Behind The Classics – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

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Lead image ABE-ELUM-concept

This week’s instalment in our on-going Behind The Classics series takes us to the weird and wonderful land of Oddworld. It might not have sold 20 million copies but few games released in the PlayStation era have such a loyal following as Abe’s Oddysee and its sequels. And with good reason – Lorne Lanning’s beautiful side-scrolling fantasy adventure is one of the richest, most singular game worlds ever created and its hero, Abe, one of gaming’s most eccentric protagonists.

With an HD remake currently in development, we caught up with the game’s creator to find out how the 1997 original came into being. Sit back and enjoy – and if you’re new to the title remember that it’s available to download on the PS Store. We’ve secured a 50% discount on both Abe’s Oddysee and its sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, until next Wednesday – that’s just €2.49/£1.99 each. Check them out – they’re both must-play experiences for anyone who cares to call themselves a gamer.


What was the original concept for the game?

Lorne Lanning: On a very practical level, we were striving for a deeper and more engaging sense of story and emotional character development for games. We brought character development, production design, animation, and effects from the film industry. We wanted to feel like you were playing not just a challenge, but someone’s fate – someone that you had to be responsible for.

On a more philosophical level, I wanted to take the most pop of pop culture, and convert it into meaningful modern day myths that would have great appeal to a wider audience. We also believed that people could find more empowering messages through gaming. So we targeted the anti-hero as our main character. Abe wasn’t the muscle-bound superhero that you wanted to be – he was the rather pathetic chump that you actually are. It was about rendering the journey out of the more powerless beings that we see ourselves as and at the place we most typically are, which is at the bottom of the global corporate food chain.

On a business level, we believed that if we could crack the conceptual goals mentioned above, then we had a chance at establishing a quality brand that distinguished itself by offering its audience a more intelligent – albeit sarcastically ironic – perspective to engage with.

At the time, we believed that the space was wide open to create a brand of quality and integrity around the dysfunctional cracked mirror of our real world as reflected into our mythically hilarious and pathetic world, then we could establish a brand that would stick into the future.


Where did you look for inspiration when deciding on the game’s look and feel?

Lorne Lanning: While 3D was the big emerging new real time tech of the PS1 era, it didn’t appeal to me at all as I had already been dealing with 3D graphics for a decade before I talked Sherry McKenna into founding Oddworld with me. We knew very well the capabilities that 3D was not going to deliver for console gaming at that time. Instead, we focused on creating the lifelike aspects of the characters and environments. Their animations, their sound effects – we were aiming for it to feel more like film.

It was film that was the key inspiration, but from games the most fun I personally had, aside from pure racing and arcade-style games, was the great early side-scrollers like Prince of Persia, Out of This World and Flashback. I loved those games, but most importantly those games made me feel like I was controlling a lifeform more than a piece of art in some challenge contest.

The animations, the locked camera, the movie-esque tone and vibe of those games blending story, action and adventure in clever, focused ways engaged me in ways that I found more inspiring.

So while most developers were heading for 3D, we were heading for deeper characters and more emotionally meaningful play. For me, it was not about the tech. It was about the narrative and having the gameplay take some interesting new twists to make the mechanics of challenge more tightly interwoven into the character and story.


It really set the standard for 2D visuals when it was released. Was it a tough game to develop?

Lorne Lanning: It was hell. We had all kinds of things going wrong, and quite frankly it would have failed to reach the shelf had Sherry McKenna not been one seriously badass negotiator and strategist. The team stuck through some hard times and people wanted to do a great job with the project, but Sherry was the enabler to make all that happen. She kept the money flowing while other companies were being cut.

Considering the obstacles, it was harder than I ever imagined it would be. Logically speaking, we should have failed, but our deep commitment and our absolute determination under the leadership of a relentlessly optimistic force – aka Sherry – we actually prevailed. But it was a killer building the company, an engine, and the game all with one budget. It was painful.


Which element of the game are you most proud of, and which element, if any, do you feel fell short? Any regrets about the checkpoint system?

Lorne Lanning: Well, yeah, the checkpoint system was such a cluster**** it was maddening. This was down to coding issues and having a very challenging time getting code and design and direction on the same page. It was a new company, it was new people working together, it was a crazy ambitious effort for us… and we completely screwed the save system by release. UGH! It hurt, but we shipped and while it was imperfect we swore we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. We fixed that issue on Abe’s Exoddus and even created the “quick save” to really drill that issue home that we would never make that mistake again.

What do you see as the game’s legacy? How would you like it remembered?

Lorne Lanning: I think the game served a lot of people who wanted to see deeper and more developed characters in games that had more real world relevance to them. I believed, and still do, that the audience wants richer entertainment than they are currently getting.

I also hear a lot of people in the business claim the game inspired them to want to start making games. But I have to say the most intangible rewards were the heart-breaking and inspiring fan mails from people whose lives the game so deeply affected. It’s uncanny the impact the game had on some people, but it was why I personally wanted to make the games.

I believed the power of the medium could have greater and more nutritious impact that added something to people’s lives and perspectives on the high-jinxed world around them, full of lies and deception being brought to them by governments and corporations.

There was one fan who swears the game saved his life, who was actually a 72 year old man who we decided to name a character after in our second game, Abe’s Exoddus. He was Alf Gamble. When we read his hand written multi-paged letter… all of us cried. It was a killer, it was sincere, and it was a heartbreaker.

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  • I recently played both Ps1 games on my Vita and it I’d forgotten just how good and well designed they were. Absolutely love these classics. Looking forward to Abe 2.5D. Keep us in the loop :)

  • Loved both games.

    To bad I’m not going to buy this, as I don’t live in AE, AU, GB, IE or NZ…

  • I got the original ones, the ones on psn, and I’ll probably get this too :p

  • You know, Abe is also a legendary icon for PlayStation and gotta admit, I love those 2D platformers and I own both Oddysee and Exddous for PS1. Shame Munch’s Oddysee didn’t make it to PS2 until Xbox got it exclusively. Have to say can’t wait for Munch’s Oddysee HD.

    Superbot, I urge you to include this hero of Oddworld who saved his Mudokon race from being meat from Rupturefarms and being from bones to Soulstar brew in PASBR. Glad JAW revived the Oddworld franchise though.

  • Wow its been nearly 15 years since i played this

  • nice cant wait for the remake loved the original :)

  • …how i remember this game is saving up my pocket money for what seemed like forever then a trip to woolworths :) to check out the new games take it home loved the game played but then got stuck somewhere on a level and didnt have a clue what to do lol tried for ages to get past that part but could never do it :( going to have to get this again and see if i can do any better this time round :)

  • firstly, is Abe going to be in Playstation All Stars Battle Royale?

    secondly, when is the HD versions of the oddworld games coming out for the psvita?

  • There’s an even bigger discount on the two PSone Classics for PlayStation Plus members, 75% off instead of 50%.

  • This is an excellent platformer, and _almost_ timeless, and I really, really dug the angle it took on characters and story, but there’s (at least) one point where you can get stuck and it’s game over, start all over again, in a way that punishes experimentation (I’ve got no doubt this is partly what Lanning is referring to above in the checkpoint/save reference, and the clear awareness of this suggests the HD remake will work much better :)).

  • bought them both, only a pound each for plus members BARGIN :D

  • Too late. Already bought this long long time ago when it was available on PSN day one!

  • when oddworld abe’s oddysee and oddworld stranger’s wrath come on retail disc version to buy as a hd collection. then i am gonna be day one buyer, even if it cost me 60 euro. renting them from psn store is of no interest at all, i like to own my games that i buy.

  • Wow that was really a interview I felt gave me something. The last part with the old man.. Amazing.

    @Fred and/or the rest of the Blog staff.

    In lieu with the Killzone HD interview, you have really brought forward some down-to-earth and insightful interviews recently. Keep up that good work!

  • I loved the game back in the days. The artwork was wonderfull. The farts even made it more fun for me as a kid and I gigles every time.
    Playing it now the controles are akward and I hope the HD remake gets a controler remake as well to fit better in these days.

  • Oh my word. I was willing to pay £1.99 each but then I saw the PlayStation®Plus discount. Something to do on the train now. Can’t wait for the HD remake. :D

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