Part 4: Flatland

By Paul O’Connor

Reviewers generally gushed over the lavish art and clever gameplay of our first two games, but they qualified their praise with a dreaded classification: 2D. That’s “two-dee,” as in two-dimensional, as in platform game, as in side scroller, as in… you get the idea. We wore that badge proudly, as we felt the side-view format was dynamite for the kind of gameplay we wanted to do, and it also helped our inaugural products stand out from a hoard of me-too 3D titles. But even while we were polishing our engine in the closing days of Exoddus, we knew 3D was in our future.

It’s a future that couldn’t come soon enough for many Oddworld Inhabitants. While we’ve made our mark by breathing new life into the 2D format, the fact is that Oddworld has always been a 3D company. Our company was founded by Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning, pioneers in the 3D industry. Practically everything in our games was modeled in 3D. In an ideal world, we would have come out of the gate with a 3D game, but the hardware required to realize even a portion of what we wanted to do wasn’t available when we started building Oddworld.

All that has changed with the release of the latest video-game platforms. As you probably know, our next title, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, will be a 3D game. What does that mean for the people building the game? Well, a lot and a little.

It means a little because we’ve already got a “digital backlot” of 2D characters and places from our first two games, and transitioning them into a 3D game (while not without some teething troubles) has been pretty painless. It means a lot because the people that I work with – the game designers – have had to cut loose of their 2D mindset and look at the Oddworld play experience in a whole different light. We’ve bid farewell to Flatland, and the future is a labyrinth of extruded polygons and inverted normals.

Those are just a couple of terms we designers are wrestling with as we learn a new set of tools for assembling Munch’s Oddysee. Fortunately, some of our guys have experience with 3D, and they’re serving as pathfinders by setting up tutorials for us knuckle-dragging throwbacks (meaning me, mostly) who are new to this environment. We’ll figure it out. This stuff isn’t rocket science.

(Rocket science is easier).

What is proving tougher is getting our brains wrapped around the gameplay differences between 2D and 3D. Munch’s Oddysee isn’t a 2D game jumped up to 3D; it’s a whole new experience. Many common mechanics from our 2D games – like pits or meat saws – take on an entirely different aspect in 3D, where you can just walk around most hazards. We’ve had to rethink much of our artificial intelligence, as the facing of enemies (and what they can “see”) is much less clear-cut. The list goes on and on….

So what are we strangers in this strange land doing to keep from wandering astray? We’re throwing paper at it, of course… and I’ll tell you all about it next month.

NEXT: Getting the Treatment