Date: January, 2012 Interviewer: David Crookes Interviewee: Lorne Lanning Source: Retro Gamer, Issue 98, pp. 78-79
With Stranger’s Wrath set for an HD release, Mudoken slave expert and series creator Lorne Lanning talks to David Crookes about the first game’s deep and dark origins
RG: You made Oddworld at a time when 3D was becoming the norm. Why did you stick with 2D?
LL: At the time, 3D on the PlayStation was very crude. We couldn’t get the degree of animation smoothness and rich environments that we were after, had we developed a 3D game back then. So we decided to build all of our assets in 3D and then pre-render all of the bitmaps for the game. The game was 2.5D, but is image depth and detail gave it a richer look than what we could have achieved in real-time 3D at that time.
RG: Did other videogames inspire Oddworld?
LL: They did. I was inspired by games that drew us in with their stories and realistic characters – games like Out Of This World [Another World], Prince Of Persia and Flashback made us feel like we were playing living characters as opposed to moving pieces of digital art around the screen. Then the fully visualised world of Myst showed us that film-like production quality could be a draw in itself. So we wanted to bring those lifelike characters with relevant stories into fully realised worlds that, if executed well, could sustain some degree of disbelief and wonder.
RG: What sort of overall vision was there for the game?
LL: It was to birth an ’empathy over aggression’ lead character who lived in a world that would mirror the dilemmas of our own world. He would have to use his brains because he lacked the brawn, and be someone who would appeal to young and old and male and female alike. It was also an experience that we wanted people to become engrossed in, not just for the challenge but for the story – yet the story had to be more than just an excuse for gameplay, which is how I felt about many stories in games at that point in time.
RG: Oddworld‘s humour was an important aspect of the game. What was behind the decision to allow the lead character to speak, snarl and fart, for instance?
LL: Considering that the nature of our stories would be quite dark, it seemed necessary to offset the dark themes with lighthearted humour that would continually remind the audience to not take us too seriously and have fun. If you get the deeper meanings, great! If not, so what? You should still have a great time playing. The Simpsons does this incredibly well. So does The Daily Show here in America. It’s a spoof news show on Comedy Central, but it is largely recognised as the only TV news outlet that is actually reporting on what is really happening and calling out the lies of those in power (which our corporate media have increasingly refused to do). The point is: you can talk about a lot of issues and the public is willing to ride along, so long as you don’t get up on a soap box and forget that you’re making entertainment.
RG: How did you go about making the game?
LL: The story was created first. Then the characters were designed by Steve Olds. We chopped and changed the way we wanted them to look many times. They had to be right and display the feelings that the game was trying to put across. The first thing we did, however, was produce the cinematic opening. It had to have a major impact on the player because we wanted to show this off to gamers as early as possible. That effectively was our demo that would make players stand back in awe. But we also knew that we couldn’t stop there, and that we had to get the gameplay established early in the development, because only then would be be able to satisfy the investors and gain the right level of interest to see the project through to fruition.
RG: Who came up with the plot?
LL: I did, although I would bounce a lot of ideas off of the crew and Paul O’Conner [the game’s designer] to see what resonated or see what we could practically change in times of production crisis. From the start, I wrote the game as if it was a film. The effects. So audio was an integral part of development from the very beginning. We were looking for a tactile-sounding world that was more like an epic film soundtrack rather than a videogame. I always consider audio to be 5O per cent of the image.
RG: The game was criticsed for its save system, and that this led to a great deal of trial and error. Was that a mistake, in hindsight?
LL: We were trying to fix it up until the very end, but we just didn’t have the time and the save code was pretty lame. We did fix it perfectly for Abe’s Exoddus, which released one year later, so we tried to make up for it.
RG: Why did you decide on a flick-screen system rather than a scroller?
LL: Scrollers felt too gamey and bouncy for Abe. They felt more like cartoons or Mario and not as serious as we wanted Abe to come across. Flipping screens made the world feel more stable and focused more attention on the lead character. This gave it a very different feel from scrollers, and made it seem more like locked off shots from a film.
RG: How did you come up with the game’s puzzles?
LL: We pulled teeth trying to create more and more of them with the limited programming resources we had. It was basically a creative process, and we wanted all of the puzzles and enemies to be relative to the story and condition of the world. We also wanted to twist the idea of rescuing as a priority over killing so the idea that you had to lead characters through hazards to save them was to create a tension that made you feel more responsible for those you were supposed to save. This was not a common play pattern, and so we wanted to explore the feeling of tension when you’re taking responsibility for others in a dangerous and hostile environment. We also wanted your mishaps to be funny, albeit a bit sick and twisted.
RG: Did you always envisage Oddworld becoming a series?
LL: I always saw Abe as a five-part story, which we called The Oddworld Quintology.
CHANT AND KILL
KILLING THE ENEMY in Oddworld was not just a simple case of shoot and move on. Abe could chant and take over the evil Sligs, then watch them explode. “The problem was that we refused to allow Abe carry a gun,” says Lorne. “We did not want to see him represented this way. So we had to conceive of a way that the gamer could have some great shootouts and dynamic battle action without actually having Abe be the vehicle for destruction. Our solution needed to be something that was core to his indigenous origins and the mystical ways of his ancestors. Utlimately, we figured out the possession play mechanic. If he possessed a character, he would be able to use their abilities while never sacrificing the image of his more peaceful persona. Once you de-possessed, you made the choice not to have the possessed abilities any longer. It was a tough problem to crack, but the solution worked.”