Oddworld Interview With Lorne Lanning: New ‘N’ Tasty, Future Trends and More [Hosted by GamingBolt] Date: 19/12/2015 Interviewer: Ravi Sinha Interviewee: Lorne Lanning Source: https://gamingbolt.com/oddworld-interview-with-lorne-lanning-new-n-tasty-future-trends-and-more
Talking with Oddworld Inhabitants co-founder and president Lorne Lanning is always a fulfilling experience, primarily due to the man’s storied history and his involvement with one of the more under-rated but still much loved classics of all time with the Oddworld series. Lanning has always been fairly vocal about trends in the industry, especially when it comes to indie gaming initiatives by Microsoft and Sony, and GamingBolt recently had a chance to talk to him in the wake of Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty coming to the Xbox One this year. Strap yourself in – it’s a fairly long conversation.
Ravi: We’re here today to talk about Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty. I want to talk first about how you started out in the game industry; what were your early inspirations; and what were your motivations for getting into the industry in the first place?
Lorne Lanning: I was a wanna be film maker. I was in the film industry and I wanted to tell more stories and I wanted to focus more on character development. I was in love with computer animation. This was back in the late 1980s. I was trying to figure out how to tell stories. I had not yet made the connection that I could tell stories with video games. That was a blessing because I was also a big video game fan. Not consoles and home– at the time I was much more arcade, also networked on SGIs and simulations back in the 80s. We were playing network flight simulators with F14s and MIGs against one another before Skyfox was out. In the simulation world, in the digital effects production world you had access to some amazing multiplayer games.
They were built as test products to make sure the chips worked right on the Silicon Graphics works station. You could use the games to stress all the physics. These guys at Silicon Graphics and some other places had created these little games– like Battlezone or flight simulators. They were kept simple but they were great to play them networked with 12 people on a LAN. I started doing that in ’87. So the consoles wasn’t a big appeal to me because as a kid I was out trying to get into trouble and having fun. I wasn’t home much.
I was always in the arcades. Arcade gaming and simulation gaming, so to speak, was something I wasn’t connecting to story telling. A few games broke that out for me. One was Flashback and I loved the early Delphine games. There was a possibility to make games feel a little more like movies. That’s when I saw the opportunity for us to become content creators. At the time people were doing service effects for films. That was the big leap. I jumped from visual effects in computer animation into games in the pursuit of telling stories and making them interactively fun and engaging.
Ravi: Based on that, when you first start out in the gaming industry, what was the first type of game you made back then– before Oddworld?
Lorne Lanning: None. I never made a game. That was my first game. Oddworld was the first game I ever worked on. I had this bright idea, “why don’t we start a game company too?” (laughs) Just dove straight in, raised the money and had a good story at the time. There was a company that had just gone public, this was 1993-ish. The name was Rocket Science. It showed that people with a good Hollywood story and a promise for next gen gaming could actually go out and raise money. And they did. They raised a lot of money and they lost it all. It was all based around the 3DO system.
I didn’t think a lot of that system but it was indicative of where gaming was going: CD Rom, storage capacity. Things like that. That’s when we realized: with a good digital effects story, weighted with decent credibility in terms of being able to discuss games: what you like doing in games, and how you might actually have some insight into how games are made. More importantly, we had come from big production. So we could make them, but we could also deliver on time.We’re used to managing 100 person plus teams. We’re used to film. We don’t get to be late. If we missed a deadline, that means we’re out of business. Because that means they will have missed a blockbuster summer movie date.
You can’t miss it. You can’t be late. So in the film industry you couldn’t be late. It was the same in the television business and commercials, you cannot be late. And particularly in commercials there are air dates they’re buying. Coming out of there with a partner like Sherry McKenna, who is my co-founder in Oddworld, who had an amazing producing record in digital effects by producing on time and on budget. We come into the game industry saying we can achieve this and this in terms of content. And we can achieve this and this in terms of reliability in schedule and delivery and we actually did. Bringing more management experience into the deep trenches of visual effects really helped add disciplines to gaming. Over the years big gaming studios would learn all these disciplines as well. They would bring in digital effects supervisors– people who could manage wider, riskier things with more people.
Ravi: You said you had a story at that time. When Oddworld’s Abe’s Oddysee first came out it was praised at the time for its universe, its story and its approach to storytelling itself. What served as the inspirations of that universe? How did you start to create it and how did you melt it into something that would become Abe’s Oddysee?
Lorne Lanning: A couple key ingredients. One was studying fan cultures.Trying to figure out what builds strong followings for people. Why people feel more attached to one film versus another– or one property versus another. When you analyze that, one property usually has more depth. It usually has a more resonating meaning. A deep universe, well fleshed out feels like you know it better than your reading, or your viewer knows it. They feel like they’re uncovering something that a creative team is really ahead of them on in terms of the believability of the universe. There are so many factors.
What makes people want tattoos of a motor cycle brand or a rock band? What brings people to feel so passionate about properties that they’re willing to make life long commitments to something that they didn’t even create? I was fascinated by that and came away with a lot of takeaways.
The other factor was, I always had a different outlook on life. Maybe because my dad was in the nuclear submarines as I was growing up throughout the cold war. Or serious global issues. My favorite fishing places, in Vermont, had died as a result of acid rain. These were the most gorgeous lakes and there was no fishing in them anymore. They looked clear; they were absolutely beautiful, but all the fish were dead. I was realizing there were cold plants in the midwest; and they were also mentioning cold plants merging in China. This was in the 1980s. I was seeing this big impact on the environment.
At the same time the media was basically silent and people were ignorant of what was going on in the world in an environmental level. In my own circles, people just weren’t aware of these things. If you talked about things like the meat raising practices of fast food companies burning the lungs of the planet in South America for cheaper grazing lands and cheaper meat, people thought you were a conspiracy theorist. They were really uneducated. Even educated people had no idea had no idea what was going on on the planet.
That was very stressing for a kid spending a lot of time in the woods connecting with nature. I found that really disturbing. I wasn’t looking at it as a business venture. I was coming at it as, “what if stories are richer? What if we could get connected through characters that are more like we are?” I was feeling pretty helpless in a world that makes decisions and screws up our abilities independent of our control; independent of our vote. Since that time we’ve seen the rise of the 99 percent. At that time people were saying capitalism is great. That was disturbing. So as an artist, people reinterpret what they’re seeing in the world. What makes that message resonate is A. there’s substance to it. B. it’s told beautifully. C. it has respect for the audience.
My point is, when you see these things in the world, I felt more and more people were feeling more isolated. And I felt more and more people were headed for the third world. If you look at the 2008 financial crisis in the United States; what happened to the middle class and how it’s now basically poverty class. It’s all around us, and it’s pervasive, and it’s got a lot of momentum. In the ’80s people were still riding high. Global Warming– Al Gore hadn’t made his film yet.
It took something like that to get people to start paying attention. If I agree to what many other climate scientists are saying is a whole other issue. What I think we can agree on is that human impact on the Earth has been substantial. When I started making Oddworld, that’s what made my heart heavy when I went to sleep every night. When I’d travel the world and see different places that’s what would break my heart, the continued impact of the environment and what that probably meant for our future.
But who wants to see a documentary game? (laughs) Going back to that first question on “what makes a passionate fanbase?” If we look at the history of entertainment, the great stuff– there’s lots of things that make great money. Transformers is making a fortune every time they release a new movie. But these are not films that will be remembered in history. Films like 2001, you can watch them today and they’re still not dated. There are things that pop out in the moment and make lots of money, and then there are the ones that stand the test of time. I was more interested in the ones that stood the test of time as a creator.
One of the things that make them do so is there’s a lot more going on than the story on the surface. There’s this opportunity in games to try and bring more cinema-like content and storytelling and fuse it, and not rely on individuals, but really fuse it to the DNA of what makes games great. That became the objective. How do we make games feel more like good compelling movies without losing what makes game special, what makes games work? We were seeing lots of people make mistakes and forget what make games great. Started making things interactive, but really hadn’t addressed what makes great games great; and what makes classic games great.
That was the overall target: to synergize these 20-somethings angst, opportunities in a medium that was still in its infancy and growing, and an audience that, in my opinion, dislocated in a mass media world we’re being bombarded with. If we could strike that cord, make characters that made you feel closer to who you were– that super hero you wanted to be– and still show that poor, lonely shmuck in the world that through intelligence and patients and never giving up, that you can actually succeed. I thought that had value to it. I was able to convince my partner of that. That’s ultimately how we got our money to get started with Abe’s Oddysee.
Ravi: You talk about a story that resonates with people throughout the years, even more than a decade after release. When Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty came out last year, there were changes. It wasn’t just a straight port. It was expanding on the original concept. It was making its own thing that current generation players, PS4 and all that, could actually enjoy. The core of it, the story, it still resonates with people in this century, basically. Did you ever have that thinking back then that, “Okay. This is going to stay relevant?” Even though that was the goal, did you ever think that this will stay relevant in the next 10 years, next 15 years or twenty years?
Lorne Lanning: I was hoping that we were creating a property that would. In the way that Dr. Seuss remained relevant. In the way Star Wars stayed relevant. In the way the Muppets stayed relevant, Jim Henson’s creations stayed relevant. But I wasn’t thinking that Abe’s Oddysee, a game from that period, and the script in ’92, ’93, and ’94– I’m sorry, ’94, ’95, ’96 when were making it and continually refining it. I wouldn’t have imagined that would stay relevant because I thought those games were fully disposable. Meaning the game industry at the time didn’t have backwards compatibility. Backwards compatibility wouldn’t sell new game consoles. When new consoles came out, it was like libraries of the past went to the dusty shelf. You wouldn’t be able to buy those games 10 years from now from when they were released. Or even five years. Or maybe even a year you wouldn’t find those games again. 10 years you probably won’t find the console again.
I had this idea that games were going to be very disposable. Then I was sad because a movie wasn’t disposable. It would stay on a shelf and still be able to play for an audience 20 years after it was made. I remember telling Larry Shepero, who was at CIA agency at the time, he was saying, “you can do this and you can do that.” I said, “don’t you get it, Larry? Games is completely disposable. What we create people won’t even know about in 10 years. ” He looked at me and he said, “that’s the most depressing thing ever said.” I believed that was true so I was all about building a brand. So even as each game got forgotten with time, your brand would hold up to hold the larger memory. Then you just keep on building new product. What I didn’t expect was, I didn’t expect a couple things: I didn’t expect that Steam would take off as big as it did. Digital distribution.
I was a huge proponent of digital distribution. People would make fun of me in public because I would talk about how it’s going to change things and allow independence. I was a big believer in it, but people were shipping around big gigabytes of data around the planet yet, not really through wires. I had a hope that digital would eventually come in. But I didn’t expect Steam to pick up exactly the way it did, which was pretty good. What I totally didn’t expect was PlayStation 3 running emulations of PlayStation 1 games. So your original games on PlayStation 1 could start being played on a console two console generations later.
That shocked me. Because, like I said, consoles were not interested in old libraries because they wanted to show new chip tricks, basically. When they did that, I got really excited because I saw that game companies were starting to think more like media content companies that viewed their whole library, not just the latest bells and whistles running on the new consoles as value. We started putting those games up on PSN store. Put the original Abe games up. When we saw that people still really enjoyed them and new people were getting onto them, and they were saying that it holds up– now that’s very arguable that the original Abe’s Oddysey holds up on a PS3 on an HD screen. But what they were speaking to was the thoroughness of the design, the consistency of the story, it still held up. It was a woven tapestry that was tight enough and complete enough that it could still be played in this day over 10 years later and be enjoyed.
It held shelf life longer than we would have expected. I think part of that was because it was so unique for the day that it still had a unique place, ten years later we started getting them up on PSN. Maybe it was 12, 14 years later. What happened was, we basically can’t afford new content. Oddworld games were paid for by publishers. We made some decisions in 2005, we started getting games back up on PSN. The people playing those games and still liking them were actually starting to fund us. It’s kind of a reverse Kickstart. Business the old way, where you build on that rather than borrowing. When we started publishing our own we said, “what can we do to generate money to allow us to build more games without taking on partners; without having some of the problems of the past?” We had to be very clever and frugal on how we spent. So we thought we should do the obvious and get our games with the SKUs they weren’t on. We were able to invest what we had. It was pretty low. In my opinion we aren’t going to go out and build new games with the budgets that we had. But we were able to get games on different SKUs and the brand to more of an audience. And it resonated with that audience. Each time that meant more revenue we could invest back into games. Leading to even Stranger HD, for us, was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars of budget. That was still cheaper than building a new game. We’d take a chance. And each time we’d take a chance the audience was responding that they felt we were doing something right. When it came to New ‘n Tastey– I personally didn’t think the audience would want this type of game this time. We have social media so we can get feedback from real players like we weren’t able to do when games were shipped on DVD. It lead us to ask the audience, “we can’t afford to do much. What if we could do ‘this, this or this’ what would you like us to do?” We were getting high numbers of people saying, “we want that old style of platforming.”
I would think they’d want new Abe games on new technology. That’s not what they wanted. They wanted it in the retro play style. We spent some time analyzing that. When you’re playing a game like that, you’re focused on the puzzle. You’re not focused on, “am I looking in the right direction? Am I steering properly through the 3D world? Was I looking one way and missed something important?” You’re not having those steering issues. Instead, you’re more focused on the beauty of the background, you know what your character can and can’t do. You’re just going left and right, largely, and up and down. So that scrolling motion, I think, simplified an old side scrolling platformer way was reigniting with the audience because of mobile. I think mobile games was really bringing back sort of more classic style of play that had largely gone away in the rise of 3D GPU consoles that were trying to sell their 3D abilities. In evaluating the audience, looking and listening and saying, we said, “We can’t do a brand new side scroller. We can’t do a brand new Abe game in that style. We don’t have the money.” But what could we do, and what could we do a really good job at? We evaluate the money and see if we can do a good job. And if we can’t do a good job with the money, then we say we can’t do it. So they were telling us that they want it and they want it in that old 2D way, how do we do that better? How do we stick to it? We started looking at films we loved in the past. What would we like to see? In movies, when they remade The Time Machine, why does it always suck? Why do the remakes almost always suck? And why did they have to go rewrite the script? What a great script that original was. Why don’t they just keep the script and reshoot the movie in 21st century technology rather than what they shot it with 30 years ago? Why don’t they do that?
And we thought, what if we do that? What if we don’t rewrite and try and modernize the story? What if we just redo every piece of content? Redo all the code? There’s no code shared. Some data bases we were able to share basically from skinning from. Everything is freshly rebuilt. But we had the design as a template to work with. The design is usually a huge part of your battle in creating a good game. Having out script, we said, “let’s do the same script. Let’s do the same basic layout of the game. But let’s take it into realtime 3D,” so it’s not a conversion, it’s a complete rebuild. At least we have that perfect target and template to work with. We should be able to keep the costs relatively low and try and do something special. In doing that we, building the game in realtime 3D, we hit all kinds of little problems. Not a ton, but enough. It’s not side scrolling, it’s continuous flow. Because it’s continuous flow things are moving faster. You don’t have the hints you did in the original game. We had to devise antidote that and still feel like the original but play in a more modern way. And play more beautifully with more effects, with more voices. How can we richen it up without changing? Some people were giving me Flashback comparisons at the time. How upset they were because they really liked Flashback when it got remade they weren’t happy with it. “Can we take that chance and remake something without completely rewriting it?” I think that was kind of a risk. The audience was giving us every indication that they would support it, but still a risk. The first 10 reviews came out and said, “this is just a rehash of the old game.” (laughs) Maybe that was a possibility. But because we really treated it with care– I’ve been told when you put too much into a game it becomes unnecessary. Many times that’s been right. But it’s always that looking back, looking with respect on the audience. We’re an audience too. What pissed us off? As an audience we feel pissed off when we’re buying something and we feel like it got thrown over the fence because they know we’re ants and they know we’re going to eat it but it was really crap. We always wanted to try and stay away from that.
We’re not perfect, we make mistakes. We always wanted to try and avoid exploiting the audience because the audience will pay for anything and you can sell them shit. For us, the reason people still care about us, the reason why people have tattoos is because they think we’re not about that. We put more money into out little products now so it has a quality life on the platform. And a couple times we ran into problems. Like with Munch we had an engine that was a licensed engine from back in ’99-2000 and we don’t have a source code to a lot of the stuff. Some of the problems we had by the time we brought it over to Steam we couldn’t fix certain problems people had on certain chips or cards. But if you’re a player, you didn’t care if your card had a problem to play our game, you blamed our game. And you should. But we didn’t have an ability to fix those things. With time, how do we can go back and fix that? Munch’s on PC was a classic example. There we had some bugs we couldn’t fix. We didn’t have the source codes to. That was really the short of it. We adjusted price point to try and say, “for some of you, you might have a problem and we’re sorry, but we’ve done our best to fix it.” Even today we are in the process of fixing those things because we got someone who’s capable of how they are able to manipulate the engine. We got someone who’s capable of fixing it. We took that chance for New ‘n Tasty, Abe’s Oddysee could become a 21st century game without changing design target. Needing to go in and bring new solutions to an old problem. In doing that it wound of having something fresh that still felt retro and relevant for this age. I can’t say we’re disappointed with the results. We’re happy with the results. So now we got to get the next one out.
Ravi: During our last interview– this was before when Tasty released for the PS4 last year. You were excited about the platform, now it’s more than a year later. The game is out on the PS4, and it’s coming out on the Xbox One as well. When you look at the challenges and everything that was there for creating a game in a new generation and everything, what’s your take on the difference between developing on the PS4– and then that time goes by– and then you’re developing for the Xbox One? Did you notice any difference between the two platforms?
Lorne Lanning: As the creative director, not so much. There’s obviously some spec differences that people have touted, written about, fully analyzed, and it’s all out there to look at. If you were the lead programmer, you might give a different story than what I’m giving you because I was the creative director. But through the Xbox, the architecture was not that different. And the power range was in the zone enough that it was not so challenging and effort– it wasn’t easy. The reason it wasn’t easy is because we targeted our first platform as PS4. We did that for various reasons. Our largest audience is on PlayStation. And PlayStation looked eager to give us some visibility, which we live and die by that and we can’t afford it. We don’t buy airtime, we can’t afford it. We make good games that someone is willing to promote for us. Because of that we were building games the old dumb way. Which is just trying to get to your first spec and utilizing whatever you had to do on a machine to get it to work. Then coming to other platforms, it’s not the way you should architect for multiple platforms. You should architect from the beginning: what is your full slate of platforms you’re going after? Then you should deduce: how should we make the first platform that goes to the other platforms the easiest? And we didn’t do that. Even though we’re using Unity– if you put in a ton of assets and you’re running a lot of data– Let me say it this way: Unity promotes itself as being a multi-SKU game engine.
And if you made a simple mobile game that runs on a wide array of mobile devices, it would be very easy to bring that game to every platform. If you built a simple mobile game that would go to Xbox One, and PS4, and Wii U, and Vita as a breeze. You’re not using anymore– the little bit of computing power that it needs to run on your basic iPhone is surpassed by all the consoles. So you’re bringing a small package into more powerful consoles. That’s a really smart way to use an engine to get to all the multiplatforms. The really dumb way is what we did. Which is you try to get that top platform. PS4 is a high– when the tech company does the deduction, they come back and say, “it’s got this more power here and there in a couple different places.” Not vast differences. But if you did it to totally push and exploit all PS4s performance abilities, going to Xbox One you’re not accounting for how their architecture was, so it’s harder. But I’m saying that’s harder for us. It’s not necessarily that it’s harder in general. It ‘s hard because we really were milking the PS4 through Unity’s ability. That was not a multi-threaded ability. When you look at New ‘n Tasty it’s built, not really take advantage of the multiple chip sets and the way that that array is being used. They call it multi-threaded for environments. Unity wasn’t really taking advantage of multi-threaded environment and that meant– they have now. That’s what Unity 5 was about. Without the multi-threaded environment meant we were just trying to squeeze out the extra bells and whistles, and effects, and visual qualities, transparencies, out of what we could work with in more of a single-threaded architecture that wasn’t taking advantage of the powers of the machine. In the same way, the same thing can be said for Xbox One.
Meaning, because of the core technology, it was not designed to fully exploit the powers of that machine. And we can say the same for Vita, and the same for Wii U. And the same for PC. It just wasn’t designed to fully exploit the latest in console power. But who’s complaining with the price, right? Meaning, in the past you’d spend millions of dollars on engines and it wasn’t as good as Unity. So I’m grateful there. But when it comes to going to the other platforms there were lots of difficulties. But a lot of that is chalked up to our own planning and execution failures. Failures is a strong work. But that’s how you should measure it in hindsight: Where did we fail, where did we succeed? Going forward we don’t want to have that same problem. We’re coming up for release on Wii U, and Wii U is more challenging for the reasons I just described. Nintendo is traditionally focused on a type of twitch gameplay. Since the Wii it’s had a special controller. It hasn’t tried to stay largely compatible with cross platform release strategies for publishers. Is Grand Theft Auto on the Wii U?
Ravi: Grand Theft Auto 5 and Grand Theft Auto 4 have not been on the Wii U.
Lorne Lanning: Yeah. It’s a console designed for another purpose. That means its architecture is significantly different. In looking at that we go, “how do we get this game that was designed at our core to try and maximize the PS4, even in handicapped way–” because like I said, threaded, non-threaded environment, multi-threaded environment, “how do we get that to run on the Wii U?” It’s been very challenging. But I can’t attribute that to a Wii U fault. That’s a planning fault on our part. So in the next run we do that smarter. We look at it, “okay, this is the one that slipped through the cracks. This is more complicated for us. These are the things that made it take longer to deliver. And this is what we can do better in the future.” But I can say going to the Wii U I believe to the best of our knowledge, we are the biggest game to ship on the Wii U. I think the visual quality hold. Meaning, Nintendo saw it. They were very happy. I think they were surprised. There are a number of things where we are still getting some bells and whistles, getting a fix on it and going through testing. But it was a console that was really designed for a different type of play experience, which we really started, right? And yet, it’s powerful enough to where we can get New ‘n Tasty to run on it. And we really care about spec performances. So while we’re not shooting for 60 frames per second, we want a solid 30. That’s a lot of work. When I see people canceling projects, and I’ve seen some recent cancelations on PS Vita, I’ve seen some recent cancelations on Wii U. And I think when they canceled those projects they were probably in a similar position like we were. Especially indie guys. Indie guys we’re small and we’re figuring it out. A lot of times young teams, so they don’t necessarily have the seasoned experience of being real multiplatform experts like EA would be. EA or Activision would arguably be the best people at multiplatform. At least simultaneously doing it right. All things considered, it’s a challenging platform, but what’s amazing to me is it runs there at all. (laughs) That it renders.
Ravi: When you were talking about moving this game to a different architecture– like it’s not just a case where you going to make it for one system and it’s going to work whenever you decide to bring it to the Xbox One, to the Wii U that it’s going to magically work for that. Nor should it because they have different purposes, different architecture. But one thing we’ve noticed over the past couple of years, because the Xbox One and the PS4 are very similar, but there is this aspect of the eSRAM. Which, since the very beginning it’s been like, “this is no good,” and some developers are saying, “it’s good, you just have to know how to use it.” And some are sort of, like, indifferent to it. About two years after the Xbox One’s released , what are your thoughts on the eSRAM and if you’ve had any trouble handling it when brining New ‘n Tasty to the Xbox One?
Lorne Lanning: So very specifically, like I said, this is more in the trench crew that deals with the absolute specifics. Generally speaking, which I can speak from, is that I used to follow the details of chip manufacturing, RAM capabilities, all these things. I used to follow it. Quite honestly I followed it in the mid ’80s, late ’80s, and early ’90s. The reason I stopped paying that much attention is because I found that as a– not as deep as a hardcore programmer, but as a digital artist, as a scripter, designer. All the roles I’ve played. What I learned is that I always found the descriptions of technical specks very deceiving. And the reason I found it deceiving is not because the hardware company was being deceptive. The fact is that it was really SGI that really blew it for me. (laughs)
Because they would come in an say, “the new one has got this chip running this many cycles. And we’ve got these performance chips and these boards, and this RAM and all this is going to be this much faster.” When you listen to it, it was like listening to the original PS2 exposes. If you remember, right? If you listened to it and bought into it you really thought you were going to get all this power. Then there was this guy who used to do our machines at Rhythm and Hues. His name was Ray Feeney. He has about 5 technical Academy Awards in digital film making for technologies. He’s a major figure in getting film digital effects. Ray was testing these machines, and I was saying, “everything’s great!” And he looked at me and he goes, “don’t you get it, man? The bandwidth on a pipeline between this cable and this, you’re not going to be able to utilize any of that power.” (laughs) And that happened to me three years in a row where I kept on thinking I understood how powerful something was going to be. The real expert– the real guy– the guys that’s building the machines, winning technical awards was like, “it doesn’t mean shit.” The way they’re doing it, that only benefits this group. Or it only benefits CAD guys and modeling.
But it’s not going to make a difference on your rendering time or particles. So I personally stopped paying attention because I realized– it’s like politics or something. You have to be in space that full time to have a good idea of what’s going on. (laughs) Not that people in politics have any clue as to what is going on. If you’re going to think you’re a specialist in it you really have to be there, or you can be so easily mislead. And that’s just out of your own ignorance, right? Out of my own ignorance. So when I talked to the best guy, he laughing at these things that I’m all excited about because he knows that’s never going to actually work. It will never work the way I’m thinking about because that’s truth in advertising. “Our new chip will do this.” Yeah, but you forgot to mention the cable on the back will only do that. So that’s nice but it will only effect 15 percent of things you were were hoping it would effect 100 percent of. That being said, when it comes to the RAM issues and Xbox One versus PS4– I follow it enough to follow the debate. I’m assuming that there’s some truth in all arguments. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. So there’s some truth in all arguments.
Then it’s going to come down to how much are they talking about? What are they shaving? The most obvious difference is that people– big games– some of the big triple play guys said, “We can do 1024 on PS4. We can do 720 on Xbox One.” To me, at the end of the day that’s how I wound up slicing it. In the games that really rock these systems, where they’re taking full advantage of the multi-threaded environments, where they’re taking full advantage of the chip sets, where they’re really building to take advantage of the hardware pipeline as it was intended, as it was created, then being clever on how to get around different things.
When you weighed all that I thought “close enough.” Meaning, the average– the people that pay attention to “I need 1024 and not 720,” I thought to the majority of the audience that was not going to be the defining factor. The defining factor would be, is the game fun? Does it play fast? Does it look good? Some people were saying it runs higher resolution on another system and I think history speaks to that. There are a few games that release that way. Big games running on different resolutions. Ultimately that’s how I summed it up. Going back to how I answered the question originally, they’re different systems. You’ve got to realize New ‘n Tasty really didn’t push Xbox One or PS4. What it did is it pushed Unity’s capability on those systems. But for me to complain about the performance of either would be silly. Because really we were handicapped at the core engine. And I’m not complaining about the engine, but it wasn’t multi-threaded. We’re in an engine environment where it’s not taking advantage of the real powers of the machine. So we just tried to do the best with what we had. With that being said, we did have unique sets of problems on each. By releasing the PS4 first we got dinged on some of the early things.
We did great, had a great reception, all that. It did get dinged on some control issues and some other issues. We found more bugs once you have hundreds of thousands of people playing the game. You inevitably make some discoveries. We try to lock onto that as quickly as possible. If you look at the PS4 Metacritic– there was an element that wound up, I think, in the 70s of reviews. If you look at the Xbox One it was all in the 80s and 90s. We were able to, through the release of the PS4, basically discover more of what our problems were and have all these gamers playing it so we can get that feedback. And we fixed all that going to Xbox. We were not only converting to the platform but we were bringing all the learns that we made when releasing first on PS4. In general I just don’t think the differences exists between PS4 and Xbox One hindered us. It was other factors hindering us for this game. And it’s not GTA V, right? It’s not Call of Duty. And it’s not bringing you the absolute latest: the world’s Killzone. Really pushing that computing power.
Ravi: One thing that’s interested me because when you talk about Xbox– I remember the troubles you guys had when developing for the Xbox, when you were trying to bring Munch’s Oddysee to that and issues you had in the past–
Lorne Lanning: It was more that our problems were on the PS2 at that time and on Xbox we were able to resolve a lot of those problems.
Ravi: I mean, there were some problems, this goes back a long time ago. When you were showing off Munch’s Oddysee you weren’t allowed to talk about the game and such. The publicity that you had, that Microsoft was–
Lorne Lanning: You know what? I’m glad you mentioned that because I’ve seen that misinterpreted at times. So I’m glad you mentioned that because it gives me a chance to clear it up. When I said we weren’t allowed to talk about the games around Xbox launch– this was pre-Xbox launch– I did not mean Microsoft was keeping up from talking about the games. That was not true. What was keeping up from talking about the games was that the press was so upset with the price point that that’s all they wanted to talk about. The price point of the Xbox. There was a period there were once they announced the price, and it was the same Euro in all territories that the press just got really upset. When we were going through Germany and some other places, the time that we had scheduled with the press wound up being completely consumed with the pricing with the box and the strategy across the Euro. The newly created Euro territories. That’s why we couldn’t talk about it because they just didn’t want to talk about it, they wanted to complain about the pricing. And they wanted to complain about the strategy. But Microsoft never said, “don’t talk about this, don’t talk about that.” I’m glad you brought that up because I was able to shine light on what really happened.
Ravi: I bring it up because when it comes to the Xbox and when it comes to indie titles and such, there was a thing in the beginning when they announced their whole initiative. Which was the parity clause and everything.
Lorne Lanning: Then there’s that.
Ravi: It was interesting because Phil Spencer recently said– they just asked him, “okay, this parity clause, it’s dead now isn’t it?” And he was like, “yeah, it’s pretty much dead. We’re not doing any of that stuff or anything.” He phrased it in his own way and such. I was wondering, did you have any issues like that when you eventually brought New ‘n Tasty to the Xbox One? Is there any sort of mention of a parity clause or anything like that?
Lorne Lanning: We became a bit outspoken about that. Following E3. It was E3 2013 that they made that announcement. Their bad day was E3 2013. When they had their press event in the morning, they thought they were off to a good start. Then Sony had their press event in the afternoon, and blew the doors off. After that the writing was on the wall now. To me, the writing was on the wall. A. by rationally, fairly talking about this it would be controversial. What I mean by that was, by just saying what we said. Let me back up. People would ask at 2013 what consoles are you on. The press would ask for New ‘n Tasty. We’d say, “PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, and we hope to get on Wii U as well.” And they’d say, “why not Xbox One?” And we’d just say the truth, and the truth was we’re not able to make sense out of the Xbox One because of the parity clause and policy. And the reason we weren’t able to make sense out of it was because, it’s a very simple question, why should a developer that finance their own games, did their own promotion, manages their own social, did 100 percent of what’s going to ship to the public, to the gamer, why should we be require to now sign on a publisher, bringing zero value to the equation and to the process, and now we have to pay them money?
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying publishers bring zero value. What I’m saying is in the case of the parity clause, as it stood then, if you said, “I want to be on your system,” the answer was basically, “go find a publisher so you can be on our system.” And you would say, “we don’t need a publisher because we have the game, we have the audience, we have– here it is.” And they would say, “too bad. Go give a percentage of your royalties to a publisher,” who may not bring any value. Who may not bring any advertising. Who may not bring anything. “If you want to be on the system you need to give them a percentage of your revenue.” Now, if that’s Wall street, everyone’s laughing because no one would do that in the world. It’s just dumb, right? Why would you give your money to another party who brings no value in the creation of the project, in the distribution of the project, in the managing of the fan base, in the community. All that. If they’re bringing no value why are you forced to have to give them a piece of your revenue just to be on a platform?
What I did after E3– what we did was that was just our answer. The reason why that was a bulletproof answer is because it’s just true. If you just ask yourself that, “well, jeez, why are you giving money to a publisher?” And there’s only one reason: because of this antiquated claus, because of this antiquated policy, that if they were to keep it– this is where you could look a little more psychic and pathetic than you actually are, because if you got what was happening– I live here in San Francisco. I’m around Silicon Valley. I go to all kinds of stuff that’s all about trending networks and social networks. I don’t make social games, but I go to the conferences. I try to figure out exactly what the sciences are that the venture capitalists are talking about. The fact is, if you understood this parity clause, if you understood it was a very 20th century antiquated business model that was not going to work for them in this generation of hardware. It was very easy to say they are going to change their policy. People were all upset. People would say, “they’re not going to do this, that’s ridiculous.” And I’d say, “it is ridiculous. Which is why they’re going to change their policy. Because they’re not going to prevail without it.” You didn’t have to attack them. You didn’t have to slander them. All you had to do was say the truth. Just frame work it in a way from a developers perspective. Why were we voicing that opinion? We weren’t alone.
Ravi: There were a lot of people.
Lorne Lanning: There was a lot of people, right? If they kept that policy because all trends on all networks on all media was heading in a different direction. There’s a great book called Nudge. It’s about businesses building on top of businesses in the 21st century. It looks at the trends. It looks at how the YouTubes, and the Googles, and the Facebooks, and the Twitters and all these allow platforms for other people to build businesses on top of. A very 21st century way of thinking. “I’m going to build a business that’s good for us. But because of the business I built millions of people are going to be able to build businesses on top of it.” When you understood that that’s the trend of technology in the twenty first century is that, it’s not, “we’re going to create an OS, we’re going to have a monopoly, we’re going to forbid anyone from carrying competitors products, you have to go through us an pay an exorbitant licensing fee and you should be grateful.” That’s a business model of the 20th century. Having read Nudge (laughs), having living here in Silicon Valley, having raised a venture capital a couple of times, to me it was very obvious: this is really bad policies. This is going to hurt Microsoft. At the same time we had already been eclipsed from releasing our game.
We were already cut off from making any money on Microsoft in the 360 era. So we should have had millions of dollars of revenue on that platform and we didn’t. And we didn’t because of those antiquated policies. Because whatever was going on we weren’t allowed on the platform. So we could never bring Stranger’s Wrath to that platform. Now, if you got cut off from a whole generation of hardware on a specific SKU because of policies, what good does it do to keep your mouth shut in the next generation where they’re pulling the same stuff. That’s where I was, like, we might as well take the gloves off. You don’t have to do it in an irate way. That’s just venting. Look, they don’t let you on the platform anyway. You might as well call out the very obvious criticism that should be called out because you’re just going to get screwed again this generation. Unless you’re going to live by those same antiquated rules, you’re going to suffer the way you did this last generation. So there was no risk in being vocal about how wrong the policies were for the gamers and for the company. That’s why I was really confident when people kept asking me if they were going to change it. Of course they’re going to change it.
Why? Microsoft’s not stupid. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a guy in that position who’s thinking in the 20th century and he should have been thinking in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a guy running the whole thing who is making totally wrong decisions. The sad thing is he makes the wrong decisions for everybody. So all the people that are working on the hardware, all the people that are aiming up every gear in the machine is going to be impacted by the gatekeeper where the buck stopped on his desk. Now there were some really bad decisions made. And the whole venture suffers because of it. All those people making games for platforms, all those people in the trenches, like us in a country where our leader’s making a bad decision. So in corporation, the guy running that division made decisions that they had to change. They had to in order to stay in the game. Like I was saying you don’t have to be psychic to see that coming.
Ravi: Given that they’ve made those changed now and that you were saying: We are bringing more people to our console, we are getting new kinds of games on our platform. So at this time, what are your thoughts on their indie policy versus what Sony is currently doing? And do you notice any similarities between the two?
Lorne Lanning: I think they put the right people in play. Let’s just start there. I think that was a smart move. Phil Spencer’s been at Microsoft a long time. His whole career he’s been at Microsoft. As a lifer he’s seen a lot. And he’s been with Xbox, basically since the beginning of it. He’s seen all this happen and he’s gotten familiar with developers. He’s had different roles in the company. He’s more like a Shuhei Yoshida than a Don Mattrick in that respect. Someone who’s lived in the company for almost their entire career. They have loyalty to it but they also want to see it win. They’re not just there for the big stock payout for being a new CEO in a division or something. So I think that was a good move. When he got in and they created a new role for Chris Charla that was a great call as well. Because Charla has had a lot of experience in development with Foundation Nine, he was respected. When that happened, when Charla’s role was created and when Phil Spencer got in place, what we thought was that the right moves are happening. But what we said was to not expect all the changes to happen over night because it’s a big ship. And it’s hard to turn big ships. But you knew more appropriate people were being put in place. From that moment on we basically shut up. (laughs) They just made some big, seismic changes here, give them a chance to succeed. Give them a chance to deliver what they say they’re going to do.
From that moment forward we got nothing but support. It changed a lot. I know a lot of people had to fight internally to make those changes. But they did. And when they did we haven’t seen any backtracking. What I have seen in a couple cases is where people got really upset. I don’t know their reason but they felt like they were being denied by the system. Then I saw Charla come out and say, “why don’t you call us?” If you’re complaining and you haven’t made the call, you don’t have too much to complain about. So if he went public saying that, then I’m assuming it’s true. If it weren’t someone could just release an email and then he looks bad. All that being said, I think they put the right people in place. I think you saw drastic changes to the policy. Even though we were a critic I thought we were well balanced, objective critic that spoke to the developer cause in a passionate way without becoming flametory. Maybe they let you on their system, but maybe they don’t give you any support. If you say things about a company then you don’t know how that might impact your relationship for the future. What I can say is we got on the system, we were critics. We got onto the system not only did that go smoothly, and development kits were easily accessed at the time– I can’t speak for everyone, but I can for us– we got what we needed. Setting up a store is always a little complicated for little guys. There’s just a lot of hoops to jump through and documents to sign, and you don’t know what’s the right stuff. There’s a little bit of that friction signing up that new store. But to my relief they appeared to have judged the game on a fair bases and gave us generous exposure on the store. Meaning, I think they looked at the game without contempt, but looked at it like, “it’s a good game for the system, it’s got fans, let’s give it some support.” On the European store we got good support and on the American store we got good support. To me it looked like the changes were happening. I saw something they’d never be able to go back on. Once the floodgate opens, right? What’s your take? You talk to a lot of developers? I’m authentically curious. Are you hearing something differently or do I sound par for the course?
Ravi: The last year there were those criticisms about the parity clause. There was “this is the problem.” and “our solution is we aren’t going to bring the games to the platforms” and that’s pretty much it. Over time from what I’ve seen from Microsoft it’s been sort of that, whatever change that they’ve been making it hasn’t been something that’s sort of happened over night as you said. It’s something like they’ve been building momentum and building momentum. They’ve been showing a lot of the same indie games for almost a year now. But along the way it’s sort of been like dissent that’s sort of there in the industry from indie developers and such. It’s sort of gone down. I’m actually seeing more support for indie developers on Xbox One when it comes to making new projects, not just like with Sony I saw a lot of stuff in the beginning, “we’re going to have this project and it’s going to be awesome. It’ll be on PS4 and it’ll come to PC.” Now its sort of like I’m seeing all these new projects were people are like, “yeah, it’s on Xbox One and it’ll come to PC.” And these were projects which were not previously out for PC. It’s like they’ve given them some importance now, which I think is the most important thing. Because they do contribute something to that platform.
Lorne Lanning: Absolutely. Wii U is still allowing self-publishing as well, right?
Ravi: Yeah, they have some work– a longer way to go, I think.
Lorne Lanning: Right. If you go to E3 and you see the titles that they’re showing, it’s all in-house titles. You hope it gets better on the store. We’re going to show up on EuroGamer, Nintendo’s giving us some stuff, a kiosk. At PAX we’re getting a kiosk. So we’re grateful. But when it comes to who’s really promoting indies, Nintendo’s a little behind that curve.
Ravi: I’m actually wondering about your thoughts because Oddworld New ‘n Tasty is going to come to the Wii U but then they have this whole thing– because their basic thing is from day one since they released, when the new consoles came out it was like, “this is not as powerful as PS4 and Xbox One.” And now it’s like “we’re going to show a new platform next year, the NX.” And it’s like do you think they’re going to go in that direction to be more powerful? Or are they going to focus more on services and which approach do you think is going to benefit indies more?
Lorne Lanning: I don’t really know. I wouldn’t have expected the Wii U to be their choice this time. So I acknowledge my inability to predict it. I would have thought with Wii, what we saw was Nintendo become massively successful. And other developers stopping, and other publishers stopping to produce for it. That’s what we really saw. It served them extremely well, they made a lot of money. But if you talked to publishers they’d say it only makes money for their first party titles. That’s what a lot of people were saying. And what’d they say is it’s so vastly different in power you can’t target it. As a reasonable multi-SKU target for the current high-end gen consoles. They weren’t targeting Grand Theft Auto V for Wii. (laughs) Or even Wii U. So I would have thought Wii U would have headed in a different direction than it did for hardware and stuff. Today, I’m not sure exactly what they’re going to do. Granted, I haven’t read the specs.
Ravi: They haven’t announced anything. They just announced the name and some integration for mobiles and such. I don’t even know if it’s a console or what it is.
Lorne Lanning: I can tell you what I think I’d do if I were Nintendo. If I were running Nintendo, I think I would become the most absolute, bad ass android platform. I would say, “there’s so much traction on these other fronts that our competitors have had. We have such a hardcore audience. Where is our audience going?” Well, if you look at gaming today, it’s going more mobile. What I mean is lifestyles are more mobile. The same amount of time that you spend in the chair has changed a lot over the years because now people are on the go differently. Years ago, if you wanted your email you had to be at your desktop. That was it unless you were a super high tech guy and had a laptop. I remember how at different times it was hard to grow out of where we were at. You go, “okay. Gamers are more mobile now. People are walking around now. People are doing their email. There’s traveling. There’s Oovoo.” Everything’s changing. The iPad changed. Massively where people compute.When I got an iPad all of a sudden. While I was browsing the web on my iPhone it wasn’t a fun web browsing experience. A little too tight, a little too small. But it was fine for emergency emails, and text messaging, as a camera. Wonderful. Get different apps, great. It was fine. But it wasn’t like I wanted to go sit in the bathtub or hot tub or on a lawn chair and sit there like I do with an iPad for five hours straight.
The day I got an iPad I realized what a game changer it was because I realized doing my email and taking a hot tube were no longer incompatible (laughs). The way we compute changed massively with these tablets. The smartphones really initiated it. But when the pads came out and the tablets came out you were like, “wow.” Now people sit there and watch movies on them. But you weren’t really watching movies on your phone. This is where I say the future’s mobile. Exactly what that means and where it’s going is hard to tell. But I don’t think anyone today is going to create an operating system that is going to go out there and compete with iOS and Android. Two of the most enormous, most powerful corporations on the planet firmly committed to being the premier OSs for those platforms. Basically for the future. For apps. For automated driving. If you look at where all of this is going: it’a about automated cars.Which scares the hell out of me. When you’re bringing all that up it’s, “what should Nintendo do?” So if you said, “Lorne, you’re running Nintendo tomorrow, what would you do?” After really getting to know what the company is really about on the inside, I think I would be steering it towards a solution like that.
I’d say, “we make awesome consoles that are all about gameplay.” Right now Android is a limited gameplay platform. It’s not like building on a console. Just like iOS is a limited gaming platform. So why don’t we do our absolute best to run on top of that OS so that people can integrate their maps, their traffic? All of those things they’re doing in a mobile lifestyle. But also that becomes the premier gaming system on that OS. As a piece of hardware or as a phone, you as the audience– here’s this new device. It integrates more of your lifestyle more of a mobile way but when you’re home you can connect it to the big screen, 1080p. Is that what NX is going to be? I just don’t know. But my gut tells me it lies in that future. Their future lies in that direction. Consider: they’re a Japanese company. What’s happening in Japan now? More of the big IPs are releasing on mobile first because console gaming is dying in Japan.
Ravi: Yeah. Many of these platforms haven’t seen– like the PS4 hasn’t seen that level of success that the PS2 of the PS3 saw at launch.
Lorne Lanning: Yeah. I think a lot of the reason– now this is just my own conjecture– is that Japan is small living. Meaning small spaces. People are not– I’m standing here right down the street from Pixar across the water from ILM– Lucas Arts and we’ve got a space here 1300 square feet. This would be 15, 20, 25, maybe 30 people if this office was in Tokyo. We look at the space here and we go, “well, you know at six we are going to run out of space.” It’s a different way to look at space. The first time I went to Japan was in Tokyo and saw ad agencies. I didn’t realize that a nine foot ceiling was actually two stories with desks. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen how office space would have been packed in. But I saw the ad agencies that we went to. And literally you had bunkbeds that were workstations. So workstation bunkbeds. They weren’t beds, but they were just like bunkbeds. You got on a ladder, you went up to your little workstation. You couldn’t stand up in it but you could sit in there.
You had your computer and stuff.You’d have a wall and there were two rows of people on that wall. Space is there biggest commodity in Tokyo. Another thing that gamers should know about in Japan is that the Japanese played with their shades open. And in the United States and in Europe they tend to play in darker rooms. What this did is it made it so that darker games didn’t so as well in Japan because you couldn’t see them well in bright rooms. We made that mistake on Abe’s Oddysee. I found out afterwards. So I think what’s happening in Japan is that they are so squeezed for space that given the rise of mobile mobile became a new freedom. Let them be outside more. Like I said, this is just my assumption. But I think mobility of mobile and smartphones allowed them to leave the home and still do business and still stay in touch with friends. All the things the smartphones enabled. Allowed them to play games at the park and stuff. They were like, “I have a choice. I can stay home and play games like I used to with console games or I can go out and be with the world and try and meet girls and still play games.” What do we see? We see the big Japanese publishers on their premier IP releasing on mobile first in Japan. When we look at what’s the future I don’t think those people are going back into their homes because people have released the better consoles. I think they’re out of the house. That’s another cat out of the bag. Now you have to catch them on the run.
Ravi: When you talked about future technology– we mentioned Unity 5 earlier and as you said when New ‘n Tasty came out it was made for a single-threaded architecture. That was the engine. By the time Unity 5 came out which supported multi-threaded engines it wasn’t it wasn’t capable of– it’s like that’s the project that’s said. Unity 5 is here now and that’s the sort of thing you’re going to take advantage of–
Lorne Lanning: On ongoing projects, yeah. You have to way the cost of going back and trying to– like, is it worth it for us to go and make New ‘n Tasty on PS4 multi-threaded. And the answer’s no. Today it runs at a solid 30. It could be better but the cost of would be cost prohibitive.
Ravi: Maybe for a new project or such.
Lorne Lanning: For a new project for sure. Absolutely.
Ravi: Why I bring up Unity 5 is because it’s going to be integrating with DirectX 12 which everyone is making a big deal about and such. I think it’s going to be a big thing for the indies because it’s going to be, like, you have all this power and now you have the tool set to take advantage of all that power on these consoles. I just want to get your take. Do you think the indies have a lot to gain from this DirectX 12 integrating with the Unity 5 and even Unreal Engine 4, in that respect?
Lorne Lanning: Yeah. Look at them both. If we were to have built the engine, if we were to have really paid for the engine of Unity, or even 4, in the way you paid for engines in the past: a million dollars here, a million dollars there for X amount of royalties. We wouldn’t have been able to do it. We wouldn’t have been able to build the game cost effectively. Really grateful that the price was where it was with the models that there was even with the imperfections of how they handle people who were locked down on Unity 4 and now how they handle support going forward. What happened to Unity 4 to Unity 5 is they said they no longer support Unity 4. Now that became very problematic for a lot of developers. I think that’s why some are canceling projects now new SKUs. Because the new policy is, “we don’t support that code anymore. So you’re going to have to buy the source code. I’m sure you’ve encountered that.” We were going to the SKU and we just needed this bell and whistle in there that was normally part of your support and now because you’ve moved onto Unity 5 you’re no longer supporting that back one. But why are you charging us for a source code when this one was part of what you were going to do for support? If you’re an indie and that price is– if you want to go to a new SKU that price is now 25 or 100,000 dollars in source code fees. I think that’s hindering some people.
Like we’ve had a major change in management. And that’s going to be major changes in policies at Unity. So exactly where that shakes out I’m not sure. I do know this transition from 4 to 5 is pretty rocky for developers who still rely on the support for 4 but have lost it because Unity have moved on to 5. The only way they can stay updated on, say, the Apple’s iTunes store– because let’s face it. Everytime Apple will update a new iOS update usually your games stop running. So you have to go in there and fix something. In order to fix it you’re going to have to have the source code you didn’t buy because you didn’t need it. Basically hidden costs that come up later that weren’t part of what you thought you weren’t getting into. Unity 5 going forward– until they do that again. Until they say, “Unity 7 won’t be supporting anything before it again.” Hopefully it’s not as complicated. Let’s just take Unity 5, DirectX 12 and Unreal 4 being virtually free to the public today, to developers. That’s pretty amazing. There was no way in hell you could have access to tech like that 10 years ago. Unreal 4 is lightyears ahead of where Unreal 3 was. In terms of reliability, core engine structure, capabilities, user friendliness, bugs. It’s a whole new dimension relative to the old package. Unity is a tool where lots of people were able to get up and running early, but didn’t necessarily have the depth to go into the more complicated stuff like Unity 4 was used to doing for big multiplayer games and things like that. Unity’s clearly a younger software. So it’s not going to have all the bells and whistles that Unreal do.
The multiplayer is not going to be in the same category. Not yet. But in my experience in working on Unity last year was, I was pretty impressed. My ability to sit down with artists that didn’t have 20 years of experience in the business; relatively new talented people was we were able to get a pretty good look based on what we had to work with. The tools while not as deep as the tools that Unreal 4 would have. The tools were sufficient enough for us to get it done. I thought the cost relationship to that were, “my god, how is this company making money?” That’s how I was thinking. This is actually pretty good software. This is well architected from core in terms of thinking of expansions in the future. Now that may sound contradictory to what I was just saying about the multi-threaded. But they were mobile first. Thinking mobile first. Back to the question: How does that effect developers? When you can get tools like that virtually for free today and now you have two choices. When Unreal 4 dropped their price that really put a lot of pressure on what Unity is going to do. Now you have two, relatively amazing engines with what you can do with them. You can get in there at an extremely low price point to getting in there and building on each of them. That’s great for developers. The problem, I think, is that we’re just going to see a wider flurry of content. And it will be like the App Store, tricky to find the good stuff. If lots of people are building stuff that’s great but it does make it a little harder for us to find the good stuff. But that’s what people like yourself do.
Ravi: We try.
Lorne Lanning: (laughs) You guys aren’t going to hold punches. That’s not really your model. That’s the world of press, reviewers, journalists, blog sites, web casters, YouTubers. That’s who the public will need to be paying more attention to and increasingly are to find out where the good games they’re going to like. Not just the games that were heavily promoted to them. That’s a big part of what the review landscape is really about: which games are good, not just which games had a big marketing budget.
Ravi: When you speak about big marketing budget– I find this a little strange when I look at this because– you must have seen this demonstration for Crackdown 3, right?
Lorne Lanning: I heard about it. I haven’t seen it yet.
Ravi: So there’s this whole marketing thing behind it and it’s going to be one of the bigger Xbox One games for next year. There’s this whole future technology behind it with cloud computing because people are like, “we’re taking advantage of the cloud. We’ll deliver this kind of stuff. This kind of levels we’ve never done before.” I just find it a little strange. Somehow we are consolidating the who future talk with the marketing budget for triple A titles, like say Call of Duty or even Assassin’s Creed and such. So I was just wondering your take on that. Cloud computing that going on in Crackdown 3 and where you think that’s eventually going to lead for video games in general.
Lorne Lanning: Cloud computing I think is inevitable for lots of reasons. We can look at the worst cloud which I think is iCloud. Let me just rant on that for a second. iCloud, what does it allow you to do? It allows you to have a copy of your entire data base on every one of your devices locally. That’s completely contrary to the idea of the cloud. The cloud is about keeping your data centralized out there in the web, accessible on any of your devices so you’re not in the old land scape of “my machine only has this much memory. So therefore I can’t have it on my local device.” The hardcore cellphone gamers just like console gamers, Wii U in particular, is they’re making choices in which games to delete if they want more. When we look at cloud computing that idea of cloud computing is that it’s all accessible from any points and benefits thereof: that you don’t have the long download time, that you have lower latency. All these ideas which are still challenges. That’s the idea. So the idea says use the cloud to copy stuff to every other device. And then you’re not even clear. Like, “what the hell did it just do? It just copied everything onto my phone. That’s exactly what I didn’t want. I only want the pictures of my wife and my kids on my phone. I didn’t want 2,000 picture I took carrying around–” Some people do it really wrong. Some people do it really right. I think very clearly, a pioneer in this in terms of building Gaiki and the idea of Now– I think that’s still in its infancy. It gives problems in the world for cloud computing latency for territories that aren’t close to server hubs, geographically speaking. You find out five countries, most of their people were fine. But the sixth country is terrible. They can’t even play just because of server hubs. I can’t speak in an educated way on what they’re promising: As long as the power is on. As long as the unit stays up it’s going to go more and more cloud computing. I’d have to study exactly what they’re saying to see what benefits it’s going to lead to that game specifically. Like I said, I just don’t know.
Ravi: The basic tenant right now is more explosions.
Lorne Lanning: (laughs) Why do you need the cloud for more explosions?
Ravi: Apparently you need a lot of explosions. It’s a whole thing. You’ll find out soon.
Lorne Lanning: (laughs) Oh, really? Okay. And they’re saying that’s going to add them something Battlefield doesn’t?
Ravi: Yeah, I never thought about it that way. (laughs)
Lorne Lanning: I don’t know why you would need the cloud for explosions or effects.
Ravi: That’s why I feel there’s something more that they’re not telling us in terms of scale and such.
Lorne Lanning: Oh! I get it. I get it. Now, look, this is just my assumption. I’m coming at you with an uneducated guess. But as you’re describing it I go “Oh! Of course.” I think what they’re saying is, regardless of your PC.
Ravi: This will be for Xbox One.
Lorne Lanning: Regardless of your system’s capability, we can make you run a game experience of a much wider performance than your system is capable of. When Dave Parry was pushing Gaiki, in the beginning before they sold it to Sony, he mentioned to me one day, he said “what really blew the guys at Nvidia’s mind about this was that they realized that on the computer the kid has at home that computer, whatever card it’s running as long as it has a basic video capable card– and they have good internet connection — we can have them testing the new graphics cards on their old computer.” Does that make sense to you?
Ravi: Yes it does.
Lorne Lanning: So if you’re selling that you’re saying, “We’ve got a render farm over here in Hawaii that is a cloud computing farm. That is 10 times the power of any console today in terms of the visual interactive experience they can deliver. And now if you use this cloud service–” if I’m wrong forgive me, this is my assumption– “you’re not going to know the difference. But it’s going to feel like your consoles playing it but it’s really coming from the ultra Xbox hub out there that’s giving you 10x cycles and computations that your machine won’t even give you but you’ll play it on your machine like it’s local.” That is a future. That’s inevitable a big future. That’s how Dave’s original model for Gaiki is that it would be used as marketing for games.
Ravi: That’s pretty much what they’re trying to go for now. Basically 20 times the power of what Xbox One provides for something. I mean, it is different from Battlefield 4 who have multiple people at once and have an entire city that can be leveled. It’s not like a bunch of people are coming together to destroy one building. It’s more like something like “all of us can work together to destroy the whole city at once if we wanted to.”
Lorne Lanning: (laughs) Now that’s progress. Technically and theoretically speaking, that’s all possible. That capability could be going through your phone as well. You could be playing something that’s PS12, super computer, insane configuration that takes up 2,000 square feet in a server room somewhere running one game. It’s not impossible. Then that gaming is streaming down right into your hand and you’re playing it at that full interactive, massive data base. And you’re playing it on a device that would never be capable of it. Because basically what is cloud doing? It’s capturing a realtime cloud gameplay, it’s capturing your controller input, and it’s sending that back to the farm, and it’s processing that information and it’s sending you back the video so fast you didn’t notice the latency. If that’s happening then there’s no limit to how much can be computing off of the farm. Then you get into all the logistics which is not a small promise. If they’re saying this it’s not a small promise. And I hope they come through. Anyone taking chances I hope they have success. The industry always needs those risk takers. So it will be interesting. Is this a first party game? It must be.
Ravi: Yeah. I think they got the guy who was working on – He worked on Crackdown before for a different developer. But now he’s part of a new studio. They’re working together with Cloudgine and Microsoft and it’s basically a first party game.
Lorne Lanning: That would make sense. You’re talking about a big technical– on the back end there would be a lot of stuff that would tough for just any new developer to say that they could pull off.
Ravi: The last question I wanted to ask you was regarding what project you’re going to do when New ‘n Tasty is done? Because you’re going to have the Wii U release, you’re going to have the Vita release. Do you have any new projects? Or what’s your plans for the future?
Lorne Lanning: We’re in the planning stage for Exoddus. So what had happened was, when we starting building New ‘n Tasty we fooled the audience again when they saw some indications of what we were doing. I think that was at EuroGamer 2012 that we showed it. Maybe 2013. We pulled the fan base in and we said, “Okay, and if we succeed at doing that which of these new titles would you like to see?” And they said do the same with Exoddus. And again I wouldn’t have seen that coming. We went, “okay, we can afford that, we think.” But Exoddus is twice the size of a game. Now we’re still in the planning stages to figure out how much we can get it done for. Exactly which developers we can use and who’s available. Getting bids. So we’re in that planning stage. That’s inevitably the no brainer of what we should do next.
Internally we’re doing a couple of experiments and a few tests. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about some stuff soon. I’m not saying it’s a big new product but maybe some interesting things. But before I talk about them I want to make sure they’re working. (laughs) Because if they don’t work then they’re just scrapped. So Exoddus is in the planning and getting ready for full green light. Beyond that what we hope to do is learn a lot more about what’s going on with the new consoles. I mean everything from magically and more fierce and VR and AR as well. And really dabble in there and figuring out some of our ideas with it. In the mean time Exoddus is going to keep us busy. We hope to get that out as quickly as possible. But like I said it’s still in planning stages and hasn’t been officially greenlit yet. But we hope to have that news soon. We still have some things to figure out.
Ravi: Well, thank you very much for your time. It was a very long talk we had.
Lorne Lanning: Yeah. It went– oh my god look at the time.
Ravi: It was still good talking to you. It was good getting your insight on where things were before and where they’re going to go with all these new technologies that are happening at this time.
Lorne Lanning: Excellent. Thanks for having me on, Ravi. If you need anything just let us know.
Ravi: It was great talking to you.
Lorne Lanning: Likewise. And thanks for the great questions.