Archive:Moving Targets

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  • Published: 13 November 2000
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part 12: Moving Targets
By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

With the demo version of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee behind us, the team is pressing ahead with further work on the game. The design team has split into two groups, each of which is working on an extensive region of the game. Along with Renaissance man Dan Kading, I’m working on the first major outdoor area of the game, which also happens to be the place where Abe is (re?) introduced for the first time.

This is a critical venue because it includes the tutorial areas for our quest system and character-switching scheme. It will also be the first place that you will encounter (and possess!) a Paramite in the new engine, and it will additionally spotlight the return of Elum to Oddworld.

The region will also house the oh-so-spiffy Slog Kennel that was the centerpiece of the demo we did last month (and which has been ground zero for many of our design innovations on this job… check Chapter 5 of this diary for more discussion about the Slog Kennel). There are also a couple of Slig Towers, a free-fire zone, and (oh, yeah!) we return to the ruins of RuptureFarms to learn….

…well, play the game and find out.

Previous columns have discussed our paper’design process, with an emphasis on the central importance of written treatments for gameplay. The really neat thing about our treatments is that they provide a road map for game production, without straitjacketing us into any immutable gameplay decisions. So, in the case of this current region, the ‘tidal flats’ originally specified by the treatment have ballooned into a wide-ranging swim venue set in a filthy overflow reservoir adjoining the Slog Kennel.


Because swimming has turned out to be so darn much fun! Just one of several beneficial side effects of our work on the demo last month has been the ability to see and touch some of the things we’ve only theorized about to date. The swim mechanic took a big jump up in our consciousness when we finally saw it in play. Our enthusiasm was redoubled when we saw the universally positive reaction water play garnered when we showed off the demo to the press. The result is a no-brainer—?put more swimming in the game and expand on the possibilities of the core mechanic! And with our flexible approach to design, we can do just that.

There’s a fine line between a flexible design approach and a ‘moving target’ design, where no one ever knows what’s in the game and what’s out. An evolving design spec is a challenge for the whole team, but as Eric Yiskis (the lead programmer on Munch’s Oddysee, a good friend, and all-around nice guy) is fond of saying, ‘You don’t have all your best ideas at the beginning of a project. The best you can do is plan for the things you think will be fun, be willing to let go of the ideas that don’t work, and be prepared to embrace the happy surprises you meet along the way.’ Swimming has proven to be one of those happy surprises. I’m sure there will be others. Watch this space… !