After the launch of Oddworld Soulstorm, we spoke to creator Lorne Lanning about the difficult journey of creating the game, what fans can expect from Abe’s next adventure, and the potential for an Oddworld animated TV series.
Almost two decades after the original Abe’s Oddysee put Oddworld on the map for gamers everywhere, a remake called New ‘n’ Tasty was released in 2014 to huge acclaim – so much so that Lorne and his team were given the go-ahead to create the sequel they’d always dreamed of making.
Enter Oddworld Soulstorm, an entirely new experience that managed to capture what fans have always loved about the franchise, while bringing it firmly into the next generation with incredible graphics, solid gameplay, and mysteries to discover (check out our review if you’re not convinced).
A few launch-day bugs aside, fans were generally pleased with the arrival of Soulstorm, and being a free PlayStation Plus title for PS5 meant Abe was able to reach a whole new audience. But creating the game wasn’t easy, with creator Lorne Lanning describing it as an “incredibly challenging” experience.
Why did Oddworld Soulstorm take so long to come out?
Soulstorm was first announced in 2015, but it would be another six years until the game eventually dropped. Aside from the obvious major world events, there were a number of other reasons why development took so long. Unlike the straight remake New ‘n’ Tasty, Soulstorm was pretty much a whole new game, meaning it required far more resources. Then, the boom in free-to-play titles like Fortnite made it harder to find the talent required.
“The industry kind of blew up in a glorious financial way with free-to-play and the monetization of mobile gaming, and that put a tremendous demand on the workforce,” Lorne tells Dexerto. “Big studios were willing to give contractors sweet deals, and we’re just the little guys, so it became more challenging to secure our needs. That caused us to fragment more around the planet, firstly finding talent that was skilled in unity – which is challenging – and secondly finding people that can actually do it. So as a creative project around the world, I would say it was really difficult.”
Despite the lengthy production time, there were still some interesting features that the dev team weren’t able to get into Soulstorm. One big idea on the Oddworld creator’s wishlist was to have more end bosses. A tiered ‘panic’ system was once in the works that would see more and more enemies unleashed on Abe until, in the final round, giant Slig Mama robots would be summoned. Sadly, these ideas ended up on the cutting room floor, or played a smaller part in the final game.
“What I would say in general with games, is that you start out with the game you want to make, but then you deliver the game that you can make – and they’re almost never the same,” explains Lorne. “I have a lot of fun conceptualizing games, I have a lot of fun directing story, and I have a lot of fun writing, but when it comes to the process – and this is something I tell film directors when they move to games – it’s not about being a genius auteur, it’s really about being a master of compromise.”
Munch and Stranger could return to Oddworld
Fortunately, Lorne isn’t opposed to having some of these missed Soulstorm features show up in the next Oddworld installment, which fans have been eagerly awaiting information on.
“Right now, no other game has been financed, so until that happens, I can’t say the next one’s coming,” he explains, joking that he knows better than to promise anything to the fans before it is confirmed. He does have “a lot of ideas” about where the third game will go, though, and there might even be some familiar faces from Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath showing up.
“Soulstorm really gave us the capability to start telling the Oddworld story with more depth, more mystery, and more power, and people have noticed that,” Lorne continues. “Those emotional hooks are sinking in better, the story went deeper into Oddworld in a way, and I think it sets the stage well for what comes next and for bringing other characters into it. Stranger should play a role in the [new] quintology, for sure. Munch as well, but he won’t be as dominant as he was before. I’m always surprised at how many people want more Munch.”
Is Abe about to get his own TV series?
Arguably the standout feature of Oddworld Soulstorm is the cinematics. There are around 48 minutes of these stunning CG animations in the game, all of which add a whole new level of emotion to the story.
It also meant that Abe could finally appear as production designer Steven Olds intended when he first drew the unlikely hero over two decades ago. “When we went into this project, we were able to get [Abe] looking more like those original 1995 drawings: more expressive, more empathetically driven, bigger eye sockets,” says Lorne. “We over-invested in the cinematics so we could finally take them to the next level.”
In fact, the cinematics in Soulstorm were so good that conversations have started about a potential animated series or movie. Bennie Terry III, an executive producer on Soulstorm, told us that the prospect of expanding the Oddworld franchise beyond video games was one of the main reasons they were able to sign off on the high cost and time involved with creating the impressive visuals.
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“Whether the textures were 8k or 4k, whether we had characters who were expressive or hyper-expressive, that wasn’t necessarily going to change the story-telling and the gameplay. From a budget standpoint, it didn’t make sense,” he says. “But what it did do was build a deeper emotional connection for everyone who sees those cinematics, to the point where they ask, ‘Should it be a movie? Should it be a series?’ I don’t want to talk too much about possibilities, but those are the kind of conversations we imagined and hoped would happen, and those are the kind of conversations that continue to happen.”
As with the next game in the Oddworld quintology, Lorne is hesitant to say too much about a potential movie or TV series in case it doesn’t come to fruition, but he does hope to be able to expand the franchise’s universe and make Abe a more developed character in the future.
“I really hope to be able to go deeper into the story of Abe, because I think his story so far has been kind of superficial,” explains Lorne. “We’ve been talking about doing an animated series, and I’d like to keep that first season right in Rupture Farms, just looking at these lives and see what we could do if we were just focusing on telling the story.”
Oddworld’s social commentary still resonates today
Oddworld has always been a game with a message. Beyond the fiendish puzzles and dark humor lies commentary on both human and animal rights violations, as well as the side-effects of corporate greed. Lorne says the objective with Oddworld has always been to “transcend the climate of contemporary politics” and instead focus on philosophy at large, doing for a modern audience what classic authors like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley did for him.
“When I was conceiving the first episode, Abe’s Oddyssey, and shaping it into a game with others, I was kind of amazed with the lack of awareness on fast food policies in terms of raising cheap meat and what it was doing to rainforests and native cultures,” he recalls. “There was this astounding level of cluelessness that existed even with people I knew who were really smart … and I remember thinking that the gaming industry was just ripe for that deeper storytelling.”
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Many of Oddworld’s messages are just as relevant today as they were back when Abe’s Oddysee first released on PlayStation in 1997. Creating what he describes as “content with an aftertaste” is what’s most important to Lorne, and that will continue with whatever comes next – whether that’s the third game in the planned quintology, or an entirely new venture into the world of TV and movies.
“The story I want to tell, of course, is Abe changing the world,” he teases. “But it’s a little dangerous to talk too much about where you’re going, because the audience is always disappointed if they’re waiting on what you say. So I think that’s the best answer I can give [about the future] right now.”
Oddworld Soulstorm is out now on PS4, PS5, and Windows (via the Epic Games Store).