Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee — Interview

Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee -- Interview [Hosted by GameSpot TV]
Date: 22 September, 2000
Interviewer: GSTV
Interviewees: Lorne Lanning & Sherry McKenna

Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20010211021844/www.techtv.com/gamespottv/interviews/story/0,23008,3000598,00.html

We sat down with Sherry Mckenna and Lorne Lanning, creators of the very creative and sublime Oddworld series of games, at E3 this year. As always, they were down with the program and dropped some serious knowledge about video games, deforestation, consumerism vs. mysticism, and what it takes to make something fun without preaching to your audience. Check out the hefty excerpt from the interview below, or watch the videos for the whole darn thing.

GameSpotTV: Tell us about the new game.

Sherry McKenna: About Munch. OK. What we — I’ll let Lorne explain the story, but what we really wanted to do — you know how everybody’s talking about opening up games, widening the demographics, getting more mass appeal. Right? And so, that’s what everybody wants to do with video games.

And to me, the two things that you have to do, if you want to get people like me to play the game, and if you want to take it out of the hard core and really open it up, you have to do two things. You’ve got to tell a story, and you’ve got to create characters that we care about.

So, that’s 50 percent of the equation. The other 50 percent of the equation is, when I pick up the controller, if I can’t do it, I’m not going to play, it’s too hard. And so I would pick up the controller, and I would try to move around, but I have no idea where I am. I totally lose orientation. I try to move a character up and let’s say he’s supposed to push a lever? I can’t even line him up. He walks into walls — I mean, I can’t play the game. And so…

Lorne Lanning: Navigation, yeah.

Sherry McKenna:
Yeah, navigation.

Lorne Lanning: Navigation tends to be one of the plagues in the industry right now. No one’s really addressing the camera orientation problems, disorientation, motion sickness — you know, those issues. So, we’ve addressed it heavily. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort into making [the game] come to life in a way that feels more cinematic, but still gives people complete control over the characters.

GSTV: And how do you address those issues?

Lorne Lanning: We created a system we call a smart camera system that uses a much more cinematic approach when you’re navigating around. I mean you have to see it played to understand it, because it doesn’t exist in the industry today. You know, we’ve created this. And we’ve also addressed something we call virtual idiot phenomenon, which is in the majority of these games in the industry — you know, it’s an industry state of being, where these characters, they get stuck on walls, they can’t find the little things they’re supposed to do, they get confused here and there, they get hung up — you’re trying to run, you’re trying to do this, and all this little clunkiness is in the way.

We’ve created the Smart Character System, where the characters are smart enough not to hit walls, go through doors smoothly, understand what they’re supposed to be doing at different points in time. And yet, you have complete control. And you don’t even notice that we’re doing these things, ’cause you have 100 percent control. “Wow, this is just totally smooth! I totally get where I am. I’m not getting confused. I’m not getting motion sickness, I’m not getting camera disorientation. It’s just happening the way it should.”

Sherry McKenna:
It’s invisible. It’s what you’re used to. When you go to movies, you don’t get a headache, because the filmmakers know how to not give you a headache. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve incorporated those kinds of tricks, Hollywood tricks, so that the game player experiences what the game really should be about.

And of course the other big thing is violence — violence in video games. And that was a big, big concern of ours. Because the fact that these new platforms are coming out, and everything looks better, and it’s so — you know, you can kill someone, and it’s like awesome, I mean, it really looks real — now I can really make the blood look real. That’s not so good. This is not what we’re interested in.

Lorne Lanning: So, regarding the balance issue — our feeling was that the more realistic games become — it’s almost frightening, the level of violence that we can achieve, if we so choose. And the realism of how the characters are dying, getting hit — suffering pain, being tortured, whatever, is you know… You’re going to see a lot of that in this coming year, a lot of it coming out of Japan, that is extremely violent.

I call it the murder game, because that’s what’s going on. And that’s OK, but it’s not what we want to do. What we wanted to do is, we go, look, there is something that’s very fun about the shooting experience. There’s something visceral about that experience. But how do we turn that on its head to give it more comedic value, to make it not dopey — not childish, but make it intellectually more intriguing, and yet without the gruesome gore aspects.

What we did was we designed the industrial forces of Oddworld — what they’re doing is they’re firing addictive consumer products at characters. So, instead of the character dying, when he gets hit 10 times, on the 10th time a bottle of brew pops up off his head, he’s got beer cans bouncing off of him. And then when he gets hit, that brew’ll land in his mouth, and go guh-guh-guh-guh — he drinks it, and now he’s addicted, and now you can get him to come work in your factory.

If you’re the native forces, your weapons are made of spirit. When it hits someone, when you’re firing pure spirit at them, it instantly reincarnates them to their karmic sort of, uh, destiny. So, if it was a character that worked in a meat processing plant and he gets hit, then he instantly turns into a pig. If it was a scientist who was experimenting on lab animals, he instantly gets turned into a rabbit.