Archive:Culture Shock

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  • Published: 15 May 1998
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part 2: Culture Shock

It’s about 7:30 in the evening at Oddworld Inhabitants. I love this time of day because most of the crew is out scaring up dinner, and I have the office to myself. I can hear our game, running all at once on two dozen different monitors. The ambient sound of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus provides a soundtrack for the office—?a melange of bird chirps, industrial equipment, puttering Flying Slig engines, and enslaved Mudokons industriously chiseling away at unyielding stone. It’s like an open phone line to another world.

Oddworld is another world, the company no less than the game. It is a modern facility hidden in a 90-year-old building in downtown San Luis Obispo, California, and is home to 70 employees (with more to come). Oddworld is an industrial loft, with open ceilings, catwalks, exposed cable bundles, and subtly coordinated office accouterments in high-contrast black and steel. The office is the outward expression of the culture that pervades Oddworld—?a mix of old and new, forged into a common purpose, with an eye simultaneously on the smallest details as well as the big picture.

From your first day at Oddworld, you are on the path that leads to the Oddworld way of doing things. It starts with seemingly small rituals, like taking your vitamins every day (and yes, the dark rumors are true—?every employee gets a pill box embossed with the days of the week, to help maintain their daily dose of a witches’ brew of minerals and health supplements). It climaxes with your inculcation into the Cult of Quality, a members-only club driven to make their stuff better, better, better, best. From the quietly intense paint department, to the competitive wizard’s lab where the animators live, to the industrial hive of the programming department, to the free-fire zone of Game Designer’s Row, everyone at Oddworld is struggling against himself and the next guy to roll big rocks up the Hill of Game Creation.

And not because a supervisor is breathing down your neck to do it, either. It’s because of the culture of Oddworld (and here’s the shock part, for those familiar with this business). The culture of Oddworld is equal parts competitive and supportive, but it’s a monster either way, a Glukkon that eats the weak and lionizes the strong, quashing the merest hint of 9-to-5ism. I’ve seen industry vets fail at Oddworld while brash kids on their first job thrive. We’ve got people who have been at it for 30 years right next to rank newbies eager to make their mark. This office goes 24 hours a day because no one is willing to settle for a silver medal. If you slow down, the culture will eat you alive. You won’t be able to look your fellow Inhabitants in the eye. You’ll blow out, you’ll lose it, you’ll quit your job. I’ve seen it.

I’ve also seen what the Oddworld culture is delivering for our next game: Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. And in my next report, I’ll finally talk about the game. Honest!

— Paul O’Connor, Oddworld Inhabitants, 5 May 1998

NEXT: Exoddus