As games go, you don't get much weirder than Oddworld Inhabitants and its long history of Oddworld games. The latest game in the series, Oddworld Stranger, takes the same wacky universe and puts you in the shoes of a mysterious and gutsy new character with an appealing Wild West flavor. In light of Stranger's imminent release, we fired off a round of questions to Oddworld magnate Lorne Lanning and EA executive producer Scot Bayless to find out how development is going at this late stage.
GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?
Lorne Lanning: Over two years.
GS: How did Stranger come to be?
LL: We wanted to do something with far more action play that was far less a puzzle platformer. We also wanted the freedom to work with a new hero and cast that would bring something new to action/shooting games that hadn't been done yet.
GS: Once you decided the game wasn't going to be a direct sequel to the previous Oddworld games, how did that influence development?
LL: It gave us a fresh perspective and didn't govern what we did by playing to what fans do or do not expect from Abe or Munch.
GS: Why did you choose a more action-skewed approach?
LL: We believed that we could bring something fresh and exciting to the shooter genre. We never saw ourselves as the "puzzle/platformer" company. Those were just the first few game styles that we built upon. By doing something outside of the "Quintology" it gave us the opportunity to expand the landscape of Oddworld while also giving us the opportunity to focus on some new play styles.
GS: What about the gameplay makes it distinctly an Oddworld Inhabitants game?
LL: The most apparent would be innovative design, smooth controls, attention to all details, and tons of humor in and during gameplay.
GS: How is development going?
LL: Very well. We're nearly done.
Scot Bayless: Because the game has been playable for some time, we've been investing a lot of effort in tuning--which, of course, is what we all wish for at this point in a project but never seem to have time to do. It's been fascinating to explore the way first-person shooting, third-person action, and live ammo interact. I've lost count of the times we've found some unexpected (and usually amusing) new way to torment the bad guys.
GS: Why did you choose to go Xbox exclusive again?
LL: This game started as an Xbox first-party title, which means Xbox only. If you're published by Microsoft, you won't be developing for Sony or Nintendo. It was never planned to be a PS2 game until after we signed on with EA.
SB: As Lorne points out, Stranger was originally architected as an Xbox exclusive. When Oddworld signed with EA, we brought in some extremely talented PS2 developers to help us work out what it would take to bring the game to PS2. The expectation was always that once we'd done the analysis we'd take stock and then make a decision about whether to proceed. Ultimately, it came down to timing. Our PS2 experts just didn't feel they'd be able get there in the time available.
GS: What did you learn from the last game that helped your time with the hardware be more productive?
LL: Don't rely on middleware and don't believe the specs until you've got the dev stations in your hands.
SB: Lorne makes an important point. Specs never tell the whole story. You need to work with the hardware in real-world scenarios to completely understand the trade-offs.
GS: How is the new release date affecting development? Why did it move up?
SB: As with the film industry, we have to think strategically about release timing. Once we'd made the decision to go Xbox-exclusive, we revisited our release date and asked ourselves, "What's best for Stranger?"
GS: What's one thing in Stranger that will surprise players?
LL: Overall level of quality is the biggest standout. There are many innovations in this game and to different people that have seen the game, different things stand out. The intensity of action, the sheer scale of the environments, and the number of enemies onscreen during heated battles are all going to be big surprises. Live ammo will also be a big surprise. We've also cracked the first- to third-person perspectives and offered you both play styles, each with different strategies at any one time. This is something that immediately feels natural and fun and also offers a ton of replay value. Some people try to conquer by third-person melee attacks only, some go for first-person shooting the whole time, others mix up the chemistry and suddenly it feels more like cinema in real time. Everyone in the press that we've shown this to is usually quick to point out that there hasn't been a game like this.
GS: Thanks for your time.