Above: Bennie Terry is executive producer of Oddworld: Soulstorm.

Image Credit: Oddworld Inhabitants

Let’s go to a compilation of some gameplay. One thing we wanted to do — New and Tasty delivered in 2.5D. We were monitoring the audience and asking them about it a lot. What we found was that compared to POV or over the shoulder, they liked being directed through the narrative experience. They liked not having to steer. They liked seeing their character on screen. They liked being able to aim, do whatever they had to do. But it took them out of the traditional — it might not have been looking in the right direction, the camera showing what you should be seeing. They liked those aspects of it.

We focused in on that. We wanted to expand on that with something we call 2.9D. We’re using it as a little marketing hook. We are going into the world. We can be on curved paths around stuff. We can move in full dimensional space. But we keep it on rails, so the play style stays in sync with the evolution of the side-scrolling platform. We dial it up in the dimensions of the world, the feeling of being in the world and how deep the world is. What you’re seeing in the distance is something you’ll come to play, which is also an Oddworld thing, even back in Abe’s Oddysee. We took that a few pumps higher.

This is a compilation of some of the play that’s happening. First, a big change is we wanted to bring more RPG-ish elements. It’s not a real RPG. It’s still an action-adventure platformer. But we wanted to bring in a wallet, an economy, a crafting ability to allow Abe to have what we call a sort of homeless economy, a scavenger’s economy. He finds recycled bottles, bottle caps. He can sift through lockers or get change out of phones, pickpocket sleeping guards. He can cash in things at recycling machines and use that scavenged cash to start buying vending machine products, food products.

Out of the things he’s finding in the world — scraps, wires, paper, dirty rags, things that don’t seem to have much relevance — he can combine them through the crafting system and start making weapons a la the Anarchist’s Cookbook. You’re buying Pepsi and Mentos and putting them together to create your little sticky bomb. In our case it’s Fizzy Pop and Explos. That system allows much greater exploration in the world, much more of a slow-down pace — find, discover, create things with meaningful uses to the player. It gives the player more agency.

Above: Oddworld’s leaders (left to right: Noah Zilberberg, Lorne Lanning, Bennie Terry III, and
Ashley Hackett.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The other thing that’s happening, the Mudokons historically — Abe’s always about saving others. He’s an empathetically driven hero. But those others were always really beasts of burden. They had some value. In Munch’s Oddysee it was different. But they were basically hard to get out alive, and that was the challenge. We wanted to give them more agency as well, more power to the player. It’s more like you’re building up your gang. If you’re crafting things that become available in your inventory, you can gift them to your followers and set them to aggressive or passive. They can start fighting and defending for you in a myriad of ways.

That’s what will be happening here. The first thing you’ll run past is vending machines. I’ll speak to that as we play. All of our vending machines are in the light animated look. This is 2.9D. Here I can pickpocket some sleeping slaves. It’s still the same basic controls. Instead of hiding in steam vents and shadows, now you can hide in the lockers, and so can your followers. What you see in the distance, you’ll be playing later. You move through in a more Z way. It has a lot more depth. But you can still play in that classic platformer tradition.

You’ll find a lot of cases in the environment where you can set up industrial-scale accidents that you use as weapons. The Mudokons are armed as well, fighting for you. Extra powers come to Abe if he has followers that give him more benefit, more abilities. Here we’re taking down an end boss on a moving train. We wanted that physics, that overwhelming feeling of little vulnerable characters against a really powerful world, this industrial environment. Abe’s followers can defend him, and he’s the main targeting system. They follow through. We did the effects in all these candy colors because they’re built out of consumer products. We wanted these crazy effects to showcase the abilities.

Then every level has a tallying system, leader boards, and different achievements and badges and karma. There are lots of different ways to play it. We estimate that on this game, people will get their 100-plus hours’ worth, but it’s not like the first playthrough is 100 hours. It’s definitely there to be milked through the systems, though.

We’re running toward the very latest versions of Unity, which means this might crash. If we were sane, we would have locked it off earlier in the development and said, “We’re sticking to this version.” But if we did that we wouldn’t get Unity to be doing features in their source code that we made. Hence, if it crashes, that’s my excuse. [laughs]

We have a new UI system with lots more controls, but everything Abe always did is still there. The rest is built upon that. Every level is self-contained as a single story, with an intro and outro and tally. We’ve done a lot more hint systems in this game. You can turn that on and off depending on your needs as a player. There’s a log for objectives, where you are on missions.

This is more of that 2.D effect. You can see where you will be playing in the world. This is case where we wanted to have environments, particularly in the backgrounds, where you can come in and scope it out and spy around and see what these things are to understand what you’re going to face before you actually face it. This is one of those sniping spots, where we give the user controls to preview the level before engaging. If there are workers in a zone, you have to get them out of there.

In this case your mission is you want to get up and out to terminal 2 and free your guys along the way. The heat really starts picking up. The scavenger economy includes rummaging through these garbage cans. Let me say, you’re about 60 percent into the game here, but with the hints system none of these things have been activated yet, so you’ll see a lot of windows coming up. There’s not as much as that when you play the real thing. Every item is new because this is a fresh playthrough.

Above: Oddworld Inhabitants is home to Lorne Lanning’s voluminous library.

Image Credit: Oddworld Inhabitants

He’s picking up seemingly useless things half the time, but they actually have a lot of depth once we start applying them. There are destructible floors, destructible platforms. These things add up. You get a changing playfield based on action. We wanted to have that, so the environments didn’t remain static. Here’s where you go to cash in your recycled bottles and bottle caps. You don’t have enough right now, but you do get some of our cheesy music.

These are vending machines. Each gives you a description of what they do. These are Jawbreakers, and they can be thrown. Lockers can be looted, and you can also hide in them. If I have followers — you see that they drop their hats right away. Now, if Abe goes in a locker, they’ll go in with him. At the same time you get the benefit of — expanded followers equals an ability to loot faster, and also the additional powers they bring.

You get a sense of the scale of these levels and how they operate. We have lots of characters running around. Even off in the distance you can see people operating back there. All of that you’ll play, even when you have huge trains passing in the background that you might see going by. We’ll be playing all the way through that. I’ll come to lockers that I can’t get into, but I can do things like pickpocket the security guards, take whatever he’s got, and get the keys.

As long as I hold the sneak button, all of his moves are quieter. Now I have the key to the locker. You can get that health power-up right there. You have an extra ability in this case, so now let’s look at the inventory system. This is what I just bought. What it does, just as a base model, I can use this to knock guys out when I throw it. We’ll do that real quick. That’ll knock them out, the Jawbreaker, but he’ll wake up in a few minutes. It’s limited, non-lethal. But if I go into the crafting system and take this and add some rubber bands to make it bounce, and some tape that can secure it, I can craft a new thing.

When I get back into the game, now this guy is waking up. Aw, I didn’t get him. But I can do this old trick. I can possess these guys. I have that full round of capabilities. Then I can choose to de-possess him and knock him out or blow him up. That gives you different bad karma or good karma possibilities.

Let me cheat on some stuff to add more cash, some fire extinguishers, some Brews, some Jawbreakers, some Fizzy Pops, some rubber bands, some more tape, general crafting components. Now, these are some of the scenarios where these things — the ammo is sort of puzzle-ish. I have to summon this elevator so I can continue deeper into the level. These guys, who will have a lot more voices and humor in them by the time we release, they’re like, “Not on my watch. Not before 5PM. Not before the bell. Not while I’m here.” He’ll keep sending this shit back.

But if I’m using this, my bouncy Jawbreaker, I can add rubber bands, and each band I add will give a bounce to his capability. This is where it works well for the side-scrolling platformer style. These will go plink-plink and bounce around. If I get it in there, that’s a non-lethal takedown. It could have been lethal.

We spent a lot of time on the camera system so it’s more informative to the player. It has a more choreographed way about it. We’re able to have that sense of gameplay that’s familiar, but expand the dimensions of it with more of a Z and curved entrance into it.