Date: March - April 2014 Author: Brady Fiechter Source: RETRO Video Game Magazine, Issue 2, pp. 38-39.
Lorne Lanning, the creator of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, calls his upcoming Oddysee remake “nostalgilicious.” The fans demanded a return to the dusky world of the 1997 PlayStation original, and three generations of console advancements and a revised subtitle (New ‘n’ Tasty) later, the results are, at the very least, nostalgilicious.
Lanning explains a bit more: “We decided to do something that isn’t yet common. We decided to remake on contemporary technology, but keep the original storyline and game design layout. We wanted to richen the feeling of ‘being there’ in a homage to this classic.”
Balance issues, a more natural gameplay progression, flip-screens that were once dictated by old-school loading issues now being framed in continuous flow—tweaks are in place, and you can certainly pick out the bits of tech that make it a 2014 production.
Beyond obvious advancements, there are a few surprises in store for longtime fans. As Lanning explains it, “some in gameplay, some in cinematics, some in visual effects, gamespeak, guest voices, etc. We think it’s adding up, but I’m not going to spell it out. We’re leaving it for the gamers to discover. If they think it sucks, we’ll know pretty quickly and then I’ll calling you for a paying job.”
The original game really was an unusual achievement for its time. The imaginations responsible for the aesthetic qualities came from various Hollywood backgrounds; the design side had a lot of Silicon Valley game-development history. “Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus were unique in that these games were two of those rare titles where the original assets were built and textured at a close-to-film resolution level, and all in pre-rendered formats (Alias software circa 1994),” points out Lanning. “And you need to remember that the game was being developed before Toy Story came out.”
And its political allusions and slave-labor themes added gravity to the puzzle/adventure mechanics. In that respect, Abe was in a camp of his own.
Here is a game that still works today. But how well it does so, as Lanning noted, is up to us to discover for ourselves after the final retrofitting. I invite this approach to reliving games that we loved in the past, and I invite a good debate. But what might Lanning say to someone who thinks this a lazy way of doing things?
“The emphasis should be on the quality and longevity of experience against the relatively low cost of the game, which is our core value offering as a self-published indie,” begins Lanning. “We aim to deliver a unique experience for great value at a great price. Anyone accusing us of being lazy can piss off with their piss-ant depth of game development experience, and anyone who knows game dev will know that a team of people put their heart and soul into this experience.
“Instead, we’re aiming for people that enjoy quality, crafted, unique experiences in rare forms of content that understand the value and rarity in our offering. We’re submitting into a category of hard-to-find gems that are beneath the radar of the major publishers today. We’re aiming for people who do their homework on games before they buy them, trust a brand of quality, and enjoy a developer’s devotion to artistry and craftsmanship in the gaming experiences they deliver. That may sound like some marketing jive but the fact is it’s right on target with our philosophy and commitment.”
beyond his team’s focus on a pure Oddworld experience, they also have some understandable financial concerns to take into account, an element Lanning says keeps them squarely focused on the game’s lineage. “We’re delivering against a very modest budget which is no walk in the park,” he says. “But this team has been putting heart and soul into the game to deliver the best experience they possibly can, and being that the team is fans of the original and composed of hardcore gamers, we’re betting that the original fans will be happy with the results while newcomers will find it equally enjoyable and a rare treat.”
As to whether or not this passion project will resonate with the masses, Lanning seems aggressively indifferent. “At the end of the day, the game will ultimately speak for itself, and personally I can’t stand listening to marketing shills brag about how fantabulous their new product is and why it’s better than all the other offerings in the genre and blah, blah, blah…zzzzzz. Haven’t we hear it a million times already from the same talking heads? We’d rather be treating gaming content more like music or movie recommendations. If you like ours, then you might like these other games, too. If you like Oddworld, you may really like Trine 2, Octodad, Limbo, Mushroom Men, the BioShock series, etc, etc, etc. More Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes-style recommending with less ‘us vs. them.'”
It’s a change that seems natural in other spaces, but one that Oddworld sees as a pivotal transition for smaller developers: Less about taking down “the establishment,” Lanning sees it as an opportunity for liberation from an all-too-familiar machine. “We want to see indies survive and thrive and continue to make more games that take chances and offer a wider variety of experiences for people. We don’t want to ‘beat them.’ We just aren’t seeing the landscape that way today. I also think intelligent people are just getting so tired of the standard competitive PR BS with the blabber spewing out from pre-scripted marketing departments delivered by sales people that jump from crappy albeit enormous sugared water companies into game companies that are hoping to salvage their sinking stock values, and then these shallow personalities jump ship to sporting goods companies. Aren’t we getting tired of the people who really don’t know, care, or believe in what they are selling? Those that read the script and pimp whatever they’re paid to hustle with all the smiles and fancy rhetoric. Maybe it’s just me, but it all seems so increasingly and blindingly transparent these days as the trend grows increasingly blatant in gaming.”