Post Script

In­ter­view: Lorne Lan­ning, co-founder and COO, Od­dworld In­hab­i­tants


Lorne Lan­ning is the co-founder of Od­dworld In­hab­i­tants and the cre­ator of the long-run­ning Od­dworld se­ries. As well as de­sign­ing the games, he wrote their scripts and pro­vided the voices. He’s now work­ing with UK stu­dio Just Add Wa­ter on up­dated ver­sions of Od­dworld games, with a view to cre­at­ing brand-new en­tries in the se­ries in time.

Were you sur­prised that peo­ple asked for an up­date of Abe’s Od­dysee?

I re­ally was. If I were in a vac­uum, try­ing to an­tic­i­pate what peo­ple are go­ing to want, I wouldn’t have an­tic­i­pated this. If you’ve been in the in­dus­try long enough, with the ex­cep­tion of Will Wright, you’ve got­ten pretty beaten up at times. And each time you get beat up, which is ba­si­cally a les­son in the mar­ket­place, it’s kind of like a car crash – you drive a lit­tle more care­fully af­ter­wards. When you’re younger and naïve, you’re like, ‘We’re go­ing to build the big­gest hit. Let’s do it!’ And you just go af­ter it like you’re go­ing af­ter a gold medal. And then ev­ery time you miss, you’re like, ‘Oh, shit, maybe we shouldn’t have gone so strong.’ [Laughs.] You get wiser, and with that you take fewer risks. And with the way the com­pet­i­tive land­scape is to­day, I didn’t even think that Stranger’s Wrath HD would go over as well as it did.

Why did you de­cide to keep Abe’s con­trols more or less dig­i­tal for New ’N’ Tasty?

In the orig­i­nal, we didn’t have [ana­logue] sticks [on the PlayS­ta­tion con­troller], and it was a grid-based game, so Abe would always be stand­ing in a box. That made it even more dif­fi­cult and slug­gish, be­cause you had to hit those points right. If you missed a step, you always missed it by three feet! What we wanted to do in New

’N’ Tasty is make it more physics driven and let play­ers nudge Abe. So in­stead of having walk, sneak and run as three dif­fer­ent com­bos, you have it all on one stick now. I think peo­ple who ap­proach it like an ac­tion game some­times get dis­ap­pointed be­cause they’re for­get­ting that it’s a puzzle game, al­beit a hi­lar­i­ous puzzle game where guys get hor­ri­bly dis­fig­ured if you fail [laughs].

But Abe’s Od­dysee and Ex­od­dus also feel more like fleshed-out worlds than sim­ply be­ing ab­stract plat­form­ers or puz­zlers.

As a genre, I always felt that the sidescrolling plat­former genre was one of the best at be­ing able to give us the im­pres­sion that the char­ac­ters are alive in that world, as silly as that may sound. We still have re­spon­sive con­trols, but it’s less like you’re con­trol­ling a piece of art, and more like you’re con­trol­ling a life form, so you have in­er­tia that you’ve got to deal with.

“If I were in a vac­uum, try­ing to an­tic­i­pate what peo­ple are go­ing to want, I wouldn’t have an­tic­i­pated this”

We want to get that fidelity of an­i­ma­tion, and the re­sponse to not just be pop­ping all the time. That’s some­thing that’s always both­ered me about Miyamoto’s games: I turn the char­ac­ter in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and he doesn’t do any in-be­tweens. He just pops and faces the other way. That re­in­forced to me that I’m not con­trol­ling a life form, but a game. And we were always search­ing for that next level of that. What if we spent time try­ing to build the life­like be­liev­abil­ity between th­ese char­ac­ters through the way that they talk to each other and the way their emo­tions come out? Abe’s Od­dysee was ahead of its time in that it was a plat­former with a so­cial con­science in the ’90s. To­day, ev­ery plat­former seems to have a deeper mes­sage. How do you feel about that? I think it’s awe­some, per­son­ally. Limbo, in par­tic­u­lar, and Braid. When I saw Limbo I felt, in a way, en­vi­ous. It was so haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful. I re­mem­ber I had de­signed a game when we first started Od­dworld, and I was hop­ing it would be­come its own se­ries. It’s some­thing we’ve never even talked about. You were an as­sas­sin, having to go into the Soviet Union and blow up a pre­mier’s speech, and I wanted to do it in this beau­ti­ful ’30s or ’40s film-noirish qual­ity with a lot of shad­ows and just su­per-high-con­trast black and white. And then I saw Limbo and I was just like, “Wow, that’s so gor­geous”. Many peo­ple don’t like to re­visit their past work. How did it feel to so closely re-ex­am­ine some­thing you’d made so long ago? I’m no ex­cep­tion! Truth­fully, I had this fan­tasy that I wouldn’t have to be in­volved. Be­cause largely with Stranger HD, I re­ally wasn’t in­volved – just at an ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative pro­ducer level. Try­ing to let Just Add Wa­ter be au­ton­o­mous, try­ing to give them feed­back, but re­ally hop­ing they could just do it. I think Stranger was a sim­pler case. For this project, at the be­gin­ning, I was hop­ing it would go the same way, but in re­al­ity it was just a much harder de­sign and pro­duc­tion to tackle. I think we got into a lit­tle trou­ble with it around half­way through, once we switched over from Bit­squid to Unity. We started over­com­ing some of the chal­lenges we were having on Bit­squid; [we were] run­ning more smoothly on Unity, but get­ting to the point where we were re­al­is­ing the im­pact of the de­sign and go­ing to a higher-speed sidescrolling setup rather than flip­screen. And that meant we re­ally had to dive back in there; I had to dive back in there to work with the crew. I did that joy­fully, but there’s cer­tainly a part of me that would oc­ca­sion­ally would re­mind peo­ple I did this 17 years ago [laughs].

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