Date: March 2000 Author: Blake Fischer Source: Next Generation, Issue 63, pp. 28-31
A little bit odder, and a whole lot deeper
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Release Date: US PlayStation launch
The founding concept behind Oddworld Inhabitants was to design a game world with a huge arcing storyline that would encapsulate many generations of games. While the first product may not have been to everyone’s taste (it was a 2D platformer that was anything but revolutionary), it still featured high production values, tight gameplay, and the most unique game world seen on PlayStation. With Munch’s Oddysee, the second part of the story arc (Abe’s Exoddus served as more of a side story), Oddworld Inhabitants looks to not only redefine its own series concept from the 32-bit age, but create an engaging and unique experience unlike any other.
“The future is in virtual worlds,” declares Oddworld Inhabitant’s President and Co-Founder Lorne Lanning. “Just watching the world should make you laugh — like you’re watching living characters do the funny things that living characters really do.” Of course, Lanning points out that the future of interactive entertainment also lies in tight, innovative gameplay and sharp, witty storytelling. To combine the three, the 60-person team at Oddworld Inhabitants has gone through the Herculean effort of creating a digital version of a fully realized world for their game to take place in. Day turns to night, ecosystems change according to how game inhabitants (either PCs or NPCs) treat them, and, most importantly, there is a set of “real-world” rules that players can intuitively figure out and exploit to their own purposes. Smack-dab in the middle of this technological feat stands the player, interacting with the world within the confines of an epic story.
This time around, you play as Munch, a one-legged curiosity who has been captured by the scientist race, the Vykkers, for the purpose of experimentation. Of course, Munch escapes from his captors and falls out of their UFO-like base only to be discovered by the Mudokons (the primary race of the first game), who don’t believe his strange tale of abduction. Abe (the first game’s hero) does, however, and he joins up with Munch to discover the ultimate purpose behind the Vykkers and rescue the beings trapped by them (which, players find out, includes Abe’s mom).
Gameplay, as you might imagine from playing the earlier games, is primarily action/puzzle-based but now in a fully 3D world. “If you look at the world from a native point of view [like the Mudokons and Munch], everything is worth something alive,” explains Lanning “But if you look at it from the industrial point of view, everything is worth something dead. Everything on the playing field can be played with either ideology.” This gives players many different means to get through each dilemma, either by persuading the natural residents to help them, or by destroying things and selling them, earning “Moolah” (the game’s money) and purchasing solutions from such outlets as Oddworld’s answer to Sears, the Maggog catalog.
In fact, one of the major goals in the game is to get an incompetent Glukkon named Lulu promoted to a position of power. “While your native interest is in preserving the land,” says Lanning, “in order to fulfill your need, you need to get him promoted and fulfill his interests, which tend to be based on destroying the land.” This delicate balance forces players to face the interesting dilemma: do you take the quick and destructive path or the more difficult path of good karma? This is a universal problem that will haunt players in situations throughout the game. However, Lanning and team are empathic in their belief that there is always more than one way to solve each puzzle — and how good you are at finding the environmentally sound path will definitely be reflected in how the game ends.
Still, even with all the new technology and design work that has gone into this new game, Lanning and the rest of his team are sticking to the mantra presented on the case of their very first game. “No menus. No inventory bars. No scorekeeping. Just infinite lives, victims to rescue, and inexplicably challenging gameplay.” In today’s “me too” market, this battle cry sounds as fresh and promising as ever. With some great humor, strong drama, and challenging gameplay, this could be just what the US PlayStation2 launch really needs.
SWEET, SWEET SOUND
Munch’s Oddysee is the first game we’ve previewed that fully supports the Dolby 5.1 (Dolby Digital) output capabilities of PlayStation2. This means that, for readers with the proper sound hookups, you’ll not only get crisp digital sound, but also six distinct sound channels (right, left, center, rear right, rear left, and subwoofer). Wow, and we thought surround sound was cool…