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Oddworld: Soulstorm is the next game in the Oddworld series. It is a re-imagining of the 1998 title Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, and it is coming out in 2020. But we got the first look at the game under development at Oddworld Inhabitants in Emeryville, California.
Oddworld Inhabitants has been telling the interactive story of Abe for more than two decades. And now it has shown off the first look at the gameplay for the sequel to 2014’s Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty.
After that game came out, fans were excited about a remaking of a new “quintology.” The next in the series was Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. But that sequel was a bit of a rush job, as it was ordered to come out on a fast deadline by the publisher at the time, GT Interactive. Lorne Lanning, chief creative director at Oddworld, had to decide whether to make something that fans of the original sequel liked or not.
He chose not. Oddworld has sold more than 15 million games to date, and New ‘n’ Tasty sold more than 3.5 million copies over the past five years. That gave Lanning a bigger budget to work. He decided to make fans happy, but also take a risk by remaking the sequel in the way it was originally meant to be.
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“If we’ll do that, let’s go back to the original vision of the Quintology and focus on what that second game, ideally, was supposed to be,” Lanning said in an interview with me. “Let’s reboot the idea of that five-part epic, where we’re at number two. If we can do that well, if we can keep the trajectory of Oddworld growing again and get more into the triple-A space where we had been, and get there on our own with the audience’s help, that would be a much different and better existence.”
Lanning has been working on Soulstorm for more than three years with a team led by executive producer Bennie Terry. It’s a distributed team, with partners working on the title at Frima Studio in Canada, as well as Fat Kraken Studios in England. They are more ambitious, as I saw in the gameplay that I viewed in my visit to the Oddworld game studio in Emeryville, California.
Soulstorm is the second in a new Pentology that takes place in the Oddworld universe, where Abe, a meek slave among the Mudokon. He discovers that his people will be slaughtered for food in a meat factory at RuptureFarms, and he escapes. Then he leads a revolution to rescue the slaves at the farm.
In Abe’s Exoddus, Abe leads his starving Mudokons on further adventures in a search for the secrets of the Soulstorm brew. Lanning showed off a trailer of what the game will look like and its story at Unity’s event at the Game Developers Conference.
A glimpse of the gameplay
Lanning showed me a level that you can see in the trailer. It is set in an industrial nightmare, with fires burning in the background. Abe is rescuing his fellow Mudoken slaves, awakening them from a kind of slumber.
The new trailer shows off the gameplay, which is still based on a side-scrolling platformer like the original title. But as you can see in the trailer, the perspective is more like “2.9D,” as Lanning calls it. You control Abe, and you pick up followers who can help you with various tasks. They join you in a kind of chain. But you can also see 3D aspects in the foreground and the background.
“We wanted to expand on that with something we call 2.9D. We’re using it as a little marketing hook,” Lanning said. “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.”
The player controls Abe as he makes his way past enemies and obstacles. But every now and then the perspective changes as Abe makes his way around a corner. And then a freight train comes zooming through the landscape. It’s a visual feast, with explosions both in the foreground and the background that make the game very colorful and full of action. You can move sideways. Or you can push through the landscape into the third dimension as needed, like when you shoot as a sniper. I like how it looks, with fancy upgraded graphics and lots of story cinematics.
How the game will be different
The story is also longer and different. And the collectibles, progression system, and inventory are much more ambitious.
“We’ve just ignored the original. This is a completely new game,” Lanning said. “It’s what Exoddus was inspired by, but couldn’t be. This gets back to the true inspiration. We’re able to run it better on 21st-century technology and do things I was thinking of before, but we’re probably lucky I didn’t try to do, because I would have shot myself in the foot.”
The new kind of 2.9D gameplay is far different from the original. The new game will have more of a role-playing game progression system. You can pick up items, store them in inventory, and upgrade them over time. You can craft things that help you become more aggressive or defensive, depending on your play style.
“With the original gameplay, Abe could sneak, run, jump, and do the basic moves he was doing here. But he didn’t have an inventory system,” Lanning said. “You could only play through with one guy at a time in the original game, too. When we remade that with New and Tasty, all the guys in the level could follow you at one time, which was really taken from Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus.”
He added, “In the original game, you could throw something, but it was just like, ‘I need to solve this puzzle. There’s an item I have to find in this room, and then I can throw it.’ But it wasn’t an inventory item you could carry with you to other places. It had no accounting system either, no wallet. It was really about what level you’re in, how fast you get through, and how many Mudokons you could save. That was the basis of it.”
And he said, “Now we’ve really gone off on the collecting, the exploring, finding secret areas, and community. Healing guys you find that are dying, crafting antidotes, crafting things with medicinal properties. That leads to the whole ending, which — the spoiler is, once you learn how to heal the guys who have escaped the factories and are trying to find you, once you learn about that antidote, it’s then revealed to you that what you found that works in small doses really needs to be taken to the industrial level.”
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