Oddworld just got Stranger

The full transcript of Lorne Lanning's presentation of Oddworld Inhabitants' latest title, Stranger, at publisher EA's recent Hot Summer Nights press event, including a Q&A session with Oddworld's overlord. Read about it here.

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Lorne Lanning: "This is the first day that we're unveiling Stranger at all, so you guys are amongst the first people to see what we've been working on for the last two and a half years. I've got a lot to show you, so I'm going to jump right into it.

"First I'm just going to show you a little teaser showing the character and the essence of the experience, which is of bounty hunting.

[Game footage - shows gravely voiced typically Oddworld main character warning someone, "I think you better stay out of my way," hurtling through an eerie jungle environment, exposing his wrist-mounted crossbow, overviews of a few environments (which look gorgeous), and lots of shots of beautifully rendered characters in all sorts of positions, being hurled into the clink, massing over bodies, and passing new Wanted notices to Stranger. "Oddworld just got... Stranger."]

"We're quite a ways from release, but this is just how the game will be teased initially, then there will be a lot more material coming down the pipe. What I want to show you today is two aspects of gameplay. The secondary gameplay, which I'm going to show you first, which is really about how you get information, how you find where you're supposed to go, how you know what bounties you're supposed to be hunting. And then I'll show you after that the primary gameplay, which is live ammo, stealth, combat, all that in one dose.

"So here we have just begun the game, we're in a town, and we'll learn about what we need to do. And the town is populated by Klackers, these are the townspeople. They just walk around, talk to each other, tell you a lot of things that are going on the game. There's first and third person at any time you want [switches, punches the air in first-person]. It's fluid. Any time in the game you have that choice, first person or third person. And any time you talk to yourself you'll get a hand sign where your objectives are. [Stranger strolls up to a wooden shack and mutters "Need to find a Bounty store".]

"You can go up and talk to characters. This game's all one button context-sensitive gamespeak. I'll go talk to someone. [Stranger gravels up to a local: "Hey, can you tell me where the bounty store is?" he asks through a pair of fairly blackened lungs, we're guessing. His new friend isn't phased. "Now whaddoo I look like to you? An information kiooosk? Gid outta here!" He bumps his way through a crowd of similarly bizarre locals "What the hell d'ya think yer doin'?!" Stranger doesn't fare much better next. "Yeeeah," another joker blurts. "Yeaaaaaaah! Might wanna look for a big sign saying 'Bounty Stoooore'?" He does.]

"This is how I choose a bounty. I go into a Bounty Store, find one of these, where there will usually be multiple choices. This is the very first level though and you're weak and we're training you so you only get one choice. Normally you get to choose and you can determine the value of that bounty dead or alive, which is really the difficulty of it. [Up flashes a mark, worth 100 alive and 30 dead. "Hey Stranger, I need you to find Filthy Hand Floyd. He's been pestering our wagons for months and he's saying he ain't e'en got serious yet. Head through the north gate until you find the wagon..."]

"Now our gamespeak starts changing; now I'm on a mission. ["Know where Filthy Hands Floyd might be hiding?" Stranger rumbles at a local. "Lots of places for a guy like that to hide around Dead Ends Pass" Stranger clearly doesn't get the answer he wants because our narrator starts decking locals. When one goes down, the rest flock to him, clucking like hens. Then he hits another, and starts bashing lots all at once. At this stage they give up and leg it, scattering all over the place and darting out of sight. All of a sudden, a drawly, drunken sounding voice rings out over the empty streets. "That was totally uncalled for! Now look Stranger, we 'on't want noo trouble out of you, you just slow dooown alright? Ya just gotta settle down alright? Ya gotta settle down! Alright Stranger, we're coming out now and lay low - but if ya still out there don't forget to meet me at the bird bath after our chiiichiiiiii..."

"I guess the town get the message, you move on.

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"What's important to us is the AI - it has really extensive AI in this game. As you see we want characters that feel like they're witnessing what you're doing, and that continues when you get into the actual bounty hunts.

"Now, this guy [stops in rough out of town area and zooms into first person view] doesn't like guns. So he has a double barrelled bow - it's a crossbow and fits on his arm. He doesn't fire ammo - he fires live ammo. [Some kind of insectoid bug with antenna sits atop the crossbow, and Lorne looses off a few rounds of what looks like green plasma, complete with laser-esque noises]. This is like a surge [Spark] bug that you can zap [charges up the bow and fires a powerful cracking blast].

"There are little Chipmunks in the environment [shoots one]. Pick them up [Chippunk offers a squeaky comment "Woowee, you're gonna killing me, brother!" Before sitting goggle-eyed looking cute right at you contentedly] And this is how you get your ammo, hunting little critters, sometimes they're crawling around - there are spiders here [shoots one]. They don't even run away [pick one up, it shouts "hey!" and the game switches back to third person and Stranger scuttles off on all fours at high speed, before climbing a pole, dodging typically "ker-pow" gunfire, "We heard you was coming Stranger" shouts one redneck before being shot from distance]. We could bounty him up, make some money from him, but not right now. [Stranger dodges bullets between the rocks, being heckled "You aint gittin past me!" before charging up the Surge Bug and zapping him from distance, then sucking him up with a previously unseen device] Now. That's your high-pressure vacuum bounty can.

"In third person we can start breaking the environment [smashes fence]; sometimes we find trash and use those in different ways, navigation can be accessed by breaking destructibles. We've got some third person platform moves [Starts traversing large gaps and showing Stranger's athleticism]; basically it's the way to get around the environment so you can navigate a more natural feeling terrain.

"Now here's the Outlaws [reaches vantage point overlooking their camp], and you can get a sense of scale of this world [pans around to show a vast draw distance and evidently beautiful rocky desert landscapes that stretch out in full 3D]. I'm just going to cheat my weapons, but here's my sniper scope [zooms in on Outlaw on a bridge] It's also got a listening device [low muttering chatter ensues, sentries march up and down] Some of these guys you can sense their awareness too [Stranger fires off shot, misses, Outlaw shouts "what's goin' on here?!" Stranger doesn't miss a second time].

[Dropping down from his lofty perch, Stranger shoots a few critters to replenish his ammo, and flanks the Outlaws around the perimeter] "I want to sneak up on this place. There's a guy down here, I can see him... now tall grass hides me. So I can do stealth approaches in tall grass. Now, I'm going to use a spider and a chipmunk because I want to use a stealth approach. And what I can do with a Chippunk... Chippunk talks a lot of shit, right, so you fire it [Chippunk starts talking shit - "what ya doin' ma brutha!" Outlaw begins stamping furiously at the ground trying to squish it, muttering "I hate them!". Stranger fires another - Outlaw tries to squish that one too ["woooeeee! Ya gonna kill me brutha!" - meanwhile the distracted Outlaw gets bound up and bountied]. So I got him alive, and he's twice the value of the guy that was dead - so I'm encouraged to bounty alive, 'cos I want to make more money, and I want to make use of that money in the game.

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"Here's another guy, and another combo I can use. These are Pungee sticks - kinda nasty. I could Chipmonk him in front of him and show off some of my third person capability. [Stranger switches to third person view and gallops over to the Outlaw, bowling him over in the process]. Half the value because he was dead.

"I could try and take this place head-on, but you saw all the guys walking around there, and it would get really messy, so I'm going to do a more stealthy approach and see if there's another entrance into this place. I'll get hints occasionally; I'll see like a broken wall, a broken support column, and it's put together with wood [Stranger chops down a support column, which falls into the fortress]. This provides me with alternative access, and maybe they're not watching as closely. The first/third person [view] allows me to take advantage and see things I wouldn't normally be able to see if I was just first person.

"Let me show you what a Skunk bomb does. [Fires off Chippunk to attract, then while he's distracted fires Skunk bomb, causing much pain and vomiting] Knock him out, bounty him up. And maybe I'll use a Thud Slug - these act like medicine balls [repeats the same trick, fires Chippunk, attracts goon, whacks him, bounties him up].

"Here I've got a lot of traps in the environment like big industrial fans. I'll plant one of these here. Notice I have some first person melee [sends grunt into spinning fan, amid chunks of flesh and screaming].

"Here I've got some upgrades [looks at boxes with cartoon Chippunk faces on]. So Chippunk's upgrade is a PA system - I can attract three guys at once. [The Skunk] gets a little gas mask, makes him a bit more potent. I also want to show you the Fuzzles [cue sharp-toothed piranha-style head mounted on the crossbow]. I can use Fuzzles like living landmines, vicious rats.

"What's really not nice is I can use an upgraded Skunk [sends various fleeing Outlaws straight into the traps]. You can see I'm slowly knocking down the number of guys in that environment. Now if you wanted to go more head to head, more of a badass approach, I can take my Sulphur Bats - you find them in caves and dark places, and they eat Sulphur so they are a little explosive. And these are Stingbees, kind of like Wasps - there's a nice victim up here, and I'll stick a bat on this guy [sending him spinning into the air with the explosive force followed by rapid fire Stingbees, similar to a nail gun].

I'll show you a little first to third. We want them to be more like Sergio Leone gunfights, y'know. Prolonged shootouts [proceeds to run around the gantry] You can use your melee [bowls over three grunts at high speed] as well as your shooting abilities. If I start getting open ground, if I've got the right ammo type, I might do, like a Skunkbomb with say, Boombats [causes general mayhem for a few minutes, bountying up everyone in sight, showing off the AI and weapon combinations, at which point the presentation comes to the end so that the audience can fire general questions at Lorne].

Eurogamer: Tell us about the viewpoints.

Lorne Lanning: So, yes, it's first and third, and as you go through the game you get upgrades and different types of knuckle upgrades, different types of power. It never goes into magic - it doesn't go that way, but you get more and more and more powerful. The melees start to change when other plot twists happen in the game, so you start off hunting bounties, trying to find the solution to your cure. You've got a medical issue that's life or death and you're trying to raise money for that. And then the plot thickens [smiles].

Eurogamer: Who's doing the PS2 conversion?

Lorne Lanning: Errrr... I can't say at this time, but we're working with a couple of outside groups.

Eurogamer: But how will it look compared to what we've just seen [on Xbox]?

Lorne Lanning: [Shakes head] As good as possible!

Eurogamer: ...much in the way of compromises?

Lorne Lanning: Well, some things are different boxes, so we're consistently surprised at how good some of the PS2 material is looking, so our target is to make them look as great as possible on the PS2.

Eurogamer: And why aren't you showing it today? Is it just not ready?

Lorne Lanning: We wanted to get the Xbox version virtually complete first. We had a really solid particular target, and go okay, this is the spec - exactly what the PS2 needs to match.

Eurogamer: Are you looking at any Live content in any shape or form?

Lorne Lanning: Not on this title. The main thing we wanted to accomplish on this title was the genre merging of first person action with first person shooting with a whole new twist which is live ammo, and the different types of strategy that would offer. That's what we wanted to accomplish, and where games are today with budgets and complexity, we felt like that was enough. Y'know, if we went much further who knows where that might takes us, maybe out. Who knows? You know, but that was ambitious enough. We feel like we've done a pretty good job accomplishing that. You'll be the judges ultimately, and if we did accomplish that correctly then we've now formed sort of a new first person shooter/first person action/first to third person blend that hasn't happened before.

Now, one of the things in first person is that you're capped at a speed of about 15 mph, relative to the world. In third person you can run up to 55 mph relative to the world but you can't shoot, so what that does is it compounds on the strategy of what you're able to do. Normally in a first person shooter - unless you're getting vehicles - you're bound at a certain speed. That speed is often the same as your enemy. Well here your enemies allow you to retreat and find a different location. The AI is persistent enough that they're going to pursue, find duck and cover spots - I don't know if you saw while I was shooting those guys, but they're ducking and covering and finding shooting places, taking different jobs, it makes them more alive and makes them a little more persistent in play, so that it's more of a shoot-out, rather than "there's the guy - cancel him" - no, you don't cancel that guy - he's going to come and pursue, he's going to find you, and along the way if you're having a shoot-out, he's going to be taking dodge and cover spots, all these things are in there.

So, we just wanted to bite off that chunk for this game and make it a really deep epic story and the same time and do it better than we've done it in the past. If we accomplished that, then take it to multiplayer with this new genre break that we did with the first to third person offers with a different type of strategy that comes with it.

Eurogamer: Does this game have any mythological relationship with the other games in the Oddworld series?

Lorne Lanning: Not particular to characters, but in terms of the hero's plight, yes. However, this game has more plot twists that the other games didn't have so, at this time I don't really wanna go into that.

Eurogamer: Weren't there supposed to be five in the series?

Lorne Lanning: To be honest with that, after Munch, the quintology was this vast epic. When we put it together it was still good. But, what happened with Munch was that Abe pretty much retained the story of what we wanted. The guy in the Meat processing plant comes back and saves his people. Munch didn't wind up at all what it was supposed to be, and what really happened was that we were too ambitious with the project, and that led into a lot of technological trouble that we had that in many ways we had to start shaping the story to the boundaries of what we could achieve in the technology.

That really tore my heart out because it wasn't the story of Munch and what his alter ego was - he was really a Jekyll and Hyde kind of character; one was like a monster when he got mad, and the other was like this little twerpy guy. So, we're going to look at the technology at each stage to determine 'is this another quintology game?', because the stories we value higher than 'is it just a game, and how do we make another game to fulfil the five'. We value the story in a big way, and if we don't have to compromise the story then we'll be completing the quintology in games. If we do, I dunno, maybe the quintology will happen in another medium first.

Oddworld Stranger (still a working title) is due out on PS2 and Xbox in spring 2005.

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