In conversation with CEO of Oddworld Inhabitants Stewart Gilray.
Few puzzle games have had as storied a history as Oddworld. CEO of Just Add Water and Oddworld Inhabitants development director Stewart Gilray knows it and has been there from the beginning, starting with the series’s ascent into the AAA domain with Munch’s Oddysee on the original Xbox to the controversy that began on the Xbox 360 and the current development efforts on the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One.
Now Oddworld will be revived in the form of New ‘N’ Tasty, which looks to remake the original game and evolve it further. We spoke to Gilray about the same, and also asked his take on everything from PlayStation 4 development to the future of AAA and indie development.
Ravi Sinha: When Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee first came out, it was a huge departure from many platformers and action games of the time, mixing in stealth and puzzle solving over straight up violence. How has the evolution of the franchise since then influenced the decision to remake it as New ‘N’ Tasty?
Stewart Gilray: It hasn’t really. We’ve effectively rebooted the company as a self-publishing indie. As such we felt it would be a great idea to introduce a newer audience to the franchise with our original title, but obviously not a “port” of it, but a proper ground up remake with new features for a new generation.
Ravi Sinha: It’s interesting because the Oddworld franchise started out on PlayStation, with Munch’s Oddysee being exclusive to the Xbox, and now New ‘N’ Tasty will be on all platforms except Xbox. What are your thoughts on this turn of events through the history of Abe?
Stewart Gilray: Actually, we will be on Xbox if we can find the right way for us to release on that platform. And with Microsofts recent indication of a self-publishing route we’ll see what they propose for that, so it’s highly likely we could be on that platform too.
Ravi Sinha: Oddworld New ‘N’ Tasty has been in the news for much of the criticism leveled against Microsoft and their policies when it comes to indie developers, including Just Add Water. Could you tell us a bit more about the current situation and whether we’ll be seeing New ‘N’ Tasty for the Xbox One or Xbox 360 in this lifetime?
Stewart Gilray: As I mentioned before, we’d like to be on the hardware, it just depends on how they move forward with self-publishing, time will tell.
"Unity has been a breathe of fresh air, compared to the previous engine. Unity is so modular and so so easy to work with, it took us around 3 months to get back to where we were before the switch, but we’ve made massive time savings thanks to the switch."
Ravi Sinha: Sony has undertaken an altogether different approach with the PlayStation 4, pushing for tie-ups with indies and self-publishing. Will you be looking into hooking up more with Sony in the future or will the focus be on multiple platforms for now?
Stewart Gilray: As far as I’m concerned we’re platform agnostic, meaning we’ll go anywhere if they’ll have us. I’d also like to stress that “indie” isn’t word that is special to Sony as far as “self-publishing” goes. They treat everyone the same, if you’re Ubisoft or a tiny 2 man company, it’s all the same, there is no difference.
Ravi Sinha: Speaking on the current state of AAA gaming, with EA CCO Richard Hilleman estimating that there are about 25-30 studios working on AAA games worldwide, what are your thoughts on indie-gaming in that regard, especially with all the new trends coming forward such as crowd-funding via Kickstarter? Will we continue to see a further dwindling of AAA studios and a further rise of the indies?
Stewart Gilray: Interesting question, I think we’re going to see larger, quality titles from Indies, which might be considered as AA or something, AAA doesn’t really stand true now as it once did I don’t think. New ‘n’ Tasty looks amazing, to the point some have called it AAA, but yet, we’re a small 16 man team, so it’s an interesting proposal as I said. Same with titles such as République from Camouflaj, it’s indie, yet doesn’t seem like it.
Ravi Sinha: It was announced that the development was switched over the Unity Engine over the Unreal engine. What benefits does Unity provide in terms of development? How has it helped in bringing the vision of New ‘N’ Tasty to fruition?
Stewart Gilray: Not sure where that came from, we’ve NEVER used the Unreal engine and never will. We did switch to Unity at the end of 2012, but I’m not going to discuss which engine that was. Unity has been a breathe of fresh air, compared to the previous engine. Unity is so modular and so so easy to work with, it took us around 3 months to get back to where we were before the switch, but we’ve made massive time savings thanks to the switch.
"Currently there’s no plans for a multiplayer mode, but who knows what we might do in that space in the future."
Ravi Sinha: New ‘N’ Tasty will be built from scratch. Considering the offbeat gameplay that Abe’s Oddysee provided, what can we expect with the remake?
Stewart Gilray: It’s the same old loveable gameplay from the original, there are SOME tweaks and changes, there will be some surprises and I’d like to keep them that way for the moment, but I think new and old players alike will be more than happy.
Ravi Sinha: Can you please tell us about the enemies in the game?
Stewart Gilray: The main physical enemy are Slig’s these are basically guards of the might Mullock, who’s a nasty piece of work Glukkon. He runs a big corporation that are basically harvesting the indigenous populous of Oddworld for food. Along the way in your game you also meet those indigenous species who, to be fair, are still wild animals, Scrabs and Paramites, they don’t make friends easily as such they will try and kill Abe.
Ravi Sinha: Will New ‘N’ Tasty feature a multiplayer component? Maybe a “Capture all the Mudokons” mode?
Stewart Gilray: Currently there’s no plans for a multiplayer mode, but who knows what we might do in that space in the future.
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on developing on the PS4? How does the unified system architecture and the massive 8GB GDDR5 RAM helps you to make a better video games product?
Stewart Gilray: It means we don’t have to worry so much about stuff, the fact that the memory operates at around 172GB/s is amazing, so we can swap stuff in and our as fast as we can without it really causing us much grief. It also means we can do a lot of lead development on high end PC’s without having to worry overly about RAM limitations or graphics features our target platform DOESN’T have. Granted we are working on other platforms that do have those restrictions but the Unity Engine has helped minimize those.
"Completely, it’s [PS4] a highend PC with extras, by that I mean the DDR5 RAM, the fact it doesn’t have an OS such as Windows on it taking up MUCH of the system resources, leaving us developers access to pretty much the entire hardware, meaning we can do more at with better performance than an equivalent PC spec."
Ravi Sinha: Can you please let us know how are you using the DualShock 4’s share button and touch pad?
Stewart Gilray: To be honest we’ve not finalized design for those yet, but the Share button is more of a system thing, for sharing captured video that the system captures automatically, I believe.
Ravi Sinha: Can you please let us know what kind of puzzles the players can expect in the game? And how long will the final game be?
Stewart Gilray: It’s a platforming puzzle title with puzzles based around that concept. There are some music based puzzles too and a good few timing ones. As for the final play length, I’m not actually sure yet, but I’d say at least 8hrs.
Ravi Sinha: Do you plan to give players character customization options? Can players earn skills as they progress through the game?
Stewart Gilray: There are a couple of skills that Abe earns through the story, but these are a part of the story progress of the title. There’s nothing from a true customization point of view.
Ravi Sinha: There are a lot of developers out there who claim the PS4 to be a high end PC. Now as someone who is developing the game on both the PS4 and PC, do you think this notion holds true?
Stewart Gilray: Completely, it’s a highend PC with extras, by that I mean the DDR5 RAM, the fact it doesn’t have an OS such as Windows on it taking up MUCH of the system resources, leaving us developers access to pretty much the entire hardware, meaning we can do more at with better performance than an equivalent PC spec.
Ravi Sinha: Is there any update on Stranger’s Wrath 2? Will we indeed see FangusKlout leading his sheep on a brutal route to salvation in the coming years, regardless of the success of New ‘N’ Tasty?
Stewart Gilray: I’d say there’s a likely chance of Fangus and other titles turning up at some point 😉