abe's oddysee

Finding the Source: A Brief History of Oddworld’s “Lost Code”

Earlier this week, Oddworld Inhabitants made a groundbreaking announcement that a huge cache of archived Oddworld material had been found, which included the source code for Abe’s Oddysee, something that was believed to be lost—or, rather, unworkable—for many years. Today I thought we would take a moment to talk about the bewildering history of Oddworld’s source code, what it means, and the implications of this announcement.

ssae0006
This “HD Screenshot” of Abe’s Exoddus, which was used for promotional purposes, is believed to utilise the original, uncompressed, high-quality assets.

When Oddworld Inhabitants partnered with JAW, rumour quickly spread around the internet concerning a polished, HD upgrade of the two original Oddworld titles. Upon shaking hands with Stewart Gilray, Lorne Lanning handed the entire Oddworld archive over to JAW, which included thousands of discs worth of footage—at least 15 TB of data were collected by the team, all of which was preserved by Lanning et al during the closure of Oddworld Inhabitants in 2005. On those discs were models, assets, audio, and documents, ranging from Abe’s Oddysee to the unreleased Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot.[1] Gilray also declared that JAW had access to the source code from the first two games:

We’ve got the source code to both Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus. However, we don’t have final PSone code for Oddysee, and no PC code, but we have final PC code for Exoddus, and no PSone code. So we’ve got a mix.[2]

Of course, one must then beg the question that if JAW had access to the source code all along, why would they opt to build a remake from the ground up when a polished version of Oddysee and Exoddus would have performed with equal eminence, if not more? The answer is one of practicality and accessibility. In simple terms, the software used to create Oddysee and Exoddus is so archaic when compared to modern technology that the team could not find a way to work with the archived source. [3][4] JAW even reached out to some members of the original design team to try and understand how the old builds operated, yet even these high-profile veterans were stumped with the state of the source code.

One of the guys now works at Google in Munich, one works with Rad Game Tools, and another has just done some work with Lorne Lanning on his non-game related project.[5]

We must remember that the original Oddworld games were a helter-skelter mess from a design perspective. While the final products embody the spirit of two of the greatest digital experiences of all time, the men and women who were building these games were not seasoned game designers, and would do whatever they needed to do to achieve a result. As such, the code that is left behind was not tailored for posterity’s sake and appears to be quite unorthodox.

The abysmal state of the source code was further confirmed earlier this year when Truant Pixel re-created The Shrink for a new PS4 theme, and discovered challenges in transferring the original build of the geometrically complex character to new software. In layman’s terms, the team had to “selectively isolate and rebuild the model components”, and in some cases had to cover up missing pieces with clever replicas. In the end, it took “a couple of weeks” to update the single model of the Shrink into something that could be manipulated and used in modern software.[6] How long then would it take to update the entire game?

 

boardroom-feat
New ‘n’ Tasty was made because the original source code could not be easily manipulated for modern engines.

 

According to Alex Carroll of Oddworld Inhabitants, Square One is the company responsible for finally cracking the code that might allow the source to be manipulated in a more convenient manner. Carroll claimed that the narrative of the discovery was quite fascinating, saying further that:

We’re working closely with Square One who are technical wizards at this sort of stuff. Some of the source was actually missing but they’ve done an amazing job at getting it all recompiled, given the age of the tools and the code.[7]

Beyond the complexity of the source code, however, there is also the issue of the raw assets themselves. While there a couple of exceptions, such as the large matte painting of RuptureFarms, which was a digital construction produced by Steven Olds and used for the FMV sequences of Abe’s Oddysee, the majority of the assets from the original two games lack the quality to be updated into anything acceptable by modern standards. For this reason, not a single code of the original game was inherited by New ’n’ Tasty’s updated engine.

The old backgrounds are 640 × 240. We really can’t go backwards in quality.[8]

What does it mean, therefore, that Oddworld Inhabitants now has open access to the original source code of Abe’s Oddysee? Even if the code can now be manipulated, would it even be worthwhile to attempt a polished version of the two original games when the quality can only be improved so much. It has certainly been proved—take a look at the Happy Hol-ODD Days Christmas Card for proof—that the old sprites and animations can potentially be used to create a familiar, if limited, experience, but what is the extent of these ancient assets? How far can they be feasibly stretched? Is it really possible to bring a venerable version of Abe HD to the next generation of consoles and appease those who were disheartened with New ’n’ Tasty? I’m not sure it will be so easy, but time will tell.

One thing is for sure, we can now finally stop quipping about how the source code fell out of Lanning’s back pocket during brunch.

References

[1] Stewart Gilray, The Making of Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD (https://magogonthemarch.com/the-making-of-oddworld-strangers-wrath-hd/)
[2] Stewart Gilray, Oddworld Forums — Oddbox: AO & AE at higher resolution (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=473849&postcount=20)
[3] "Glitch", Oddworld Forums — Happy Hol-ODD Days 2011! (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=523883&postcount=51)
[4] Lorne Lanning, Reddit AMA with Lorne Lanning & Stewart Gilray  (https://magogonthemarch.com/qa/reddit-ama-2012/)
[5] Stewart Gilray, A glimpse into the future of Oddworld  (https://www.destructoid.com/a-glimpse-into-the-future-of-oddworld-248708.phtml)
[6] Unknown Truant Pixel Employee, Oddworld: Rebuilding "The Shrink" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jwSdzKcJBM&feature=youtu.be)
[7] Alex Carroll, The Official Oddworld Inhabitants Discord (Posted by OWI_Alex on 5/12/17 at 2:10 PM)
[8] William Bunce-Edwards, Oddworld Forums — Abe HD (http://www.oddworldforums.net/showpost.php?p=527739&postcount=154)
abe's oddysee

Abe’s Oddysee: A Case of the Parasites

In Lorne Lanning’s recent interview with Caddicarus, the creative mastermind behind Oddworld likened the dense mythology of the series to an onion, boasting many layers for the audience to sift through, always uncovering something new once they believed they had reached bedrock. Lanning claims that the audience’s level of engagement is inspired by the amount of work that a creator injects into their work to create the foundation of a world that is both interesting and believable.

Alas, only the tips of these lore-heavy icebergs—or lorebergs, as I call them—are ever uncovered, the bulk of the creator’s efforts hidden beneath the surface to maintain the sanctity of the world they support.  Sometimes, however, the ocean currents shift, the elements do their mystical dance, and Climate Change plays its part to make a few of these lorebergs sweat and reveal a piece of mythology that was potentially staring us in the face the whole time.

If we turn back the clock to ’97 and boot up our brand new copy of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, we’re greeted with one of the most breathtaking introductions to the Sony Playstation. We drift through the dystopian paradise of RuptureFarms, riding the miserable wavelength of Abe’s voice, until we find ourselves in the belly of the beast at the RuptureFarms Annual Board Meeting where the infamous mudokon floor waxer comes face-to-face with destiny.

The visual presentation at the Board Meeting, presented by Molluck and his trusty slig secretary, is bare-bones compared to the New ’n’ Tasty version, which is brimming with nuggets of lore that we will decipher in a future article. The slides serve a curt purpose of exposition, telling us what we need to know, i.e. the profits are falling and something needs to be done.

Yet there is a small detail that has rarely come up in conversation over the past twenty years, seen on the side of the sale statistic pages:

Molluck.png

What could those symbols be? They almost look like insignias. Are they just decoration? I’m not so sure, for the following reason. Under each symbol is a short excerpt of unintelligible writing, and each excerpt is a different length. This suggests some sort of description or dialogue, perhaps commentary. But what entities could possibly be commentating on the statistics presented at the RuptureFarms Board Meeting who aren’t already present?

Lorne Lanning has already provided the answer:

Then you have the Glukkons, Vykkers, Gloctigi and Oktigi—the Oktigi are a more powerful as families. So, in Stranger, Sekto is an Oktigi. They’re more primal to the evolution than the Glukkons so they’re not even full land‐forms yet. They’re parasites. When we do make the movie and you see the boardrooms of the Magog Cartel, they’re all modelled after parasites, leeches, flees, ticks… but they’ll be sitting there in Armani suits.

— Lorne Lanning, Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning

They do look strikingly parasitic, don’t they? The last one even looks suspiciously like an octigi! And if we interpret Lanning’s vision for the abandoned Oddworld film and apply it to what we’ve seen in the games, it’s not hard to apply these symbols seen in the RuptureFarms Board Meeting to corresponding investors, providing feedback and commentary on the state of the company’s performance from their luxury suites in Nolybab.

What do you think? Have we already seen a glimpse of the investors? Was this why the symbols were sorrowfully missed in the revamped introduction of New ‘n’ Tasty, because their appearance so soon could be construed as a spoiler? Perhaps we can infer their prodigious appearance from their symbols. Or perhaps we could choose not to, otherwise we might all have nightmares. After all, we all know that powerful entities control the fabric of Oddworld, and the price of failure is steep:

There are scenes in the film I want to do where Mullock, after he fucked up and he’s being taken to the boss and he passes his mom who says “You blew it,” and he has to go down and meet the investors. They live underground; like how I said about how the world is separated. He takes an elevator ride down 1700 storeys and a little midget guys picks you up as an escort, but as you go down and the temperature increases, they’re getting bigger and bigger, while the security guards from up above are dying and sweltering from the heat.

— Lorne Lanning, Nathan Interviews Lorne Lanning Again

soulstorm

A Quintology of Errors: Soulstorm & Greater Oddworld Lore

For the first time since Soulstorm’s announcement in early-2016, Lorne Lanning has spoken openly and in great detail about Oddworld’s upcoming release, which is touted as a successor to the original game, Abe’s Oddysee, and a spiritual remake of the classic Abe’s Exoddus. What is being described as a “revolutionary” title was finally unveiled at the EGX 2017 keynote, and while no footage of Soulstorm was explicitly shown, Lanning provided an interesting exposé on what to expect from the final game.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 4.24.37 am
A storm is brewing at the new and improved Soulstorm Brewery.

 

The most poignant aspect of Lanning’s entire keynote was Soulstorm’s status within the fabled Quintology. As most Oddworld Inhabitants fans know, the Quintology was always slated to be a five-act experience, beginning with Abe’s Oddysee, followed closely behind by Munch’s Oddysee, then Squeek’s Oddysee, and two final episodes that were never announced or even spoken about. Each of these acts would simultaneously introduce a new hero within the Oddworld mythos—starting with Abe—while exposing the complex and seemingly endless socio-political structure of the grandiose powers that control Abe’s world. Of course, as has been well-documented, plans changed, which began when Abe’s Exoddus was unexpectedly released the year after Oddworld Inhabitants debut title.

Abe’s Exoddus—which is the foundation for the upcoming Soulstorm, or the “backbone” as Lanning describes it—was not an official entry in the Quintology. While the story picked up immediately from the ending of Abe’s Oddysee, it was always described as a “Bonus Game”, intrinsically linked to the first act of the Quintology. The biggest contributing factor to Abe’s Exoddus’ status as a “Bonus Game” is its thematic value, which relies heavily on the beats from its predecessor, and does very little to advance the overall story. Essentially, from a storytelling perspective, if you’ve experienced Abe’s Oddysee, you’re not missing much from Abe’s Exoddus.

Surprisingly, this is changing with Soulstorm; Lanning states it will be the second part of the Quintology. This is not a small decision. The fallout from this alteration has ramifications for the entire series, which is still implied to be told over five acts. This, of course, means that one of the planned acts has to go, and based upon the many snippets revealed throughout the EGX keynote, it seems very likely that anything of any value from Munch’s Oddysee has been preserved and rejiggered into Soulstorm’s framework, sans our little lonely gabbit.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 4.09.51 am.png
Molluck the Glukkon is back, a character who was not slated to return until his trial against Lady Margaret in Munch’s Oddysee!

 

Not only will the vykkers make an appearance—supposedly as the architects behind the eponymous beverage—Oddworld’s larger socio-politcal structure, which Lanning has never spoken about publicly before, and the power struggle of this daunting, pyramidal scheme will finally have an influence upon the ongoing Oddworld story. He hints at the higher powers, those who tower over Molluck the Glukkon, preparing the audience for the revelation that someone as seemingly influential as the mastermind behind Mudokon Pops is nothing but a puppet on a very long ladder to “The Eye”.

During the keynote, Lanning also begins to detail the waves of revolution and the cone of trepidation that will ripple out as a consequence of Abe’s actions at RuptureFarms. The closure of the worlds largest meat processing plant is going to shake the foundations of the pyramid, causing a great deal of concern for the many investors with stock in the company and reflected upon the average consumer, pushing up prices on all their favourite tasty treats. This is notable because previous Oddworld games have barely hinted at the larger economic ramifications of Abe actions, yet Soulstorm seems to be setting the stage for the fires of rebellion and the eventual collapse of this socio-political system, the original thread of the Quintology that never really came to the forefront.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 3.23.47 am.png
Oddworld’s foundations will be shaken to its core.

 

The great irony, however, is that Abe never intended to spark a rebellion; he never intended to fracture the pyramid. He only sought to preserve himself from being chopped up into a Sunday snack, yet the unintended consequences of his actions have branded him a terrorist, placing him in the crosshairs of everyone towering above him.

As Lanning so eloquently puts it:

He’s raising prices of your Happy Meal! He’s gotta go!

Yet that is the fabric of Oddworld, a twisted version of our own corrupt system, and it’s wonderful to see these facets come into the light after dwelling for so long in the darkness. It certainly provides Soulstorm with a platform to show everyone what Oddworld really has to offer beyond the dark aesthetics and the slapstick comedy.