Archive:PlayNOW! - 3 - Jumping to Conclusions

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  • Published: ?
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor
  • Game: Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee
  • Format: Publised Online


Unfortunately, we were unable to recover the second half of this designer diary. If you have a copy, please let us know.

The Designer Diary

Part Three: Jumping to Conclusions

A great thing happened this week. We designers had an argument.

Arguments are good. They’re barometers of passion. As assistant director Chris Ulm said to me afterwards, if a couple guys in their late thirties and five kids between them (meaning he and I) can get worked up into a froth over an obscure point of game design, then we’re still in the right business.

The contentious issue that set ancient friends upon one another with fire and steel?


Our first two games, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, made significant use of jumping. And hopping. And hoisting. And run/jumping. And jumping into wells, or between chunks of falling meat, or over land mines. This was appropriate for a side‐view game.

For a 3D game, it would be a nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some fine 3D platformers out there, many of which make extensive use of a jumping mechanic. It’s just not the sort of play we want to have in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Jumping was one of the first things we took out of the design, way back when we did up the controls document. And no one missed it.

Until the engine was up and running.

One of the moves our animators worked up for Abe was a jump. Not just any jump, mind you … a spring into the air with multiple somersaults. Sure, it wasn’t in the spec, but we experiment with everything here at Oddworld, so the move was added to Abe’s basic functionality when the test engine made its debut.

And then we noticed our problem: jumping was fun.

It’s a happy problem to have. About all you could do was run a little Abe around in 3D and interact with some very basic geometry. No GameSpeak. No enemies. No puzzles. But people still wanted to play with the thing, and one of the things they liked to do was make Abe jump.

OK, no problem. We’ll put jumping back into the game.

Ah, but there is a problem. Not only must Abe and Munch run, walk, and sneak, but he still needs to possess things, and throw, and there’s a wide range of social and command GameSpeak abilities, to say nothing of all the new Quarma‐based power‐ups we’ve got planned. Oh, and you can pick guys up, too, and drive vehicles, and pull levers, and … well, let’s just say that even with the simple control scheme we’ve got cooked up to handle all this stuff, we weren’t eager to introduce a jump into our button map.

That’s not what we argued about, though. Interface is a mechanical problem, and pretty easily solved. No, what really set us off was a disagreement about the role of jumping in the game. The designers broke into two camps: