The Evolution of Oddworld Game Design at EGX
At this year’s EGX we had the pleasure of hosting a dev session featuring one of our New ‘n’ Tasty developers, Matt Glanville, who is currently working on our latest project, Soulstorm.
The session focused on how the history of Oddworld games development affected the production of New ‘n’ Tasty, how the changes affected the revival of the series, and how the core design philosophy will be taken forward. You can catch the talk in the video below, or read on for a summary.
Anyone who played the original Abe’s Oddysee game knows it had static flip screens. This led to a grid based gameplay system, revolving around these static backdrops. The hardware limitations of the original Playstation meant that 3d games were difficult to make, so sticking to 2D gameplay allowed for a pre-rendered, film like quality.
This led to a methodical gameplay style with strict puzzle solutions, but you could die repeatedly without making any progress. Not everyone was at the same skill level, and a great deal of players never finished the original game. This proves problematic for developers like us who obviously want their players to get the most out of their games.
Therefore, we revised the gameplay and level design when remaking the game in 3D. Using the original game as a blueprint, we smoothed over all the little cracks and wrinkles to make the best game we felt was possible. We added brand new levels to show off the updated tech, analogue camera and controls, a free-form approach to puzzle solving and a less punishing gameplay style.
No longer constrained by hardware, we maintained the 2D gameplay style but created an analogue camera system, removing the static screens that were so ingrained into the gameplay. Players used to use the fixed screens to assess future dangers, slowing to creep into the next area and scope it out. In gameplay testing we found players to just be running headlong into danger, as there was no longer any distinct boundaries.
To combat this, we added cues such as “Z” symbols to signal sleeping Sligs ahead, and the analogue camera tilts the way Abe is facing to allow for maximum view of the dangers you are approaching. Previously, chant suppressors would activate if you were simply on the same screen, but now an area of effect has been added, indicated by the suppressor lighting up if the player triggers it. We found that the immersion was broken in the shadow zones where Abe used to hide, and because of the new camera tilt, Abe was never properly hidden.
So we added in steam vents, which are placed slightly further into the foreground than Abe, to fully obscure him from view when he steps into it, creating a less ambiguous solution.
We decided that due to the overall difficulty of Oddysee, we would empower players with choice when solving puzzles in New ‘n’ Tasty. The gameplay is all about overcoming obstacles with wit and finding clever solutions to problems. In New ‘n’ Tasty we redesigned these factors to allow players to figure out their own solutions as opposed to having a clear cut way out of a problem which required trial and error to discover. This also allowed for multiple playthroughs with different paths.
When we looked at adjusting the difficulty levels in New ‘n’ Tasty it wasn’t about necessarily making the game easier. It was about making the entire gameplay experience much more dynamic, where players aren’t always punished for their mistakes. We had to start to second guess what players would want before they even encountered the problem.
We also adjusted some in game mechanics like the levers, adding an area of effect as opposed to having Abe in the exact correct position. And of course we added different difficulty settings, allowing newer players to get the most out of the game, but also giving more experienced players a level of “old school” difficulty.
Exploring all these new options throughout development lent ideas to our first wholly original content since Stranger’s Wrath, Alf’s Escape. Available as DLC for New ‘n’ Tasty, it included extra difficult aspects of gameplay from the main game, set in a forgotten area of RuptureFarms, and allowed us to really begin to develop new ideas.
Moving on to Soulstorm, we want to start to engage more than ever with our community, and we hope to have a great deal to show you soon. In Soulstorm we are continuing with a darker tone, while still maintaining the humor that is so integral to Abe’s character and provides important contrast.
We want players to continue to forge their way through the game, finding their own solutions to problems. We are implementing new systems, mechanics and physics, allowing for more “on the fly” problem solving and free form traversal through dynamic environments. We want players to have their own unique stories about their playthroughs, and a less static approach to puzzle solving will increase replayability and hopefully allow players to even surprise us with their solutions.
Soulstorm will be Oddworld on a much grander, more epic scale than what has come before. We want to surprise newcomers and die hard fans alike, by mixing our classic hallmarks of stunning visuals, solid gameplay and memorable characters with this new exciting gameplay style.
Hopefully Soulstorm will shock players with what an Oddworld game can really be, and will show how we can push the scales to an order of magnitude much bigger than what we’ve seen before. As ever, we do listen to what our fans want, we know there is a hunger to find out what happens next, and we’re confident we can provide a worthy experience.