The Oddworld games are, to this day, considered among the most beloved PS1 titles. Five years ago, series creator Lorne Lanning took on the task of bringing everyone’s favourite Mudokon back into the limelight with a remake of the first game. 2014’s New ‘N’ Tasty was well-received by fans of the series and newcomers alike, but now, with Soulstorm, a reimagining of the second game in the series, Abe’s next adventure is looking to be much more ambitious. Darker in tone but not without its own sense of humour, and backed by technology that can help it realize its ambitions, it’s aiming to be a proper realization of what was an ambitious game back when it first launched two decades ago.
Curious to know more about this project, we sent across some of our questions about the game to developers Oddworld Inhabitants. Series creator and Oddworld Inhabitants co-founder Lorne Lanning answered our question, offering a great deal of insight into the process of reimagining a beloved classic, and introducing new elements to help realize the game’s original vision. Read the interview below.
"I wouldn’t call it a ‘take’. It’s a reimagining of what we originally wanted the second game in our quintology to be, but at that time I admit it was likely too ambitious and would have got us into trouble if we really tried executing on some of the ideas in the PS1 generation of technology."
Soulstorm is being billed as a darker take on Abe’s Exoddus– what exactly does that entail?
We cannot dive too deep into the game’s story just yet and I wouldn’t call it a ‘take’. It’s a reimagining of what we originally wanted the second game in our quintology to be, but at that time I admit it was likely too ambitious and would have got us into trouble if we really tried executing on some of the ideas in the PS1 generation of technology.
Soulstorm picks up where the original, and New ‘n’ Tasty, conclude. The original was a dark storyline but underlined with hope. Abe’s story will continue as the reluctant hero as the stakes rise as well as the opposition against him. What’s funny is that the entire story of Abe remains relevant today, unfortunately for us earth inhabitants, and will probably always be relevant in that context.
When you consider how we first meet Abe, he was a happy cog in the corporate machine. Believing the noble lies he was fed to keep up the good work, much like how millions of people are living today.
Abe was happy in his ignorance to the real powers that puppeteer his reality. His only purpose was to serve a conglomerate of greed, and he had no idea that after his usefulness dried up it would consume him, quite literally, in the end.
In the process of creating contemporary myths or fables… Abe’s Oddysee / New ‘n’ Tasty, has a moment where Abe’s experience allows him to clearly see what is happening around him, not just what “big brother” tells him to see. And this changes his destiny, as it would for many of us.
It is in that change where Abe’s journey begins. As with all revolutions, they build from unexpected places and take time. And to paraphrase a famous quote, the darkest hour is before dawn. It is safe to assume Soulstorm, as the second of a quintology will have a darker tone to the storyline, but still retain the ability to laugh at ourselves throughout humorous gameplay.
Is there an inherent risk in reimagining an older game rather than simply remaking it 1:1? How does Soulstorm avoid those risks?
There is always risk in creating art or entertainment and then sharing it with the world. It is inherent in the creative process, market fluctuations, unexpected global events that change public appetites, or a basic lack in achieving visibility for the product in a cluttered marketplace.
There is additional risk for us in that we must make sure we appeal to our fans AND attract news fans in a balanced way that feels fresh, creative, relevant, inspiring, and most importantly… fun!!
The decision to remake Abe’s Oddysee was an easy one for us because… A) it’s all we could afford to do at the time and… B) it was the true beginning of the five-part epic that had remained largely intact as a modern fable that was reflecting contemporary times in a broken mirror, dark comedic way.
Abe’s Exoddus was not the same. Exoddus was a project that the team did a remarkable and impossible job on, but it was still a project that had to get done in a record amount of time and thus the story had to change to accommodate schedule and resources. So, if we were going to go back to Abe’s origins, it made sense to go back to the original extended mythos that we never got to execute on and pick up where we wanted to take it originally.
We’ve always been evolving Abe’s platforming upon retro since our beginning, and this builds upon proven play patterns. We have been fortunate that old and new Oddworld fans have proven that the brand can successfully coexist in what is a contemporary albeit extremely cluttered landscape of fantastically expensive productions.
"We retain the core game play that fans have loved, while expanding new features such as Karma, Scavenger’s Economy System, and Crafting in a way that is relevant to Abe as a character, not just chasing market trends. "
Given that this is a more ambitious remake than New ‘N Tasty was, can we expect Soulstorm to change things up in the gameplay department as well? Is that something you can shed any light on? Can we expect Soulstorm to bank more heavily on moral decisions, given the heavier focus on the darker aspects of its narrative?
Absolutely. We retain the core game play that fans have loved, while expanding new features such as Karma, Scavenger’s Economy System, and Crafting in a way that is relevant to Abe as a character, not just chasing market trends.
We’ve introduced Quarma (our version of karma) not just as a largely invisible tally that leads to different endings (as our past games did) but as a real time feedback feature that reflects your actions as is being demonstrated in our E3 demo. And all I can say is that your actions in the game influence your Quarma which will influence Abe, his followers, his abilities, and your score throughout the game.
These are the features we have announced so far, and I cannot go too deep into them yet. We are also addressing fan complaints from our previous games. And in addition, we will have leaderboards, achievements and badges to extend the possibilities and challenges in various ways to play the game. The game will be about 10-12 hours, but if you are an achievement hunter or want to climb the leaderboards, you can easily spend dozens of more hours enjoying Soulstorm where our previous games had nowhere near the replay ability.
We know you haven’t announced the consoles the game will be launching on yet, but do you have any plans of releasing Soulstorm on the Switch?
You are correct. We haven’t announced platforms yet, so I won’t be able to comment on Soulstorm coming to Switch. But I can tell you that we will have an update this July about Stranger’s Wrath coming to Switch. In addition, you should expect a couple more announcements about ‘things’ coming to Switch in the immediate future. Switch is an important platform and we are going to support it with content.
How has the experience of going back to a game you worked on two decades ago to reimagine it as something else been for you?
It’s challenging because, to do it right, we must stay true to what makes the IP unique while also innovating and evolving upon the gameplay. Not to mention it’s also just damned hard work making good games and perseverance is key to surviving the process (laughs).
As we neared the completion of New ‘n’ Tasty, from both an emotional as well as a creative standpoint, we felt like it was finally time to dive back into our original idea for a five-game series that told the evolutionary story of Abe. That meant Soulstorm would be a complete re-imaging of what Exoddus was originally loosely based on and would be a brand-new game. This made the effort a lot more challenging, but also a lot more exciting in the discovery process of evolving upon Abe and his capabilities.
Soulstorm is looking like a graphical leap over its predecessors from the little we’ve seen of it so far- was that something you wanted to focus on right from the get-go?
Indeed, it is. Toward this end we are working with Unity to stress test their system. One of our goals is to make Oddworld look like a contemporary AAA game, but, as you know, it is on an indie budget and done by a relatively small team that is distributed around our planet.
We wanted a pipeline that would enable us to deliver that vision for this game and hopefully beyond. Using Unity, we’ve created the pipeline that allows us to create closer to feature film quality CG. We done this far more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before, and all our cinematics are even generated out of the real time databases.
This touches upon why the future is realtime, but that opens another discussion entirely.
"We have not decided to announce a specific date other than say it will release in 2020. Basically, we will launch Soulstorm when it is ready. We have a high bar in terms of quality and our goal is to exceed it. And it will be on multiple platforms, such as PC and console, but we aren’t ready to talk about the exact platforms just yet."
It’s already 2019 and I assume that the release date hasn’t yet been decided. Is there a chance that Soulstorm turns out to be a cross gen title?
You are spot on. We have not decided to announce a specific date other than say it will release in 2020. Basically, we will launch Soulstorm when it is ready. We have a high bar in terms of quality and our goal is to exceed it. And it will be on multiple platforms, such as PC and console, but we aren’t ready to talk about the exact platforms just yet.
Do you expect PS5 and next Xbox to be as powerful as Stadia in terms of specs?
Honestly, it’s super hard to tell and I suspect even the folks deeply involved at Sony or MS don’t know for certain. Technology changes so fast that its increasingly hard to predict where things will be in a year, but it’s a safe bet that all the next-gen systems are going to be impressive in terms of specs and optimal performance. Consoles will be very powerful, but they won’t catch PCs, as PCs iterate much quicker with new and improved models releasing each year, whereas consoles release once every 5 years or so, and it’s possible that streaming changes a lot of these traditional paradigms. But who can know for certain?
What we can count on is that each will have hurdles to overcome but if everything goes well 2020 is going to be a very exciting year for gamers with more platforms to play than ever.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about Soulstorm and why longtime fans should look forward to it?
Soulstorm is the true sequel and it tells the story we have always wanted to tell. It retains the features people have loved about Oddworld and adds new gameplay features that we’ve spent a lot of time to make feel natural in their evolutionary steps that build upon both Abe and the Oddworld franchise. We’ve taken a lot of risks, blood, sweat and tears to develop this title. From there we can only hope for the best after we’ve delivered our best.