Part 1: Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath – Dev. Diary #1

Author: Raymond Swanland

Source: http://xbox.gamespy.com/xbox/oddworld-4/572191p1.html

Raymond Swanland, production designer for Oddworld Inhabitants, tells us tales of Oddworld.

Raymond Swanland has contributed to all four Oddworld games. He began as a digital artist on Abe’s Oddysee and became a production designer for Munch’s Oddysee. Raymond is responsible for designing the hero in Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath as well as the cg/fmv and look of the game. He has also contributed heavily to the Art of Oddworld Inhabitants book printed in this month and available through Ballistic Publishing. An accomplished Illustrator, his personal work can be seen in Spectrum, various graphic novels and international publications.


As an artist coming of age over the last couple decades, absorbing all the varied influences around me, I was drawn to the art that went into the making of films such as Star Wars, Aliens, and Jurassic Park. It only occurred to me when it came time to start a career that designing imaginary movie creatures and environments might really be the gig for me. Yet, how often do the truly exciting projects come along? Fate had that answer for me when I became aware of a very fledgling video-game company located in my own small hometown.

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Over seven years ago I first walked the halls of Oddworld Inhabitants mere months before the release its first game Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Even without a finished game on the shelves, the vast Oddworld universe, plastered across every wall, was clearly designed far beyond any single storytelling experience. Almost instantly, I realized that I didn’t want to focus on designing creatures or creating landscapes for solitary, one-off stories. I wanted to be part of what Oddworld was endeavoring to achieve through inventing a universe with bitter conflicts and intricate cultures. I wanted to become a world builder.

Now, many years and three game releases later, the scope (and burden) of the world-building responsibility has become a bit more clear to me. I’ve had the time to form a deep familiarity and intimate bond with the Oddworld Universe and its personalities. I’ve helped to form those personalities, and in turn, formed a part of me. Through the first three Oddworld games, we’ve come to create and know a huge cast of bizarre characters, focusing specifically on the hapless Abe and the persistent Munch. Both Abe and Munch were conceived and designed as embodiments of downtrodden innocence. Through the strength of their na¿ve purity they would prevail over the malicious gluttony of Oddworld’s industrial powers-that-be. But revolution comes from more than just innocence.

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When the time came to begin development on Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Oddworld’s fourth game experience, we considered the continuing adventures of Abe and Munch as they pursued their very important plight, but there were so many different points of view in Oddworld that were yet unexpressed. Down in the dark recesses of our imaginations, there was a hero that was not so passive or unassuming trying to get out. Perhaps this reflected our own motivations about the way we wanted to approach our next round of storytelling and gameplay. The desire to strike out on Oddworld’s cultural landscape with action and brute force struck all the right chords in our collective hearts. An imposing, nameless figure of strength swaggered into the forefront of our inspirations and the character that would come to be known as the Stranger came to life.

With our deviation from previous patterns in full swing, a new hero was designed to be truly opposite from Abe and Munch in so many ways. No more of Abe’s compassionate comradeship or Munch’s cutesy charm, Stranger would be standoffish and intimidating. Innocent simplicity would give way to dark complexity and a scarred mysterious history. Stranger was not looking to make any friends.

All of these personality attributes would define Stranger’s overall appearance. Physically, we started with animals we know and respond to as powerful creatures. The stateliness of a lion, the shear presence of a silverback gorilla, and the muscular power of a horse all informed Stranger’s original designs. Though he would spend most of his time in a reserved and stealthy disposition, the strength of his huge forearms and his cat-like agility would be utilized in active combat, revealing his inner beast. Ultimately, the predatory intensity of big cats came to the forefront of his facial design and also began to spell out his nature as a hunter. Like a leopard stalking the plains of the Serengeti, Stranger grew into his role as a lone wanderer in search of prey.

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As Stranger’s anatomy came together, cultural influences were added to the mix as connections became apparent. Stranger’s status as a traveling loner meshed perfectly with the heroes of samurai films and especially the western genre. Clint Eastwood’s man with no name in Sergio Leone’s epics was an excellent prototype in fine-tuning Stranger’s expressions and visual appeal. From his broad, sun-bleached hat to his tattered boots, Stranger displays the hallmarks of his nomadic life. Layer upon layer of clothes and equipment are designed to give a sense of time passed, as if he has accumulated a little something from everywhere he’s been. Beyond his imposing size, his ragged appearance defines him as a rugged outsider and causes all those that would cross his path to keep their distance. Yet, above all, Stranger is a character with a broad, but unknown history that emotes an alluring sense of mystery.

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Just as outlaws and lawmen of the old west were defined by the weapons they carried, so is the Stranger. In keeping with his “stealthfulness” and versatility, the design of Stranger’s weapon of choice was narrowed down to a trusty, double-barreled crossbow. Without necessarily looking like a revolver, the design of the crossbow was meant to reflect the robust durability of the ubiquitous Colt .45. Though evidenced in the subtle but intricate designs on his poncho, Stranger’s crossbow is one of the few items he carries that bares the fading cultural signature of his species. His crossbow is his way of life and Stranger maintains and details his weapon with the care of a samurai, for it is also a symbol of his honor.

Stranger’s nomadic persona taking shape, the world through which he would hunt expanded around him. Water would be the commodity on the Oddworld Frontier and many new species were there to exploit it. Homesteading Clakkerz maintain dusty boomtowns in the great Mongo valley and suffer under the Wolvark henchmen of the greedy water baron known as Mr. Sekto. All the time these invaders are subjugating the native Grubb population while fending off incessant Outlaws. Some familiar faces would rear their ugly heads, but, for the most part, this was an entirely new cast to be designed.

Much as we approached Stranger’s design, the rest of the cast were created based loosely on animals and historical character types that defined their personalities. The native Grubbs found the roots of their design in the anatomy and gentle helplessness of salamanders and river fish. With the moist patterned skin of amphibians like frogs, the Grubbs seem so out of place in the unnaturally dry river valley and all the more pathetic. The banal lives of farm animals like pigs and especially chickens informed the designs of the lazy Clakkerz. To define Stranger’s primary prey on the frontier, the designs of the Outlaws were drawn from aggressive game like wild boars, but also reminiscent of foul scavengers such as hyenas.

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The journey to Stranger’s world has taken us far from the Oddworld that has become familiar to many. The colors are rich and earthy. The shapes and forms of nature intrude upon and overwhelm every view and design. In broad strokes, the subtle and complicated artistic style of Oddworld’s fringe borderlands is a reflection of the twisted new direction of the story and the gameplay. Yet, even though Stranger fights differently than our previous heroes and inhabits a strange new land, the same conflict against greed and injustice pervades his story. These fundamental themes truly are the continued source of my personal artistic inspiration for this universe. Above all, this project has been a tremendous reminder for me of just how challenging and redeeming it is to be and work among such a restless group of world builders.