Funny how a game defined by constant death can make you feel so very alive.
Popzeus about Super Meat Boy
Lorne Lanning, the brains of Oddworld, and Stewart Gilray, the head honcho at developers J.A.W., agreed to answer some of our (and our forum members) questions for your reading pleasure. Here are the results. Oh, and hey, Microsoft, sort out you issues with Stranger's Wrath eh?
AATG: What was the biggest challenge in bringing Stranger's Wrath HD to the Playstation Vita platform?
Stewart Gilray: Performance was the biggest thing really; we didn't want to compromise the game by doing a half-arsed job getting it on there with a low frame rate, so we spent probably 4-5 months on nothing but optimizing: an example being that the PS3/PC versions have 5 render passes, and the VITA has 2 render passes, as well as a bunch of other stuff. One of the nice things about the VITA was knowing we had a widescreen display so could redesign parts of the UI to fit the complete screen.
AATG: Have you managed to crack the problem of finding an interesting way to use the rear touch panel?
SG: Well, we worked on a couple of different things for that, like rope climbing, rowing the boat, punching and binocular zooming. However we've found that a lot of people just don't like the rear touch pad, so we're adding in an alternate control that negates its usage at all.
AATG. Do you have any plans to make any more purely 2D games? Ubisoft seem to having quite a lot of success with Rayman since they took him back to his roots. Do you think this approach could be of benefit to Oddworld also?
Lorne Lanning: We're pushing harder on the 2D play boundaries in the the upcoming Abe's Oddysee: New & Tasty - currently in production. Aiming to get the most out of the classic 2D platforming fun on 3D technology. We're calling the approach "neo-stalgic" and while its play sensibilities are entirely inherited from 2D, the goal to maximize and make richer an emotional experience based on that classic platformer play-style.
AATG: What do you think of the opportunities offered by (a) development for iOS/Android and (b) Kickstarter, and do you think they're a genuine alternative to the more traditional publisher-led development? Reason being that the Oddworld games are a good example of the sort of game that's not always understood by major publishers but are loved by players.
LL: iOS/Android were much needed and welcome to shake-up a stale landscape into a greater diversity of overall experiences we consider to be games, while they also lowered the barrier for small teams to deliver something viable. They served to help democratize the developer landscape and offered viable alternatives. These where huge breakthroughs that helped to change the wider landscape of gaming forever, and yet we've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
AATG: What is your take on the conflicts between story/interactivity and the recent trend towards decreasing amounts of interactivity in strongly story-led games (e.g. The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain). The Oddworld games always managed to strongly deliver on both fronts but it seems like developers aren't trying to do this very often anymore.
LL: There are reasons for this perpetually increasing condition. The main one being the audience of AAA gaming has not really been rewarding the innovators. They are rewarding the perfectionists of what's tried and proven and of popular brands. The price point is too high for gamers to want anything that isn't fully dialled in for gameplay. Yet, creating new hybrids of gameplay is complex, expensive, and time consuming. So there hasn't been a great deal of innovation for this primary reason. Few want to take these innovation risks in the ever increasing development cost world. Fewer still are willing to pay for it.
AATG: We remember reading with shock back in the day that Oddworld were retiring from the games scene to make huge CGI epics instead, what brought you back, and can we still expect to see the world of Odd up on the big screen?
LL: It's always the same issue, no others: financing.
AATG. You've mentioned in the past about feeling scuppered by EA over the marketing of Stranger's Wrath, and Microsoft haven't exactly been kind to it either, how has this changed your approach when seeking a publisher?
LL: We have not sought publishers to finance any new Oddworld games since 2004 when we signed on with EA. Any and everything we've done since has been self-funded by Oddworld.
AATG: Sorry, we have to ask. Any chance of seeing the Stranger heading to XBLA now you are done with Stranger's Wrath HD, or is he now riding into the sunset?
LL: That's up to MS, and so far they just will not allow it. I've tried to understand their moving targets and their reasoning, but I guess I'm just not smart enough to make any sense of it.
AATG: How likely are we to see a sequel? And will it still be named The Brutal Ballad Of Fangus Klot? We hope so, that is a title that needs to be out there spreading joy into the ears of children.
LL: I would love to make it, and if we can finance it we will.
AATG: Abe HD is on its way, and we can't wait, should we really be as excited as we are? What in terms of surprises can long term fans expect?
SG: Of course you should be! We're crazy excited, mainly as we get to see it every day; we're getting to see it come together. Well, as for surprises, I can't tell you that. If I did, it wouldn't be a surprise!
AATG: Can you please tell us which platforms will be seeing HD Abe in all his glory?
SG: We've announced it for PC, PS3, PS Vita and 360, I think that's enough for now, don't you!?
AATG: Oddbox is a wonderful package of your games all wrapped up neatly on the Steam digital platform. Now Steam Bigscreen has launched, do you have any plans to patch in more controller options, as Xpadder seems the only solution for some of the games.
SG: Xpadder? Not sure what you need that for... do you mean the original Abe titles? We're looking at something that might help in that area, but we're not talking about it yet.
AATG: Stranger's Wrath has one of the best game changing, "oh my word" moments in the history of gaming. How pleased were you to keep that secret, and do you think that magic could be repeated today?
LL: I think what surprised me the most was how cool the press turned out to be in issuing spoiler alerts, or just holding back that element of the story altogether in their reviews. I wasn't sure how long the cat would stay in the bag on this one, but reviewers, bloggers, and fans alike all handled it in a positive and non-revealing way. I do believe the magic can repeated in new conditions, absolutely.
AATG: What games have impressed you most in the past couple of years, and why?
LL: Bloom, The Unfinished Swan, Journey... All deeply inspired games that in sheer bravery took enormous risks in completely innovative ways that buck the trends. I also have to put Minecraft in the mix for enabling gamers a chance to experience their own creative desires, and for single-handedly giving the industry a black eye, which one must always appreciate.