The Parties Involved Comment on Oddworld Exclusivity

We spoke with Microsoft and Oddworld Inhabitants to get the details behind the transition of the Oddworld franchise from the PlayStation 2 to the Xbox.

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Microsoft formally announced on Monday that it had acquired the worldwide publishing and distribution rights to upcoming Oddworld games from Infogrames and that the next four games in the series would be developed exclusively for its Xbox console. Following the announcement, GameSpot had the opportunity to speak with Ed Fries, vice president of games publishing for Microsoft, and Lorne Lanning, president and co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants. We spoke candidly about the reasons behind the game's move from the PlayStation 2 to the Xbox console, the enhancements that can be expected as a result, and Microsoft's intentions in building unique franchises, among other relevant topics.

GS: The most obvious question that needs to be asked, Lorne, is why did you decide to move Munch's Odyssey to the Xbox?

Lorne Lanning: The foremost reason is that the technical capabilities of the machine will allow us to manifest our vision more clearly and less compromised than any other system that is available. The second, and nearly, if not just as important, reason is that Microsoft publishing, with Ed Fries and Steve Shreck, have demonstrated their passion to bringing truly creative, cutting-edge titles to their system. That commitment is unparalleled in the industry today.

GS: Have you already begun development on Munch's Odyssey for the Xbox?

LL: Yes.

GS: Will the game be ready for the launch of the Xbox console?

LL: That's right.

GS: Ed, when were the talks initiated and how did that process play out, leading up to the announcement that the game would be developed exclusively for the Xbox console?

Ed Fries: Lorne mentioned Steve Shreck, he's one of our product planners here. They're the guys that go around and work with some of the best game developers in the world and try to put deals together for us. Steve has a long relationship with Lorne and Sherry and the Oddworld guys, so it's something he's been trying to follow up on for a while. As things got tougher for them on the PlayStation 2, it became easier for us to spend time and talk. And it culminated in these marathon negotiating sessions at the end of last week - there were literally around the clock talks trying to get this deal done. Steve, the Infogrames guys, and the Oddworld guys did an amazing job to make this all happen. People worked 24-hour days to make this all come together.

LL: There were a few 48-hour shifts. [laughs]

GS: Ed, in the console business, at least up until this current generation, consoles have had identifiable characters and franchises. Was that part of the thought process in Microsoft pursuing the Oddworld franchise in particular?

EF: Yes and no. I don't like to think too much about genres as slots that we have to fill. We want to bring great games to the Xbox, and I think great games are becoming less about this genre and that genre and more about these worlds that these creators are making. Certainly, there is nothing out there like Oddworld. They have a vision, not just for a game, but for an entire world. To have a chance to help bring that to life and bring it to the Xbox, that's exactly the kind of opportunity that I'm always looking for. That's the kind of thing Jordan Weisman on my team talks about all the time - he's the creator of BattleTech and the Mech Warrior series. That same kind of thinking - "let's create a universe and make games that are fused into that world" - that we hope Xbox developers have.

GS: Is that Microsoft's strategy in some sense with the Xbox, to provide unique gaming experiences instead of filling genres?

EF: Absolutely. An example of this is a game we released on the PC called Crimson Skies. People ask, "What is it, is it a flight sim? Is it an action game?" It doesn't matter what it is. What matters is that it takes place in this alternate 1930s world, and you're playing as an air pirate, and you're flying these sort-of Mad Max planes - that's what the game is about. Not what genre it is.

GS: How will the Xbox game be different from the PlayStation 2 game? Lorne, you said in the press release that the advanced hardware of the Xbox was one of the reasons behind the move, what are some aspects of this that will manifest itself in the game visually, when compared with the PS2 game?

LL: Just imagine - on the PS2, after you've used up your image display in your VRAM memory, you have about two megabytes left for textures. Well, on the Xbox, we're looking at slicing out of the main memory - 32 megabytes for textures. That is a quantum difference. So, one advantage is the richness of imagery. Another is the resolution of the aspects of dealing with things like aliasing and things that were issues in the past come at a lesser expense. In building games, how you spend your CPU power and where you dedicate your memory, that's everything - it really adds up to performance. We have advantages like this extra horsepower and three times the graphics technology because of the Nvidia chip; we have eight times the memory, or whatever the actual number is; and we have a wider pipeline to drive more game data through as it is turning up on the monitor. Then all those advantages add up to more characters in the world, more things happening onscreen at any one time, and faster effects being triggered. Overall, it just lends to a richer experience. We were smart enough in the beginning when we were designing this technology - because we were designing it before PS2 development kits even existed - to take a long bet on what we thought the ideal system should be for this point in time. We designed it to be scaleable so that we could take advantage of the horsepower on games here or the compromises that would happen there. As a result, now that we're doing the Xbox, it's all plusses. There are no negatives, and there is no step backward from where we were on the PS2. So, it will manifest in a much richer, smoother playing experience.

GS: Will the gameplay be changed in any way as Munch's Odyssey transitions to the Xbox?

LL: Our conceptual development of what the gameplay would be was independent of any hardware platform. The question was what hardware platform best delivers this gameplay experience that we have envisioned.

GS: You announced that there will be more Oddworld game releases on the Xbox, but what proximity will the game releases have with one another? When can we expect to see the follow-up to Munch's Odyssey?

LL: My answer would be, I can't tell you right now.

EF: Neither of us wants to be the bad guy on this one. [laughs]

GS: Moving on then, you are establishing two identifiable characters in Abe and Munch. I'm sure they would both like top billing, but which character will take a lead role in future games in the series? Or will it be someone entirely new?

LL: It depends on the type of game. If it's Munch's Exodus, it will be Munch again. If its Squeak's Odyssey, it will be Squeak in the lead role, and Abe and Munch will both take the supporting role.

GS: So, it will be a mixture between the several Oddworld characters then?

LL: That's right, and a mixture and balance of abilities and mechanics.

GS: Oddworld is an Xbox exclusive in the console domain, but will it be released for the PC?

EF: We haven't made any announcements about that.

GS: Thank you both for taking time to speak with us.

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