Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning was once working on a competitive multiplayer game in the Oddworld universe tentatively titled Stranger Arena.
In an interview with Eurogamer, Lanning explained that a prototype of the game was made shortly after production ended on Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath in 2005. Like the Xbox surrealist take on spaghetti westerns, Stranger Arena would have been a mix of first-person shooting and third-person platforming.
"We had it running, Stranger Arena," Lanning told us. "You were using Stranger mechanics, but you were going head to head with other Strangers. You were doing multiplayer platforming and first-person shooting. So the dynamics of Stranger's [Wrath] in arenas, head to head. I have to say, we were really excited about this."
Lanning explained that by being able to switch forms to running on all fours in third-person, you could essentially transform in a motorbike as far as movement was concerned.
"One of the reasons we built the Strangers mechanics this way was because in third-person I could run much faster. I had a melee ability. I couldn't shoot [in third-person], but I could run. So if I chose not to shoot, and I chose to be in third-person, I could run and outmaneuver them. You had evasion capabilities. That's what you didn't have in most of these head to head games."
According to the Oddworld creator, this sort of movement system would have been a real game-changer for the genre. "In Quake or Doom you were either winning or you were losing, but you didn't have much strategy in-between," Lanning postulated.
"I was looking for more strategy in how I want to play the character. Like if I'm dealing with people who are obviously tougher than me, then I want to be more clever. I don't want to be losing just because they're faster on the draw," he said of a game about reptilian cowboys who are fast on the draw.
"You're not going to beat them by being clever. You're going to beat them by playing as many hours as they do," Lanning said of other shooters, name-checking Halo and Call of Duty. Instead, he wanted a more strategic method of play more akin to a real-time strategy game."
"What I wanted to do was do what they do in RTS games," he added, noting that quickness does not always equal victory in this genre, and that he'd often win matches by slowly and methodically focus on defensive base building.
So if Stranger Arena was so much fun, why didn't it see the light of day? It's simple: Stranger's Wrath sold terribly and the whole company shut down - something Lanning blames publisher EA for.
"We went to them [EA] with a product to distribute and then they didn't market it. We had no success," he lamented. "I think we sold about a million units, but it was small relative to the quality of the title. That basically soured our taste forever with traditional publishing models."
Now a million units might sound like a lot, but it fell drastically short of Lanning's expectations. It certainly wasn't enough to sustain a studio of 70-plus people. Though it's a testament to the game's quality that the HD remake by Just Add Water sold more upon its digital release than the original retail game did at launch.
"Coming out of 2005 our hope was to go from Stranger's [Wrath] to Stranger 2.0, to Stranger 2.5: Stranger Arena," Lanning said of the company's then-pipeline. Of course, things didn't turn out that way and the Oddworld series laid dormant for several years until Lanning and co. got the rights back to re-release and remake prior games in the series.
So why didn't Stranger Arena come out either as a bonus multiplayer mode for Stranger's Wrath HD or as a standalone product, you ask? As it turns out, Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water lacked the resources to devote that much time, money and manpower to a game that was being entirely recreated in a new engine.
"We'd like to, but that engine was built for the first Xbox at that time. Because of that, there's a bit of re-architecting," Lanning explained. "We have to think very conservatively because it's our money. There's no deep pockets anywhere. Can we bring Stranger [Arena] into Unity? Of course the answer is yes, but the question is how much [would it cost]?"
Devoting that much time to a competitive multiplayer shooter - even one with a really interesting hook - would have been a risky move indeed, so Oddworld Inhabitants opened it up to the fans to see what they wanted most. The answer: a remake of the original Oddworld adventure, Abe's Oddysee.
"The more logical step that the audience was really hounding us on was Abe's Oddyssey redone, which was very surprising to us," Lanning said. "Stranger Arena is still something we'd really like to do. I wouldn't say we chose one over the other so much as the audience said 'why don't you make this?'"
And so Oddworld Inhabitants is remaking Abe's Oddysee as New 'n' Tasty. After that, Lanning said the plan is to remake its sequel, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus. And if New 'n' Tasty sells upwards of half a million copies, the developer can focus on an all new Oddworld adventure after that.
The question is: would you like that to be Stranger Arena or perhaps something else? Lanning's been putting some serious effort into designing another canned Oddworld game, The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot, which could prove interesting.