Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee Interview [Hosted by IGN] Date: 2 May, 2000 Interviewer: Vincent Lopez Interviewee: Lorne Lanning Source: http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/05/03/oddworld-munchs-oddysee-interview
The Oddworld games have always been about the underdog prevailing in the end, a subject we’re all too familiar with here at IGN…what with creature editor Matt Casamassina taking over the reigns of IGN64 and all. Our recent preview of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee only left us with more questions about the already beautiful looking game, so we talked further with Lorne Lanning, co-founder and President of Oddworld Inhabitants, about the next game from Oddworld Inhabitants.
IGNPC: You seem to create games that embody the famous quote of Oscar Wilde, “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” What was really the motivation for creating such an anti-hero for a video game?
Lorne Lanning: This is a great quote that identifies a central core in our heroes. We created Oddworld as a place to reflect on the current yet timeless dilemmas of our own world. It’s rare that today’s designers are thinking about video games in this way; but why shouldn’t we? If we so choose, this medium can be a very powerful means of communication. If you see the medium in this light, then why bother to create superficial entertainment when you might be able to create content that inspires people in their daily lives. This may seem a bit hokey, but think about the novels or films that we’ve each fallen for that have had tremendous impact on the way we look at life. We all have our personal favorites that embody something about the human condition that we relate to and evangelize. Well, why shouldn’t video games rise to the same degree of inspiration for people?
Our heroes are very ordinary characters that, to their dismay, find themselves in extraordinarily harsh circumstances. They are not the muscle-bound super heroes we wish to be, these are the poor schmucks that we are. So we try to find ways in which our poor bastards can overcome their dismal conditions. So we have them using their brains, empathy, and a overall simplistic yet wiser perspective towards the world around them. Many artists write songs or make movies to try to elevate people. We make video games.
IGNPC: Were you worried that with the first game, you might not have an audience for your concepts? An anti-hero is one thing, but an enslaved Mudokon facing genocide is a much more sober proposal to get kids and teens to accept and want to play.
Lorne Lanning: We didn’t have any fears that people wouldn’t take to Abe (well, maybe in Japan, but that’s another story). The truth is that you don’t get great heroes without great enemies. You don’t get characters we love without harsh circumstances that push them to their limits. Everything is in the presentation. Look at all the old fables and mythologies that have prevailed for hundreds and even thousands of years. The brothers Grim wrote horrific children’s stories, yet it was delivered in brilliant storytelling fashion and still exists today.
We as a race have a tremendous appetite for material that represents the extremes of dark and light and the conflicts between. The Bible is the most widely published book in history. Talk about genocide, a whole world is flooded and killed off, cities are destroyed, fathers kill their children, brothers murder one another, this list goes on and on. Nearly all religious and mythological material usually deals with similar extremes regardless of the culture. Yet what makes these stories so powerful are the ordinary central characters who reluctantly rise to the occasion.
IGNPC: Whether you meant to directly or not, you’ve created some of the most issue-oriented gaming ever. Would you consider yourself one of the first political game designers?
Lorne Lanning: Political? I’m not sure. I like to think of more along the lines of ‘high-tech shamanism’.
IGNPC: Abe’s a playable part of Munch’s game, for at least part of the journey — does this mean we’ll be seeing visits from Munch and Abe in Squeek’s game?
Lorne Lanning: You will definitely see and play Munch and Abe in Squeek’s Oddysee.
IGNPC: It looks like you’ve included a “road movie” aspect to the game with the combination of Abe and Munch together for the first section of Munch’s Oddysee. How will the characters interact, and how will the control scheme work out?
Lorne Lanning: You will be able to select either character to control at any point in the game. You can have them together or take them to different parts of the landscape, either way, you still have access to both of them.
IGNPC: Abe’s focus was on trial and error — moving from screen to screen and working through complicated brain/hand/eye puzzles. Where do you see the newest installment going in terms of gameplay?
Lorne Lanning: The world is far more alive in this game, so the basic concept of preplanned, gauntlet-styled puzzles breaks down. Our puzzles that used to be “conquer this screen and pass these guys to move on,” become more like “revitalize the land so that the water levels rise and you can swim up into the pharmaceutical factory and rescue the lab animals.” However, every factory is a puzzle in itself when it comes to conquering or rehabilitating it.
IGNPC: Do you still feel the urge to put Abe on the big screen at some point? Would you ever consider putting the series on hold in order to do a feature film CGI movie of Oddworld?
Lorne Lanning: We see the five stories (one huge epic) of the Oddworld Quintology stories eventually becoming 5 motion pictures. However, there is no rush for us to produce the feature films. They may happen sooner than later, but we wouldn’t hold up game development just to make movies. The game medium is too important to us.
IGNPC: You’ve always planned on having five games in the series, but do you also know what characters will appear in what adventures, and how the story will come to a conclusion? (I’m not asking for spoilers, I’m just interested in the design process behind the series)?
Lorne Lanning: Yes, the five Oddysee stories are mapped out to the end of the Quintology. I think it has to be this way. It’s the only way to really develop and stay consistent to your themes and universe without getting off track and painting yourself into a corner.
IGNPC: You’ve mentioned that the Oddworld presented in Munch’s Oddysee will be place that gamers will want to stay long after they’ve finished the game. What sort of things are you introducing to get gamers to have an extended vacation in your world?
Lorne Lanning: Land will be fertile if it hasn’t been polluted and if the rains are still coming. But if the land has been raped and is barren of water or trees, then the life forms that live on the land will come into hard times, reproduce less often, etc. It’s critical to us that the gamer has responsibility over the landscape. The gamer’s actions, or lack of actions, will influence the state of the landscape and, as a result, influence the availability of resources and the behavior of the lands’ inhabitants.
We will also be cycling between day and night. For the world’s creatures some live by day, others by night. A factory is in full production during the day, and tends to wind down at night. Nocturnal creatures come out to hunt at night, but sleep in caves during the day. You’ll have the ability to wait out circumstances and decide that it would be wiser to attempt infiltration of a factory at night, rather than daylight. Strategies abound when you have a playing field that behaves this way.
IGNPC: You’ve talked about Oddworld: The Hand of Odd, a networked/online version of the Oddworld universe. Will this be planned for the PC as well? What are you willing to talk about in regards to The Hand of Odd and how you’ll take the singularly singular experience of Oddworld and translate it into multiplayer?
Lorne Lanning: Hand of Odd is about us using the technology of Munch, enhancing upon it, and bringing it into the multiplayer world of gaming. How many players will be able to interact at one time is still yet to be determined. If we can get eight players at one time for Hand of Odd we will be happy. It will be enough. If we can get more we will be ecstatic.
Hand of Odd will not be an online community in the way that EverQuest or Ultima Online are. But we do plan to take advantage of features like downloadable units that will help to keep the world fresh even after its been out there awhile. Our most important function will be speed. We’ll take advantage of as much as we can until update rates become an issue. There as so many questions that relate to the multiplayer Internet capabilities that are yet to be answered technically, that we can’t lock down to the degree that we would like yet.
IGNPC: You started your career in Hollywood — what brought you from the film industry to the video games industry? Or more importantly, what gave you the confidence that you could pull off a similar sort of storytelling style in a completely different medium?
Lorne Lanning: When you look at a medium not only for what it’s been, but for what it can be… then you more clearly see its potential. We saw its potential, and this gave us the confidence to go for it. However, I don’t want to give the impression that the leagues of games that came before us didn’t have major influences. Everything is evolutionary. Games of the past opened doors to perceive what games of the future could be. The rest is about being able to access technological capabilities and use them creatively.
IGNPC: Speaking of gross, vampiric LA meetings, what’s the best film pitch line you’ve ever heard? (as in, “It’s like Sophie’s Choice meets Freaky Friday!”)
Lorne Lanning: It would have to be, “Howard the Duck meets Citizen Kane!”
IGNPC: And speaking of LA, what’s the best thing about being in SLO instead of LA?
Lorne Lanning: Clean air, friendly people, no traffic, beautiful natural surroundings, and enough comic books shops and book stores, music stores, movie theaters, and good restaurants to get through the day.