Interview With Oddworld Inhabitants

   The following interview was conducted with Oddworld Inhabitants' co-
founder and president, Lorne Lanning.  To read an interview with Lorne that 
I conducted last year, click here.

Ivan Trembow: Since the last time I interviewed you about a year ago, what 
have been the biggest accomplishments in the development of Oddworld: 
Munch's Oddysee?

Lorne Lanning: It would probably have to be the AI system that we've 
developed.  It's very exciting and extremely powerful.  We've been aiming 
for a convincing sense of life for our characters and simulations.  It's 
taken a lot of planning and problem-solving, but we've got it up and running
and it's awesome.  

Ivan: What have been the biggest pitfalls in Munch's development from a game
design standpoint?

Lorne: The actual game design was well established on this project a long
time ago.  The thing that's been difficult is getting all the tools written 
for the game designers to use.  Game design is often at the mercy of 
programming because the designers can't fully lay-out or build scenarios 
unless the game mechanics have already been programmed.  And of course, the 
game mechanics are never fully programmed until near the end of the project.
This is always a challenging reality of game design that we have to deal 

Ivan: Is Munch's June 2001 release date pretty much set in stone, or is that
a tentative release date?

Lorne: That is the delivery date for the PlayStation 2 version.

Ivan: It's been no secret that Oddworld Inhabitants has encountered a 
multitude of shortcomings in the PlayStation 2's hardware.  What 
specifically have been the problems, and how have you been able to work past

Lorne: Well, the more ambitious you're trying to be and the higher your 
standards are with a game, the more potholes you're going to find in the 
system.  When we found these potholes in the PS2, some of them caused design
changes because the system wasn't delivering what we thought it could.  
   Other problems were solvable, but we had to invest time and money in 
areas that completely surprised us.  All of the surprise costs or diversions
ultimately came out of the game's budget.  Some of these were projected and 
expected because it's a new system, and others were more debatable.  As a 
developer, I'd rather be putting money into the game rather than hardware 

Ivan: Would do you think might have have been Sony's rationale behind such 
technical choices as only giving the system 4MB of video RAM?

Lorne: I have no idea.  If the hardware designers had asked good game 
developers, "What kind of system would you like to have?" it's hard to 
believe that we'd still be looking at the same configuration of hardware.

Ivan: Has it ever popped into your mind while struggling with the PS2's 
hardware that you could abandon the PS2 for the seemingly greener pastures 
of the Xbox?

Lorne: Yes, but who's going to pay the bills while waiting for the Xbox?

Ivan: Regardless of your long-term PS2 plans, do you plan on making games 
for the Xbox at some point?

Lorne: The Xbox looks extremely exciting and it's our desire to take full 
advantage of it.

Ivan: Are you aiming to give Munch's Oddysee a higher or lower level of 
difficulty than Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, or will it be about the 
same in terms of difficulty?

Lorne: In the past, our games have been more difficult than we would have 
liked them to be.  With Munch's Oddysee, we're striving for a balance that 
increases the immersion and fun factor while reducing the frustration 
factor.  The menu screen will have multiple difficulty levels, and the 
controls have been simplified greatly while giving the player more abilities
at the same time.  The characters move around more smoothly and feel more 
intuitive to control.  
   We've spent a lot of time insuring that Munch's Oddysee doesn't let you 
get caught in conditions that leave you stranded or stuck just because you
don't have the twitch ability for some particular challenge.  If you 
encounter something that seems too difficult, there are always going to be 
ways around it, ways to avoid it, or alternative solutions.

Ivan: You told me in our last interview that The Hand of Odd would probably 
be released six to nine months after Munch's Oddysee.  Has development on 
The Hand of Odd stopped or at least slowed down so that you can focus on 
finishing Munch, or are you still working on both games simultaneously?

Lorne: Both games have the same core of technology.  Munch is the title that
proves this technology, and Hand of Odd is the title that will take it 
further into the multi-player zone.  The problem is that the infrastructure 
for online console games has yet to reveal itself with solid clarity, so 
until it does, we're going to be focusing on Munch's Oddysee and Munch's 
Exoddus much more than The Hand of Odd.  As soon as we have a solid online 
model for a particular console system that works for us, then we'll be 
putting efforts right back into Hand of Odd.
Ivan: The last time we talked, you spoke as if The Hand of Odd was a 
definite PlayStation 2 game.  Is there now a possibility that it will be 
released for other systems instead?

Lorne: Yes.  Hand of Odd will be released, but what system it will be on is 
currently undecided.

Ivan: I remember hearing a couple of years ago that Oddworld was working on 
a full-length feature film set in the Oddworld universe, but I haven't heard
anything on it since.  Is it still in the works?

Lorne: We have been and continue to be in talks discussing the Oddworld 
movie, but nothing has officially started yet.  We're not in a big hurry.  
We have serious ambitions when it comes to what Oddworld should be when it's
on the big screen.

Ivan: Do you find that it's a delicate balance to release info on Munch to 
keep the press interested while still saving surprises for gamers to 
experience on their own?  What do you think is the best way to maintain that

Lorne: The balance is in not giving it all away.  With a deep, rich, and new
type of game like Munch's Oddysee, it's a lot better to surprise gamers when
they actually play it, even if you told them a lot about the game leading up
to its release.

Ivan: Shortly before the Game Cube was announced, you told Hyper Magazine, 
"Nintendo has made it clear that they are a toy company only and have no 
interest in being a true media entertainment company."  What specifically 
makes you have these opinions about Nintendo?

Lorne: Well, when you're a hardware manufacturer and you keep on hinting at 
unique, hybrid storage devices for your new system, I wonder where your 
interests are coming from.  One example is that developers shouldn't be 
negotiating how much memory their game can have in it like developers did in
the SNES era and still do with the N64, only to be blind-sided by games like
Star Fox and Zelda 64 that have special technology packed into the 
   This is technology embedded into the cartridge that third-party 
developers aren't given access to.  This type of business model has served 
Nintendo well in giving some of its own games advantages over third-party 
games that are competing in the same marketplace.  One company shouldn't be 
able to one-up the delivery system for its products, while other companies 
are forced to adhere to a status quo standard.  
   This isn't the business model of an entertainment company, this is the 
model of a consumer electronics or toy company.  No real entertainment 
medium is dictated by a hardware company that much.  Think about it.  That's
like Panavision telling a major film studio to cut out certain parts of a 
movie.  It's like Kodak making the rules as to what can be shot on their 

Ivan: What were your thoughts on Nintendo's Game Cube announcement?  Did it 
change your mind about Nintendo a little bit, or did it reinforce your 
previous beliefs?

Lorne: It sounds like a very specially-designed hybrid system that will now 
use DVD.  It seems like it could include some of the right steps into a more
appealing direction.

Ivan: How has Oddworld been affected by Infogrames' buy-out of GT 

Lorne: Very little.  Our relationship with GT was good, and our relationship
with Infogrames is good.

Ivan: Most games that combine multiple genres are decent in all genres and 
great in none.  With all the talk of genre-merging in Munch's Oddysee and 
Hand of Odd, do you think that's a risky move to make?  How have you managed
to juggle the strengths and weaknesses of combining multiple genres into one

Lorne: Basically, all of that comes down to creative design and smart 
implementation.  I don't feel that this has been a risky move for us from a 
design standpoint.  If the chemistry of the genre-merging is done well, then
each genre is distilled to simple essences and the overall experience is 
heightened.  This has been a risky move for us from a financial standpoint, 
though, because it takes a lot more work and money to pull off this type of 

Ivan: Will Oddworld be one of the initial pioneers in online console gaming,
or will you wait several years until it's firmly established before jumping 
into the fray?

Lorne: We have been designing for online console gaming for some time now 
and are extremely confident that we have feasible and awesome content, but 
we're not going to rush into releasing our first online console game.  We'll
watch and when the time is right, we'll hit the market full force.  We will 
release pioneering games, but we don't want to be one of those premature 
pioneers who end up with arrows in their backs.

Ivan: What are your thoughts on the Dreamcast?  Do you think that it, 
realistically, has a chance over the long run?

Lorne: It's hard to imagine that it's going to hold up against the new 
consoles that are coming out in the next year.

Ivan: Is there any chance that Oddworld Inhabitants will ever make a 
Dreamcast game?

Lorne: It could happen, but it's highly unlikely that we would develop it 
internally.  Our own sweat and blood is focused on more powerful systems 
that will handle more ambitious games.

Ivan: You have said in the past that Peter Molyneux is the person you admire
most in the gaming industry because of his work on Black & White.  Who are 
the next few people on the list after Peter Molyneux?

Lorne: Miyamoto wears the crown to date for console games, but not for games
that I really enjoy playing personally.  Being a 35-year-old male and not 
caring about rescuing princess Zelda, I would have to say the crew at 
Blizzard.  They build consistently solid games that are always fun and 
challenging.  I also think that Ensemble Studios is a force to watch in the 
coming years.  Richard Garriott also gets big kudos for Ultima Online.  Even
though stronger online games have come along since then, Ultima Online broke
the online mold.

Ivan: You have also said in the past that Black & White is "dabbling with 
several concepts similar to Munch."  What in particular do you see as 
concepts that the two games share?

Lorne: I think it's the elements of being in a persistent universe that 
focuses on a few central characters.  These characters are shaped by the 
gamer in many ways, which in turn influences the behavior of the greater 
majority of the population on the landscape.  Also, both games take into 
account the moral behavior of the gamer and allow the gamer to watch their 
moral decisions manifest in different responses from the game world.  These 
kinds of ideas are going to help define the games of the future.

Ivan: This is a pretty deep-thinking question, but you're a deep-thinking 
kind of guy, so here goes.  On the surface, it seems that the power of the 
next-generation systems allows developers to focus on more creative details 
rather than technical details because the hardware is so powerful that there
aren't as many limits.  Would it be accurate to say that because any half-
decent company can pump out a game with awesome graphics, they won't feel a 
need to focus on gameplay as much?  Or that companies will have to spend so 
much time dealing with all of the PS2's technical problems that they won't 
have enough time to focus on gameplay?

Lorne: If you're dealing with a system like the PS2 where a lot of 
infrastructure code needs to be written, then you're right.  It will be a 
while before you start getting to the really cool, creative stuff.  But with
a system like the Xbox that uses DirectX, you will get to the creative stuff
much sooner.
   Unfortunately, I think we're going to see a lot of disappointing games
that suffer from the pressure of needing to be released before they've been 
able to pull themselves together.  This next generation of consoles is going
to reveal much bigger gaps between developers who can handle the pressure 
and those who just can't cut it.

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