Archive:Speaking About An Oddworld...

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  • Published: 15 February 2000
  • Host: IGN
  • Interviewer: Oddworld Inhabitants

This interview, from an Oddworld Inhabitants press release, is still hosted by IGN.

The interview

In a generic PR release, Oddworld Inhabitants delivered four movies and dozens of new screenshots to the press today, in addition to bringing us another interview with co-founder and president of Oddworld Inhabitants, Lorne Lanning. The questions were asked by several press sources, and the answers pre-delivered, but what we get is a deeper look at is Munch himself, and the world in which he will interact.

Q: In what ways will you use A.L.I.V.E. technology in Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee?

Lorne Lanning: A.L.I.V.E. is not so much a technology in itself, it's a design philosophy that drives technological development. What this means is that we will be building completely new technologies as we continue to move into the future, but they are all driven with the same goals of making virtual worlds come more to life in the Oddworld way. Munch will be the beginning of the A.L.I.V.E.2 engine, which we plan to build upon for the entire 128-bit era. This engine will offer an exponential increase in life-like simulation compared to what we have had in the past, not to mention the quality of graphics and being completely real time 3D.

Q: Munch is an entirely different kind of creature. By what means of movement does he progress? What kinds of cool, strange or weird moves will he be able to perform?

Lorne: With the dual shock controller being packed into the box with the PS2, we can now do things that you couldn't do with a normal controller. Knowing that everyone who buys a PS2 will also have a dual shock, it makes sense to take full design advantage of it with the lead character. But as to how we are taking advantage of it, we're not letting that out yet.

I can tell you that Munch is a Gabbit and that Gabbits are amphibious creatures. He only has one leg, so when he's on land, he hops. Put him in the water, and he swims like a fish. He has a tongue like a frog and has jaws like a gator. He has an interface port implanted into his head, compliments of two surgery-happy Vykkers scientists. He uses this skull port to jack into technology and remotely control robotic devices. Just as Abe possesses living creatures, Munch possesses mechanical devices. He uses his tongue like a flute for GameSpeak, and he's all about rescuing animals from traps, setting them free, then leading them to places where he can nurture them into bigger and better things that he can then use to his greater advantage.

Q: What has inspired you to create a strange creature like Munch? What part of the human soul/spirit or what kind of man's habits is he meant to symbolize?

Lorne: Munch's soul is inspired by those tens of millions of laboratory test animals that we throw away as garbage every year. We thought it would be fun to show how things might look from their point of view.

Physically, we wanted a body or a form that was completely different. Something that none of us had ever seen before, yet looked pathetically hip. He had to be stranger looking than Abe, yet still look like something that could actually be alive. It was critical to us that he looks organic.

Emotionally, we needed him to visually embody a tremendous sense of loneliness. It took a long time and literally hundreds of drawings to get the look of Munch. It was an extremely hard design, even though he's so simple. To make it more difficult on ourselves, we needed him to have this sad quality, while also making him funny. This is a difficult task with Munch being a victim under such tragic circumstances. He is the last of his kind, the last of his species and it's not a sugar and spice story, but he had to have a ton of heart and be completely lovable, even though he's ugly.

For us, it's not about muscle bound characters with big guns. It's about little guys. It's about the chumps like you and me who live in an overwhelming and uncaring world. Munch is a character that has to have a large brain to survive. He's not going to be able to solve his problems with his brawn; he's going to need his mobility and his wits.

As for the habits of humans that Munch reflects, Munch is very human as far as his emotions are concerned. His instinct is to look out for "number one" in the face of adversity, but his trials are about developing a greater sense of empathy toward his fellow creatures.

Q: It is obvious that the Oddworld games are created with more narrative depth than most other video games. Is there a goal? Are they meant to instruct or at least impart a kind of ethical behavior on gamers?

Lorne: As creators of consumer entertainment, and as people who believe in the power of this medium, we think it's important that we view our content as art form and allow it to have the same level of social/political criticism that more classical forms of art and storytelling are afforded. As with all great stories through history, there should always be more beneath the surface than first meets the eye. Hopefully, there is something about the artist's insight that manifests itself in the work and, as a result, helps to inform or question the beliefs of the viewing participant.

In short, we want to create experiences that are more than just junk food. As a global people we understand that persistence, empathy, cooperation, and using your brain for problem solving are fundamental approaches to getting ahead in life and creating the type of world we all want to live in. So, why shouldn't this theme be part of the video game experience? We believe it should be, so we're taking the time and extra effort to inject these elements as a basic part of our universe.

Q: What information can you give us on Munch and his "codependent relationship" with Abe?

Lorne: His co-dependent relationship with Abe is based upon two things. One, Munch needs someone to believe in him. He's like a UFO abductee who returned and no one believes him. Abe will act like he believes Munch's story, even though he doesn't, so long as he can manipulate Munch to help him out and rescue the Mudokon mom. Also, Munch begins the game in a wheelchair until you get him healed, so in the beginning his abilities are fun but limited, and he'll need the help of Abe. Though there is more than meets the eye in each of their motives, the dysfunctional relationship that they share ultimately helps them both become stronger and more compassionate characters.

Q: Are you expanding on Game Emotion?

Lorne: Massively. With the additional audio memory that is now available, and the faster disc access, we will be able to hold many more words and animations. Not to mention the advanced AI that will drive all of the Inhabitants. It's our goal to make things look and feel alive. That means they need to react emotionally if a situation suggests that the Inhabitants would be psychologically affected.

Q: Any new concepts? Game Evolution perhaps? Or have you incorporated some sort of virtual pet into the mix?

Lorne: All living things on this world will have life cycles. This means they depend on resources to live out their lives. Shortages of these resources manifest in the Inhabitants' abilities and behaviors, as does abundance of these resources. You will be able to breed creatures, nurture them, and condition them by way of your actions and behavior. You will have a great deal of experimentation available to you.

Q: You left the high stakes of Hollywood for video games. Do you feel you made the right choice and can express your vision in games? Or do you eventually see yourself going back to film?

Lorne: Since we left Hollywood five years ago, Sherry McKenna and I have never looked back. Video games have given us creative and producing freedoms that simply don't exist in Hollywood. We do see ourselves making films, but we see ourselves doing it right here, our way, with Oddworld. Not in Hollywood. Just like the games, we will build the movies under our own roof and then have them distributed through the best available means. The idea of going back down to Hollywood and having to do lunch with that group of vampiric bozos makes me want to throw up.

Q: What kind of experiences or ideas have influenced the story of Oddworld?

Lorne: The Oddworld Quintology is largely influenced by the acts and practices of the corrupt greed and power mongers that have bled the world's people throughout history and continue to do so today. Truth is stranger than fiction, and when you look under the covers at many of today's multinational corporations and their feeding practices you find enough inspirational (and mind-boggling) material for a lifetime. It's also amazing how we find ourselves wound up within large webs of deceit actually supporting causes that we think we oppose. The world is an extremely complicated place. Truth has been largely removed from the front-page or the six o'clock news, and the forces of good and evil are not nearly as clear as they may have been at other times in our world's history.

Oddworld is about finding yourself caught up in an uncaring food chain. Are you just going to be eaten by it or are you going to do something about it? We think that everyone, on some level or another, identifies with what's going on in the world today. We're just trying to inject the dilemma that everyone feels into a package that they can interact with and ultimately overcome. We feel this is what people are looking for, but they haven't been able to find it on the shelf.

Q: What do you think about the other games for PlayStation 2 shown at the Tokyo Game Show?

Lorne: I was excited by what I didn't see. It's obvious that Gran Turismo (one of my favorite racing games of all time) and fighting games are going to be great on PS2. But where is the creativity? As much as people are going to buy classic genres on the new system (myself included), people also are extremely hungry for new ideas that are executed well. This is why it's exciting to us, because as long as it's the same ideas being done by the majority, then it allows the minority of unique ideas to shine more brightly and get more visibility.

Q: Do you already know if Munch is going to have a bonus game like Abe did? Or will the next official sequel be released on the PlayStation 2 hardware as well?

Lorne: Munch will definitely have a bonus game. There are many bonus games that we want to make with the Oddworld Universe on the 128-bit level. In the meantime, we will learn if the PS2 will be able to run the third part of the Quintology: Oddworld: Squeek's Oddysee. It's possible that the PS2 may not be able to run Squeek. Why? Because the Oddworld Quintology was designed to progress through larger and larger populations of characters. Metaphorically speaking, the Quintology started off with Abe in the diamond mines of South Africa, but he will end up in a massive city of consumerism like New York or Hong Kong.

This means we need greater and greater numbers of characters and buildings in the world for us to do each Oddysee in the Quintology. If we need to wait for new hardware to release the next part of the Quintology, well that will be fine. We have many stories that we will want to tell about dilemmas on Oddworld that will run on the available technology. In the end, Oddworld is ten times the size of earth, and so far we've only been to one small country.