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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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