Oddworld Inhabitant's Lorne Lanning talks Xbox

Lorne Lanning, president and co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants, discusses Munch's Oddyssee and Xbox development.

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At the recently concluded Gamestock event, Lorne Lanning, president and co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants, spoke further about his company's decision to develop Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee exclusively for the Xbox, working with Microsoft's console, and the game in particular. Lanning felt that although the Xbox gives his team the best opportunity of realizing his vision for Munch's Oddysee, the system hardware is capable of richer visuals than what we're seeing today. He also discussed specific aspects of Munch's Oddysee, including the real-time strategy gameplay elements and the use of adaptive music and sound composition.

However, as expected, the primary focus of the media Q&A session was on Oddworld Inhabitants' decision to abandon PlayStation 2 development in favor of the Xbox. Lanning felt that the Xbox gives him the most creative freedom, from a technological perspective, to develop a world that fits his vision for Munch's Oddysee. "Microsoft definitely did not have to sell us--we campaigned to get on the Xbox," Lanning recalled. "As a developer in this industry it is about transitions, and some of those transitions will become more about content in many ways. What that means is that we need more horsepower, we need more memory, and we need to get beyond worrying about what the hardware can do. We need to get more into looking at worlds and seeing how we want them to behave, and then seeing what hardware can drive our worlds. This is why Microsoft did not have to sell us and it is why we are anxious to be on the Xbox. Compared with the other consoles in this industry, this is the system that the creative people and the artists are going to like. The problems that we have today are good problems because they're our problems. They are problems that we've failed to solve or foresee. They're not like walking through minefields of obscure technology. The Xbox is such a brilliant and simplistically conceived system that it allows the developer to focus more on the content. It is really refreshing to know that we didn't bring [Munch's Oddysee] onto the system and watched it stutter, we brought it to the system and have watched it run better than it ever has."

Lanning openly admitted that abandoning the PlayStation 2 at such an early stage drew the ire of PS2 fans and analysts alike. "They said that we just din't have the smartest programmers in the world and that's why we were having problems," Lanning commented. "That's like saying you can't shoot the movie because you don't have the most brilliant cameramen in the world. How many movies are going to get made then with those cameras? People got really upset--diehard Sony fans got really upset--but we said, 'hey you build games for the PlayStation 2.' We want to support an industry that is providing the tools to enable artistic expression and I don't want to have to change the song to accommodate the record player...We're willing to break even on this title so that we can make something great, and exploit the technology on later titles. That way we can build better games faster and at a higher quality, because we have an infrastructure of tools in place. In retrospect, we were very upset with what happened in the US with Abe's Exodus, because it didn't make it on the store shelves while the ads were running. And I was saying, 'why I am I building games if they can't get on the shelves?' Really, the developer is only one part of the equation to making something successful."

Oddworld Inhabitants has already achieved a high level of visual detail, but Lanning felt that developers are only scratching the surface of what is possible on the Xbox. He envisions advancements in per-pixel rendering and real-time shadowing in future Xbox games. "Today, we're not even hitting 50 percent of the power of the Xbox," Lanning said. "Per-pixel rendering is the future, but we're still in the bitmap age because we don't have the tools yet to really take advantage of per-pixeled rendering, and there isn't a game on the shelf that does. The Xbox will really shine when the games use per-pixel rendering and real-time shadow casting, those things will blow us away...The hardware really wants to shine in certain ways, but today no one is really shining this hardware--including ourselves--to its full capacity. We're able to get what we want now, but we know that there is more for us to build on over the next five or six years on this hardware."

In speaking directly about the game itself, Lanning said that his development team plans to integrate a soundtrack and sound effects that work in tune with the in-game action. "We want to have real-time composition," explained Lanning. "We refer to it as the heartbeat of the world. The game needs to be monitoring the degree of intensity that is taking place, and that degree of intensity should be complemented by music composed in real-time. If the degree of intensity is in the exploration mode and there is a slow heartbeat to the pace of the game then the sound accommodating that should be almost non-existent. The sound should feels as though its pre-choreographed to what we're playing and not just a score that at any moment in the game isn't related to what is happening."

When asked if Oddworld Inhabitants planned to use the Internet or other peripheral features of the Xbox, Lanning said that those options will likely be reserved for future incarnations of the Oddworld series. "The Internet, not yet--on the later games, definitely," said Lanning. "We're still seeing how to maximize [the use of the hard-drive]. It will definitely make better save features, but to a greater extent the hard-drive features are still being determined. The excitement for us is really in the CPU, GPU, the amount of memory, and the way it is structured."

Finally, Lanning addressed the real-time strategy elements he plans on implementing into the game. "The real-time strategy elements are in there, and you'll be creating characters," he explained. "For example, you can create an archer and use him to protect the facility or you can posses him to go on. There will also be some resource stuff, but on the high level some of the real-time stuff that we wanted, honestly, did not work."

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