Remakes have always had an upsurge in popularity at the start of new console generations and, while it’s all too easy to be cynical about them, it’s always great to see an old classic receive a modern makeover. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, a remake of the PS1 classic Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, doesn’t just represent an exercise in nostalgia but the first stage in Oddworld Inhabitants’ return to the games industry. The game turned heads on its release in 1997, partly for its sumptuous and quirky visuals and devious puzzle-platformer gameplay but also for the world which Oddworld Inhabitants and its head – the flamboyant ex-visual effects animator Lorne Lanning – was proposing to build. Lanning announced a series of games that would involve different characters and locations, but would all contribute to an overall Oddworld universe – the kind of holistic worldbuilding that at the time was almost unheard of in games.
Unfortunately, while Oddworld developed a loyal hardcore fanbase this idiosyncratic new universe never quite found its niche in the mainstream, the series coming to a halt with 2005’s criminally unsung Stranger’s Wrath. Its failure prompted Lanning to shift Oddworld’s focus away from games and on CGI filmmaking, spending several years on a movie project called Citizen Siege that eventually succumbed to Development Hell.
Now Oddworld is back in the games business, and arguably at a time when the zeitgeist has finally caught up with their narrative ambitions – so what better opening salvo than to re-introduce us to the loveable Abe and his quest to free his enslaved Mudokon brothers? Developed by Just Add Water (Who also brought us the HD version of Stranger’s Wrath) with Oddworld Inhabitants now taking on publishing duties themselves, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty does a good job of capturing the charm of Abe’s Oddysee while maintaining the Oddworld tradition of stunning visuals, and hopefully bodes well for the future of this tragically unsung franchise. We’ll have a full review of the game up in the next few days, but in the meantime we spoke to Game Designer Matt Glanville about the challenges of bringing a PS1 classic into the modern age.
What attracted you to the idea of taking on ‘Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty’?
I was a fan of Oddworld ever since I first played that original PlayStation demo disc, and throughout the years I always held it in high regard as a benchmark of great game design. I first heard about New ‘n’ Tasty when I was working on my own indie game, and when I found out that Just Add Water were looking for a new designer I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to be involved with remaking a classic and working closely with its creators was too good to pass up!
We decided pretty early on that this would not just be a straight 1:1 translation. The change from static flip-screens to a dynamic scrolling camera was the biggest change, and from that decision came plenty of knock-on issues that we had to find solutions for.
We basically re-designed the entire game, re-programmed all of the character behaviours and controls, rebuilt most of the art assets from scratch, and re-recorded a whole new audio library. We were fortunate that a lot of the original character models and concept art had been archived so we had a good foundation to work from already, but most of the environment art was recreated specifically for New ‘n’ Tasty.
The original ‘Abe’s Oddysee’ was acclaimed for its tight platforming controls and puzzle design, and GameSpeak dialogue system. How easy was that to recreate for the remake, and can we expect to see any new tricks this time around?
It was quite a tricky job translating that level of digital precision into an analogue 3D character model, but I think we did it justice by approaching it as a whole new set of challenges rather than try to copy the original game pixel by pixel. We used the original game as a solid foundation, but we really spent the time to think through everything in the game and decide how we could improve it, or whether it was best to simply preserve it in its original state.
Anywhere we could, we tried to iron out a lot of the kinks. For example, in the original game if you were crouching near the edge of a platform and you wanted to climb down, you had to stand up before pressing ‘down’. In New ‘n’ Tasty you can just climb down from the crouched position without having to stand up first. We had the advantage of hindsight and were able to make improvements like this across the whole game.
Another fun addition is the bottle cap, which is an item that can be thrown like rocks and grenades. It doesn’t have enough weight behind it to do any real damage to anything, but it can be used to make a sound and distract Sligs on patrol, allowing players to take a sneakier path through many of the well-guarded areas.
The original Oddworld games were the first time you got the sense that someone was trying to build a shared universe on the scale that you see in literature and cinema. What challenges have you experienced in re-introducing (Or in the case of a lot of younger gamers, introducing for the first time) the Oddworld universe to a modern audience?
By far the biggest challenge has been to breathe new life into the series while still retaining that sense of authenticity and properly capturing the nostalgia of the original. We have a loyal fanbase who have stuck with Oddworld throughout the years, and they’re a great yardstick for measuring whether or not we’re doing it right.
At the end of the day, I think the charm and appeal of Abe speaks for itself. Just look at the guy! It’s impossible not to want to look out for him! In many cases, we just had to nail that imagery and we had to recapture the thick atmosphere, incredible sense of place, and interesting characters, and the content does the rest.
From a gameplay point of view, we shuffled a few of the puzzles around a bit in the earlier stages to provide a smoother learning curve. The original game could be pretty brutal in how it taught players new mechanics.
We introduced difficulty modes to make sure we could maintain that intense challenge, but we also wanted to provide a lower barrier to entry for newcomers and all the players who told us they loved the original game but could never make it past RuptureFarms. I think what we’ve ended up with is something a much broader range of players can enjoy.
Lorne Lanning has stated that an ‘Abe’s Exoddus’ remake is a possibility depending on ‘New ‘n’ Tasty’s performance, but is there any possibility of new Oddworld games (Or even dusting off one of the originally planned games that never saw the light, like ‘The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot’ or ‘Hand of Odd’)?
Every time I speak to Lorne he’s rattling out ideas that he’s been stewing on. I can’t speak for Lorne personally but I think he’s keen to revisit some of those old ideas. And let me assure you, some of them sound awesome, so I really do hope they see the light of day!
An Abe’s Exoddus remake would be the first thing to tackle though; it makes the most sense from a technical standpoint as we can continue to build on the engine we developed for New ‘n’ Tasty, and repurpose a lot of the work we did there. It all depends on the success of New ‘n’ Tasty though!
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is available now on PS4, and will be coming to PS3/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC/Mac/Wii U in the coming months.