The term “Oddworld” may not mean much in the world of gaming now days, but there was a time in the late 1990‘s when Oddworld and it’s related games were at the forefront of the gaming undustry. The Oddworld Quintology was in full force with titles releasing on the PC and other gaming systems and receiving rave reviews across the board. Sadly, we only got to see 2 of the 5 planned games, plus 2 bonus offerings in the form of Munch’s Odysee and Stranger’s Wrath, before it disappeared. It was really a shame too, because what we had seen in the series was spectacular and the future was looking very bright.
Fast forward to nearly a decade later and it appears as if the ideas and creations of Oddworld Inhabitants are back in full force. Thanks to developer Just Add Water, a new interest has arisen in the series and while the old titles have been returning in new, HD form, original creations appear to be on the well as. Recently, I got a chance to chat with the CEO of Just Add Water, Stewart Gilray about the recent release of Stranger’s Wrath HD on the PlayStation Network and all things Oddworld: past, present, and future. Read on to find out just what he had to say...
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role(s) at Just Add Water and on the Stranger’s Wrath HD project?
Hi, I’m Stewart Gilray, and I’m the CEO of Just Add Water. On Stranger I was basically the Producer of the project here, but I also had a few hands on tasks in respects of the project itself.
Can you tell us a little bit about how Just Add Water got involved with the revitalization of the Oddworld franchise? What makes the series so ripe for undergoing resurgence?
I was introduced to Lorne Lanning of Oddworld Inhabitants back in 2009 by a mutual friend. Later in the year we started talking more, and I basically managed to persuade Lorne and Sherry (McKenna) that Oddworld needs to come back and be on other platforms. So in the first instance we made a PC version of Stranger’s Wrath, and also did the last two weeks’ worth of work on Munch’s Oddysee PC. I love the brand, always have, and really feel that the market is there for strong story led games. More than anything I love these games, so why not?!
What do you think defines the “Oddworld” formula of games?
The games aren’t overly complex, what they have are these truly immersive stories, and characters. You believe in them, you have empathy for them. As such you want to see the stories to the end. There are a lot of games around today that really don’t do that, and all seem “bolted” on. What adds a lot is the humour, the funny situations the dialogue, all expertly crafted.
Stranger’s Wrath was such a drastic take from the traditional Oddworld formula when it was released; what aspects of the game do you feel rooted it firmly within the boundaries of the franchise? What made it an “Oddworld” game?
The characterization is the main element, I mean a 9 foot tall character the fires little talking animals from his crossbow? Along with 6 foot talking chickens. There are a few characters that have been in all four games, that keeps the “Oddworld” thread running, Slogs, as well as Fuzzles appearing in two games. As I mentioned before, the biggie is the stories and characters, very few franchises can say that they’ve been consistent over multiple titles.
Were there any challenges to adapting a game that was originally an Xbox exclusive to the PlayStation (Network) platform?
The main issues were data led. The PS3 uses Big Endian data formatting, where the Xbox, like the PC, uses Little Endian, so all the data had to be rebuilt using updated tools. All in all, there weren’t any real challenges, we had a to-do list to complete, and we did that. The Art update was the thing that took the longest; I think we spent 14months on Art, and roughly 6 months on code. We only had an art team of 2 on it, and even then, only one of those was on it for the last 5 months of the project.
We saw a PC release of the original game a few months back via Steam; will we be seeing an HD overhaul coming to that platform as well? If so, why the decision to release the original version rather than just the improved variation?
The PC version was a straight port of the original Xbox version, which took 2 people roughly 5 months. That was released 12 months prior to the PS3 edition. We were hired by Oddworld to create the PC version for inclusion in their “OddBoxx” product, which they’d announced almost 2 years earlier. Part of the deal for doing it was we wanted to create a PS3 version, so both were entirely separate projects.
It has been stated previously that one of the hurdles that exists which is preventing a Xbox 360 port of the game is the 2GB size limit on XBLA titles; has any ground been made on overcoming this? Are we any closer to seeing HD variations of the Oddworld series on Microsoft’s platforms?
Yeah we’re confident that a 360 version would fit into 2GB. Thanks to some extra special compression technology that’s come about in the past few months. We had originally approached MS to be our publishing partner on their platform, but have met resistance during that entire process. As such we are talking to other companies about getting the titles on the 360. We are not platform exclusive and have been trying since August 2010 to get Stranger on the 360 via MS. The latest denial came the first week back after the holidays, and to be honest we cannot work out why they are stopping us, it is a mystery.
A PlayStation Vita version of the game was announced last year; can we expect any platform-specific changes or features to be included in that game?
We announced the VITA versions at E3 I believe it was. We are making a few changes to the game that will take advantage of the VITA’s features. We will be making more noise about the VITA version in March.
Are there any chances that we could see Just Add Water bringing out any original Oddworld games? Is there a chance that we could finally see the long-rumored “The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot”?
Every chance, two of the projects we’re working on now could be seen as Original, or at least aspects of them will be original. We would also love to get to work on Fangus. I think we’re going to start taking a look at the project at the start of 2013. But we’ll see if we green light it.
If so, can you tell us a little bit about the project(s)?
Well our first Abe project is underway and that is something special, but beyond that I’m not commiting to anything at this time on that one. Also we do want to complete the original plan of the “Oddworld Quintology” the next game in the series is game 3 and that’s “Squeek’s Oddysee” we already know a lot about that one and it’s story and characters, so yeah… It’s all looking cool right now.
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about the game(s) and Just Add Water in general?
The main thing is we are Oddworld fans here at JAW, 5 members of staff came to us because of their love of Oddworld, so we know this stuff really well, we love this brand and franchise, so we’d like to think people will like our work and what we’re doing with the brand.
I would like to personally thank Stewart for taking the tame to chat with us and Chan Lim for setting up the interview! It is great to see the strange, or rather “odd”, world of Oddworld making a comeback and I can’t wait to see what comes next for the series!