to die in order to learn solutions to puzzles. And while the developers offered players an infinite number of lives, they quickly learned that gamers were not all that happy having to die over and over again. “When hundreds of thousands of people start playing your game, its weaknesses get revealed to you very quickly,” says Lanning.
In the end, though, the team realized that the 2D platform genre wasn’t dead, it just wasn’t being done right. But now, with a focus on storyline, new methods of interaction, and some ingenious puzzles, Abe’s Exxodus ought to extend the life of the genre. As for Oddworld Inhabitants, it intends to offer an Exxodus game after every Oddysee release and has even hinted about an online Oddworld community. Is the company crazy enough to pull all this off? Lanning says it best: “Just wait till you see what Abe can do with his farts now.”
Lanning is quick to point out that with Exxodus, the team is putting its efforts behind the first game’s strengths. The game will include new characters, gameplay, levels, and movies, as well as enhanced visuals and more humor.
“One of the things to watch for,” says Lanning, “is that we have given the Mudokons emotions. They are absolutely hysterical. This game is going to have everyone laughing but still maintain a high integrity of storytelling. We really wanted to push the humor and do more cool stuff like possess all the characters in the game and use their individual gamespeak commands for other purposes. What we are doing is pushing the personality of the videogame character to new heights. And that’s what Oddworld is all about.”