Part 11: A Demonstration of Force

By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

The past week has lasted a month, or so it seems, because it’s Demo Time. The entire team has been putting in late nights and weekends tightening down spotlight elements of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee to create a playable demo of the game.

Teams generally hate doing demos, but they’re a good thing. It seems unfair to take unfinished code, art, and level design and drag it out of bed early just for the purposes of a demo. It’s like finishing the bedroom when the rest of the house is still wood frames and exposed plumbing. There’s usually much grumbling about having to hack things together and the unreasonable expectation of wanting to see unfinished mechanics in finished form… but the payoff is always worth it.

That’s because we not only wind up with a snapshot of the game to demonstrate for the press and our fans, but we are also forced to confront our own ambitions and make things actually work in the game. Visualizations are one thing, but demos are where the rubber meets the road.

So, how are we doing? At this hour, pretty good.

Our demo focuses on two different gameplay venues. I’ve been working on an outside area, where a pack of Paramites swarms over a cliff and through a valley in front of a Glukkon facility. Moving Abe through a canyon, we attract the attention of a stray Paramite, who follows us through a canyon system and to a hidden lake surrounding a Storm Circle. Here, we can switch control to Munch, and go swimming in the lake.

Jeff Brown and Dan Kading are laboring on a very ambitious inside region, which shows off not only “crane play” (where Munch uses a possessed crane to capture Sligs and drop them in recyclers) but also features the “gun room,” where a BigBro Slig shoots it out with a host of smaller Slig goons. What makes the gun room so challenging is that it’s the first big test of our new proprietary camera system that melds conventional game views with more cinematic camera angles that emphasize dramatic elements in the scene (like Sligs getting whacked, up close, by a fusillade of high-velocity brew cans from the BigBro’s Blitzpacker).

For the team, demos are as much about process as they are about results. It’s a dress rehearsal for the production days to come… a chance to iron the kinks out of our pipeline, and a chance to see (and control) elements that have only been theorized up until now. Sure, there’s plenty of lost sleep, frustration, and frayed nerves… but the days we lose working on the demo are days that get behind us whether we leverage them or not, and it feels good to squeeze 25 hours of product out of an eighteen hour day.

I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing here. In the span of a few days, the gun room has gone from a wild-eyed plan that seemed doomed to fail to a breakthrough realization of something I didn’t think possible in a game. It’s dramatic and exciting… but best of all, it’s under control – the camera switches around, but you don’t lose track of who you are or whom you control. Simply amazing. People aren’t going to be able to figure out how we did it.

And we’re not gonna tell them, either!