Lorne Lanning is the President and Creative Director of Oddworld Inhabitants, undoubtedly one of the most interesting and exciting development houses in the gaming industry. Their first two titles, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, have raised the bar for games to come. The award-winning and best-selling titles incorporate an amazing storyline, insanely innovative gameplay, stellar production values, and a whole bagfull of originality. With two new titles in development for the PlayStation 2, Munch's Oddysee (due Fall of 2000) and Hand of Odd (due sometime after that), the folks at Oddworld look ready to create an all-out revolution in electronic entertainment. We got the chance to ask Lorne a few questions that we've been itching to hear the answers to. Here's what he had to say:
GF: It is obvious that the Oddworld games are created with more narrative depth than most other video games. Is there a goal? Are they meant to instruct or at least impart a kind of ethical behavior on gamers?
Lorne Lanning: As creators of consumer entertainment, and as people who believe in the power of this medium, we think it's important that we view our content as art form and allow it to have the same level of social/political criticism that more classical forms of art and storytelling are afforded. As with all great stories through history there should always be more beneath the surface than first meets the eye. Hopefully, there is something about the artist's insight that manifests itself in the work and, as a result, helps to inform or question the beliefs of the viewing participant.
In short, we do want to create experiences that are more than just junk food. As a global people we understand that persistence, empathy, cooperation, and the use of brains for problem solving are fundamental approaches to getting ahead in life and creating the type of world we all want to live in. So, why shouldn't this theme be part of the video game experience. We believe it should be, so we're taking the time and extra effort to inject these elements as a basic part of our universe.
GF: What kind of experiences / ideas have influenced the story of Oddworld?
LL: The Oddworld Quintology is largely influenced by the acts and practices of the corrupt greed and power mongers that have bled the world's people throughout history and continue to do so today. Truth is stranger than fiction, and when you look under the covers at many of today's multi-national corporations and their feeding practices you find enough inspirational (and mind-boggling) material for a lifetime. It's also amazing how we find ourselves wound up within large webs of deceit and actually supporting causes that we think we oppose. The world is an extremely complicated place. Truth has been largely removed from the front-page or the 6 o'clock news, and the forces of good and evil are not nearly as clear as they have been in our world's history.
Oddworld is about finding yourself caught up in an uncaring food chain. Are you just going to be eaten by it or are you going to do something about it? We think that everyone, on some level or another, identifies with what's going on in the world today. We're just trying to inject the dilemma that everyone feels into a package that they can interact with and ultimately overcome. We feel this is what people are looking for, but they can't find it on the shelf.
GF: Are you trying to make video games art?
LL: Certainly, but not at the expense of becoming non-competitive commercially. We're surfing the front line in efforts to raise the standards for entertainment value and storytelling in video games. We started out with the belief that people would respond positively if they could get their hands on something with more depth and production value. So far it's been working and all road signs suggest it's just the beginning.
GF: Is there a place in the world for games that are more than just entertainment?
LL: Absolutely. The game medium is the most powerful entertainment format ever to exist. The proof is simply in the number of hours that gamers spend in these simulated experiences. You could never produce a movie or play, or write a novel that demanded as many hours of an individual's attention as many games have. We are a storytelling people by nature, and so we will eventually embrace this interactive medium with the zeal that we embraced movies and such. Thus far, games have been built by young people who want challenge. Soon however, an entirely different crowd of artists, writers, and filmmakers will be attracted to the game medium. With them will come their hearts and the stories they yearn to tell. Of course, most of them will forget about gameplay and be out of business in real time.
GF: What other games that are out, or are being talked about, are you most interested in?
LL: I'm really looking forward to Lionhead's Black & White.
GF: It looks like the Hand of Odd will begin to build a community of Oddworld fans. It also seems that Oddworld fans must differ from the standard gamer. What kind of audience do you aim a game like Oddworld at? If that audience starts interacting with each other, what kind of community do you see springing up? (Certainly it will be quite a bit different from the Quake and Everquest communities, but how?)
LL: A lot of hard-core gamers are Oddworld fans. They're the first ones to buy 'em, play 'em, and love 'em. The pattern that we've witnessed with our fan base goes something like this: The gamer buys the game first because they hear it's a great game. Then their girlfriend, sister or mother sees them playing it. They then get hooked watching and want to get involved and start playing too. We hear this all the time from people who write us.
Our approach to designing games is one that considers the gameplayer and the non-gamer too. We feel that the core market wants great gameplay while also having something that's more deep, fun, and entertaining, not just challenging. But because we are injecting a lot more creativity and entertainment value into these experiences, the non-gaming community gets into it too. That's the best of both worlds. To give the gamer something they love, while at the same time the same product gives the non-gamer something they can love... well, that's our approach. Internally we say, "We're building games that the hard-core gamer is going to say, "Wow, now this is how a game should be!" While at the same time the non-gamer should say, "Wow, this isn't like a game at all." It's our goal to cross this boundary and open up great games to a larger audience overall.
In the end, all people are going to be more attracted to those experiences which are higher quality, more lifelike, more funny, and more engaging. Today, our online community efforts are still in their infancy. Hand of Odd will start our venture into this arena, but it's more of a multi-player environment than an online community. Eventually, the online persistent universe will be a big part of our future. Our design sensibilities will carry over very well into this new turf. A lot of our focus will be on how to make the online players characters more funny to themselves and also the people they encounter in the world. Needless to say, our experience will be focused on a lot more than just killing opponents.
A new playing field of online community needs to be created to give a more interesting experience for both the hard-core gamer and the casual gamer to co-exist within. Today, I personally have no interest to go into any of the online worlds and get hacked on by another live player who spends 80 hours a week in the world refining his 'attack' status. It's just no fun for me, or millions of other people who don't have the time to match wits against the people who are spending their lives inside these virtual communities. When the design chemistry is found that creates a more compatible and interesting playing field, then we'll see the sales explode and most everyone wanting to get involved.