Play: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath [2005]

Date: January 2005

Author: Dave Halverson

Source: Play, Issue 37, pp. 48-49

Have you ever had a game where you put it in and loved it so much from the outset you actually had to call someone? Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is one of those. I’d always imagined what the mad scientists at Oddworld Inhabitants might do with (or perhaps “to” is a better word) traditional action adventure, but I never saw the hooks in Stranger’s Wrath coming. Wrangling bounties via a Ghostbusters-like contraption amidst a dusty, living, neo-Western landscape in which you switch between perfectly honed action and FPS is one thing, but shooting and collecting your own live ammo is quite another. The first time I saw a Fuzzle sitting up on my crossbow, I started giggling maniacally… someone should really breed these. Then it dawned on me that Microsoft had actually dropped Stranger, which pretty much just freaked me out. I mean, who drops a triple-A genre redefining masterpiece ripe for film, merchandising and whatever else the media gods deem profitable? Have they gone completely mad? Tork, Vince, and Psychonauts I can fathom (not understand, but fathom), but dropping Stranger points to some serious internal ineptitude.

Thankfully the game has found a home with deep enough pockets to run with it. Had this one ended up with a small publisher, it would have been the crime of the century, because beyond the genius gameplay, the dialogue (which again uses their GameSpeak technology) and bit players have to be seen and heard to be believed. This is the whole package. If you didn’t see the genius of Oddworld before, it’s about to roll up and park on your front lawn; this is gaming’s Pixar. How Abe never saw a film treatment (or has he…?) I do not know, but with Stranger they’ve hit pay dirt. Either that or I’m just overly starved for original content…

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Point of Interest

Microsoft Game Studios actually gave this game up, like a big fat Christmas gift basket for EA… What’s that about?

System: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available: January


INTERVIEW

Lorne Lanning
president and creative director
Oddworld Inhabitants

Play: As much as I loved Munch’s Odyssey (and I loved it long time), I’ve always hoped Oddworld would turn its attention to action/adventure, having perfected cause and effect. What finally sparked the change?

Lorne Lanning: We’ve tried a few play styles in the past, and this round we wanted something more intense and deeper. We wanted to focus on a more action-based character and play style while adding an entertaining twist to the shooting genre.

Play: You couldn’t have picked a better theme or designed a better universe. How’d you arrive at a critter populated neo-Western?

Lorne Lanning: We felt that a Western-inspired theme was a natural setting for us to expand Oddworld toward more intense action. The idea of dusty towns, outlaws, ignorant settlers, displaced peoples, greedy industry barons, genocide… these go quite naturally with the brand we’ve established and it was a solid theme to play off of for introducing a bounty hunting hero. We also loved the gunfights of the Sergio Leone movies, and we wanted that extended sense of shootout, not just shoot and cancel, to create more prolonged conflicts with more persistent enemies.

Play: How much planning goes into a universe of this size and scope?

Lorne Lanning: Too much, I think, and we need more sleep! If you look at the book that Ballistic Publishing has just released through their website, “The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years,” you’ll find that it goes into a tremendous amount of detail and insight into how we think about our designs and where the inspiration comes from. This book means a lot to us because it reveals the degree of depth that we’ve gone through to come up with these concepts and designs.

Play: Within the first few minutes of the game, you rewrite the rules (as only you can) by letting us trap our own “live” ammo. What a stroke of genius this is, using critters for various deeds… Who came up with this one?

Lorne Lanning: We try to harness the creativity of the team by brainstorming and tossing challenging concepts at them. With live ammo, I knew that the idea was a potential winner. I had a few specific ideas of what types of critters could do what, and the basic concept of how you would acquire them, but it needed a lot of discussion and creativity brought to it to make it something fully viable for an extended period of time. An idea is just a spark that needs a team behind it to fuel it into a fire. If it doesn’t get that fuel… it’s likely to fizzle.

Play: You’ve also, once again, raised the bar on voice acting, depth of character, character design and ambience. Is this the one that will finally see big-time merchandising and perhaps a film treatment?

Lorne Lanning: Really happy to hear that you like the voices. A few more people on the team really stepped up to the plate and brought a lot to the voice mix this round. We had fun doing it, and I think that will come across when people play it. Per merchandising and film treatments… All of that would be great and we’d love to see it happen if it can be done with quality, but you know what they say about counting chickens. I will say that there is a finished Abe screenplay.

Play: Ah-ha! Looking at the success of The Incredibles, a PG-rated CG film on either would certainly seem timely, and EA certainly has the muscle… Would it be in conjunction with a Pixar, Blue Sky, etc., or are you equipped to take on such a project in-house?

Lorne Lanning: We’ve been in discussions with Hollywood studios and there has been a lot of interest and excitement. There are several ways it could be done, and we’re still exploring various options. The most desirable to us, of course, is to build the digital film CG studio that we’ve always wanted. We could have optioned Abe long ago, but that would have lessened our role in the process to bring it to the screen and we believe that our vision of the film would be something unique and special and something that would be very difficult for someone else to deliver. So we’re being patient on this front and holding onto the dream rather than putting up our characters for adoption.

Play: Have you retained some level of creative control on such endeavors?

Lorne Lanning: We’ve worked long and hard to retain control of our property, but once someone actually forks over the cash to make a major motion picture happen, well, that’s an agreement that has yet to be inked. When you get into movie budgets and dealing with Hollywood, creative control can exist to a certain degree? The more you can convince them that what you are creating is viable, the more creative control you may have, but no directors get absolute control over movie productions (including great directors like Martin Scorsese and [Francis Ford] Coppola), unless it’s completely low budget or they’re paying for it themselves (like George Lucas has been doing).

Play: Good luck buttoning up the game. We’re sure it’s going to be a huge success.

Lorne Lanning: Ahhhh, may your words prove prophetic. We hope you’re right and, as always, we thank you for the support.