|Industry||Video games, Films|
|Genre||Cinematic platformer 3D Platformer, First-Person Shooter, Third-person action-adventure|
|Founded||San Luis Obispo, California (September, 1994)|
Formerly San Luis Obispo, California, United States
|Key people||Sherry McKenna (CEO)
Lorne Lanning (President)
|Products||Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD, Oddworld; Munch's Oddysee HD, Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!|
Oddworld Inhabitants Inc. is an American video game developer founded in 1994 by special-effects and computer-animation veterans Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning. The company is primarily known for the incomplete Oddworld Quintology, a series of award-winning video games about the fictional planet of Oddworld and its native creatures. The series debuted with Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee in 1997 and continued with Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee in 2000 but the studio has also developed standalone titles Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus in 1998 and Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath in 2005, which is currently the last new Oddworld title to be released.
Oddworld Inhabitants took a break from game development for a time following the release of Stranger's Wrath, even though it had already begun preliminary work on its next Oddworld title, The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot. However, it remained an active, operating company during this period, primarily through the development of a movie called Citizen Siege, though to this day it has not been released.
Currently, the company has returned to the video game industry, though so far its role has mostly been in guiding UK-based developers Just Add Water in resurrecting the Oddworld franchise through the remastering of existing titles and the development of new ones. On July 16, 2010, Just Add Water announced that "multiple projects" for Oddworld were in progress across "several platforms". In the March 2011 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, Lorne Lanning confirmed that a high definition rebuild of the studio's first game, is one of the projects currently being developed by Just Add Water, confirmed to be titled Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Founding
- 1.2 Video game development era (1997-2005)
- 1.3 Citizen Siege era (2005-2009)
- 1.4 Just Add Water partnership (2009-present)
- 1.5 ADEPT Games partnership
- 1.6 Square One Games
- 1.7 PlayStation 4 game development
- 1.8 Xbox relationship
- 2 Released titles
- 3 Upcoming titles
- 4 Possible games
- 5 Reception
- 6 Merchandise
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Founded in 1994, Oddworld Inhabitants came from the partnership between two very different talents of the film industry – Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna. McKenna, CEO, confessed to have come from a rich family and perfect childhood to become a successful producer and Hollywood executive in computer animation. Lorne Lanning, Creative Director an President, was trained as a painter and had his own factory of artists. While studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and then the California Institute of the Arts, Lanning worked as a Technical Director at TRW Engineering Visualization Lab in California before using his BFA in Character Animation to enter Hollywood and work on feature films and advertisements for award-winning visual effects studio Rhythm and Hues. Lanning described McKenna as "the 'go to' person in computer graphics... and a pioneering producer in visual effects" who had the know-how and power in business to make things happen. It was here in 1991 that these two veterans of Hollywood would meet to work together on computer animation rights, and where Lanning would take advantage of a rumor of a new gaming console called the PlayStation to convince McKenna to found a video game company with him.
Trained as a painter, Lorne Lanning quickly discovered that the media most influential on public opinion were mass-produced and electronic. Lanning went through life "looking at things differently" and had an enormous amount to say about what was going on in the world about which the media was not forthcoming. With stories to tell and wanting to convey deeper messages about what was really going on in the world, Lanning's original plan was to "create properties by launching them as games, and then eventually make the movies of these properties" because games "could be a potentially powerful medium for telling great stories" and because so much American mind share was devoted to video games at the time. McKenna was initially not very receptive to the idea, believing games to be "ugly and confusing." She eventually agreed to go along, as long as "he had to come up with the start-up money". Sharing a passion for high standards, and with her background in business and Lanning's artistic ability, McKenna moved with Lanning from Hollywood to San Luis Obispo in September 1994, where Oddworld Inhabitants was born.
"Weaponizing nutritional games"
Unlike most video game development studios, Lanning and McKenna did not think of themselves as starting a business. Lanning likened Oddworld to a band making music – using the metaphor of "the Pink Floyd of gaming as opposed to a Britney Spears" – the insinuation being that "I don't want to be told [by the publisher] what to make. I want to make the songs I want to make." Using his own foresight for the landscape of video gaming and the publishers that like to dictate to developers what they make, Lanning wanted to maintain the integrity that went with making what he wanted to make, not what his publishers wanted him to make. He believed the only way to do so was to "build a globally-recognized brand, then we could actually wind up with the sort of integrity that might stay intact over the years." That brand would become the universe in which his games would take place – Oddworld (not to be confused with the name of his studio).
When Lanning was working with Sherry McKenna at Rhythm and Hues, his eyes were opened to the possibilities that the CG industry had to offer. While most in the industry were talking CG down, he correctly predicted its potential, watching Pixar become "the most successful film studio in world history". He saw videos games in the same way, describing them as the "pop of pop mediums," and wanted to get involved because of its potential to offer "nutritious" content and become the most successful medium. By nutritious, he meant that if video games were a part of the four main food groups, they would be in the "junk food" category, because they're not used to get a degree or a job, they're purely for pop entertainment. But Lanning believes that video games have the ability to become one of the nutritious food groups by offering useful content with a meaningful message and a psychic, spiritual value to users And considering the implementation of video games to mobile devices has led to users spending 46% of their mobile device usage playing games, Lanning firmly believed games should become more nutritious.
In categorizing a nutritious game, Lanning explained that they should involve vision, creativity and a richness to lift themselves out of the narrowing of options he was beginning to see. And when games start to "embody more of the heart that we expect from classical forms of entertainment... more of the soul that we get from a great movie," such as stories with emotional depth, powerful character dilemmas and emotional engagement from the audience, the video game industry will expand exponentially.
When Lanning was growing up, he felt that the world needed to be saved, and that entertainers like Speilberg, Lucas and Bob Dylan were helping to achieve that through "entertainment as a vector for information". He calls it nutritious gaming. He felt lost growing up, overwhelmed by what he saw was wrong with the world, as bad people got away with feeding consumers lies through television and newspapers. He wanted to install a morality in video games so that their message could give hope to the next generation of kids and make them feel less lost in the world. While this has always been the purpose of an artist's creation, the challenge now was to do that in a free market society capitalistically driven on growth only, where games with artistic vision are considered too risky to the point of being suicidal industry decisions. But as far as Lanning was concerned, the artist's vision was more important than the industry's economic requirements, "I didn't care about making any entertainment if it's not going to be what I care about in life, and so to separate the two is something I'm not interested in.
He also believes that video games have the power to have a profoundly positive effect on the planet. Right now, the purpose of games to make money and entertain is just the tip of the iceberg. But if video game developers were asked to make games that could:
|“||teach kids physics by first grade, teach kids to read by this time, to help engineers better understand how the world works, and biologists and scientists understand by creating virtual worlds that don't necessarily have to turn a profit, but have to show improvement in cognitive skills and statistic benefits to society, if that happened tomorrow, what would gaming be like in ten years from now? And that's not even on the table. It's never up for discussion. It's not going to happen under the current way things work here. But we really are still looking at a medium that's just capable of completely kicking ass over all other mediums.||”|
Lanning is first and foremost an artist, and "as an artist, you're constantly trying to figure out how to integrate those things you care about in life in your medium of expression. And he found that video games were the perfect medium for combining the philosophies and realities he's observed in the world with the tools and technologies he loves, allowing him to repackage that content into a viable story for an audience with a meaningful message about what is really going on in the world – the Clif Bar instead of the potato chips. He has always believed that society is "under the umbrella of massively deceptive campaigns to keep people ignorant, in fear, and unknowingly supportive of truly evil policies," and the dark humor possible in video games was his way of illustrating that truth. Particularly, setting his games on the fictional Oddworld allows him to get away with more than he would if the games were set on Earth. And using a metaphor in that way is how he disguises the message he is trying to send – a development philosophy he refers to as Trojan Horse pop. This strategy involves packaging meaningful messages deep and personal to his beliefs inside the veil of an entertaining video game, in the way the Trojans hid deep within the bowels of the wooden horse from Virgil's Aeneid. Hence his games touch on elements of "slavery, globalization, food crisis and animal testing" in an entertaining but thought-provoking game that doesn't preach to the gamers, yet still contains the messages for those willing to consume them.
Lanning still believes that video games are suffering what has plagued all entertainment industries – an "unbalanced ratio of Britney Spears-class" content versus deeper "Pink Floyd-like" complexity." But he hopes the 21st century will continue the trend that storytellers like Shakespeare, Pink Floyd and his inspirations Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and HG Wells have used to "create deeper more meaningful and relevant content that reflects the challenging issues happening in the world around them today". The obstacles preventing them from getting these more meaningful stories out to their audiences, according to Lanning, are "money, means and the fear of soap box activism". Sales and marketing departments are more concerned with profit and less with meaningful stories. As a result, the big budget triple A titles are least likely to risk their profits by releasing content with deeper meaning instead of with tried and true methods of success, because they work in an environment of "investment versus returns" dictated by the publishers providing the money they need to make the game. However, if developers can create games that are cheaper and with little or no investment from a publisher, they retain more creative influence on the end product and can then make a game with more meaningful content, instead of what will sell more units. But the danger of making games with these messages is the risk of "alienating an often jaded userbase through activist ideals" and making them feel like they are being dictated to by someone on a soap box, instead of entertained way video games have always done. But Lanning believes that the documentary filmmaking industry shows an evolving appetite for reflecting relevant truths that leave audiences with more lasting impressions and value to their lives, hence his method of Trojan Horse pop. And video games can do this the way music and film has, but only if it is led by the independent sector, because they don't have to guarantee high profit margins for investments coming from publishers.
|“||When content is deeper and more meaningful, then you can still create highly digestible and widely consumable entertainment products. Or, you can make Britney Spears albums. The games industry has more Britney Spears-class content than Pink Floyd. We just always aimed to deliver more of the later [sic]. Great content lasts the test of time, big pop for the moment evaporates from the history books more quickly.||”|
Video game development era (1997-2005)
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (1997)
The first game to come out of Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc. was 1997's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, a 2D side-scrolling platform game published by GT Interactive for PlayStation One and PC. Production began in January 1995 with the original title "SoulStorm" before GT Interactive changed the name in September 1996 and released September 19, 1997. The culmination of Lorne Lanning's unique artistic design and socioeconomic themes, the game proved to be a commercial and critical hit sold 3.5 million units, made 180 million dollars and won almost 30 prestigious industry and print media awards. The game tells the story of Abe, one of 100 mudokon creatures enslaved by industrialist glukkon creatures in a meat-processing plant called RuptureFarms on the planet Oddworld. When the glukkons find that the wildlife used to create their meat products are becoming extinct, they decide to use the mudokons in their next product, forcing Abe to escape the plant and rescue his friends. Lanning wanted to distinguish his game from the rest of the industry at the time that was focusing on making 3D games. He chose to make a 2D platformer where the backgrounds were pre-rendered bitmaps, like digital paintings and used flip screens to make a flip book effect.
Described as "mysticism versus consumerism with a mega dose of twisted humor," the story represented beliefs deep and personal to creator Lorne Lanning – that "great art reflects back on us not necessarily what we want to see, but what we need to face." For Lanning, what we needed to face was capitalism. He "wanted to create a meaningful dark reflection of our dysfunctional world, wrapped up in a fantasy world, where we could talk about the craziness of our capitalism, but with a funny bone approach." Lanning disliked "what [capitalism] did to the little guy," though at the time of Abe's release, he couldn't admit to that because in an industry constantly striving for economic growth, "you'd get slaughtered" for criticising capitalism. But this anti-capitalist view infused the deeper meaning of Abe's Oddysee as the socio-economic element of the story was set amongst the lower class "slaving away in unsafe conditions, unwillingly bending to the will of corporate suits... to earn a few bucks for a day's worth of grueling, often unrewarding work" Lanning's new colleague, Stewart Gilray of UK developer Just Add Water, and now defacto development director of Oddworld Inhabitants, also agrees that the themes of corporatism, exploitation, pollution, consumerism and loss of individual spirituality to The Man are all themes explored in the game, particularly the dark side of globalisation and how it would shock audiences to see what the news is not representing. Abe's Oddysee became a metaphor for the food industry and the toll it has on the environment. The protagonist fighting back against his oppressors, the Glukkons, represented Lanning's desire for people in the real world to fight back against the "abominable behavior of the world's most greedy multi-national corporations," characterised by "caricatures of CEOs, all power-suits and cigars." It should also be noted that the Glukkons play a minor role in the gameplay of Abe's Oddysee, and are only seen in the game's cutscenes. This was intentional, as Lanning wanted the primary antagonist to be the RuptureFarms factory itself. "The corporation is above and beyond any of its executives or employees -- or slaves. So by making [players] defeat RuptureFarms as the end boss... we thought it would add a bigger sense of climax." This story was important to Lanning because he feels "it’s the artist’s role to create new myths that are relevant to the changing times of our world, [and] to bring some shining direction to our more troubling challenges."
The game introduced what would become staple features of Oddworld games. In an era of gaming when protagonists were typically muscle-bound, imposing and carrying a weapon, Abe was the complete antithesis of that, being skinny, gangly and kind of a wuss. Lorne Lanning said he wanted Abe to represent the everyman, the average chump, "the guy that you actually are," so as to better symbolize the Average Joe that is exploited unknowingly by corporations. Oddworld's senior animator Scott Easley said Abe is "not a brainiac, he's not a jack of all trades, he's not a master anything, he's a goofbag... but he's indicative of a much greater world that's out there." Being a character that Sherry McKenna described as one that "people could really identify with, not the character we'd like to be," Abe couldn't carry a weapon. "The biggest problem was, if Abe could carry a gun, then general gaming behavior means that he’s going to start solving all his problems with a gun, and that was not the Abe we wanted to create." Instead, Lanning wanted the hero to be empathetically driven. The only problem was that video games did not have mechanics to suit a character who fought with emotion and speech instead of guns. So they developed those mechanics, in the form of gamespeak and possession. Possession came from Lanning's desire to make Abe's mudokon creatures Shamanic by way of being connected to the spiritual world – antithesis to the antagonist Glukkons who were industrialists. This gave Abe the ability to chant in order to possess the mind and body of Slig guards, using them to sneak past areas undetected, carry out tasks he could not do himself, or kill with their machine guns. Abe's other weapon, known as gamespeak, was a feature of the game that allowed Abe to communicate with other Mudokons in order to instruct them to safety and rescue. Lanning described gamespeak as "a way to try to have meaningful verbal action that would also create a closer connection ... to our characters... a necessary ingredient designed to make you care more for the Mudokons you were supposed to rescue." What Lanning found throughout the history of games was that they mostly followed the same paradigm:
|“||Aggression over time equals rewards. It doesn't matter if you're shooting anything or bouncing on their heads, it's all the same concept. And so we thought, if we could change the paradigm to be empathy equals rewards over time, but still not sacrifice the things that are fun about action and adventure, then we could start to get a little more heart going, and that might start to do things like pick up on the female demographic, get more women interested in games. But it meant evolving the video game character. What does a classic entertainment character do and what does a video game character do? Classic characters talk, and they listen, and they communicate and have relationships with other characters.||”|
And by giving Abe the ability to communicate and feel emotions for the characters he saved or killed, it put real life issues and real life characters into the game. One of the engines created and trademarked by Oddworld Inhabitants for Oddysee was the Aware Lifeforms in Virtual Entertainment (A.L.I.V.E) engine. Lanning views it as "a conceptual theme more than a technological evolution" that aimed to create virtual characters with believable personalities and visible awareness because, "if characters feel more compelling and self aware - then we increase the possibility of engaging our audience emotionally."
When Abe's Oddysee was released in Japan, two changes were made to the game's visuals, namely during the FMV sequences. The first was due to the graphic image of a severed mudokon head atop a stick in the introductory movie depicting the new "Mudokon Pops" item about to be marketed by the Glukkons, shocking Abe into his escape and thus beginning the game. In the Japanese release, the image of the Mudokon Pops was changed to resemble a cartoon-like Popsicle with eyes and mouth, considered a "happier" image by Oddworld Inhabitants. It was not until 2011 that Lanning revealed just why the image was changed for Japanese audiences. A week before press was to begin in Japan to market the game, a Japanese middle-school student murdered a peer, severed his head, and hung it on the fence of a school. Lanning saw that this was "very, very distressful to the country of Japan that this happened... so they said that it would probably be a good idea to change it. We were asked and we weren’t stupid, so we complied." The altered image remained in the sequel released in all territories. Said Lanning, "I never liked the first one. But that was just what came out from the artists and I... try to give [them] some room and not change everything to my liking."
The second change made to the final Japanese version concerned the appearance of Abe's four-fingered hand. The developers found that in Japan, a hand with four fingers was common amongst "a subclass of meat packing workers that were typically looked down upon in their society." Over time, the displaying of a four-fingered hand gesture towards another came to be seen as an insult implying that they were subclass. To use that in a form of entertainment could "very likely end up in legal battles with a vociferous pressure group" who likened the insult to that of Nazis making Jews wear the yellow star during the Second World War. Lanning understood how it might have been distasteful to ignore that part of Japanese culture by leaving Abe with his four fingers, especially considering a large part of the game's setting was in a meat-packing plant. But when he discovered that the group would accept a payment of one million dollars to keep the insulting image in the game, "that becomes extortion, rather than a principle." As a result, Oddworld Inhabitants decided to let the pressure groups have their way by changing the image to give Abe three fingers, so that the developers could maintain their morality in not paying off extortionists. The irony of the controversy was that it was an example of life imitating art, as in the game, Abe was the representative of a subclass of species "discriminated against for being who he was... because they don't like his kind here."
Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus (1998)
The success of Oddysee required Oddworld Inhabitants to make a sequel, though it was not part of their original plan of a five game "Quintology". The next game in their plan was supposed to be Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee but in an example of life imitating art, the corporate machine of Oddworld's publishers, GT Interactive, pressured the studio to make a new game for the PlayStation One by Christmas 1998. Lorne Lanning refused to make Munch for PlayStation One because he wanted that game to use 3D environments and he felt the hardware was not good enough to handle it. So in order to complete a game in nine months, they took the engine from Oddysee, added improvements to gamespeak and implemented a quicksave system to produce Abe's Exoddus. A bonus game outside of the original Quintology, Exoddus released in 1998 for PlayStation One and PC, continuing the story where Oddysee left off using elements that were left out of its predecessor due to time constraints. Lanning said his studio "killed ourselves getting Abe’s Exoddus done in nine months" making a longer game with more cinematic sequences and even more intricate backgrounds.
While Exoddus may not have been in the initial plan, Lanning believes the bonus game worked because they wanted the Oddworld universe to be a franchise with infinite stories:
|“||Our idea for Oddworld was to birth a rich universe of relevant material with endearing characters, one that we could reflect those issues that we felt most deeply about ... [and then] convert them into interactive entertainment. If we did it right, there was no reason why the universe we had created couldn’t tell infinite stories. Much like Star Wars.||”|
So while the Quintology was the core focus of Oddworld Inhabitants, bonus games in the same universe were not unwelcome.
One of the adjustments made for Exoddus was the increase in humor compared to Oddysee. While the dark themes of industrialization, exploitation and capitalism were still present, Lanning felt they needed to be offset by more humor. Some of that came in the form of the added ability to possess Abe's own farts and use them as explosives. "We believe in laughs... they make for good entertainment... and it made sense with our super dark themes to give them a lighter heart with more dysfunctional things to do."
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee (2001)
The development of Munch's Oddysee came after the decision by Oddworld Inhabitants to shift from the PC and PlayStation One platforms to Microsoft's new Xbox console. While the fans were unhappy, Lanning explained that his studio was not pleased with the development environment of the new PlayStation 2, seeing the capabilities of the system being maxed out very early on in its lifespan, and he didn't want to be trapped developing their technologies for the next five years on a console that couldn't handle what they had planned for Munch. However, the Xbox console would withstand what they required for this next game, Lanning's example being the ability to have multiple dozen characters moving and interacting on screen at the same time in the quality of animation they wanted, and with an evolving environmental landscape in the background. "Only Xbox gives us the graphical muscle and intense digital sound to unleash our creative juices and allow us to bring the imaginary world and rich characters of Oddworld to life," said Lanning. And Microsoft's paradigm of being a console for the entire family fit perfectly with their own view of their studio. With Oddworld's publishers, GT Interactive/Infogrames, going out of business and Oddworld Inhabitants forced to find a new publisher, Microsoft expressed interest, but only if Lanning would release the game exclusively with Microsoft. Microsoft also personally asked Lanning what he wanted a possible console to include before they even begun development on the Xbox, and when he saw the system that they built had included a lot of what he requested, he could see that the development of Munch was now possible. On October 23, 2000, Microsoft announced the signing of a deal with Inforgrames, then owner of Oddworld's publishers GT Interactive, securing exclusive rights to publishing and distributing the next four Oddworld Inhabitants titles, beginning with Munch's Oddysee the following year. Yves Blehaut, senior vice president of Infogrames Inc. at the time, agreed "Microsoft's marketing plans for the Xbox launch coupled with its first-party publishing support will provide tremendous value for 'Munch's Oddysee." Lanning expressed his regret at leaving the PC platform, but Microsoft refused to agree to a PC version of the game, and "unless you're going to pay for [games] yourself... you have to work with partners" who place constraints on products.
Lanning described Munch's Oddysee as the "project that has me the least satisfied." He took responsibility for the game's faults in acknowledging that he was immature, couldn't manage a larger group of 75 developers and was too over-demanding for what became unreasonable goals. Lanning later explained in 2006 that video game developers were being held back creatively by the race to develop newer technologies, a fact that affected the production of Munch because of the change from 2D to 3D that was demanded by the market of the new Xbox. In the case of the 2D Abe games, the backgrounds were paintings processed into sprites, pre-rendered and photo retouched, allowing them to add much more detail that wasn't possible in the 3D environment of Munch's Oddysee. As for the increase in humor and its "cartoony" style, Lanning explained that Microsoft thought of the Oddworld franchise as its Super Mario Bros..
Gilray revealed the failure of Munch left the team heartbroken. Lanning felt that they, and in particular he, under-delivered on the promise of this new game, and for the first time since before Abe's Oddysee, he felt a sense of vulnerability in the industry. It was a "turbulent time in the industry" with publishers going in and out of business, budgets rising and publishers and developers still learning to manage the changes," but the biggest factor that worried Lanning was the exposure brought about by Microsoft's Xbox console. Munch's Oddysee was one of the launch titles for the Xbox alongside Halo, and with the visibility that came from being in the spotlight at the console's launch, there was nowhere to hide when "we got our asses kicked by Halo."
Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath (2005)
For their fourth game, originally a sequel to Munch's Oddysee, Oddworld Inhabitants entered new territory. Stranger's Wrath was unique to the three previous Oddworld games on two fronts. Firstly, the game shifts between the first-person shooter perspective and third-person action-adventure in order to take advantage of the game's combat and platforming elements. The interchangeability of the two styles was described as natural, well-executed, and the best of both gaming worlds. The other new element about this entry in the Oddworld series is that it was the first game to feature a whole new part of Oddworld, and without the studio's mascot Abe. The player assumes the role of Stranger, the last of a seemingly extinct species called the Steef. He embodied everything that Abe did not – strength, speed, ruthlessness and the use of weapons. IGN described the new elements as a welcome change that showed the Oddworld franchise and Lorne Lanning's ability as a designer had the ability to adapt and evolve with the times after what it described as the failure of Munch's Oddysee. The change in setting and style allowed for a different kind of storytelling, as it begins with a steady pace of Stranger bounty hunting to save "moolah" to pay for lifesaving surgery before evolving "into a touching tale of redemption that complements Abe's own adventures" in a shift that increases the game's drama and pace in the final hours.
But some of the traditional Oddworld elements that originally made the brand unique returned. Most notably, the artificial intelligence of Oddworld's species, as governed by their A.L.I.V.E. game engine, evolved from the Munch iteration to create a more "believable personality and visible awareness". For example, how the player treats the local townsfolk, Clakkerz, dictates how they in turn treat the player. "They will hide if you hurt them and... will also help you out if are nice about it... [so] playing with the locals is half the fun in this game." The creatures are also the "perfect example of what Oddworld previously did so well – infuse weird-looking characters with spunk, attitude and humor". The way in which the cutscenes intertwine seamlessly with the gameplay in order to convey the story is another element from previous games that returns in Stranger.
Stranger's Wrath was released in January 2005, like its predecessor, exclusively for Microsoft's Xbox console. Despite the game being well-received by critics, it was not commercially successful, selling only 600,000 units. But the quality of the game was not the main reason for its lack of success, as its sandbox-style combat and shifting between first and third-person perspectives was considered a legitimate rival to Halo. According to Lanning, the game "wasn't advertised or marketed because Electronic Arts couldn't get its PlayStation 2 port of our Xbox original to run and if EA isn't on all SKUs, it just won't promote the game." Of the decision, Lanning said:
|“||It was very disheartening to us that we could have a title with a user metric of 9.6 [out of 10], a game that was praised as being a fusion of filmmaking and video games in terms of being less 'gamey' and more story and character-driven ... and then to see that the largest publisher in the industry had no interest in marketing it regardless of how innovative it was.||”|
Suggestions that he was disillusioned with EA Games for their decision to cut Stranger's marketing and advertising budget were initially refuted by Lanning, stating he had no ill feelings towards EA Games, but simply realized the finances and the deals in the industry were not conducive to the big plans he and McKenna had when they first founded the studio. Interestingly, after several years passed, Lanning revisited the issue and claimed EA games "sabotaged" Stranger's Wrath with its marketing decisions, explaining no matter how good a game can be, its fate is decided by the publisher's marketing commitment. And with a new IP like Stranger in a retail climate, its success was only possible if it had the visibility that comes with advertising. For a game that was a commercial failure in 2005, it went number one for the Vita in the U.K. and Europe and number two in the US as soon as the remaster was released seven years later in 2012.
Citizen Siege era (2005-2009)
The Stranger's Wrath marketing issues between Oddworld Inhabitants and EA Games left Lorne Lanning with a cynical view of the relationship between publishers and video game development studios such as his own. He discovered that none of the big publishing companies who invest in an intellectual property wanted a single person to own that IP. This led to new agreements between publisher and studio where "before you even know what titles are coming out from that studio, if it has great success, the publisher has the clause to buy that company at the value before the success." Lanning did not want to have any part of those deals because he believed this model would see development studios divided like "Solomon's Baby", where each corporate faction that had a stake in the studio would claim ownership and then take a slice of it, leaving the original studio destroyed. But this baby belonged to Lanning and Sherry McKenna. EA Games' offer to acquire Oddworld Inhabitants was seen as "not a sustainable model, [but] a hostile acquisition" and was met with Lanning and McKenna's stern refusal.
|“||When you're a passionate content creator... giving up your property is like giving up your kids. We don't have actual kids, we only have our properties but we're just as protective of our properties as most people are with their children. Taking that into consideration... why would you ever give up your kids to organizations that don't share your values? No sane person would, but most people don't look at intellectual property that way. They see it more like commercial real estate property. Something that comes and goes. Something that hits or misses and you just move on. We're way too passionate and invested in what we create to hand it over to ever changing executives within a big organization that see your "kids" as a chess piece to be used or sacrificed for the interest of their shareholders.||”|
Unfortunately, ditching their publisher came at a cost – the loss of finance for game development, marketing and distribution. Without being able to fund it themselves, Oddworld Inhabitants could not continue to produce games. At the time, the studio had begun work on a new game called The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot, though it was working under the constraints of an Xbox-exclusive engine at a time when Microsoft only supported developers working on the Xbox 360.
Oddworld closes its doors
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lanning announced the studio's decision to cancel all projects and leave the video game industry. The decision left audiences and the gaming media confused and thinking the decision was based on Lanning's anger with EA Studios for the marketing issues of Stranger's Wrath. Even one former employee could not grasp their decision, saying "quite honestly they had one of the best teams in the industry, and they just threw it away." So Lanning explained the very next day that the decision was not "a result of emotional reactions to the industry or Stranger's release." They closed the studio because the financing models where the publisher provides the funds for the studio meant the publisher could dictate the kinds of marketing decisions like the one made by EA to cut Stranger's marketing. The industry had become so risk-averse, that publishers were not willing to invest large amounts of money on projects that are not proven long-term successes. Under these conditions, Lanning found he could no longer continue in the video game industry, because he had bigger plans for the Oddworld brand. When he and McKenna first created Oddworld Inhabitants, they described themselves as a property development company, not a technology company. During the marketing stage of Munch's Oddysee, Lanning explained that Oddworld Inhabitants always looked at video games as "the place to birth the property of Oddworld," but the games were written in treatment form as though they're motion pictures because "part of our dream is to make one of the big movies." While the first step may have involved a video game development studio building the technology that would run their critically and commercially successful games, it was not their ultimate goal. Being bogged down in game development left them hamstrung when it came to achieving the other objectives toward their ultimate goal. So to reach that goal, the next phase of the studio's development began with focusing on the core of why they started the studio back in 1994:
|“||Build properties that would transcend media and really be premiere candidates for the 21st century digital entertainment. And for a while that worked out rather well. And then the game business also changed a lot, and we see today a more conservative, risk-averse climate... So what we did a year ago was we said, 'When we set out we wanted to create these stories as movies and we wanted to create new, fresh properties as well, but as long as we are continuing to run an internal development company then we're very constrained in what we have the ability to do,' because in-house game production for a third-party developer is becoming more and more time-consuming. So we chose to dissolve the interior production element and instead focus on the properties in a larger context.||”|
In short, the plan was to switch to a "Hollywood movie production model: find the funds, plan the game, then freelance the work out," though it meant starting at the bottom financially. Lanning and McKenna closed the company’s internal game production in San Luis Obispo and began looking at business models beyond that of the standard publisher/developer model. The aim was to fund the development of IPs on a range of media wider than just video games. The timing was right, according to Lanning, to start applying the lessons they learned from game development "about demographics and understanding your audience" to the film landscape. And he felt the future of entertainment production was going to be about tailoring projects for the convergence of media in the form of TV and film, where he first started his professional life, in addition to video game production. "Next-gen IP development, in our opinion, is really Massively Multi-Media Property development, of which games are one outlet" and "as we head deeper into the 21st century... film, television, and interactive design will continue to grow more intertwined." The intent became to make CG material for film, television and gaming that would relate to and inform each other, while letting third-party production studios realize their next-gen game concepts.
|“||Rather than us investing all of our time into designing new engines to run on the next-generation consoles, there are other people in the world who’ll do that better than we will. Yet they’re going to have challenges doing what we do really well. So there are a lot of synergistic possibilities that can take place, and by not having the hungry beast to feed, it enables us to have more time and freedom to pursue those other interests that right now are really exciting.||”|
Lanning gave this new venture a limited time to get up and running, saying, "If we don't crack it in the next two and a half years, we're not going to be able to," but was confident "there's a window that's open for all-CG feature films and TV."
"Citizen Siege" and "Wage Wars"
There were four projects being worked on in this phase of the Oddworld Inhabitants studio – the only three to become public knowledge were a CG feature film entitled "Citizen Siege", an online video game tied into the film, called "Wage Wars" and an HD machinima series. Citizen Siege was first announced by Lorne Lanning in his keynote speech at GameCity in Nottingham, UK. To be directed by Lanning, executive produced by Sherry McKenna and produced by Vanguard Films, it was to be a dark, political, action thriller with elements of sci-fi set in a universe entirely separate from Oddworld "where current global conditions are extrapolated into a frightening near future where democracy has all but disintegrated under the rule of global corporatism" categorised by nightmarish credit rackets responsible for the hero's predicament. It wasn't until many years later that Lanning would further explain the story of the film. In this dystopia, society has reduced humans to mere commodity, where healthy human tissue is used as collateral against financial debt, allowing corporations to literally re-possess people piece-by-piece. The hero of the story, now encased in a cheap life-support system, sets out to reclaim the pieces of his re-possessed body and take down the organisation responsible for his own harvesting, crossing economic borders with the aid of unworldly powers fused to his mechanical body. Lanning said they wanted to go in a direction different to Disney's adult humor by combining animation with darker stories like Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and Lord of the Rings It was also described as "1984 (sic) for the 21st century". While this story was the first move away from the studio's creation of the fictional Oddworld planet, it would still feature the same attention to graphical detail, while its subject matter would retain the subtext that inspired Oddworld, "except more relative to what's going on today on the political landscape, geographically on the world scale and it's sort of a menacing view of a possible future." Development of the project began with the goal to making a video game, and included a few hundred digital production paintings. The studio ultimately lost faith in their publisher/developer model and did not want to pursue any further relationships with a big publisher, so it never reached a proper pre-production phase. Instead, they began shopping it as a CG animated feature.
According to Lanning in a September 2007 interview, Wage Wars was expected to be an online game – the first of two to help promote Citizen Siege. He explained that his studio was not finished with games; they were not running a game development studio anymore but they were holding onto game licensing for the films they were going to make because they wanted to ensure those games were made how they wanted them to be made, without having to do it themselves. The idea was to develop Wage Wars and Citizen Siege simultaneously "so that both the linear and interactive elements can launch together." But they did not actively begin looking for game developers. The first goal was to gain the marketing commitment for the Citizen Siege film, "because films usually have more marketing dollars behind them, and that's how you're really penetrating brand awareness into the world audience," and once that was achieved, the deals for games and television would come easily.
Revealing their objective during this era of the company, Lanning explained that they wanted to "amortize the assets across multiple platforms and really kick machinima into a new level of storytelling and quality." But it became difficult for them to legalize the database rights when film studios, game developers and cable networks wanted to own every piece of production, particularly game publishers who aren't willing to "finance your game that's a new property... then let you go off with the film rights." This is something Lanning wanted to avoid because his view is that the future of entertainment IP is about being cross-platform (in the case of Citizen Siege – the television, film and game platforms), citing Google and Microsoft as an example of how the former is the future because it works across multiple platforms as opposed to the latter which is just one platform. And he was not a fan of franchises with property "led in one medium like a movie or game and then blindly licensed with mediocrity coming out in the other mediums," so their ambition was to birth properties that play well on all of those fronts. But this future of entertainment IP is only possible if it is guided by the people that create it – the ones most passionate about it – because they treat their franchises a lot better than the corporate bureaucracies that tend to just try to milk them on whatever fronts are possible". Said Lanning, "The time for tools and technology is right, the partnership is right, and the audience is ready, so this is the opportunity we've been waiting for to prove if we've got what it takes." At the time that Citizen Siege was being developed, social media and social networking had just begun opening up, digital distribution was coming, and Oddworld Inhabitants discovered that the smart thing to do was to find new opportunities to take advantage of the new landscape:
|“||In that different world, we wanted to take a very fresh look at it, we didn't want to stay on the treadmill in that hamster wheel just running, running, running, trying to keep our previous existence intact. Instead we said, 'What's the smartest thing to do today?' and that's where we had gone and aimed for the [Citizen Siege] films. And then the financial crash caused a lot of financing troubles in the United States.||”|
When the studio decided to turn Citizen Siege into a movie, they were given a green light as an R-rated CG animated feature, and went into early stages of development. But the global financial crisis "changed the terms in Hollywood [and] greatly reduced the chance of success". Publishers became even more risk-averse and Lanning realised it was going to be an "up-hill battle" to get the movie off the ground. Being a smaller company affected by the financial constraints more than bigger game developers, Lanning decided to put Citizen Siege, Wage Wars and all other associated projects from this era on hold. However, his partner Sherry McKenna said the abandonment of Citizen Siege was the result of " 'clear differences' with a third party" that has not yet been identified.
The following year, Lanning found his Oddworld Inhabitants company returning to where it all began – video games. While his work on the Quintology did cease after Munch's Oddysee, Lanning stood by his claim when Oddworld ceased producing video games that he denied ending game production. This proved true when their newest collaborators – Just Add Water – announced they were working with Oddworld Inhabitants.
Lanning once hinted at a possible Oddworld film that his studio had been working on.
Xmobb by Oddmob, Inc.
While Citizen Siege and its associated projects are on hold, Lanning maintains that he wants to tell those stories, but "that I’m going to have to pay for it myself. And that’s part of what the new business is about." That new venture, called Xmobb, was created by Lorne Lanning and his longtime business partner, Oddworld co-founder and CEO Sherry McKenna, along with Daniel Goldman (co-founder of the Total Entertainment Network) in Emeryville, California. Xmobb was described as offering social networking with video and gaming services.
The business came about when Lanning saw that the human attention span was being spent on YouTube and Facebook more than on any other platform. Originally, he believed the most important thing in the video game industry was to build your own intellectual property, but he learned the newest IP was "people". His plan was to build a space where "cultures [are] more connected to more passion points" like friends, shows, hobbies etc. and where they can all be facilitated without anyone or anything being left out. Rather than telling audiences to invest their time in an IP created by someone else, Lanning looked at the relationships people were enjoying and the media they were sharing:
|“||On Facebook, every hour, 150 years of linear video is being shared between people. Every hour. Every day, YouTube is serving two billion videos. Now, two billion videos served is more than all the networks and all the cable companies combined have served in their lifetime. Now, this is happening daily on the social network.||”|
So the goal of Xmobb was to combine the endless library of media (social media like YouTube) with an endless possibility of human connection (social networks like Facebook) in a "gamified way". His major weapon in this idea came in the form of a new trust that had been fostered amongst audiences via social interaction and social media. This trust was very important in Lanning's view because it demonstrated the return of something that had been lost over the years:
|“||No matter what side of the fence you live on; right, left, religious, atheist, this party, that party, we can all agree on one thing – we’ve all been screwed by the shitbags that are running things. As a by-product, trust is a new currency, simply because it’s been decimated. We don’t trust corporations, we don’t trust governments, we don’t trust anything anymore. Say, Paramount is coming out with a new movie, they’ll have a 200 million dollar campaign about it, but you and me probably couldn’t give a shit about it. But if you told me 'I saw this movie and it’s awesome. You’ve just got to see it', then I’m going to go see that movie. You had more weight and more value on my impression than 200 million dollars from Paramount ever could, because there’s no trust. Trust is in the relationships and it’s the new currency.||”|
Lanning's idea was a "space where people [can] gather en-masse to watch the same content, with people they know who are already watching together" in "virtual theatres" created by anyone under any theme, interest or topic while others gather to watch and contribute content in a constant stream. He thought of this gathering as the video game equivalent of the Superbowl – millions of people gathering together in support of something they care about or something they want to fight for. By giving anyone with a computer the opportunity to share information with people all over the world in realtime, viewers would be able to see what is really going on in the world and begin to trust each other, as opposed to what they are being told by a "corporate funded media landscape that has its own agenda that is anything but democratic in nature [and] a massive misinformation machine that serves Wall Street and the White House." It was Lanning's goal to use this new trust to enlighten the world to what is really going on. He revisited the topic during the issue of Microsoft's DRM policy after the launch of the Xbox One, saying "companies should focus more on building brand trust and allowing the audience to filter who is a good guy and who’s bad... that’s what social networks and forums deal with [and] the more a company can build trust, the better they seem to do."
Lanning stressed that this new business venture was not about trying to make money for money's sake, nor to make a 20-30 million dollar Oddworld title that would compete on the market with 60-100 million dollar games. First and foremost, the idea was to "facilitate a way for people to come together and share in realtime, faster and faster, [so] we’ll get enlightened faster as well." with the added bonus that "if we do [Xmobb] right, I get to finance the [Citizen Siege] movies myself and then they’re not going to be compromised" by big publishers.
In August 2011, Lanning said the launch was a few months away, with patents filed under the business name Oddmobb, Inc., but at the Eurogamer Expo in September 2012, he revealed the failure of Xmobb. The associated websites have since been shut down. When Sony announced the PS4 in February 2013, Lanning revisited the launch and failure of Xmobb. He explained that the connectivity, controller, sharing and camera technology available on Sony's new console was the kind of technology he tried to create for Xmobb before finding it cost prohibitive.
Just Add Water partnership (2009-present)
Ensuring the survival of Oddworld Inhabitants, Lanning and McKenna's efforts would pay off when at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, small-time UK game developer Just Add Water's managing director Stewart Gilray approached Lorne Lanning with a plan to revive the brand and continue towards their ultimate goals. Managing director Stewart Gilray continuously bugged a mutual friend of Lanning's until Lanning finally agreed to brief discussions in June 2009. A year later, on July 16, 2010, Just Add Water revealed to the public that they had been working with Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna's Oddworld Inhabitants for 12 months. The small UK-based developer had been commissioned to begin work on multiple projects across multiple platforms, the first one at the request of Lanning to be porting Stranger's Wrath to the PC. Lanning said he was happy to hand his "baby" over because the team at Just Add Water are just as passionate about his brand as he is, and is composed of fans of the Oddworld games that want to bring the same "love, integrity and sincerity to the brand that the original crew had." Lanning's response was "not a typical capitalist condition where you would say, 'Well how much money can you return, and how much are you going to pay us for that brand?' " He didn't demand a licensing fee or the promise to be the biggest hit of the year because it wasn't his, nor Sherry McKenna's, goal to get rich. He told them if they can build a sustainable business that provides the fanbase with quality offerings, then he would work with them. Stewart Gilray explained that initial conversations led to discussions about "new items" and their website now indicates they are the "exclusive developers for titles based upon the Oddworld brand", and has expanded their team of two to 16. This would not have been possible without Oddworld's faith in their own brand – retaining the license to their Oddworld product, and keeping all of the assets from the original games of which Just Add Water now have full access. Of Just Add Water, Lanning said, "In sitting at the [Just Add Water] studio... people are there until 1am... you know you have a team that cares about the content, they're not just trying to get a product done, they're trying to get something they're proud of done."
Back when Abe's Oddysee first came out, Lorne Lanning believed that games were a disposable commodity, and as new gaming consoles were released, their hardware would not support older games. He believed new hardware was "always resistant to backwards compatibility because they want to show new software... [not] the old library. But when Steam began distributing games digitally, he found there was life left in his games after all. And though there was a monetary investment involved in making his games compatible for the PC before approaching digital distributors like Steam and GOG, it cost them almost nothing to distribute digitally on the PSN because the games were already compatible. He found that Sony was treating its classic games the way Apple and iTunes treat classic music, allowing them new life for new and old audiences. 15 years after Lanning first created Abe, he was surprised to find that people still email him with the same passion he has for the games. And by a stroke of luck, the people involved in making the decisions to emulate PlayStation One games on the PS3 are fans of the game and were also involved in Sony during its original launch. Now, Lanning has completely changed his view and firmly believes that content created today will have life in the future, as long as the game has quality, and utilizes digital distribution.
Digital distribution is one of the important elements in sustaining the Oddworld/Just Add Water partnership in the video game industry because of the vast savings in cost associated with moving games from developer to consumer digitally instead of physically. According to Lanning, when Abe's Oddysee was completed and distributed to the consumer, 20% of royalties went towards his team of developers. They then needed the game to make back approximately four million dollars in earnings using just their 20% in royalties to break even on the funds provided by their publisher, GT Interactive. Once that had been achieved, under the model that assumed the cost of Oddysee remained at US$59.99, his team of developers would receive just US$7 for every unit sold. The rest would go towards paying all the associated costs that go with publishing, marketing and distributing the game, such as disc manufacturing, licensing fees, fuel for transporting the game to retailers, retail staff and more. And on top of everything else, their physical disc would have to compete with countless other games for selection on the retailer shelf.
But their current digital distribution model eliminates the "radical chasm between who really got the money and who's been doing a lot of the work." A game that would sell for US$9.99 on Steam, XBLA or PSN would still net the studio US$7 for every unit sold. So with digital distribution, all of the costs associated with distributing a physical game are non-existent. Under this model, the player is funding the games more than ever, with 70% of their money going directly to the developer to make more games, as opposed to the old model where 12% went to the developer and 88% went to the publisher. So the risk being undertaken by the developers with each project is considerably less, because they only need to sell 50,000 units for them to break even and stay in business, as opposed to the one million required in the first week of sales when using money provided by a major publisher. And because they don't have to concern themselves with reaching unit sales targets, they can spend time on extras like Vita ports to satisfy a wider audience that prefers the Vita that big publishers wouldn't consider because there wouldn't be enough of a monetary return from their audience to justify the time spent on making it. The irony of this business model is that it is an example of life imitating art, as the demand for a 5x or 10x return on the publisher's investment is an example of the factory farming model the Glukkons employed to keep RuptureFarms in business, which was not sustainable. But now, with their Just Add Water partnership, all elements of the business are working together towards the common goal of producing games to fund more games, working for just a 1.5x return in order to stay in business, keep people employed, and grow the business, and in turn, the games. And with each success under this model, the developers will have a larger pool of money to work with, allowing them to gradually increase that risk. The first risk was the Oddboxx on Steam, followed by porting the Oddboxx to PlayStation 3, Stranger HD and then Munch HD. Now, their success has paved the way for their biggest project (and risk) to date – rebuilding Abe's Oddysee to make Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! And though this game has taken longer and cost more than the previous titles, the risk of going out of business or, "splitting the baby", is still considerably lower than had the developers gone through a major publisher. As Lanning says, "Oddworld is about sustainable content in an unsustainable world". Their growth might be small, but being that their products are crowd-financed by the audience buying the games, there is no need to appease investors that have brought no value beyond their own cash, or answer to a board that wants to implement policies the studio doesn't agree with, which "is what drives most of the pressure and most of the distractions". Sensible Software co-founder Jon Hare says that other independent game developers have seen this new option and are not looking back, because they have been marginalized from the retail shelves by the bigger companies like EA Games and Ubisoft.
Under the agreement between Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water that eliminates the traditional distribution models, "most of the money that the gamer is spending will come right back to the developer," meaning the majority of profits made after sales recoup production costs goes directly into making more games, not enriching the owners. This allows the studio to sell their games at a cheaper price point than the big studios making Triple-A titles. Lanning refers to this relationship as that of sharecropping, as opposed to serfdom. And he's finding that in this new landscape where "creators can find an audience at a lower price, offer a product cheaper, and directly nurture that community," that the big publishers are finding it hard to "justify their value" in the industry now, especially to the gamers that purchase their products at a higher cost, with most of their money going to the publishers themselves. Gilray said of his time at Lanning's Berkely house in 2010, "I came away from that with the feeling that, well, that they felt, knew, the game and the brand were in the right hands." It is still Lorne Lanning's (and now Stewart Gilray's) ambition to complete the original five-game Quintology that begun with Abe's Oddysee and continued with Munch's Oddysee. And while that ambition was halted by the decision to abandon the publisher/studio relationship, Oddworld Inhabitants, in partnership with Just Add Water, and utilizing digital distribution, are now better equipped to continue the Quintology – this time with Just Add Water as the developer and Oddworld as their micro-publisher. As for platforms, they refer to themselves as "platform-agnostic" – happy to port their games to any platform.
Lanning's plan to transform Oddworld Inhabitants from a game-developing studio to a self-sustaining micro-publisher independent of "disconnected investor demands," with an ability to communicate with its audience, is where Lanning says the independent developer movement needs to go. Oddworld and Just Add Water are "too small to be disruptive, but we can... succeed in the disruptive landscape." And in January 2013, Lanning revealed Oddworld Inhabitants has not sought publishers since its last signing with EA in 2004.
But as Scott Steinberg of Game Theory says, the challenge for independent developers is marketing and distribution.
In this new era of the video game industry, Oddworld Inhabitants was able to find a new audience, but more importantly, listen to that audience, through the use of social networking. Lorne Lanning learned that audiences were looking for companies that would engage them during the process of developing a video game, so that they feel involved in its development. So the studio polled their audience to find out what kind of game they wanted to play, and found that fans wanted Abe's Oddysee redone like Stranger's Wrath was. While the relationship between Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water is symbiotic, with JAW constantly running things by Oddworld Inhabitants via email conversations, Lanning tells JAW to ask the audience for input in answering their questions about the game, because they are the ones that will be playing it. The more you engage them in the process, "that feedback is going to be really, really valuable" and when they see that you are genuinely listening, they feel like they are being heard and it creates "deeper more passionate fan bases".
This "content co-creation" is all about facilitating a conversation between creator and player, which Lanning believes was not possible in the time of distributing at retail outlets, and according to him, is the future of game development because it extends the game beyond the written story. And it allows players to feel a sense of ownership that they have helped model the very game they have played. "It's one thing to say, 'Look at this picture of this beautiful baby.' It's another thing to say, 'Look at this picture of my beautiful baby.' There's a whole different depth of connection and ownership," Lanning said. The other new lesson to come from the current gaming landscape has been using analytics to understand the behavioral patterns of gamers. Lanning describes analytics as the new religion of the online space and believes the company that has the best learning engine for analytics is Zynga. While he may not like their games, "when you look at the science of how they are analysing what their audience is doing, there's a reason why they have 170 million users today – larger than the install-base of the entire console market".
Digital distribution has turned the audience into the studio's biggest weapon in marketing their games. Along with getting the games into the consumers' hands, publishing companies have teams and tools to market the studio's game to the consumers. But the decision to abandon a publisher and self-publish Just Add Water's games left Oddworld Inhabitants without the five million dollar marketing campaign that publishers provided them in the past for their own games. So now they rely on the audience and the press to assist with marketing their products by spreading the word via social network and the media, which makes pleasing the audience with their work even more important. When Lanning is asked how he would encourage new fans to his game, he directs them to the oldest fans of his franchise, because "they have a certain passion, they've stayed with us... they speak to it better than we do [and] we're not paying them". Just Add Water's Stewart Gilray acts as the head of marketing for the partnership and utilizes different methods for engaging with fans, such as conducting online interviews for gaming sites, Q&A sessions, web advertisements, a live stream of their headquarters and communicating directly with Oddworld's fans via websites such as NeoGAF, whose visitors have shown delight in the ability to interact directly with the developers. 2012 also saw the inaugural "MudoCon" event at Eurogamer – an event where fans of the Oddworld universe from around the world could meet up, similar to Comic Con. Oddworld Inhabitants also involved fans in the naming of the Abe's Oddysee remake, with Lanning expressing his delight at their choice of New 'n' Tasty!, which in the game was signalling the end of Abe, but now represents his rebirth. He said that Just Add Water came to him asking what they should name the remake and his first response was to ask the audience because they care as much as the developers do. The quality of the responses they received from fans encouraged Lanning to ask them to submit art and music for the game. And after seeing the submissions of one particular fan, Lanning hired him to design the logo for New 'n' Tasty!. They hired the biggest Oddworld fan to manage the fan community online. The studio also involved fans by asking them to submit audio recordings of their voice for the chance to win their inclusion in the game as the voice of one of the mudokons. When YouTube introduced a new Content ID system in December 2013 allowing holders of copyright material to flag content they had not approved to be published on the service, such as Let’s Plays, commercial trailers, and screen shots, Oddworld Inhabitants issued a statement on their own website informing fans that they give "explicit permission to anyone on the service to broadcast using Oddworld games" without fear of being issued a copyright claim, because "nothing makes us happier than to see you guys enjoying our games, and it’s something we encourage wholeheartedly."
The other important factor that has ensured their success is the integrity that the Oddworld brand sustained when they first made their video games. The Oddworld games were built on millions in funding compared to the current games on portable platforms that are made with so much less. The 2D nature of the Abe games has also helped, according to Lanning, as mobile platforms lend itself well to 2D games, hence there is no judgment towards Oddysee and Exoddus for being 2D. The games have found success a second time on the digital landscape, due in small part to the guerrilla marketing possible with today's media, but more importantly because of the brand recognition that came from nurturing their original audience in the late 90s, which Lanning believes has them fortunately ahead of the indie developers pack. Said Lanning, "As long as we don't try to exploit the dollars out of that fanbase in cheap ways... then we should be able to keep growing that fanbase and reigniting it," with the goal to be raising enough money to make triple A titles that are self-funded. In future, Gilray and Lanning hope the loyal fanbase that have stuck with the brand over the years of seeming inactivity will help spread the word for new Oddworld developments. One of the ways they have been able to do that is due to the large production gap between Oddworld's games and Just Add Water's remasters. Lanning found that the fans that grew up on Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus in the late 90s are now parents that have children. And when those games became available digitally through Steam and PSN, they saw that their first fans were now turning the games onto their children. In the last quarter of 2012, the 13-year-old Abe games sold 300,000 units via digital distribution through word of mouth alone before any form of marketing (10% of what it sold in its entire run on PC and PS1). Stranger's Wrath HD, meanwhile, has sold almost 250,000 units in between December 2011 and October 2012 on the PlayStation 3, not including future sales on Steam, whereas the original Xbox version sold 600,000 units in its lifetime. However, Gilray is acutely aware of how the huge gap in game production can affect Oddworld's ability to keep up with technology unavailable when they were making games. So when remastering Stranger and Munch, they included features like PlayStation Move, 3D support and online leaderboards.
Lanning has also cited the changing views of the greater society towards institutions perpetuating lies as another reason for the success of Oddworld's re-emergence. Back when Abe's Oddysee was made, people in the video game industry still believed in capitalism, and speaking out against it was risky. But today, "the world is waking up to the fact that these power players are not decent people," which made Oddworld's themes even more relevant.
Just Add Water releases
Just Add Water's first release in partnership with Oddworld Inhabitants was the high-definition remastered edition of Oddworld's fourth game, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. Originally released in 2005, the remastered edition, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD, was released digitally on December 21, 2011 for PlayStation 3. The PC port was released September 9, 2012 and the PS Vita received release on December 18, 2012. Their next release was Oddworld Inhabitants' third game, the remastered Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD was first released to European and Australian markets on December 19, 2012 for the PS3 and was expected to come to PS Vita in February 2013,. though the developers are still working on issues with missing foreign language assets. Originally exlusive Xbox titles, the HD editions of Stranger and Munch are not expected to be released for the Xbox platforms due to disagreements between Microsoft, Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water. Oddboxx, a collection of Abe's Oddysee, Abe's Exoddus, Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath was released to European markets for PC on December 20, 2010, then released on PS3 on November 6, 2013, though with HD versions of Munch and Stranger. Oddboxx has not been released in North American markets due to technicalities with publisher code on two of the games, so the studio packaged the Abeboxx for release on the PSN on November 26, 2013, comprised of digital versions of Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus.
Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!
For their next game, Lanning listened to the advice from fans who said they wanted more Abe in the classic 2D style of platformer game. He found it was because gameplay was simpler, and you didn't have to worry about "dealing with a lot of steering issues, bad angle views [and] always having a nice, beautiful (hopefully) piece of art in front of me and watching a guy that looks alive on screen." Gilray also confirmed the side-scrolling market still had a lot of life in it, and with their Unity engine bringing realtime scenery to life, it made sense. If they were to upgrade the game using modern technology, they wanted to make sure the game would use continuous scrolling instead of fixed flip screens, it had to have realtime dynamic lighting and realtime 3D visuals instead of pre-rendered bitmaps, it had to fix things they felt were wrong with the original game, and it had to add elements that were included in Stranger HD, such as difficulty levels, but maintain the original's difficulty and goriness. Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water decided to use 3D technology while "staying true to that platforming nature on the controls level" and only if they could maintain the same experience players had with the original, to satisfy the fans of 2D games in a way that Lanning termed "neo-stalgia". He defined neo-stalgia as a way of using newer technology to bring back nostalgic forms of gameplay. Their upcoming release is the demonstration of that neo-stalgia – Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! utilizes new 3D technology, yet is still a 2D platformer – now commonly referred to in the video game industry as 2.5D. Just Add Water are in possession of the source code from the original game, and its sequel, and is using that as a base to produce the game. Gilray described the biggest challenge of production is to recreate the same feel as the original, and went as far as to say it may even be darker in tone. Graphically, the game does two things: stick to the original's 2D gameplay; and brings life to the backgrounds. To do this, the team looked at all of the visuals from the original game to determine where they could give the settings depth and interaction, including original design concepts that were omitted due to the limitations of the technology in 1997. Gilray always wanted to see a version of the game running with realtime 3D art to give the world life, and now the new version has clouds moving in realtime, critters running around, living factories, and flocks of flying birds that create a realistic environment around the player. "RuptureFarms now looks like a vibrant, busy factory churning out junk food. There’s machinery grinding and chopping in the background. The temples have a sense of depth and size, with wildlife going about its business in the background." The graphical enhancements are all about milking the new technology in every way they can to "create an emotional experience where you cared about that character." The goal for Oddworld Inhabitants has always been to "maximize and make richer an emotional experience" – games with heart, intent and emotional engagement of the characters – characters whose actions, emotions, goals, frustrations, beliefs influence their actions and enhance the experience for the player in more ways than simply pointing and shooting, such as the way the actions of Abe, Stranger and Munch are dependent on their position in life. This reflects Lanning's views that the video game industry has only been "reflecting the propaganda line - 'These are the bad terrorists, go kill them.' "
Given that Oddworld Inhabitants now owns every single element of the Oddworld franchise, and has provided Just Add Water with the full 15TB archive of original assets from Oddworld's time in game development, the team at Just Add Water have a backlog of games to make. It is Gilray's objective to focus on Hand of Odd, Squeek's Oddysee and then continue with more of the Oddworld universe in "rebuilding the Oddworld brand". According to the Oddworld timeline document Lanning gave to Gilray, the Oddworld planet's history has spanned two to three thousands years, while "the games so far have covered two, maybe three hundred years... so right now there is no end in sight. Our limit is what we do and when we do it." There are also many unseen creatures integral to future Oddworld stories that originally came from designs cut from previous games and are waiting to be revealed as Abe ventures closer to the center of the planet's consumerism. Gilray said the next logical game to build would be Abe's Exoddus because it would use the same engine as New 'n' Tasty! and be quicker to produce than an entirely new game, though they are open to continuing with a new game because "Lanning's mind is already full of ideas." Lanning said in October that if they choose to focus on new content, that there are two possibilities on the table, stopping short of specifying what those games are because he does not want to make a promise and then fail to deliver, as he has done in the past.
|“||I'm working on some stuff, at a design level, that is going to be more traumatic [that] might be really intense, at a basic core level. I'm really trying to think it through. But part of me wants it. That intensity. I'm trying to find a balance between charm and intensity... in the way a particular character works, it might be a shocker for some. It might not be something they're expecting. I'm not sure I can make it, I'm not sure I can finance it. I don't think it's going to make worse people - and if I did I wouldn't make it."||”|
Of his relationship to Just Add Water, Lanning said it is best "to empower people with a sense of responsibility and trust [but] when we get on to new content, there’s a whole other level of discretion that will go beyond that and then we’ll see if they like working with me." Though ultimately, they will both be waiting to see how well New 'n' Tasty! performs before making a decision. Lanning revealed he is hoping for one million units of New 'n' Tasty! sold to be able to fund the next game. Gilray said a committee begun working on the next game in the middle of summer, 2013.
In February 2013, Stewart Gilray said the Just Add Water team had expanded to include 22 staff, of which "a few" are from the original Oddworld Inhabitants development team headed by Lanning between 1997 and 2005. Just Add Water has a "rough plan for the next couple of years." and now that their team has expanded with their budgets increased due to the success of their games, it is Gilray's intention to "bridge that gap between the traditional definition of "indie" and "AAA" projects". Lanning says he has not been this excited about gaming in over a decade because of the combination of exciting Triple-A titles on next gen consoles, the wider, creative innovations on the indie front, and the revisiting of old genres like 2D platforming that were lost many years earlier getting a fresh look with newer technology, though is humbly building the risks and the successes of his present games to get the company back onto that playing field, the only difference being that he is self-financing the development instead of relying on a publisher to fund it. They are being careful with their business decisions to ensure that the brand is maintained. Lanning has considered "crowdfunding" options like Kickstarter to produce his game, but would prefer to fund them solely with the money made from his games, with a future goal to be producing Triple-A titles entirely self-funded.
ADEPT Games partnership
On September 27, 2011, ADEPT Games issued a press release announcing a partnership with Oddworld Inhabitants. It stated they would be working on content combining Oddworld with their iPhone game app Trixel. Creative Director Daniel Boutros said he was a big fan of the Oddworld brand and Just Add Water's Stewart Gilray said they could not turn them down when they saw what was being offered to them.
Square One Games
During a private interview with thesixthaxis.com at E3 in 2013, Oddworld Inhabitants revealed that Canadian independent video game developer Square One Games had taken on the job of porting Stranger's Wrath to mobile platforms iOS and Android. The developers were given access to the assets from the original Xbox version released in 2005 but will also make use of the recent HD remake. Despite being in a private meeting, Lanning showed the game running on his iPhone and ensured it did not have to remain off the record. Lanning's biggest concern with porting the game to mobile devices is the touch screen interface required, but he was so impressed by another independent developer's determination to make it work, and their business model to bring other developer's games to new platforms, that he gave them the chance, and has been pleasantly surprised with how well it has come along.
PlayStation 4 game development
On February 20, 2013, Sony's launch of the PlayStation 4 at its See The Future conference included a slide littered with logos of development studios currently working on projects for the upcoming console, one of them being Just Add Water's. Being that Sony's lead architect for the PS4 is Mark Cerny, "who has an incredible depth of knowledge and long-time experience in developing games" himself, and to whom Lanning pitched the original idea of Abe in the early 90s, the development of the PS4 included an invitation to video game developers for the first time in the industry to get their perspective on how to optimize the use of the hardware to making game construction easier and better. And Lanning found himself invited to those meetings, with Cerny and Sony showing an interest in independent developers like Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water that Lanning had not experienced before. That interest was demonstrated in February 2013 when Sony first announced the PS4 in New York along with what Lanning described as a "huge diversity of titles" from various small and large developers, culminating in his own inclusion on stage at Sony's E3 presentation and a booth to show off New 'n' Tasty!.
Just Add Water community and PR manager, Daniel Morse, has confirmed that the studio is currently developing content for the PS4, and there is speculation that one of the upcoming PS4 projects is a new Oddworld game. Oddworld Inhabitants announced in a press release that New 'n' Tasty! will be released on the PS4 in 2014. Lorne Lanning expressed his joy at Oddworld's new relationship with Sony, where Abe first began. He calls it "the smartest development environment that we’ve ever seen," and believes it's "designed to facilitate developer needs", including independent developers, which is who he believes will bring about the blockbuster IP of the next generation. "Today more than ever the indie developer has a far greater chance to survive... due to the self-publishing policies of the forward thinking networks that have invited them in," that allow those developers to publish their games "with less friction and a lower cost." And the ease and affordability with which independent developers can get their games onto consoles minimises the damage of a failure to the console's overall success, but also gives the developers "more room to take chances and fail at them but still survive". And Sony's focus is not on themselves, locking developers to their console alone, but rather on the developer, and "what will enable you to build the best games possible with your limited resources." Of the potential for Just Add Water on PlayStation 4 development, Gilray said that it has been a breeze to develop for, due to Cerny's decision to create a system for developers, and "so far we're blown away by what we've managed to achieve with the hardware... our imaginations are running away with themselves." And the reaction from fans during Lanning's introduction on stage amongst developers of some of the biggest games in the industry was an indicator that he and Oddworld Inhabitants are in the right place at the right time, "I just kept from crying."
At the 2012 Eurogamer Expo, Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water revealed the platform aim for New 'n' Tasty! of Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade alongside PS3, PS Vita and PC. Despite Microsoft not allowing the inclusion of Stranger's Wrath or Munch's Oddysee to their Xbox platform, New 'n' Tasty! was to be permitted because it is a new game. However, during the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Lanning revealed that the game is unlikely to appear on the XBLA for either the Xbox 360 or the Xbox One because of Microsoft's policy that game developers partner with a publisher before releasing games on their platforms. Lanning expressed his frustrations, "Why do we need a publisher when we self-finance our games, we build our own IP, we manage our own IP and we’ve turned nearly two million units online as indie publishers sold – not free downloads?" Most frustrating, is that Oddworld Inhabitants has done everything required to physically make the game compatible with Xbox consoles, but unless the developer has previously had two titles published at retail in the past, which most independents can't afford to do, Microsoft will require that they partner with a publisher that has a successful disc-based sales record. But Oddworld Inhabitants don't need this because the game was entirely self-funded, and partnering with a publisher would mean "carv[ing] out a piece of the revenue to share with a Microsoft-friendly publisher that did little to zero in efforts to finance, develop, manage community and bring the product to market". However, Sony has shown support for indie developers by enabling them to self-publish across the PlayStation Network, despite independent games not making the same profits that big triple A titles earn. Lanning believes that Sony's desire to encourage indie developers and their self-published titles mean "the real innovations are going to come out of [the PlayStation] where people have the freedom and the insanity to try crazy new stuff," while Microsoft is just looking at the developers and the games that will increase their profits.
|“||If they're looking at the world that way, you've got the obvious, enormous titles. They're going to be the big revenue generators. If the company's purely about profit, profit and profit, they're looking at those, and then they're looking at the little guys saying, 'oh, they only make this much.' They're not interested... Who’s in touch with their audience? And who seems out of touch with their audience?||”|
And due to Lanning's philosophy to remain a self-financed, self-publishing video game development company keeping money in the hands of independent developers and away from big publishers, the stalemate means New 'n' Tasty! will not be seen on a Microsoft console in the foreseeable future. He told Forbes magazine that the industry has to get past the days where the richest companies control everything down from the publisher and developer through to the consumer, especially when the popularity of indie gaming has exploded in the last few years.
With the arrival of platforms like iOS, iTunes and Android, independent developers and gamers have seen what a wider selection of gaming options (and prices) looks like. "Forward thinking players in the gaming space had been paying attention and providing means to get their models and policies closer" to this "wider buffet" because neither are interested in the "outdated, tired ways of the console wars of the dark ages" This is why Lanning is not surprised by the "blowback" Microsoft received when its business model dictated that independent offerings had to come with "onerous terms and forced partnerships" that offer no increased chance of success, or else be shut out. These conditions take revenue away from the developer and give it to the publishers they must partner with, making it harder for the developers to survive. They also limit the range of products that gaming audiences are after, as Lanning believes they too are sick of "fragmented inaccessible markets that... leave room only for the enormous players." Thirdly, he believes the heart of the video game culture can be lost in "the trials and tribulations of public market pressure, shareholder demands, and the inevitable opportunistic power grabs". Only now is it possible to offer developers the ability to "build more unique, diversified, and niche experiences with smaller development teams" and gamers a "wider diversity of experience, innovation, and price point" while the console prospers and the developers continue to employ people, improve their skills and maintain their existence. However, Lanning has been vocal about Xbox One's resistance to self-publishing independents, but only to help "correct a course" that he believes Microsoft is headed in. If not for Microsoft itself, but for his and other independent studios that deserve access to the 100+ million gamers Microsoft can give them access to.
Lanning has stated he will consider partnering with a publisher, "but 'it has to make sense' in terms of revenue share." He has since stated that his focus has moved away from Microsoft because he believes their business model is not a friendly one for indie developers and as long as they continue their lack of consideration for them, they will move forward with entities that do care. Despite calls from fans to relent to Microsoft's policy in order to make millions more dollars, Lanning is adamant "Oddworld wasn't built on selling out." Oddworld Inhabitants Community and PR Manager Dan Morse said, "we want there to be a clear message to Microsoft that as an indie company we would love to see our games on the Xbox One, but as masters of our own destiny." Lanning has seen Microsoft take strides in a more positive direction since E3. He is aware that Microsoft have spoken to indie developers to get a better understanding of the sorts of policies that are healthy for developers and gamers, but is waiting to hear from those developers about the levels of friction involved in releasing a game in the Microsoft universe. Conversations between Oddworld Inhabitants and Microsoft are still happening.
The developers originally stated that the Oddworld series would consist of a five inter-connected games referred to as the Quintology. Only two of those five games have been developed, while two additional games from the same universe were developed as expansion titles. Production on the final three games of the Quintology was halted when the company decided to redirect its efforts toward film production. Those plans, too, were shelved. In 2009, a partnership was created with developers Just Add Water to continue the abandoned video game plans of Oddworld Inhabitants, beginning with high definition remasters of Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath, and now onto a high definition rebuild of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee subtitled New 'n' Tasty!. There are also future plans to produce a host of games that Oddworld Inhabitants had planned and kept on the shelf during their Citizen Siege era.
|Abe's Oddysee||1997||PlayStation, PC (1997)
PS3, PSP (2009), OnLive (2012)
|Oddworld Inhabitants||GT Interactive||First Quintology game.|
|Abe's Exoddus||1998||PlayStation, PC (1998)
PS3, PSP (2009), OnLive (2012)
|Oddworld Inhabitants||GT Interactive||Bonus game and a sequel to Abe's Oddysee.|
|Oddworld Adventures||1998||Game Boy||Saffire||GT Interactive||Handheld version of Abe's Oddysee.|
|Oddworld Adventures 2||2000||Game Boy Color||Saffire||GT Interactive||Handheld version of Abe's Exoddus.|
|Munch's Oddysee||2001||Xbox (2001)
Game Boy Advance (2003), PC (2010), OnLive (2011), PS3 (2012), PS Vita (2013)
|Oddworld Inhabitants, ART Co. (Game Boy port) Just Add Water Ltd. (PS3 and Vita ports)||Microsoft Game Studios, THQ Inc. (Game Boy port) Oddworld Inhabitants (all other ports)||Second Quintology game.|
|Stranger's Wrath||2005||Xbox (2005)
PC (2010), PS3 (2011), Steam, PS Vita (2012), iOS, Android (TBA), Wii U (TBA)
|Oddworld Inhabitants, Just Add Water Ltd. (PS3, Vita and PC ports), Square One Games (Mobile ports)||Electronic Arts, Oddworld Inhabitants (all other ports)||First-person shooter/third-person platformer.|
|New 'n' Tasty!||2014||Windows, PS3, PS Vita, PS4, Wii U, OS X, Linux||Just Add Water Ltd.||Oddworld Inhabitants||New version of Abe's Oddysee. Digital only.|
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
The first game developed by Oddworld Inhabitants is 1997's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. Published by GT Interactive for PlayStation, DOS and Windows platforms, it is the first in their planned five-game Quintology of games set on the fictional planet of Oddworld. The game tells the story of Abe, a happy, ignorant factory worker and the destined savior of his mudokon race. Abe is a lowly floor waxer at RuptureFarms, a meat processing plant run by the evil glukkons on Oddworld's largest continent of Mudos. The plant makes sweet and savory treats by farming and slaughtering the wildlife that roam the rural areas surrounding the plant, and exploits 100 mudokons for slave labor to run their factory. When Abe discovers the glukkons' plan to increase their dwindling profits by using the mudokons in their new tasty treat, he vows to escape the plant and save his 99 friends. Along the way, he meets a spiritual guide that opens his mind to the mudokons' bond with nature and Abe's personal destiny to awaken the powerful mudokon gods and become the prophesied savior who would return his race to their sacred holy lands. The game is a side-scrolling 2D platformer with lifelike animation on top of photo-realistic backgrounds. Its revolutionary features included the ability to "chant" in order to possess and remotely control the bodies of Slig guards to solve puzzles or allow Abe to advance safely; and a feature called gamespeak, the ability for the player to engage in conversation with other mudokons to navigate them to safety. The game was later ported to Gameboy by Saffire under the title Oddworld Adventures.
Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus
Following the success of Abe's Oddysee, Oddworld temporarily shelved plans for the next game in their Quintology to produce an instant follow up that could capitalize on the popularity of the first game. The resultant spinoff game, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus was released the following year in 1998, again published by GT Interactive for PlayStation and Windows platforms. A direct sequel to Oddysee, Exoddus begins immediately after Abe returns from RuptureFarms with his fellow mudokons, receiving a vision from the spirits of his ancestors. They plead for his help in stopping the glukkons from digging up mudokon bones to make the addictive Soulstorm Brew. Along the way, Abe rescues more of his mudokon race and learns more about their sacred history, living in harmony with nature and the wildlife. Coming so quickly after the previous game, Exoddus used Oddysee's game engine, remaining a 2D side-scrolling platformer, albeit adding more, longer levels and extra features. Abe's abilities were expanded upon to include more communication options and wider chant abilities allowing the possession of other species. Mudokons were also further developed, now having moods that affect Abe's ability to communicate with them and enlist their co-operation.
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee
Oddworld Inhabitants' third game, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee was the second of their planned five-game Quintology series. Released in 2001 as a direct sequel to their two previous entries, the game was published by Microsoft Game Studios exclusively for the Xbox. Abe returns, but the game introduces a new protagonist in Munch, the last living remnant of the near-extinct, amphibious gabbit creatures. The story once again involves Abe embarking on a quest to free the weak from the tyranny of the powerful capitalist creatures that exploit them for their own gain. Players assume the dual roles of Abe and Munch as they team up to escape the vicious Vykkers who harvested the gabbits in order to profit from their eggs – a delicacy on Oddworld – and ultimately destroy the Vykker's Labs. The game marks the series' introduction into 3D environments, though retaining its roots as a platformer. It is also the first game to introduce a second protagonist, allowing the player to switch between Abe and Munch to take advantage of abilities exclusive to each character. Also pivotal was the expansion of elements that were only touched on in their two previous games, such as the ability to "create characters and use them as allies to attack, defend and solve work problems in the world. Other changes include new chanting features, the ability for Abe to pick up objects or people, and power ups that affect gameplay.
Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
Veering away from the Quintology a second time, Oddworld Inhabitants' fourth game was Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, published for the Xbox in 2005 by Electronic Arts. The first Oddworld game to be entirely independent of the Abe series, Stranger's Wrath is set in the Wild West of Oddworld and follows a bounty hunter known only as the Stranger, one of the last remaining "steef" on Oddworld, as he collects bounties for capturing outlaws in order to save enough "moolah" for a life-saving operation. The game continues the 3D gameplay introduced by Munch's Oddysee and switches between first person perspective for shooting, and third person perspective for long range running, platform jumping and melee combat. It also moves away from Oddworld's reliance on puzzles in favor of an action-adventure style with elements of role playing. Its prominent new features included "live ammunition", where the player can use various in-game creatures and projectiles for differing effects; and the ability to use the game's money system to purchase various items and weapon upgrades.
In 2009, Lorne Lanning announced plans to make an Oddworld digital download package exclusively for PC to contain Abe's Oddysee, Abe's Exoddus, and for the first time on the platform, Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath. When Oddworld Inhabitants unveiled their re-designed website on November 4, 2010, they declared the then in-development package would be titled Oddboxx. The European and U.S. prices of the Oddboxx were revealed on December 14 and on December 20, 2010, it was released on Steam. 30 Achievements were added to Munch's Oddysee, while Stranger's Wrath gained 20.
On April 29, 2011, Stewart Gilray announced at GameCityNights that they were planning an Oddboxx release for the PlayStation Network with the Stranger portion of the package to be the remastered edition they had been working on, though the release had been delayed to fix some bugs and add additional features like PlayStation Move and 3DTV support. The Oddboxx finally saw release on November 6, 2013 for the PlayStation 3 in the European and Australian markets, which included the HD remakes of Munch and Stranger along with original versions of Abe's Oddysee and Exoddus. But the studio is unable to release it to the North American market due to "technicalities regarding the product publisher code... on two of the titles" in the collection of four.
To make up for Oddboxx not being released on the PlayStation 3 in the North American market, Oddworld Inhabitants released a mini collection entitled the Abeboxx, composed of original versions of Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, to the PSN on November 26, 2013.
On September 3, 2010, Just Add Water announced on their website that they had been working for nine months to bring a high definition remaster of Stranger's Wrath to the PlayStation Network as the beginning of an Oddworld revival. Talks with Microsoft in regards to an Xbox Live Arcade release were ongoing. The HD version of Stranger's Wrath was released to PS3 on December 27, 2011 and Steam on September 9, 2012 with upgraded features including 720p visuals, new character models and hidden unlockables. While the Xbox version was planned, it was officially cancelled on June 21, 2012, which Gilray then reiterated on February 23, 2013 when Stranger HD was finally completed. Microsoft originally cited the 2GB file size limit of Xbox Live Arcade games, adding it was also not eligible for Games on Demand because the game did not meet sales requirements on PC and PS3. When the developers shrunk the game below the 2GB file limit and submitted the game back to Microsoft, they did not receive a response. Asked in a public forum on Reddit in 2012, Gilray said he had no official word as to why Microsoft refused to continue plans for an Xbox release, but stated, "Unofficially, I think they're just ticked at the past", while Lanning attributes the 'shut out' to the incompatibilities of their polices and practices. The game reached the top ten for the month of December 2011, despite only being released on December 27.
The PlayStation Vita port of Stranger was released on December 18, 2012. It reached the top of the sales charts in Europe for December and second in the US despite being released in the middle of the month.
The HD remaster of Munch's Oddysee was announced at GameCityNights on April 29, 2011 and released to PlayStation 3 on December 19, 2012 with similar upgrades and 45 Trophies. Improvements were made to GUI and front end.
The Vita version of Munch HD was expected in the second quarter of 2013, and won't be released until it has been made available on PS3 in all territories. On July 5, 2013, Oddworld Inhabitants tweeted that there were delays with the global release of the port. On October 18, 2013, Oddworld Inhabitants explained they were conducting a final quality audit and awaiting Sony's approval for release. A PC port is not in the works, but in discussions.
The HD remasters of Munch and Stranger were included with original versions of Abe's Oddysee and Exoddus in the PlayStation release of the Oddboxx on November 6, 2013 for European and Australian markets.
Stewart Gilray has hinted at porting Stranger's Wrath to PlayStation 4.
Oddworld Inhabitants announced that Stranger's Wrath would be coming to mobile devices iOS and Android. Developed by Square One Games, the port consists mostly of the original Xbox version's assets, but will use some aspects from the recent HD updates as well.
Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!
The first entirely new material to come from the collaboration between Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water will be the re-imagined Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! game set to be released in 2014. First announced by Lorne Lanning, work began later than planned as Just Add Water extended their development time for Stranger's Wrath HD on the PS3. It is based on Abe's Oddysee with a similar story and gameplay, with cutscenes rendered in realtime and is entirely built from the ground up using the original as a blueprint, and where possible, incorporating the original's and Munch HD assets at the design level "to save time and development resources, and to really stick to the look and feel of the previous games." Just Add Water tweeted the first image from the game on August 9, 2012 and first footage was released at Eurogamer Expo on September 30, revealing the platformer will be presented in 2.5D (2D gameplay with 3D visuals) and has abandoned the original's flip screen aspect in favor of continuous scrolling, which dramatically changes the gameplay. Previously, when the player wanted to reset a screen's puzzle or AI, it needed only to return to the previous screen. Now, with realtime screen streaming, the developers needed to find a new way to reset enemy AI. However, Gilray has stated that they have discussed the idea of giving players the choice of playing the updated game with the original's style of flip screens. Gilray has teased that they will be including character-based features and the Quicksave feature that appeared in Exoddus after frustrations from the original Abe's Oddysee has been confirmed. The development team also revealed the "co-op" mode from the original game has returned because it used to be popular in that game. It allows multiple players on separate controllers to take over gameplay when one player dies. On January 20, 2013, Just Add Water tweeted that they are applying "the finishing touches" to the game and have approximately nine months to complete it, suggesting a release date in the fourth quarter of 2013, though the Oddworld Inhabitants website indicates a release in the "holiday season". Michael Bross is composing the game's music, J Mauricio Hoffmann is a cutscene developer, and Raymond Swanland and Jonny Eveson are creating art for the game. Gilray tweeted another image from the game's Scrabanian desert on March 21, 2013.
Platforms announced included PS3, PS Vita, PC and XBLA, with Oddworld Inhabitants explaining that Microsoft only imposed limitations on Just Add Water's previous releases because they were remakes, not new games like New 'n' Tasty!. Sony announced the PS4 as another of New 'n' Tasty!'s platforms for 2014 during the 2013 E3 Expo. After the completion of the final update to Stranger's Wrath HD, Just Add Water devoted all 22 of their staff to the production of New 'n' Tasty!. Just Add Water and Oddworld Inhabitants attended the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo to show off the most recent incarnation of New 'n' Tasty! and revealed the game will debut on the PS4, with the aim of releasing early on in the life of the console, but is not expecting to release the day the system is launched. It will also release on the Wii U, OS X and Linux platforms in addition to the previously announced PS3, PS Vita and PC platforms. The first story trailer, rendered in the Unity game engine, was released on November 14, 2013 by Stewart Gilray on PlayStation's blog, announcing a release in Spring 2014 for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. However, they also revealed that while Microsoft has granted Oddworld Inhabitants a license to feature on their Xbox platform, the game is now unlikely to appear on the XBLA for Xbox 360 or Xbox One due to Microsoft's policy that game developers partner with a publisher before bringing games to their platform, and Oddworld Inhabitants' refusal to partner with publishers. Microsoft then changed their stance on self-publishing independent studios, however, while it is not clear just how Microsoft plans to handle independent studios, Just Add Water and Oddworld Inhabitants are reluctant to get involved. Just Add Water have applied to Microsoft's ID@Xbox program, but is is unclear if an Xbox 360 or Xbox One version is being produced.
While the PS4 and PC versions are set to have all the visual bells and whistles, gameplay will be the same across current and next-gen platforms, and the developers are hoping to run cutscenes in-game on all platforms that can handle it. On November 13, 2013, Oddworld Inhabitants released a new teaser for the game to their YouTube channel. The PS4 version will run in 1080p at 60fps.
Stranger's Wrath 2 or The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot
The first mention of a sequel to Stranger's Wrath came on January 17, 2013 when Oddworld Inhabitants posted on their a blog asking readers to vote on the preferred next title to be developed by Just Add Water – Stranger 2 being one of the options. On June 10, 2013, Gilray revealed that Lanning created a premise for Stranger 2 before Oddworld Inhabitants ceased producing video games, and the two of them have discussed working on it. New gameplay features touted include the addition of live ammo originally cut from the first game. Initial planning for the game's production will involve updating the first game's Xbox engine to be standalone, allowing for the ability to plug in multiple platforms such as PS3, PS4, PC or Xbox.
Originally coming from discussions about a sequel to Stranger's Wrath, The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot is a standalone game, independent of the Oddworld Quintology, originally announced in an April 2005 issue of Game Informer. Summarised as "cats versus dogs," the game follows Fangus, a shepherd dealing with the onset of a rabies-like disease in Fangustan, far from the continent of Mudos where the first four games were set. Fangustan (the Oddworld equivalent of Afghanistan) is a rural nation taken over by a foreign mafia who use it to manufacture drugs, and players would control Fangus, who is forced to become a pit fighter to understand and repel the invaders (from Oddworld's take on Russia). Oddworld Inhabitants' delay in acknowledging the rumor of this game led many to suspect it as an April Fool's joke. In a June 2009 issue of Game Informer, Lorne Lanning officially spoke about the game, revealing concept art and story details, and plans to distribute the game digitally. A Mature rating by the ESRB was expected due to dark tones and themes throughout the game. Majesco Entertainment was expected to publish the game for the Xbox before it was canceled when they failed to come to agreements with Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning. In a May 9, 2011 FAQ, an Oddworld Inhabitants representative confirmed Fangus Klot will be in future plans following The Hand Of Odd and Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! and Lanning further expressed desire to make the game, though financing it is the obstacle. Stewart Gilray revealed that they are in possession of "an original Xbox build" of Fangus, which does run. Just Add Water studio co-ordinator, Will Bunce-Edwards, explains the game could include vehicles and gamespeak applied to Fangus' demonic flock of sheep, and would be a mix of third and first person shooter, "but a hundred times more intense [that] makes Stranger look like Munch." It has not been decided whether the Stranger sequel has taken priority over Fangus Klot, as original Xbox work on models and animations for that game has also been done, though a decision will not be made until the developers see how New 'n' Tasty! has performed. But Gilray has stated his preference is to begin work on Stranger 2.
Oddworld: Hand of Odd
Hand of Odd was conceived as an online, open world, real-time strategy game during the production of Munch's Oddysee. Early information revealed its multiplayer aspects and its ability to be played from the perspective of Oddworld's peaceful mudokons or its greedy, corporate overlords, changing the aim and experiences of the game. Lanning wanted to create an RTS game that changed the previous model of two warring factions with the same goal of deforestation in order to build a militarised complex to overtake an opposition army. Instead, he wanted one of the two warring entities to be a native, shamanistic class "focused on life-force [that] gain power by growing back trees and restoring the environment." But with the release of sub-par RTS games, the market began losing faith in the genre. Soon after, Oddworld Inhabitants' publisher was acquired by a company known for risk-averse decisions, so Lanning decided to shelve the game after just preliminary design and development, because the odds were stacked against them, not because of the quality of the game he wanted to make. However, the work made on the pre-production of the game helped flesh out details of Oddworld that have helped them understand their universe for future games, if not for a new iteration of this game. Gilray described the game as a "highly politicised Command & Conquer-style experience that pits Oddworld's species against one another in isometric view." Ongoing downloadable content was being considered before the game was halted when the studio redirected its goals towards multimedia development. The game has since been revived, as Just Add Water announced plans for its development including launching a website with the original logo designed by Oddworld Inhabitants, though Gilray has since stated more concept work is needed and they are undecided on the format of the game. Oddworld Inhabitants has given Just Add Water "the original bound Hand of Odd design document which is four inches thick and originally made in the late 1990s, and their website indicates they are looking at how to make the game work in today's market, using the freemium business model of social networking game companies as research. Stewart Gilray of Just Add Water said computers and tablets are the likely platform choices because "it works well with touchscreen interface or mouse control". However, he is adamant the game will not be like FarmVille.
- SligStorm: Originally discussed during the development of Munch's Oddysee, this 2D platforming bonus game, in the same vein as Abe's Exoddus, was shelved due to the move from 2D platforming into 3D games. The only known details about the story of this game is that the player assumes the role of an albino slig in the Oddworld universe. On May 9, 2011, an Oddworld Inhabitants representative released a list of FAQ answers in relation to future games, confirming Sligstorm will be worked on after "Abe HD" and "The Hand of Odd," which was echoed in July 2011 by a representative on the Oddworld Inhabitants Facebook page. While Gilray and Lanning discussed the game at GameCityNights in April 2011, Gilray stated on Reddit that there are no specific plans for the game yet, while Lanning believes the difficulty lies in making players sympathize with a slig as the hero of a game.
- Oddworld: Squeek's Oddysee: Expected third game in the original Quintology following the first two entries Abe's Oddysee and Munch's Oddysee. In the May 9, 2011 FAQ, an Oddworld Inhabitants representative confirmed Squeek’s Oddysee is on the cards after The Hand of Odd, Abe HD, The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot and Sligstorm are released. In a post on Reddit, Just Add Water founder and game developer Stewart Gilray declared his preference for their next project to be Squeek's Oddysee, while Lanning indicated it had a "messed up story" and would take a lot of time and money. A few members of Just Add Water "know the basic story and identity of Squeek."
- Oddworld: Munch's Exoddus: Expected to be a bonus game based on Munch's Oddysee outside of the original pentalogy, in the same way that Abe's Exoddus was to Abe's Oddysee, plans for Munch's Exoddus evolved to become Stranger's Wrath. An early build of the game showed Munch and Stranger together in gameplay. It would have featured Munch traveling to a land named "Ma'Spa" to hatch the Gabbit eggs acquired from the original game. Oddworld Inhabitants confirmed the game is not currently in the works, but may be a possibility.
- Oddworld: Slave Circus: Lorne Lanning has revealed plans for a game entitled Oddworld: Slave Circus involving the purchase and battling of slaves in a gladiator-type arena: "It is seriously whack. You start the game by buying a slave. Think Gladiators on Oddworld. Have done a tremendous amount of work on this and have never mentioned it. But it is in the coffer and there may be some light for it down the road. But has some other contingencies depending on it. Requires new level of social integration into console gaming. It's insane. Hopefully not so insane it won't come to life." Lanning claims to have worked on the title for years, but requires "a new level of social integration." Three years ago, he tried to find ways to finance it, but avoided publishers because he does not like to deal with them, and conceded he may involve other parties, but "but I'd want them to own it from the start."
- Abe's Exoddus HD: In a January 17, 2013 post on the Oddworld Inhabitants website, the team asked fans to vote on which game they would like to see produced after the completion of Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!. Among the options was Abe's Exoddus HD. It received the most votes with 3950. Lorne Lanning and Just Add Water founder Stewart Gilray confirmed on Reddit in December 2012 that if the success of New 'n' Tasty! shows market interest, they will make Abe's Exoddus HD with the same approach.
- Abe Karting game #1 & #2: Gilray revealed for an Xbox Magazine article that he witnessed a document dated 1999 with plans for two "karting" games with an Abe theme.
- Apple Mac: Gilray has confirmed the developers are looking at porting Oddworld games to the Mac platform.
|This section requires expansion. (November 2012)|
Adventure Classic Gaming called Lanning "a legend in both the game and the film industries."
The Oddworld games have received more than 100 industry awards. Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee received more than 24 awards and three nominations from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences over 1997 and 1998.
In 1998, Oddworld Inhabitants combined the FMV cutscenes from Exoddus and submitted them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as Abe's Exoddus: The Movie for Oscar consideration in the Animated Short category. The AMPAS ultimately passed on the film, thus it was not nominated.
Oddworld's mascot Abe was planned as DLC for the PlayStation 3's All-Stars Battle Royale, but was later cancelled.
Lanning hinted at plans to release a game that involved action figures from the Oddworld universe in a pamphlet released at E3 in 1999. Called Oddwars, Lanning still has all the material he created for the game and may release it in future.
On July 30, 2007, the composer of Stranger's Wrath, Michael Bross, released a soundtrack of music from the game.
Oddworld Inhabitants, in conjunction with book publisher Ballistic Publishing, released The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994 - 2004 in 2008, an art book featuring design concepts, paintings and in-game screenshots made between 1994 and 2004 during the development of Abe's Oddysee, Abe's Exoddus and Munch's Oddysee. The book came in four editions: hard cover, soft cover, leather-bound edition (limited to 1000 copies, each individually numbered and with a certificate of authenticity) and folio edition (limited to 100 copies, each individually numbered and with a certificate of authenticity).
On November 9, 2011, to promote the release of Stranger's Wrath HD, a LittleBigPlanet 2 costume was made available for purchase. An XMB Dynamic Theme of Stranger's Wrath was also released a few weeks later, followed by a LittleBigPlanet 2 costume of Munch on November 30.
On September 9, 2011, clothing company Insert Coin announced they would be selling t-shirts from their website with Stranger's Wrath images to promote the impending release of the remastered game. Two different designs were manufactured based on locales within the game. Jonny Eveson has also released designs for an upcoming Oddworld-themed T-shirt based on Abe's Exoddus. The design came in three colors. Oddworld Inhabitants uploaded the design to Qwertee seeking votes from the public to have the design accepted and put up for sale and on April 1, the design was successfully added and put on sale for 48 hours.
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