Archive:20 Q's With Munch's Oddysee Producer

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  • Published: 25 October 1999
  • Host: GameFan
  • Interviewer: Oddworld Inhabitants

This prepared press interview was published by GameFan on 25 October 1999 (archived by the Internet Archive), by IGN as ‘Interview with Oddworld Inhabitants’ on 4 February 2000, and by Oddworldian on 19 April 2000 (as previously archived by the Scriptures).

The first paragraph preceding the actual interview is from GameFan, the second is from IGN. The images are taken from IGN’s version.

The interview

Along with the press materials regarding their upcoming PlayStation 2 title, Munch's Oddysee, Oddworld Inhabitants included a "Twenty Questions" with the company's President and Creative Director, Lorne Lanning, which reveals the direction their new adventure is heading, what they think of Sony's newest hardware platform, and whether or not we can expect this series to show up on the Dreamcast. While this is a prepared press interview complete with the recommended daily allowance of "PR speak," it does shed some light on this cool-sounding (and cool looking, judging from the Quicktimes we posted today) PlayStation 2 sequel…

Q: What can you tell us about Munch's Oddysee? How will the gameplay compare to Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus?

LL: Munch's Oddysee will be more focused on world simulation and the behaviors of characters and eco-systems to achieve much more "living" impressions. We are simulating entire life cycles for all the characters in the world, all the communities, and even the landscape. We are truly going for a "world" simulation approach rather than gauntlet types of puzzles that you saw in our previous games. We are also spending a ton of effort in advanced behavioral simulation, and social chemistry models. GameSpeak will also now allow you to move around and manipulate a large number of characters in order to have them do your bidding and re-shape your landscape. GameSpeak has become more highly evolved and smarter, but simpler to understand and make use of.

Q: You've said, "Munch's Oddysee will be in real-time 3D, but it will do it in ways that have not been done yet"; can you elaborate on that?

LL: In most realtime 3D games, the two biggest shortcomings that we identified and addressed deal with the camera's systems and the character's sense of truly being aware it is in the world. Many people do not enjoy roving, wild, whip-panning camera activity that comes with over the shoulder on POV. So we will be doing a different twist to the camera logic that aims to fix the orientation and motion sickness problems that result from the status quo of what's going on out there. Our camera system will feel more "cinematic" in its delivery, without compromising play ability. As for characters, we feel the industry is suffering from a "virtual idiot" phenomena. What was very easy for a character to accomplish in a 2D gaming environment has become much more difficult in 3D. The controls and characters don't seem to know where the pick up item is; they can't figure out the doorway is right in front of them without slamming into the wall; they jam up in tight corridors because your controlling efforts are not precise. For example, pick up items used to take one fraction of a second in 2D, but now, in even some of the best examples like Zelda or Mario, a pickup item (or sign to read) takes five times longer and as a result makes the character look stupid. So we've been working on a system that helps the game's inhabitant identify where it is in the environment and also recognizes what items of interest might be nearby. So picking up an item should be as fluid as it used to be in 2D, yet still look totally real and convincing in 3D. The same applies to a character running through a hallway, entering a tight doorway, or anything else that involves having the desire of the game player manifest more easily in controlling the game's inhabitants.

Q: What are some examples of other game genres you will be merging for Munch's Oddysee?

LL: Munch's Oddysee is a gene splicing of Action, Adventure, Strategy, and emulation, with Hollywood storytelling and production value sprinkled all over it. It is quite difficult to describe this when nothing quite like it has been done before-to see and play will be to believe. As for familiarity of this universe to previous fans, the good news is that this has been planned from the beginning. Meaning, we introduced Abe and Oddworld in 2D while always planning to evolve them into 3D when the technology was there. So it's not like we're developing an after-thought. The creativity and the conceptual qualities are completely in synch with the universe we've developed thus far. In the final analysis, we believe that existing fans will be much happier about the oddness of Oddworld in 3D than they ever could have been in 2D. I can't imagine that anyone will say, "But ya know, I really liked the old 2D games from Oddworld better." I guess we feel that the Playstation2 3D world of Oddworld is far more "Oddworld."

Q: What do you think of the PlayStation2 hardware?

LL: The PlayStation 2 hardware is extremly exciting, and it even looks cool! Finally it's going to stop looking like a game machine and will now fit in the hi-fi component rack where it belongs. Add DVD movie playing and surround sound and it doesn't get much better. There are still things that we don't know about its tools and development kits, like audio for example, but based upon what we've learned thus far it seems as though Sony is doing things right. We always wish we had more VRAM, and we always wish we had more processing power, and we always wish we had better documentation, but given the year we are living in and what else is available out there, this machine is truly amazing.

How would you categorize developing for the PlayStation2 as opposed to developing for the PlayStation?

LL: There's no question that to build top contending games you're going to need to spend more money in developing them on the PlayStation2. The biggest thing for us is we've not developed real time tool sets for the PSX, so we're not doing that for the PlayStation2. This is a huge investment and takes time. In some ways this makes things more difficult, but in other ways it gives us an advantage. Why? Because we are not entrenched in a tool system that was designed to work for 32 bit games. We've been able to assess what the right way to build our tools should be for what we want to do on 128 bit, and then progress from there.

Q: Besides the obvious bonuses of better graphics and sound, what does the PlayStation2 allow you to do for your games that wasn't possible on the Playstation2 or other consoles?

LL: We are now allowed more on-screen characters, more elaborate behaviors that appear to emulate life, larger worlds that have more AI running underneath everything, and also get much more variation of GameSpeak commands and responses. So in short, the PlayStation2 allows one to completely re-think how a game should be built, how it should look, and how it should be played.

Q: What do you consider the biggest challenge of developing for the PlayStation2?

LL: Unless you're building established genre games, like sports, fighting, or racing, we think the biggest challenge is creative. Knowing what it should be, how it should play, and what makes it unlike anything that people have played before. This is where I think most people will trip. 3D is a conquered mountain and 32 bit proved that lots of people can pull off the technology of 3D relatively quickly. It's the great ideas that are the endangered species in this industry. But make no mistake, programming and art will still be a killer if it's an ambitious game that breaks new ground.

Q: What do you think of PlayStation2?

LL: A massive breath of fresh air, but also a lifesaver. We're not interested in building games for the sake of just building games. We're interested in evolving games so the world can experience more involving content through interactive devices. PlayStation2 provides us with the ability to evolve games to the next level. Hopefully, this is the level that grabs the attention of the rest of the world and makes them say, "Wow! We never though it would happen, but games are now even more interesting than movies!"

Q: Are you going to port to the Dreamcast?

LL: We currently have no plans to port or develop for the Dreamcast. Although we recognize that the Dreamcast is the most powerful machine available in the marketplace today (as Lorne laughs his ass off while playing Lulu in Ready 2 Rumble), it is the PlayStation2 that met our base spec for the next Oddworld games. Our spec was very ambitious and Dreamcast didn't quite have the power to run what we currently have on the drawing table. However, we do firmly believe that the Dreamcast will unfold some fabulous new games that will certainly break new ground.

Q: Who is Munch, and what is he about?

LL: Munch is similar to Abe in that he is an unlikely hero who is also "hanging at the bottom of the food chain and slipping fast." Munch is the last survivor of his species, but he's living in the animal testing department of a pharmaceutical research company. Why? Gabbit lungs made good transplants for Glukkons who had lung cancer. Many Glukkons get lung cancer, so there was a pretty big demand for Gabbit lungs. There was also a huge demand for the very expensive dish known as "Gabbiare" which is made from Gabbit eggs. (They taste great with champagne and crackers.) Thus, Gabbiare also added to the near extinction of the Gabbits. In Munch's Oddysee you will play both Munch and Abe. They have different abilities so you will need to figure out whom is best for achieving your immediate goals.

Q: What role will Abe play in Munch's Oddysee?

LL: Abe basically kidnaps Munch in the beginning, so Munch really hates Abe for the first half of the experience. But it's Abe's cause that Munch gets caught up in.

Q: What will the relationship be between Munch and Abe?

LL: Completely dysfunctional. Munch winds up in a wheelchair for a good part of the story, and during that time Abe just pushes Munch around to where Abe wants to go, without concern for how Munch feels about it. So Munch really resents Abe and doesn't hesitate to let him know it.

Q: What are the new language treatments you're including in Munch's Oddysee?

LL: GameSpeak is expanding greatly, as are the number of characters that you will be able to control in the game. So there are a variety of different languages, as well as some that are more musical.

Q: Who are the enemies?

LL: Virtuall all of the enemies from our previous games will re-appear in the new 3D world. But they will be greatly evolved from what was experienced on 32 bit. (Bats won't be coming back, as nearly everyone hated them, and we really try to learn from our mistakes.) They will all have life cycle patterns that make them more like real living creatures rather than game enemies. Some of the new ones will be much larger in scale, some will have strange co-dependent relationships, some will be aquatic. You'll also start seeing more herds and the like. The real nasties will be the Vykkers scientists and doctors. These guys are very twisted.

Q: What will the environments be like, as compared to previous titles?

LL: We want you to be able to truly feel as though you are on large landscapes that feel alive and are critical to sustaining the rest of the life that depends on them. Aesthetically speaking, we want the environments to be in check with what was previously seen from Oddworld's 2D games. Of course we will be creating new environments, but it's all in the same design theme as to what makes Oddworld's landscape unique.

Q: How many disks? How long do you expect the game to be?

LL: Munch will fit onto one 4.5 Gigabyte DVD. We expect that once people start playing the game, they will find themselves getting interested in sub-goals, sub-plots - going off on their own and just treating the world more like it's a habitat or terrarium full of living creatures. The results will be that people will want to nurture some things or levels for a long time, possibly days, weeks, who knows. It's our goal to let people take their time and have great fun with this living chemistry set that we're providing them, but to also have a storyline that players will want to unfold and care about. If someone wanted to follow the core story as quickly as possible, then it will probably take a good 50 to 60 hours to unfold. However, we estimate that the replay value will be huge. It will be more like visiting Oddworld than playing Oddworld.

Q: Are you (Lorne) supplying the voices again?

LL: I will be supplying a lot of them, but it's our goal to get more and more people within the studio involved with the voices. I love the way Jim Henson did it on his projects. I must also admit that I really don't like the way some studios take animation and use famous actors' voices. It kills the experience for me. If I see characters, then I want to hear real character voices. I'd much rather listen to Kermit the Frog or Yoda than listen to Sylvester Stallone or Sandra Bullock.

Q: Single player only?

LL: Yes, Munch will be a single player game. However, we will also be releasing Oddworld: The Hand Of Odd, within the year after Munch's Oddysee is finished. With Hand of Odd, you will get the world chemistry that is available in Munch's Oddysee, but you will be able to play it networked in cooperative or competitive ways. This is something that we are very excited about because it's the first time Oddworld will be networked, and we believe it will be a completely unique experience.

Q: When do you expect Munch to be released?

LL: It is our goal to release Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee simultaneously with the PlayStation2 in the US and Europe.