interview

MOM Interview: Stewart Gilray

It is a big day for us at Magog on the March, for we finally take our own place in the annals of the Oddworld Archives with our very first interview. Today we were able to ask a few questions to Stewart Gilray, CEO of JAW Ltd., the man responsible for bringing the Oddworld series back from an extended period of hibernation with the well-received HD Remake of Abe’s Oddysee. Gilray was gracious enough to answer our questions, and we want to thank him for his time and willingness. It was very gracious of him.

stewart-gilray1

Magog on the March: We know that you’re an absolute fan of the original Oddworld games. Fans, however, have noticed that there’s quite a difference in the atmosphere between “New ’n’ Tasty” and the original “Abe’s Oddysee”. We believe this was a deliberate choice, and would like to know if this was an aesthetic decision made by JAW or under Lanning’s advice.

Stewart Gilray: Oh all the changes were directed by Lorne. We put some stuff forward, but the look, feel was definitely driven by Lorne.

Magog on the March: Do you believe that “New ’n’ Tasty” is what “Abe’s Oddysee” was supposed to be if the technology was available at the time?

Stewart Gilray: I don’t know to be honest, it wasn’t something Lorne and I ever spoke about. But I can’t answer for him.

Magog on the March: What do you think was the greatest success of “New ’n’ Tasty”? Conversely, where do you believe the final game could have been improved?

Stewart Gilray: I was pretty happy with the game, I think the greatest success was that the game was as well received as it was, bearing in mind the development team was only 13 or 14 people at JAW, with a couple of other externals. So a very small team. In terms of improvement, I would have loved it to run at 60fps all the time, but that’s just a personal preference.

Magog on the March: What was the origin behind Alf’s Escape? Was it a planned addition to “New ’n’ Tasty” at conception (the rumoured “Alf’s Oddysee”) and a necessary part of the Oddworld story or was it designed to take further advantage of the new assets and engine?

Stewart Gilray: It came out of various conversations, whilst it wasn’t planned at the start, the intention was to have some DLC levels post-release, and that’s what the guys built.

Magog on the March: Where is the special slig that you spoke about in “New ‘n’ Tasty”? Is it, perhaps, the slig boozing at Alf’s Bar, that may or may not be albino? The lighting makes it difficult to tell!

Stewart Gilray: It might be. You know who the albino slig is, don’t you?

Magog on the March: Lorne Lanning has spoken previously about a deleted scene from the original “Abe’s Oddysee” that depicted the Mudokon Moon being formed by a meteor shower as Abe escapes RuptureFarms. Was there ever a discussion to include this scene in “New ’n’ Tasty”?

Stewart Gilray: Not that I can remember, but bear in mind our first discussions on NnT or “Abe HD” were in 2011.

Magog on the March: Feel free to respond to this question: What happened between JAW and Oddworld Inhabitants?

Stewart Gilray: We’d worked with Oddworld for 4–5 years and really wanted a change, a chance to work on something different, and Oddworld wanted to move future development closer to “home” for them. It was a mutual decision.

Magog on the March: We don’t know if you’re aware, but it has recently been announced by Oddworld Inhabitants that the original source code for “Abe’s Oddysee” has been found and a team is currently working on it. Both yourself and Lanning spoke about the abysmal state of the source code in the lead-up to “New ’n’ Tasty”, and we we’re hoping you could share your own experiences trying to crack the code. Additionally, do you personally believe that a version of Abe HD, using the original assets, could ever be possible?

Stewart Gilray: We spent months going through archives and by the time we’d finished we had the source to Exoddus, and the assets for Oddysee, but not the source for Oddysee or assets for Exoddus… If they have found the source for Oddysee, I’m glad and can’t wait to see if they manage anything with them. In terms of an HD version of the original, I really don’t know to be honest. We had 640×480 assets for some of it, but nothing above that resolution.

Magog on the March: With the announcement of “Soulstorm”—a direct sequel to “New ’n’ Tasty” and retelling of the original “Abe’s Exoddus”—the future of the original Oddworld Quintology seems uncertain. We know that you had hoped to see the Quintology finally completed. As both a fan and the man responsible for the rebirth of the Oddworld franchise, what is your take on “Soulstorm” and this new altered Quintology?

Stewart Gilray: I know nothing about Soulstorm other than what’s public, so like you, I’m equally excited to see it and play it. It’ll be fun to play a new Oddworld release that I’ve—we’ve—not been a part of. As for the Quintology, no idea. I WOULD love to see it finished, as a fan.

Magog on the March: How serious were the discussions to finally develop “Hand of Odd” and other abandoned Oddworld games, such as “Fangus”?

Stewart Gilray: Lorne and I spent a lot of travel time talking about Hand of Odd, and we had some ideas for it. I’m not sure if it will ever be un-shelved. As for Fangus, having seen the assets and the project, I would LOVE to have seen it finished, no idea if it ever will though.

Magog on the March: Based on your close relationship with all of the Oddworld archives, out of all the games that never saw the light of day, which one would you love to play the most? Why?

Stewart Gilray: Right now that’s still Fangus, as it was the followup, NOT the sequel to Stranger, and I love Stranger.

Magog on the March: Who is Squeek?

Stewart Gilray: If I told you, I’d have to kill you.

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.

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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?

 

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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)