An Interview With Oddworld Inhabitants

   Master Gamer's Editor in Chief Ivan Trembow recently conducted an 
interview with Lorne Lanning, the founder of Oddworld Inhabitants and the 
director of all of its games.  During the interview, Lanning revealed some
things about Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee and The Hand of Odd that had never 
previously been revealed to any other video game web site or magazine.  
Read on for the world-exclusive details.

Ivan Trembow: How is development of Munch's Oddysee coming along and when 
should we expect it to be released?
Lorne Lanning: I don't think I would be exaggerating if I said that Munch 
is the most ambitious game project ever put into motion by any company.  
It's coming along extremely well, but it's huge and we still have tons of 
work to do.  However, it is our goal to release simultaneously with Sony's
128-bit system.

IT: When did development on Munch's Oddysee begin?
LL: Story development began even before the company of Oddworld was formed.
Conceptual game design began in '97.  Production design, actual proto-
typing, coding, and art production didn't begin until late '98.

IT: In what ways has the core Oddworld gameplay formula changed in Munch's 
LL: Our previous games were a gene splicing of action and adventure, with a
lot of Hollywood production value injected into them.  Munch's Oddysee is a 
gene splicing of action, adventure, RPG, strategy, and simulation, with 
even more high-quality production value everywhere.  How to describe this 
when nothing like it has ever been seen before... is quite difficult.  
Seeing is believing, and nothing I can say now will even come close to 
giving a half-way decent impression of what this experience will be like.
   The most obvious difference between Munch and our past games is that
Munch's Oddysee is in full, real-time 3D.  Another one of the major 
differences is that our previous games tended to be puzzle-oriented and 
more game-like than life-like.  Munch's Oddysee will be far 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 more "world" simulation approach 
rather than gauntlet types of puzzles.
   Super-advanced behavioral, simulation, and social chemistry models are 
happening in Munch's world.  You will be able to GameSpeak around and 
manipulate large numbers of characters in order to have them do your 
bidding and re-shape your world.  GameSpeak will also become much more 
highly evolved and smarter, but also much simpler to understand and use.

IT: In what ways are Munch and Abe similar?  In what ways are the two of 
them different?
LL: Munch is similar to Abe in that he is also hanging at the bottom of the
food chain.  Munch is the last survivor of his species.  He's a Gabbit, and 
all of the Gabbits have been killed off.  The Gabbits' lungs made good 
transplants into Glukkons who had lung cancer.  Lots of Glukkons get lung 
cancer, so there was a pretty big demand for Gabbit lungs.  This has been 
going on for long enough that now there are no more Gabbits.  Except for
Munch, of course.  So where is this last Gabbit living?  Why, in a
medical research facility, of course.  So this is how Munch is similar to 
Abe.  They're both screwed in life.
   Munch is also different from Abe in several ways.  One, he's amphibious.  
Abe can't swim, and he nearly drowns each time he goes in the water.  Munch
can swim, and he's extremely fast and agile in the water.  But when on land, 
Munch is a bit more clumsy and slow.  He's got a RS232 port implanted in 
his skull cap that allows him to "possess" mechanical devices, whereas Abe 
possesses living things.  

IT: What role will Abe play in Munch's Oddysee?
LL: Abe basically kidnaps Munch in the beginning, so Munch really hates Abe
for first half of the experience.

IT: What will the relationship be between Munch and Abe?
LL: Completely dysfunctional... until they learn how to get along.  Munch
winds up in a wheelchair for a good part of the story, and during that time 
Abe just pushes him around to where Abe wants to go, without concern for 
how Munch feels.  So Munch really resents Abe and doesn't hesitate to let 
him know it.

IT: What systems is Munch's Oddysee planned for, and why did you choose 
those systems?
LL: The PlayStation 2 and PC's that don't exist yet.  We chose the 
PlayStation 2 because it had the minimum specs to achieve what we wanted to 
build.  This is an extremely ambitious project.

IT: How do you manage to successfully draw the line in terms of difficulty 
in your games so that hardcore Oddworld fans will find a sufficient 
challenge, but gamers who are new to Oddworld or casual gamers aren't
LL: Munch's Oddysee will have three options of difficulty available upon
start up.  In our old games that were very puzzle oriented, it was very 
difficult to tune for various difficulty ranges.  But with our new world 
simulation approach, it's much easier for us to dial the intensity of the 
world to be more or less aggressive.

IT: How is development of The Hand of Odd coming along?
LL: It's going to be amazing.  Hand of Odd will use the Munch's Oddysee
technology with the added multi-player functionality.  Currently at 
Oddworld, we are focused on building a core technology and tool-set that 
will begin in and evolve through the 128-bit era.  What this means is that 
shortly after players have had a chance to chomp on the universe of Munch's
Oddysee, they will be given the ability to multi-play others with the same 
chemistry through Hand of Odd.  This means that they will be able to build 
and develop their entire communities, then pitch them against one another 
or work cooperatively.  It brings an entire new twist to the idea of multi-
player conflicts.

IT: What characters will be in The Hand of Odd, and how will all of
Oddworld's characters be seamlessly integrated into one game environment 
like that?
LL: Hand of Odd will utilize all of the species of Munch's Oddysee, and add
several new ones.  You'll need to see it to believe it because it uses the 
same sense of perspective, camera orientations, and overall world 
navigation abilities of Munch.  

IT: When did development of The Hand of Odd begin, and when do you think it 
will be complete?
LL: It began alongside the development of Munch, but it will release about 
six to nine months after Munch does.

IT: What systems will The Hand of Odd be for, and why did you choose those 
LL: We chose the same systems as Munch and for the same reasons.

IT: Everything I've read about The Hand of Odd loosely defines it as a
strategy game, but can you get more specific on what you'll have to do in
the game and how you'll go about doing it?
LL: It's certainly not a strategy game, although when compared to any other
type of play experience out there... I guess it's most easily compared to 
strategy.  Imagine building your estates, franchises, communes, and 
investments, then defending them against other players who are doing the 
same, or trying to acquire other players' developments.  Now imagine doing 
it through hundreds of characters that are being controlled not by a mouse, 
but by GameSpeak-using central characters.  It's hard to define because 
it's so different from what's out there in games.  I guess Black & White 
comes the closest to even treading on this type of territory.

IT: Will gamers be able to play as both the "good guys" and the "bad guys" 
in The Hand of Odd?
LL: Absolutely.  The whole idea is choose!

IT: How are you managing to take the Oddworld series completely out of its 
element in a different kind of game, while still making it look and feel 
like Oddworld?
LL: These new games are actually getting much closer to the original vision
of Oddworld as we initially perceived it.  We considered the 32-bit 
PlayStation era to be a place where we could learn how to build games and 
begin to develop our universe.  But the 128-bit era is really why we got 
into games in the first place.
   The titles that are coming, although very different in game form from
what you've seen from us thus far, are much more "Oddworld" in their 
sensibilities.  Much of what makes Oddworld special is the characters, the 
humor, the irony, the depth of story and universe, and the creative 
   The mechanics that we developed in the 32-bit era tried to evolve basic
sensibilities about what we felt the future of games is going to be about, 
such as in-game character communication, more thinking, characters that 
seem to see and hear and follow other characters' commands, more 
orchestrated soundtracks, dysfunctional relationships, empathy instead of 
aggression, higher production values, etc.  
   Our goal is that you will feel as though you are truly in the world of 
Oddworld, instead of just being in the game of Oddworld.  It's going to be 
very emotional to play.  Disturbing and inspiring at the same time.

Send your thoughts on this interview to

 Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee Review
 Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus Review
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