Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty – Review

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(Reviewed on PS4 and Xbox One)

No Alf Measures With This Fresh Meat

17 years ago, the gaming world was presented with one of its most unlikely yet most loveable mascots. Blue, alien, dopey, and most certainly odd, Abe the Mudokon made his debut in Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, released in 1997 for the original PlayStation. Developed by Oddworld Inhabitants, figure-headed by series creators Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, the game introduced players all over the world to the eponymous loveable blue stitch-lipped hero of the title, and his quest to save his enslaved Mudokon people from becoming tasty snacks at the…well, figurative hands at least, of the industrial Glukkons.

A 2D side-scrolling action adventure game, Oddysee was renowned at the time for its unique art direction, detailed environments, cinematic CG cutscenes, challenging difficulty, and, of course, its oddball characters. The game’s story followed Abe, a Mudokon slave labourer (think cute blue and green aliens with rather fetching ponytails) working as a lowly floor waxer in Rupture Farms; a shady and dangerous meat packing plant run by Molluck the Glukkon (think a purple suit wearing greedy Octopus and you’re on the right lines). Hard at work waxing the factory floors late one night, Abe eavesdrops in on a Glukkon profit meeting, only to discover that Mudokon slaves are next on the menu to be chopped up and served as tasty pie fillings. Yikes!

Hearing this fantastic news, our petrified hero goes on the run and begins his adventure. Over the course of the game, Abe escapes the meat plant, seeks out his hidden power by braving two shamanistic rites of passage out in the wilds of Eastern Mudos before returning to Rupture Farms to use his new-found power to free his fellow enslaved Mudokons. Simple right? Well, not quite. You see, as far as video game characters go, Abe was just a wee bit underpowered in comparison to your regular gun slinging action hero. Unlike your typical armed to the teeth space-marine clichés, he had no guns or any physical means of defending himself; instead, all you had to rely on were your quick wits, Abe’s handy but limited possession ability and his noisy bowel (seriously) to make it through each screen in one piece…and not in several smaller bloodier ones.

Anxious Abe

Abe, our loveable schmuck/hero finds out that Mudokons are next on the menu. Gulp!

Players would need to guide Abe on his journey through traps and environmental obstacles, and past trigger-happy guards and vicious wildlife all out to kill him in a variety of increasingly unpleasant ways. Because of his positioning as a hapless everyman-sort of character (only with far-from ordinary flatulence problems) Abe became a popular mascot for the PlayStation brand back in the late ’90s. A sequel, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus followed in 1998, before Oddworld Inhabitants moved development on new games in the series over to the big green Xbox machine, starting with Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee in 2001 and later Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath in 2005.

Anyway, I digress. Jump forward all those years to today, and our loveable blue chump has made the transition to PC and next-gen consoles in Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty – a complete HD remake of Abe’s Oddysee, with development this time being carried out by Otley-based studio Just Add Water. So, as Abe would say, “Follow me” and let’s get stuck in.

Boardroom

Molluck the Glukkon, along with the rest of Rupture Farms’ shady executives.

The gameplay in New ‘n’ Tasty is simple. Just like its 1997 predecessor, the aim of the game is to guide our hapless blue hero through each dangerous area alive. Landmines, trapdoors, electric chambers, meat grinders, flying landmines and many other horrific hazards are strewn liberally throughout the environments, usually in deadly combination with each other. Slig guards (think robotic trouser-wearing slugs with machine guns) march around with incredibly itchy trigger fingers, eager to mercilessly gun you down on sight, snickering loudly when they do (the swines), and dangerous wildlife that are more than happy to devour you become very present and real threats as you progress into the later levels. In other words, there’s a lot to worry about, and one wrong move is usually fatal.

However, it’s not just all about getting Abe out alive. Throughout the course of the game, you can choose to try and save as many fellow Mudokons as possible, simply ignore them, or, for those especially black-hearted gamers out there, actively go out of your way to kill them. How many you save/ignore/kill affects your Karma, or ‘Quarma’ as the game likes to call it, which ultimately influences which ending you’ll get. If navigating through all those previous hazards and enemies sounded difficult solo, trust me, it can be even harder with several Mudokons in tow. Saving your fellow Muds is tricky, but getting them to follow you is in fact incredibly easy; you just need to talk to them.

Chatting to your fellow Mudokons is done by using the ‘Gamespeak’ function; pressing the d-pad directional buttons when standing next to fellow Muds lets you interact using simple greetings and imperatives. This was a core feature of the original game, and it returns here with several small improvements, such as multiple variations on each response, and most importantly, a dynamic randomised library of fart sounds, which are both hilarious and actually essential to progression in certain areas of the game.

Additionally, this is the first of many fantastic improvements that Just Add Water have made to the original game. Whereas you could only give commands to one Mud at a time in Oddysee, you can now address multiple Muds at once in New ‘n’ Tasty – a feature which was only later introduced in Abe’s Exoddus. This removes a lot of the tedium that plagued the original game when you’d have to individually lead every single Mud in an area to the bird portal escape, before going back and braving all the obstacles you and your previous Mud just successfully navigated to do it all over again with the next escapee.

Bird Portal

Abe opening a bird portal for Mudokons to escape. Impressive stuff, feathery friends!

All the levels that you’ll be, running, jumping, sneaking and farting your way through have been carefully updated from the Oddysee, and some have been ever so slightly redesigned in order to better fit with the new screen mechanics. This is because one of the major changes from Abe’s Oddysee to New ‘n’ Tasty in terms of overall gameplay design is the conversion from a flip-screen camera to a scrolling one. In this sense, it’s almost like an entirely new game on a mechanical level, as all the original environments and puzzles have been built to accommodate this new change. It’s an incredibly awesome alteration to the original design that I absolutely adore; not only does it remove the small but irritating delays you’d get when moving from screen to screen in Oddysee, but it really helps the strange and wonderfully bizarre environments you’re moving through feel much more intricate and cohesive.

Don’t worry though, the new scrolling camera doesn’t suddenly make the game unfairly punishing. There’s plenty of ambient audio noises and helpful visual cues that clue you into what nearby enemies and hazards lie ahead so that you’re not constantly worried about bumping into some unseen threat that’s not currently onscreen. For example, the Sligs now have a radar-like scan ability on their visors, which keeps them challenging and effective with this new screen change; it effectively lets them search areas outside of their screen bounds. In the original, you could generally escape them by just running offscreen and hiding, whereas in New ‘n’ Tasty, they will give chase but now also stop to scan the environment when they lose you. It’s a cool mechanic, as it keeps them deadly and prevents you from running (and farting) rings around them without deviating too much from Oddysee‘s blueprint.

Slig Shooting

Watch out for Sligs, they can chase and scan for you offscreen now in New ‘n’ Tasty.

On a contrasting note, New ‘n’ Tasty does deviate from the original game’s template when it comes to difficulty, as there are now three difficulty modes to choose from when starting a new game. Rather than sticking slavishly to the Oddysee‘s challenging difficulty, which inspired Marmite style love it/hate it responses from gamers when it originally released, New ‘n’ Tasty opens things up for those completely new to the franchise. Although this might be something that returning hardcore fans of the Oddworld franchise might initially scoff at, in my opinion, offering the player a choice of difficulty options is a very considerate design decision.

On easy or medium difficulty, Abe has a health meter represented by a flock of birds (which can be viewed by pressing the Triangle/Y button), and can take a couple of bullets from a Slig before going down, as opposed to the one-shot kill of hard mode. It’s not a huge advantage; Abe still can’t take much punishment, and certain things will still kill in one hit, such as those annoying flying landmines, but this small concession to include a health meter makes many of the enemy encounters much more palatable for an unfamiliar and new audience.

Difficulty Select

The ability to choose your preferred difficulty level is a great move, giving newcomers to the series an accessible and gentler starting point without diluting the original challenge for returning hardcore fans.

New ‘n’ Tasty also implements an inspired solution to Oddysee’s spread out checkpoint system. The original game could feel incredibly punishing at times, often sending you a significantly long way back in a level upon each unlucky death. Thankfully then, the new game allows players to make their own ‘QuikSave’ checkpoints as they play, eliminating much of the frustration from a game in which difficulty and repeated deaths reign supreme. Simply tap the DualShock 4’s touchpad/Xbox One controller’s View button once to make a QuikSave, and then when things inevitably go wrong and you don’t quite time that jump right, or that pesky Slig manages to riddle Abe with bullets, never fear! Just hold the button down to instantly load your last QuikSave and you can seamlessly carry on as if that hideous yet darkly comedic death never happened.

This change to the checkpoint system doesn’t make the game significantly easier; it just makes it significantly more enjoyable to play. This is an Oddworld game afterall, and a violent death awaits Abe around every corner. Throughout your adventure with your loveable blue chum, Abe will get shot, electrocuted, minced by grinders, ripped apart by hostile wildlife and experience many other pleasant ways to go; being able to cut out the tedium of having to wait for a lengthy checkpoint load lends the game a more fast paced and arcade-y feel which suits it perfectly.

Speaking of hideously comical deaths, the fun and humour in New ‘n’ Tasty feels much more prominent this time round compared to the original game (hell, even the online manual is a hilarious read). The new ragdoll physics in play now mean that when things do go wrong (and trust me, they often do), the results are gloriously daft. Seeing Abe get shot mid-leap by a Slig, only to then flop down onto a tightly-packed pile of landmines below is both humiliating and amusing in equal measure. Abe in particular looks and moves with such charm, and the way the hideous Scrabs now barrel after you with a frightening, lurching gallop will make even the most hardcore of returning Oddworld fans tremble in their Mudokon loincloths. You will die a lot whilst playing New ‘n’ Tasty, but you’ll also be cracking up just as much, as each fantastically ridiculous demise plays out before you.

Scrab

Abe face to…well, beak, with a fearsome Scrab.

Graphically, it’s a real treat to see the game running in a buttery 60 frames per second. Having played the game on both the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s worth pointing out here that while the PS4 version remained smooth throughout, the Xbox One version did seem to repeatedly struggle to keep at steady 60. I’m no expert on framerates and I have a hard time distinguishing frame rate dips and such with the naked eye, but playing both versions of the game side by side, things did feel noticeably slower and not quite as snappy on the Xbox side of things unfortunately. However, it’s only a small disappointment, and the gameplay still manages to feel fast and enjoyable on both platforms (I haven’t personally played the PC version, but I’m sure that it’s probably closer to the PS4 version in terms of smoothness).

The Oddworld games are known for the grotesquely beautiful art direction, and New ‘n’ Tasty absolutely delivers on that front. It’s one of the first things that you’ll notice when you fire up the game, and it creates a pleasantly weird dichotomy; the levels look at once both nostalgically familiar yet also excitingly different, bursting with a vibrancy and brightness that the original sorely lacked. Even the menu screen looks fantastic, which displays Abe in all his HD glory.

Rupture Farms Escape

Even the interior shots of Rupture Farms look really vibrant and colourful.

All of New ‘n’ Tasty’s environments have been painstakingly recreated in a full 3D engine (Unity to be precise), as opposed to the pre-rendered backdrops of Oddysee, and the world looks far more interesting and detailed as a result. Oddworld itself looks nothing short of beautiful, particularly so in the more rural levels of Paramonia and Scrabania.

Paramonia

The outdoor areas are real graphical treats for your eyeballs.

The Oddworld series has never looked so alive and vibrant, even whilst you’re still inside the grimy blood-splattered interiors of Rupture Farms, the colours and lighting effects still manage to pop out at you. The early moments inside the plant showcase great big smelting vats and furnaces throw up fantastic orange embers and the glow from the swirling orange liquid metal creates some fantastic lighting effects, giving some of the early factory scenes a hellish Dante’s inferno look to them. The twilight evening sun that’s setting as you first set foot outside is another visually jaw-dropping moment, with lovely dynamic lighting from the low setting sun casting long shadows across the kennels and cages of the Stockyards.

Slig Foreground

Each level has plenty of intricate things going on in both the background and foreground.

The attention to detail is impeccable too. At various points in the game you can see Sligs on faraway platforms diligently patrolling about (and probably grumbling loudly to themselves out there in the distance), and on a more grisly note, Scrab and Paramite meat conveyor belts can be seen clunking away in the background of the early Rupture Farms levels. Outside the meat plant, the guard towers, glinting in the twilight now move like automated gun turrets and scan the environment in the foreground and background, with floodlights that sweep through the pens and catwalks that Abe’s navigating through.

Additionally, new camera angles dynamically respond to where Abe currently is in the environment, giving the game a smooth polished cinematic sheen that massively improves on the original game’s pre-canned CG transitions. The camera gracefully arcs over the scenery to track Abe as he goes through doorways, and it cinematically zooms in to create dramatic moments, and zooms out to bridge transitions between environments, all in glorious real-time 3D.

Rupture Farms Exterior

Rupture Farms, in all its orangey, industrial glory.

On the topic of moving through the lovely environments, back when the game launched in July last year on the PS4, I initially did have a couple of specific issues with New ‘n’ Tasty‘s controls, though thankfully these have since been addressed. The game’s default control scheme has been configured with today’s gamers in mind first and foremost; the original title’s controls have sensibly been revised and brought into line with what brand new players to the franchise would typically expect a platformer to handle like today.

One of these revisions is a change to the way the jump controls operate; When you pressed jump in Oddysee, it would make Abe hop forwards in the direction he’s facing; pressing jump in New ‘n’ Tasty now makes Abe jump vertically straight up in the air. This took a while to get used to as a big fan of the original Oddworld platformers, and it was hard to unlearn Abe’s original behaviours that I’d become so familiar with over the years. For other returning old school Oddworlders like me then, it can take a bit of practice to get the timing down for the hop (pressing the jump button ever so slightly before the desired direction seems to do the trick), but it’s not a massive hurdle, and likely something that a new player wouldn’t even think twice about.

Abe Hop

Whatever you do, don’t look down!

A slightly more frustrating concern however was that originally all of Abe’s movement in New ‘n’ Tasty was governed by how much pressure was applied to the left stick. Pressing the stick fully to the left or right made Abe run at full tilt, whilst applying gentler pressure caused him to plod along with his characteristic walk. Due to the overall faster pace of gameplay in New ‘n’ Tasty, having both the walk and run controls assigned on a continuum of sensitivity to the same controller input made sense for the most part, and perhaps made things a bit more intuitive for a new player who hadn’t previously played the originals.

Scrab Chase

The chase sequences and puzzles feel faster (and far more terrifying) than ever before.

However, without a clear tactile distinction between running and walking, a lot of the more intricate platforming sections quickly started to make the new movement controls feel maddeningly imprecise. I spent a decent chunk of my early hours in New ‘n’ Tasty desperately fighting my own ingrained 17-year old muscle memory until I could start to develop a feel for the appropriate walk/run sensitivity needed to make a pixel-perfect precision movement between obstacles under pressure.

For example, while navigating through the more meticulous meat drill puzzles in some of the game’s challenging secret areas, it could sometimes feel incredibly inaccurate and frustrating when I’d just slightly overshoot/undershoot the correct left stick pressure and repeatedly send Abe careening into the gnashing blades of death over and over again. After only a few such sections, I really missed being able to toggle running on and off with a separate button like you could in Oddysee.

Meat Drills

Watch your step Abe!

Thankfully though, in a very neat move, Just Add Water later patched in an optional control setting which gives you the option to assign the run control to a separate shoulder button press, just like in the original game. Problem solved – and now I have absolutely no excuse for my terrible platforming skills…sorry Abe.

Finally, to top off the whole New ‘n’ Tasty experience, Just Add Water have also not only revamped Oddysee, but added their own piece of unique content to the franchise as well. Alf’s Escape is a brand new piece of DLC that tasks players with a rather unique and interesting spin on the main game’s platforming mechanics.

Unlike the main game, you’ve only got the one Mudokon to rescue here, and it’s none other than the fan favourite, mailbag-checking, amateur shrink and barista extraordinaire of Oddworld Inhabitants himself -yup, Alf from Alf’s Rehab and Tea fame of course. The DLC is essentially an intricate and extended obstacle course for two, an elaborate Oddworld version of Takeshi’s Castle if you will, in which you first have to navigate through successfully solo, before reaching Alf’s bar and making back to the start of the level in tandem in order to escape.

The action here can get insanely fast and can require some particularly quick thinking to pull off. Having to coordinate your movements so that both Abe and Alf can escape uneviscerated is challenging, requiring both quick reactions and nimble finger dexterity in equal measure. There’s also some cool easter eggs for observant oddballs to ogle along the way, so remember to keep your eyes figuratively peeled and not literally peeled as you dodge the myriad of meat drills, swinging buzzsaws and many other nasty, sharp pointy objects that are in your way.

Abe Grin

Overall, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a bit of a paradox. It feels like a completely fresh and brand new experience whilst also delivering a heady rush of nostalgia for fans of the original game. It’s faithful to the original’s legacy, whilst also carefully taking thoughtful creative liberties here and there when necessary. The smooth framerate and responsive controls make the game a real pleasure to play, and without the flipscreen changes of the original, there’s a faster and more enjoyable rhythm to the gameplay thanks to the on the go QuikSave system. If you’ve already guided Abe out of Rupture Farms (and beyond) all those years ago, then New ‘n’ Tasty will far surpass your expectations. If you’re new to the series, then get ready for a whacky and delightful adventure into the world of Odd.

Play Expo Photos – Manchester 2014

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Play Expo - Master Chief

“Do you feel lucky…well, do ya, Grunt?”

I spent a good chunk of this last weekend inside a box. But not just any box…

Play Expo took place this weekend in Manchester, at EventCity. As the venue’s official description itself reads:

‘EventCity is a box. A very large box. But it’s the magic that happens inside that really counts.’

I’m happy to say that both these facts are true. Yes it is essentially just a very large box, but yes, it did have that exciting magical atmosphere; the sort that you can only find at cool games conventions like Play Expo.

To move aside from all this talk of large magical boxes for one moment though, Play Expo was really good. The event was, as you might guess, about games, games, games; in all their glorious shapes and sizes, bits and bytes and bleeps and bloops.

The catalogue of games available to play was exhaustively comprehensive; going from the earliest pinball and arcade machines at the birth of gaming, right up to cutting edge PS4 games in all their shiny 1080p glory. It’s not often you can say this, but there really was something for every gamer here – even the cardboard varieties – no matter what your preferred gaming style and era.

Speaking of cardboard, I personally knew that once I saw the giant Abe and Alf cardboard cutouts and crates packed full of classic Sega Mega Drive cartridge cases, I was certainly in for a good time.

In addition, there was an immense number of Cosplayers happily wandering around, all dressed up in some painstakingly made and intricate costumes. The variety and detail of their outfits was pretty staggeringly awesome to be honest.

I managed to get some choice shots of these most ardent of fans, but there were so many that, unfortunately, unlike a true Pokémon hunter, I couldn’t catch them all. Oh snap…Pokémon Snap that is…

Anyway, whilst I mull over whichever cheesily-awful Pokémon gag to use next, let me recap; I was there at Play Expo snapping away with the camera on Saturday 11th October, so I thought I’d share my visual depictions on here. So, once again, feel free to click on the following thumbnails to see what I got up to, and the various games characters who pointed their guns/swords at me.

 

Tim Newsome-Ward Interview – Desktop Daydreams

The Corridor - Brain Tank
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The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead is Desktop Daydream’s first major 3D project, and it’s currently on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight. The Yorkshire-based (Ilkley, to be precise) studio’s game concept definitely tickles my fancy in terms of what I look for in a good horror title; an oppressive atmosphere, with emphasis on mood and tension over cheap jump scares and an interesting story at it’s core.

You play as Ri, a specialist mental detective known as a Custodian, who has to enter the mind of a suspected serial killer, using the eponymous corridor technology of the title in order to find evidence of their crimes – think something along the lines of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, only in this game you’re going into the subject’s mind to find evidence, not to plant pesky ideas as it were. Oh, and there’s also a freaky plague doctor, a creepy baby and a grotesquely fat mechanical spider-legged man wandering around in there as well to keep you company. Lovely.

I got the chance to sit down with Desktop Daydream’s Studio Director, Tim Newsome-Ward, and talk in-depth about their game, the inspiration behind it, and how horror fans can expect to be scared out of their minds…quite literally I suppose in this case.

TB (Tom Bennett): How did you first get started in the industry?

TNW (Tim Newsome-Ward): I never thought about getting into the industry until about 2007-ish. I’m a massive gamer and gaming fan, I’ve been hugely into games all my life. I was working on a building site for my brother who’s a contractor, and I thought, I’m a bit bored, I need to do something with my life, but what did I want to do exactly? That was the question.

I had worked in IT, and built computers and things like that, so I was a bit technical, but it was never really what I wanted to do. So I was looking around and, weirdly enough, I nearly joined the army – I got in to do counter-intelligence in the army as I got really good scores on my battery tests! Shortly before that happened though, I went on holiday, and I was reading an article in Edge or Games™, about games courses at university – I didn’t actually realise that you could do a degree in Games Design/Games Studies.

I was like “Ah” – it stuck in the back of my head. I got back from my holiday and I thought, right, I’m going to apply to that instead. So I sent my information off to Bradford University, I went for the interview and was offered a place pretty quickly. I couldn’t believe that I’d got in really, it was so quick.

So I was then on this BSc course doing Games Design and Interactive Systems, which was great. I learnt a mega amount, and that was my route into the industry, and that’s where I met the guys I work with now.

TB: Speaking of university, you were the Lead Developer on Big Tidy Up as a student, which won various awards from the 2010 Game Republic showcase – could you tell me a bit about that project and how it came together?

Big Tidy Up - Title Screen

TNW: Oh yes! That was a module in the final year of university, and it was called Design For Industry. We had five of us students come together in a team, and we had to approach someone in the industry and pretty much ask, can we make something for you?

So one of our team members Kwame [Bannerman] approached Keep Britain Tidy, the charity, and said we’re a team of university students, we’ve got this module – would you like us to build you a game? Have you got an upcoming campaign that we can relate the game to?

He got a reply from Keep Britain Tidy, and they were doing the Big Tidy Up campaign at the time. They had three themes that they wanted to get across to people; there was dropping litter out of cars, picking up dog poo…(laughs) and recycling was a massive thing. The idea behind it was that we had to fit those three themes within the gameplay. Because the age range was so massive for the game, we had to come up with a way of fitting all those themes into something that would be appeal to everyone. It took a long time, but we came up with the idea that it was going to be local multiplayer, so that everyone could get involved, and that it was going to have a cartoony theme. We took those three elements, and we came up with the three game modes of Wastefall, Carnundrum and, of course, Poodamonium.

We wanted to keep the games quite short and competitive, with all these weird power ups in, like bringing shutters down on the others’ view of the screen. The design phase took ages, everyone contributed really well and there was a really good dynamic to the team.

Big Tidy Up - Wastefall Gameplay

The guys on the team were great. We had Louie [McLaughlin], who was our Primary Coder, Chris Owens, who I work with now, who was an FX coder, and Chris Trott and Kwame did the artwork. I did the design and fitting all the team stuff together. It was a really good experience. They actually coded the engine from scratch, and it was a full-blown project. When we presented it for our final module, it got really good praise and it fulfilled the brief – It’s all about the brief really, integrating with what the Keep Britain Tidy campaign was about, and the game fitted that brief perfectly.

We got a first for the module, and afterwards, Kaye Elling, our tutor at the time, approached us and asked if we could enter this Game Republic event. I don’t think any team from Bradford University had ever been before; I think they might have just had a couple of individual students who went along previously. We had no idea what to expect, but it was absolutely amazing because there was Rockstar North there, Stewart Gilray and Just Add Water, Team 17, Sumo Digital – all these big guns in the industry!

We had to set up our little booth and get all the artwork up, and the first people to come up to us were Rockstar North, and they asked us what we had got – we were just totally not expecting it. They sat down and played Big Tidy Up and had a bit of a laugh, then Martyn Brown [Team 17 Co-Founder] came over and enjoyed it, Stewart Gilray [Just Add Water CEO] loved it – yeah it was really interesting. We got to the end of the night, when the awards were coming out. The award for Game Design was first up and we came second in that, we got first place for technology, second place again for Best Team, and third place for Game Art. It was just so mind-blowing because we were up for every award, and it was quite humbling really, because these guys who have been in the industry for God knows how long, doing all these amazing things, were saying we were pretty good. We were pretty chuffed with that.

TB: I downloaded it myself and I thought it was pretty good too!

TNW: I’m glad you liked it – we didn’t intend to release it on Xbox Live actually. When we finished university, we did some extra work on Big Tidy Up. Kwame did that intro video after the Game Republic event, and Louie did a lot of extra work to get it ready for Xbox Live. I think we did some extra design work and stuff like that, but it was mainly those guys who took it and put it on Xbox Live. It was cool to put it on there. It was really challenging getting environmental issues across in a game, but it works, and I’m glad people enjoyed it really.

TB: What were your early inspirations and influences as a gamer and developer?

TNW: I suppose my influences were, from being really young, Nintendo…I had the Amiga, the Commodore 64, Commodore 16s, Ataris – those really early Atari 2600s. I used to love sitting and playing on them. The games that I really remember are ones like Final Fantasy VII, that was amazing, the first Tomb Raider, the first Silent Hill – those kind of genre defining 3D worlds were absolutely mind-blowing. That’s kind of where I got into it – I think that’s where it triggered something in my head about wanting to go into Games Design. I’ve always been a massive movie and comic fan too, so all these influences sort of simmer away in the pot that stirs around in my head all the time! It’s the same with the guys I work with.

TB: On that note, how many people currently make up Desktop Daydreams altogether then? What different roles do they have, and what influences do they bring to the table?

Desktop Daydreams - The Team

TNW: There’s myself, Darren Flowers is our Creative Director, Chris Owens who is our Programmer/Coder/Scripter and Andreea Lintaru who is our Animator. We all get involved in the development and design process, we all sit down and do the team meets and go through ideas, chuck ideas out, that sort of thing. It’s quite a tight team actually, we have had other people who’ve worked with us in the past, but that’s the core team with where we’re at with this project.

In terms of their influences, Darren’s especially into that original PlayStation and Dreamcast era. Chris is a bit younger, so he’s more into the PC gaming world, and Andreea is really into her horror games. She’s actually a university student that we’ve taken on, she’s a great animator, and she’s really enjoying working on The Corridor. That’s where our team is based influence-wise, and we’ve all got a passion for what we’re doing at the minute, which is really good. We’re quite lucky to be working on something that we all love.

TB: Well yeah, that’s kind of the dream isn’t it?

TNW: It is!

TB: How did you go about initially starting up Desktop Daydreams as an indie studio then, and what was the inspiration behind the name?

TNW: After university, I was working with Darren, we were doing some freelance stuff at the time, and I had mentioned to him that I had this idea for an indie studio called a Desktop Daydream – because you’re always sat at your desktop, daydreaming about making games. There was an indie sort of feel to it, and he said “Yeah I like that”. So we stuck with that, and that was back in 2010. The inspiration was basically that we wanted to be making and building games – that was it really.

I guess the thing is, just what exactly does ‘indie’ really mean these days? In our case it’s two guys setting up a home office studio pretty much, and we’re still a home office virtual studio, although we have toyed with going into a proper studio office and making the game on site. The name Desktop Daydreams is meant to reflect the indie roots of the studio and the pure passion behind being sat at a desk and coding, animation, doing artwork and making this experience – the name came from that really, just wanting to make games, and it stuck.

So yeah, after leaving university, we were looking for work, and it was a bad time just when we left because it was during the crash, so there just wasn’t any work going. We were like “What do we do?” We decided to get experience and start working on stuff for other people – we thought it’s all learning and experience, and getting a wage coming in.

We started working under that Desktop Daydreams banner for other people, doing work on 3D assets, 2D assets; we didn’t really do any coding to begin with, because Chris wasn’t with us at the time, it was just me and Darren at the start. We basically set the studio up, and we were trying to fish out jobs, working crazy hours, trying to get these little jobs coming in. We worked on a lot of artwork and design work for other companies in the beginning; just little bits here and there, building up some portfolio work. We got a little bit of work doing some 3D games, and then we took Chris on, and we thought let’s start small and try making full apps and we got into the app market.

It progressed from there, we did some work for clients, and then we decided that we wanted to be doing our own thing. We did some client apps, but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do. We got to a point where we were thinking the app market had changed. Well, I mean, there’s still some great stuff on there, but it wasn’t really where we wanted to be. It had been in the back of our minds all along that we wanted to do our own thing. So we thought right, let’s draw a line under that and think about what we really want to do. That’s when we started thinking about working on a 3D project; although it would be bigger in scale and more ambitious than anything we’d done before, it was something that we really wanted to do. Darren is more 3D art focused, 3D worlds is more my sort of thing too, and it’s the same for Chris, so it was a case of let’s go for it.

The thing for an indie studio is, we always have to be worrying about where our money is coming from, our cashflow. So when we took on the idea of doing our own massive kind of 3D game, we were a little bit worried about money. We had enough to start the The Corridor – that was about eight or nine months ago when we started thinking about game.

That was pretty much about the time I went on holiday and whilst I sat on the beach I had this idea about these corridors, these massive endless corridors that you could walk down and you come across booths or hatches on either side. In those booths, you could experience anything – you might be in an old warehouse, go to the beach, go to the moon, you could be underwater, you could be in someone else’s head – anything at all. That’s where the idea developed that this could be a metaphor for actually accessing people’s thoughts or memories, which was really cool to us. I came back and told Darren about it and he was like “Oh I like that.” That was the seed for the actual design of The Corridor.

TB: So, let’s move onto your current project, The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead. I understand that the initial idea for the game came from when you imagined this never-ending corridor while sitting on the beach?

TNW: Yeah that was the core idea of getting in the hatch mechanic. The story grew from that idea of going down these corridors into this whole virtual world.

The Corridor - Corridor

The game’s backstory is that there’s this cataclysm that has happened and what it’s done is that it has forced the survivors to sort of think how are we going to start society up again. How do we live, what do we do? There’s a lot of looting, battery and violence, with no police force in place and no army, just this civilisation left behind. A new justice system, or some kind of law and punishment is one of the primary things that’s needed, and that’s where this corridor comes in.

There’s still functional technology in the world that this cataclysmic event didn’t destroy, but it’s all a bit mangled and hashed together – it’s got this old/new feel to it. There’s a lot of chunky, old technology that we want to get across in the game, that we’ve shown in the videos. This corridor technology is developed by this company, the Memory Observation and Modification Bureau – MOM for short – they’re the organisation that’s been tasked by the remaining government to set up some kind of justice system. We’ve got a character called Dr. Polanski, who’s the main sort of doctor in charge of all this. He’s the genius who created the idea of this technology program.

The Corridor - MOM

The corridor is the virtual computer program that the Custodians use to walk inside criminals’ minds. Basically you get these kids, called Custodians, who are tested throughout their childhood to see what their inclination will be, how they will mentally react to things. They’ve got to be a certain kind of person to be awarded this Custodian label. If they become a Custodian, they get segregated from the populous, and they’re not allowed to be involved with anyone. They’re kind of locked away. They are trained to enter the minds of these criminals – any kind of crime in the future will be punished by this corridor system. As soon as you’re arrested, that’s it; you go into this chair, these big pipes go into your brain, and you get connected to a Custodian. It’s like an interrogation, only inside your head. They basically go into your head and rummage around in all of your memories for evidence of your crimes. The player’s character, Ri Anderson, is a hardened Custodian who has examined a lot of criminal minds in his time.

These Custodians act as both judge and jury; they sentence you whilst they are in your head. It’s a little Judge Dredd-y, there are certainly some influences there. We liked the idea of these people who have the unique ability to detach themselves from everything else. They are kind of loners, but at the same time they are mentally strong and they can make these cut-throat decisions when viewing this mental evidence in criminal’s heads.

Custodians also get this thing called the Hack. It’s a piece of code which is sort of an integrated, manifested object from the subject’s mind, and it helps the Custodian when it is in the subject’s head.

The Corridor - The Hack

It allows for a much more coherent connection between the brain of the criminal and the brain of the Custodian. The Hack is almost like a bit of a guide while you’re in a mind; it might not say things and might just point things out or wander around, or look at something you might need to pick up. It depends on the head you’re in as to what this Hack will be. The Hack in this game-

TB: It’s that little creepy baby isn’t it?

TNW: Yeah he’s the Hack, and he’ll speak – or not speak – depending on what the situation is.

TB: It’s cool that you’ve left it ambiguous as to what it does and how it interacts with the player.

TNW: I can’t really tell you more about that as it will ruin it, but he will be involved a lot as you get into the head of this guy, woman or whatever you might be in. That’s pretty much all I can say for now.

What we’re hoping to do is to create a non-linear experience. In the corridor program, you’ve got these elevators that you use to travel between the levels of the subject’s mind. The elevator is a metaphor for the connection to the group of memories that you might be going into. Every player who comes out of the lift will probably experience something completely different.

They might be similar memories, but they’ll be in a different kind of order, so everyone will experience a disjointed game. You might go to your friend “Oh I’ve just played this level where so and so happens”. Then they might go “Really? I was just doing this, so what’s that one about?” It’ll create this mood of “Ooh I don’t really know what that memory means”. It’ll be disjointed, but as you go through hopefully you’ll start stitching together the story, and see that there’s a link there.

I want to say more but that’s pretty much all I can say for now. There will be a couple of layers in there – it won’t be just the usual singular linear story.

TB: Yeah I appreciate that you don’t want to give away too much with the game being so narrative and story-based. On that note actually, I think the non-linear Pulp-Fiction like story stuff you’re doing is a really cool idea. When you think of a story-heavy game like Bioshock for example, for a lot of gamers, it’ll be a single playthrough for them, where they experience the main beats of the story, and then they’re done.

TNW: Yeah, I mean I love Bioshock – Ken Levine is god to me! I watched one of his talks at GDC [Games Developers Conference], Building Blocks for Narrative [Narrative Legos], and it was a really interesting talk about systemic gameplay and how you can change experiences by using the same assets. I watched that after coming up with the idea for The Corridor, and I thought, actually, that’s got some crossover to what we’re doing.

We can kind of do a similar thing in The Corridor, as you’re accessing different orders of memories when playing the game, and the corridor is the link to those memories. So you can go in and experience something different to what somebody else might have experienced; you might eventually come across the same memory, because the memories will always be the same because that’s how the criminal remembers them. It works in that way, but it’s how you experience their memories which will be different every time you play.

That opens up to us adding more memories at a later date if the game is successful. We can do DLC for it, we can add some more memories in there, or even create an entire new storyline using those things, which is something we will probably look at later on down the line if people enjoy how it works.

TB: That sounds like a good way of doing DLC without having to forcefully ret-con the story, or have it feeling like an unnecessary bolt on thing, or a piece of the game that has been held back to be released later.

TNW: Yeah, you could see an entirely new sort of perspective. You could be a different Custodian going into the same mind experiencing something totally different, or go into a different mind that uses links to the other mind. It could really kind of get a bit “Woah!”

Which is something we hope players would enjoy. Being an indie, we need something that’s going to be a bit different as well. It’s getting the name out for the game; you want something different for it, we don’t want to just re-hash other things. It’s why we took a long time in the beginning to think about the story, and do something unique and cool with it.

As you go through the mind, there will be these other things that pop out and you’ll go “Uh oh!” Not everything is quite as it seems. It’ll hopefully be cool as you go through the levels.

TB: It all sounds good. I’ve read the journal extract you’ve posted online from the Custodian Ri Anderson, the player controlled protagonist, and it really gets across that feeling of constant dread that you’ve spoken about online. I really liked how gripping and detailed that written extract was – how do you plan to deliver the majority of the narrative to the player? Will it be through character narration or similar journals, audio logs etc.?

TNW: It’ll be a bit of a mix. Ri is a complex character; like I say, he’s this hardened Custodian, he’s been in hundreds of minds and he’s seen lots of decay and dread.

The Corridor - Ri Anderson Large

TB: Oh yeah, “Necrotic matter” from the extract.

TNW: Yeah, all sorts of weird stuff, and he’s been through the minds of murderers and other criminals. He’s kind of seen it all, but still, every time he goes into a mind, he’s got that apprehension – what’s he going to see this time? The idea is that there’s been a spate of killings in the real world and this is linked to why he’s going in. What we’ll probably have in terms of narrative is to have Ri’s thoughts written in his journals, he might actually say things as well, as we’ve got an actor who’s going to do Ri’s voice – we’re actually working on another trailer with him now.

That’s one thing I don’t think we’ve got across. We’ve added more with the journal, we want to show that there’s a bit more to the story. The Hack will probably chime in every now and then with some narrative and some narrative information as well. You’ll also get communication from MOM, sometimes they’ll chime in. One thing we wanted to do was to make you feel like you’re always being watched while you’re in this corridor. MOM is always watching you, Big Brother style, so you’ll come across cameras that will follow you while you’re in there; they won’t interfere with you, but they just have that eerie presence to them.

We’re throwing in all these things that people are afraid of, Big Brother being one of them, but we like this idea where justice has been completely privatised, and MOM pull the strings. If they see something in a mind, they can use that however they want. They are always monitoring those memories; even if it’s something not related to the current case, it might come up later on and it could be something they could use. Have you seen the Doctor character who appears in the game?

TB: Ah yes, Doctor Crow?

The Corridor - Doctor Crow

TNW: He’s a hallucination that has some kind of connection to the corridor as well. He’s always trying to tell you something – that’s all I’ll say there! The whole idea with those shaky and static hallucinations is that your connection to the corridor is being disrupted by his presence there. That’s how he gets through the corridor to make himself visible to you.

He’s actually a piece of code; he’s a real person – I hope I can say this and Daz doesn’t kill me (laughs) – who’s programmed himself into the corridor to appear to you virtually. He’ll throw in some narrative, and tell you things. It’s up to you whether you take that as help, or if it’s his own agenda instead. There’s also these Guardian creatures who guard key memories in there, Fat Man being one of them.

The Corridor - Fat Man

TB: Yeah Fat Man looks like some great nightmare fuel!

TNW: These creatures are all things that are materialised – they don’t really exist in the real world, they are sort of pulled from the mind that you’re currently in; this might be something that they were scared of, or they had nightmares about this weird mechanical fat guy chasing them. There might be other things they were frightened of too…but I don’t want to spoil it!

The dread will really be created from the environments, where you actually are in those environments and the premise of where you are. There will be a lot of auditory and visual help with that, increasing the dread. We always want to make you feel uncomfortable, like you don’t really want to be wandering down a darkened corridor, just in case there is something around the corner, or thinking “Ooh if I go through this hatch, where am I going to be? Am I going to be in some weird pit, or underwater, in a cage, in a box, underground?” It could be anywhere.

The Corridor - Dark Room

Also, you might come into a beautiful environment, with blue skies, but there might be something sinister in that area, which will balance the whole good, nice, clean and cosy feeling with something a bit creepy. There’s going to be a lot of environmental storytelling, and that’s where the dread will come from hopefully.

TB: Using those other much more pleasant scenarios alongside the more horrific ones sounds like a good dichotomy and a way to mix things up for the player. It seems to me that one of the things that you’re really tapping into is that powerful fear of the unknown.

TNW: That’s spot on, because that is one of the key things that I think humans, on a base level, instinctually fear. If you don’t know about something, it’s like “Ooh.” It’s kind of a survival instinct, flight or fight. If you don’t know what something is, I think it’s human nature, our sort of safety instinct to think I might just back off a little bit from that until I know what it is.

We looked at a lot of aspects of fear, specifically what generates fear and horror. From when I grew up, films I used to watch were things like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Alien. A lot of them, like say Nightmare, have a lot of gore, but there was also that question of just who the hell is Freddy Krueger, and why is he in my dream? Its was cool how Wes Craven, over the course of that film, told you about this guy who had a sincere reason for what he’s doing. His reasoning, you know, behind killing these kids was because he wanted revenge – he might have been a sick crazy old guy, but he was killed in that sort of way that made him want that vengeance. I think that’s even scarier. Even when you’ve killed this guy off, he still comes back to get you. I thought that was brilliant.

Ridley Scott is a big influence for us as well with Alien and Blade Runner. That’s another thing as well, we want to get across that sci-fi element. We don’t just want to make a horror game that is…well, we are sci-fi fans so we wanted to chuck in as much sci-fi as we could and make it have these different tones to it. There’s the technology you’ll be able to see, the psychic TVs, all sorts of other stuff in there, like PDAs that you can pick up. These will be related to Ri, so they won’t be just like a random PDA, they might be something you can use. (Pause) I’m trying to not give too much away!

TB: Yeah, I think one of the game’s strengths is that you’ve created this really interesting meld of the horror and sci-fi genres in terms of both the story and the art direction. Typically when you think of horror, the first things that usually jump to mind are on more of a gothic kind of level aesthetically, and not usually futuristic and high-tech.

The Corridor - Machine

TNW: That’s something we didn’t really want to do. I mean there’s been some great games using that theme, obviously Amnesia: The Dark Descent, that’s fantastic, and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs as well. We wanted to be…I wouldn’t say unique, but we wanted The Corridor to have it’s own sort of identity. For us, personally, the gothic thing wouldn’t have worked for our kind of project. The way it went when we were talking about it, the whole premise of this corridor and these hatches, it more suggested that the place didn’t really exist, and it was more in someone’s imagination. It kind of led down the path of thinking what if it’s the technology? These are memories that you’re actually accessing. That sort of sprung out to us – that’s the sci-fi, it’s all kind of based around technology. The whole idea of having control over someone’s head, I know it’s been touched on before in other things, but we wanted to kind of mix it all together with a bit of horror. This game is set in a civilisation where there would be a lot of homeless people and food shortages. People might steal some food, and if they get caught that’s it; you get put in this corridor system. Even if they find other things on you; you might have done some other things that you aren’t accused of and the authority still might punish you for it. What’s the punishment? That’s another thing, what would be the punishment? The sci-fi is a key element. It’s the base of the whole premise. It’s probably more of a sci-fi horror, than a horror sci-fi.

When we’ve been getting the word out about the game, we’ve been saying it’s sci-fi and horror. I think that’s why people so far have really enjoyed the idea of it, and I think that’s probably why, because it’s not doing something which has already been done, like you say with the gothic, or running round a wood. There have been some great games that have done that brilliantly, but we wanted to try and do something slightly different and tell an original story with it, which is key to the premise.

TB: Awesome! I like how you’ve also combined more ghostly and spiritual eastern horror with very western David Cronenberg style body horror. You don’t normally see both together.

The Corridor - Woman

TNW: I’ll give kudos to Daz for that because he’s a massive fan of Japanese horror. He loves things like the original Ring. I have watched those as well, so they are an influence as well, but Cronenberg is a huge influence on Daz. There’s another film Jacob’s Ladder

TB: Oh that’s a great film!

TNW: We’ve used a lot of that kind of imagery. It’s hard isn’t it – you think of horror and it conjures up different images for different people. We’ve made it personal for us. What things freak us out? Hopefully, people will enjoy what we’ve gone for, and I think that they will, because like we were saying, we’re trying to throw in things like the unknown and weird stuff, more freaky things…rather than something like a monster coming out of the darkness and grabbing you. Which is cool, but it’s been successfully done in other games. There will be things kind of just loitering around, maybe not doing anything, but they will just create that sort of weird feeling. “What the hell is that over there in that corner?” It’ll be more like “Eurgh – I don’t really want to be in this room with whatever that is over there”. That will create the dread, and there will be all sorts of other things.

Sound is key. We’ve been looking at using mechanical noises, a bit like the Silent Hill series did with their scores, with grating, slamming, winds, moaning, but mixed together in a nice way. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking forward to using Unity 5, because they’ve got a brand new audio part to their engine which will really be cool for us to create. Audio is going to be a key part of the design.

TB: The sound clips that you’ve posted online sound really good. I can imagine them layering well together.

TNW: This is the problem with Kickstarter as well, it’s that you want to tell everyone everything about what you’re doing, but you also want to keep it on a leash as well. Sometimes, when we put a lot of those music clips on, we were thinking maybe it’s taking it out of context when you just listen to them on the page, but we think they work. You get that feeling of what we’re going for.

TB: To jump back a bit to what you were saying about having things in The Corridor‘s environments that won’t be necessarily hostile to you, I think that was one of the key concepts that made Outlast so terrifying, having that uncertainty of how the other inmates would react to you.

TNW: Yeah, we’re also thinking from the perspective of the Custodian, he’s almost like a visitor in the mind of the criminal. The Custodians are looking for this evidence in the criminal’s mind, memories of these acts being carried out, and the Guardians will be protecting these specific memories that you need access to.

The Corridor - Storeroom

We also came across this idea of the fact that you’re not actually there; you’re just a voyeur, if you like, a visitor in the mind, so things that might be inhabiting these guys memories…if they’ve got twisted minds, there might be just weird things, sat there talking to the mind they are in, and you’ll be just like “What the hell is that?” You might be able to go right up to it and it will totally ignore you, and you can just look at it muttering and twitching to itself, or whatever it may be – it may be just a goldfish in a tank just doing something weird!

TB: So you’ve got these creatures inhabiting these environments, and the aim is to avoid confrontation at all costs – how does that work in the moment to moment gameplay? Are there any specific stealth or evasion mechanics in place?

TNW: We have ummed and ahhed about the stealth mechanics. We started working on a hide mechanic, where if something was approaching/running at you/coming for a slice of you, you could almost run and hide in something. Again, we didn’t want to be taking pages out of other people’s books, so we’ve gone down the road where you are avoiding contact. There will be things that will come for you. I must admit, we are still kind of nailing down the exact specifics of how those encounters will play out; because we’re still at a pre-alpha stage and we’re still throwing in mechanics and playing with things. We did come up with the fact that if anything did attack you, that would be it, you’d be completely gone. That still might happen, because it is a horror game and it might be like a learning curve for the player.

We’re also thinking on the fact that if you don’t antagonise a creature, it won’t come after you and attack you, so that might be something that stays in there as well. We might just throw in a combination of different things.

Mechanics like that were one of the key things we sat down and talked about. Gameplay is obviously massively important, so we did talk about whether it’s going to be enough to be just exploring this mind. Is it going to be enough to be just reading about these memories, or will people need some kind of combat? You will have to take out these Guardians in some way or another, which is probably where the combat…well, I say combat, but you’ll probably need to dispatch them in alternative ways, not direct confrontation.

The Corridor - Window

Because you are a visitor in another’s mind, you don’t really necessarily have the power to kind of attack something head on. That’s how we’ve approached things. These memories are locked away by the mind you’re in, and this mind will be fighting back.

So, this person’s mind you’re in, they are conscious of the fact that you’re in there and rooting around, so they’ll be trying to mentally stop you from accessing their memories. That’s where Fat Man might come in; he’s one of these Guardians that might manifest as part of a mental defence mechanism.

We have come up with this idea of this device you can find, which…this is still in the testing/thinking about phase where you might be able to find pieces of this device which will allow you to modify it each time you find a new part, which will be able to help you fight these Guardians. We want to make it a bit different when you deal with these Guardians, so you can get them out of the way in order to grab this memory they are protecting.

You see, all these memories you’re collecting are pieces of evidence that will lead up to a decision you have to make at the end of the game; guilty or not guilty. It’s what the whole thing will lead to, and depending on what decision you make, there will be multiple endings.

TB: With that in mind, if you miss a vital memory/piece of evidence, will that have a major impact on the story or will it just progress on the same linear path?

TNW: Yeah, because we’re going to leave it up to the player to make that final decision, and that will be based on what they’ve seen, what they’ve been told, what they’ve experienced in that game. We are going to have a logbook for the player where you’ve got your collected evidence and you’ll have notes, pictures, things you found, so you’ll get a chance to review everything before you make that final decision. You might have met people, or heard things which might sway your decision and you think “What do I do here?” We want that to be a really key part of the gameplay.

There will be things in there that you might miss; we want people to explore that darkness and really get every nook and cranny out of it, and find hidden things. It is all evidence, it is all memories, but there might be reasons why they’ve done these crimes, which might come out in the memories that you didn’t know about; There might be an insanely good reason for why they’ve done these things. We want to throw that morality into it because you’ve got this responsibility of judging these people as a player, based on what you’ve seen in their head. The multiple endings and the morality choice at the end are key components, you’ll have a weight of choice at the end, and you’ll get a different ending depending on what you’ve chosen.

TB: So the game won’t just funnel you down the same path if you miss something then?

TNW: No, because of the whole non-linear thing as well. You might come out of the lift and you come down this corridor and you see a hatch on your right. You enter this hatch and you get transported to a memory. Maybe you’re in this shop, and someone is talking to someone else, or you just hear the ghosts of the voices and memories that are there, and you think “Ah right, cool”. That might be all that there is in that room. You go back out into the corridor, and you find another hatch, or you see something else in the corridor that might be of use.

The Corridor - Pig Head

What we’re also thinking of doing is dropping in missable memories – maybe not a lot, as it’s hard to do when you’ve got to create all the assets, but we might have little things that you might miss, or you only experience if you play through the game again, so there is a bit of replayability, so you could see it from a different perspective almost. Every time you play the game, you will experience those memories in a different sequence – which may lead you to a different decision, which is what we’re trying to go for. It’s a key thing for us…I mean, that’s the beauty of games, you can experience a story in a non-linear fashion. That’s the holy grail I suppose for game design is to make these interactive narratives different using the same kind of assets, and creating something that is unique to the player as well, so they’ll experience it in their own way.

You’re obviously limited by what you can do art wise and coding wise, you’ve got a time frame, so people will experience the same memories, but they will experience them differently in a different order each playthrough. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do, and just play with it and hopefully people will enjoy it.

TB: I’m sure they will. How do you plan to keep the experience really tight and focused story wise, and yet also allow for the free will of the player to just go wandering off? Will it be a case of rewarding adventurous players with these missable memories and other items?

TNW: So if they want to know more about this mind or…something else (laughs), we didn’t want people to just have this exploration mechanic where they could wander five, ten, fifteen minutes off the beaten path and find absolutely nothing. Some gamers do love to find every nook and cranny, so we will most likely reward people for exploring and taking their time and finding things, because that will help give a bigger picture to the decision they have to come up with at the end.

You don’t always want to be reading stuff though – sometimes you might want to go off and just look down that way, look around an environment, look at the sunset, listen to the birds tweeting in the background, and just experience the world. It ties in well with the Custodians; they don’t always manage to get outside, so it’s almost a bit of a jolly for them. They can go out on a virtual jaunt and maybe have a picnic in this guy’s head! They kind of almost enjoy the job, because although they are in these weird situations dealing with these depraved memories, they almost enjoy it.

The Custodians get this drug called cohesion. We’ve gone through a lot of different iterations with it, but this cohesion basically loosens their mind up a little bit to be more susceptible to what’s going on, but they are also addicted to it. It’s kind of a trade-off. They get enjoyment from taking it, because it gives them that lucidity, but it also makes them addicted. Once you become a Custodian, that’s it for life, because you can never come off cohesion. You’re pretty much giving up your life to be a Custodian, but then again, it’s an honour. You’re a judge and jury, you’re doing service for the people…well that’s what we make it out to be! (Laughs)

TB: The idea for the cohesion hypo syringes having a limited shelf life is a great twist on the usual item mechanics of survival horror games such as Resident Evil, and one that isn’t explored very often in the genre. How did that idea come about, and are there any other subtle gameplay tweaks that are of a similar nature?

TNW: I did a lot of research into what gamers love about horror games, and one of the things that kept popping up was resource management, and having, like you say, Resident Evil with the herbs and the bullets. We didn’t want to have weaponry in The Corridor – weaponry will make an appearance, but you won’t be able to use it.

Health is another thing. We were thinking about the fact that you’re playing as a mental representation of yourself in somebody else’s mind, would you have health? You don’t technically exist, but then we got onto thinking if you’re suffering mental pain, the psychological traumas that you’re experiencing, like for example when Doctor Crow appears, it’ll be a trauma to your head. You will suffer pain from that experience. So as a result, that will cause physical pain. You will feel physical pain – again we want players to have the mechanics that they are used to, but do something different with them.

That’s where the cohesion hypos come in. Chris came up with the idea of having fridges that they are stored in, so that led to the thought of thinking maybe we could have out of date ones, and what would happen if you took an out of date cohesion? What will it do?

TB: That sounds awesome!

TNW: It will almost be helpful to take out of date cohesion in certain situations; you might come to a dead end and think “Ah…I might need to take some out of date cohesion here and something may happen.” Like I’ve said on the Kickstarter, it’ll have interesting side effects.

One thing I was keen on, from a design perspective, was that we wanted to keep the player hunting around for cohesion. There’s out of date cohesion and inert – so once it gets to a certain period of time it’s useless, you just have to discard it, so you have to hunt around and find some more. So we’ve got these cool (literally – Tom) refrigeration units we’ve actually just put in. You open them up and you can see the vitals in there.

Also, if you look on Ri’s arm, you will see little track marks from where he’s taken cohesion all his life. You might be able to see them very briefly in the video, so that’s how that ties in with the hypos. The Custodians start taking it from a very young age, so they are building up their use of it, and they can get to a level where they can start entering minds. That’s all mixed with the corridor technology.

The mind, the hypo and the technology are the holy trinity to get that working thought access to the head. So you’ve got to have the right mental profile to be able to be a Custodian, you have to be able to handle cohesion and interface with the technology. That’s the feel behind it.

A lot of people when playing horror games like to go around and just resource hunt and collect all the resources and hoard them, and that’s something we didn’t want to do, because we wanted to put an emphasis on exploration and the story. It all links back to the story.

One thing we are playing with is having your cohesion levels always dropping, so you are forced to keep hunting around for more. Again, that relates back to horror and dread – if you don’t keep hunting, you’re going to die.

TB: Yeah you’ve got to keep pressing on.

TNW: You’ve got to keep moving around, which is something we can play with later on as well if you’re always hunting around for stuff.

TB: It sounds ace! There’s very few games which actually strip your resources away in a creative way, rather than to be just artificially difficult for the sake of it.

TNW: That’s something we didn’t want to do as well. We thought a lot about the difficulty, and with it being a horror game, people expect that adversity; that feeling that everything is against you. You’ve got nothing – like Resident Evil, you’ve only got a few bullets, you’ve only got a few herbs, or like Silent Hill, you’ve only got…

TB: A stick!

TNW: Yeah, it’s like “What am I doing with this stick?” (Laughs) But yeah, those are massive influences to us. I think when we originally played them in the ’90s, those little touches were just ace, and that’s a really massive part of how we’ve gone with this. Looking at how the classics did things, and really sitting back and thinking about what would be cool to do, whilst also bearing in mind whether it would fit within the premise of our game. That’s key to us, keeping that premise of the whole experience of being in someone’s head.

We’ve played with loads of ideas – we’ve chucked some things in, we’ve chucked some things out. We’re still at pre-alpha, so we are still playing with mechanics, and that’s why we are talking about it now to get initial feedback and see what people think. Generally, it’s good so we’re quite happy. The Steam Greenlight is going brilliantly.

TB: Yeah you’re really whipping up those charts .

TNW: If it keeps going, hopefully we’ll be in the top 100 before long. We were at 55% of the way there this morning, and that’s after 20-ish days. The Kickstarter isn’t doing brilliantly well, but I think that’s because we haven’t given enough story information out, so we’re trying to work out a new story video. But generally, everyone is enjoying what we’re doing so hopefully we’ll be able to keep going and take it forward.

TB: Another cool thing you’re doing on the gameplay side of things is the anchoring system – I think that sounds like another great idea. It looks like a good way to stop cowardly players like me from ‘save-scumming’ their way through the game – can you explain a bit more about how it works?

TNW: That’s my thinking! One thing I hate – I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like checkpoints. I think for this game you’d have to have checkpoints, unless you were being really cruel.

TB: In a rogue-like way?

TNW: Yeah! I mean, these days, people don’t have a massive amount of time to play, so checkpoints are like that safety net. You have to find typewriter rooms in Resident Evil, and the red squares in Silent Hill­ – those are like key areas that you have to find in order to save. So we were thinking, what if you could take those areas with you?

You might find this anchor device, which will be some sort of old technology – you don’t start with it, you have to find it in each level. In each new memory section you’ll have to find it again, because it will be related to that area. When you find it, it would anchor you to that area. You could drop it anywhere you wanted, and it’d save you, but if you left it there, if you’d forgotten it, that would be it – that’s where you’d respawn if you died.

We’re also talking about the idea that you might be able to transport yourself to that area using that device. That’s something again in flux, but we’re working on that kind of premise. We wanted to keep that conceit to not save all the time but to make it fit with the world; because you’re in someone’s head, you’re having to anchor to that memory. It’s just to try and mix it up a little, and do something different, so hopefully that will work well. We probably won’t know whether that’s working well until we get a bit more into testing and into the beta phase, when we’ve got a lot more gameplay that’s flowing. Hopefully it will just do something a bit different with the saving system. Because it’s a horror as well, you want that dread – I’ll drop the anchor here, there might be something round that next corner. You’ll be able to use it tactically as well, and it gives you a bit more freedom. It’s trying to balance out not over-saving, but also giving you a bit of freedom to save when you want.

TB: I think that combined with the cohesion hypos will work really nicely in tandem. The Eternal Darkness style metagame scares sound interesting, where you can lose control of your character temporarily. How do you keep these sorts of surprises fresh and unpredictable for the player without them quickly becoming stale?

TNW: That’s a good point. One thing we’ve thought about with jump scenes is that we don’t want to overdo them. You want to be feeling on edge whilst playing it, but we don’t want to throw in a jump every few seconds. When there is going to be a jump scene it will be decent and it will be a unique and effective one, and that will be the only time you’ll experience it in the game.

One of the things Daz is very keen on especially is not overdoing jumps. I know people love the jumps, because it’s like “Arrrrrgh!” In The Corridor, the Doctor Crow is more like a hallucination, someone is trying to tell you something with him, so he will have an entrance every time he appears, but it will vary and it’ll do different things, and he’ll do different things when he appears to you. The one in the Kickstarter video, he’s kind of pointing at something, maybe behind you or in front of you. He’s always pointing you to things or trying to tell you things about what’s happening in the bigger picture.

We didn’t want to just put someone in there for the sake of it; he’s actually there for a reason, he’s not just for an effect. He’ll have quite a significant part in the story as well.

TB: On the topic of scares, how has the development process for The Corridor been with developing for the Oculus Rift/Project Morpheus tech, and how has it influenced the design of the scares? Did you have to design the same sections of gameplay differently according to whether or not the player is using a VR headset?

TNW: One thing we think we might have done wrong with the marketing of The Corridor is that a lot of people think the game is Oculus Rift only. That might have had a bit of an impact on the Kickstarter itself.

It is an immersion tool. I don’t know if you’ve seen on the video, those zoom ins on Doctor Crow? There will be subtle things like that. When you’re in the OR, you’re fully immersed, so those kind of things where you are zooming in are really effective. So we’ll keep these effects as they work out of the Rift as well – they are there to complement the Rift if that makes sense? It’s mainly for the immersion; people who do have a Rift will be able to experience these visual effects and get completely immersed, especially when combined with the 5.1 surround sound, that stuff will be really cool. You’ll be able to hear things…again, it’s a case of not saying too much! (Laughs).

The Corridor - Colour TV

Yeah we’re also thinking about Project Morpheus as well. That might be a while off, but hopefully it will be a similar kind of setup to the OR. If the game is successful and people enjoy it, we’ll hopefully port it to PlayStation 4 and use the Morpheus as well.

TB: Sony seem to be really prioritising Project Morpheus now, with a lot of focus on games like Until Dawn, so it sounds like the PlayStation 4 could be a good home for The Corridor on consoles.

TNW: They are pushing it, yeah – Until Dawn looks great! At the minute, we’re still putting things together, so what we’ll probably do is we’ll test The Corridor with the Rift as we go through, and see if we can tweak it to work better with VR, but also make sure that everything works how we want it to work outside of the Rift. It’s trying to get that sort of balance right, between people who have the Rift and people who don’t.

I do think that the Rift is a really cool thing, and what it’s doing for gaming, especially in the horror genre with that first person perspective, it’s absolutely amazing! So if you haven’t got a Rift, go get one! The problem at the minute is getting hold of one, but they are slowly filtering out to developers now though. We’ve got a DK 1, the first generation unit that we’ve been using to test with, and that’s what we’ve captured the first bit of footage from. Obviously, Unity supports the Rift really well, and Unity 5 will support it even better.

Once we get the DK 2, with the better resolution screens and low latency, it’ll just be wicked hopefully! If we get kickstarted as well, we’ll probably get a couple more OR kits, and then start getting some testing done, and hopefully get people involved in the process to see what they think. If we don’t get kickstarted then it’ll probably take a bit longer!

TB: Well, I was going to ask you about that – if you do get kickstarted, how long do you reckon the development of the project will take? If the Kickstarter isn’t successful, what’s the plan then? Are you hoping to re-launch the campaign at a later date?

TNW: This has been a massive point of discussion amongst the team over the last couple of weeks, as you can probably imagine. We’ve got to a point where obviously funds are running out, and we’re thinking that if we don’t get some kind of backing, then we’re going to be struggling. We sat and thought about what happens if the Kickstarter doesn’t work. We did a lot of research into Kickstarter and Indiegogo and the crowdfunding scene to see what was going to work, so we started to build up our community with quite a good following on social media. We started using Twitter a lot more, getting involved with people, and we’ve got the dev blog to post updates. All the press we’ve had so far has been really positive, which is great for us.

Everyone who’s seen the video and read the descriptions has given us really good positive feedback which is humbling really, because when you’re locked up in your loft, working on something for a year – you’re like “Is this any good?” We made that decision to get it out on Kickstarter, see what people think and take it from there. At the minute, I think we’ve 9 days left, and it’s about 4% funded! So it’s not looking too good!

I think the problem is that on the Kickstarter we’ve only had about 2800 views or less, but on the Steam Greenlight we’ve had about 10,000 unique visits and nearly 3000 green votes – it’s far more than what Kickstarter is getting. For some reason, the views from Greenlight aren’t translating over to Kickstarter. One reason we’re thinking for that might be because the Oculus Rift has been mentioned – no disrespect to the OR because it’s cool – but I think people might think “Oh, I don’t have an Oculus Rift, so I won’t be able to play it.” It may be that, it might be something else, but until it’s kind of finished, it’s really hard to analyse. I’m sure we’ll do a post mortem on what happened and why, but I think if we don’t get the game funded, and we get it greenlit for example, then there may be other options. We might look at talking to some publishers, or the other option is to take on some part-time work again and sort of fund it ourselves, which is probably what we’ll end up doing.

Me and Darren have talked about it, and we’re probably willing to move into part-time work and maybe take it a little bit further, then release another Kickstarter, or an Indiegogo and get some funding. Or maybe start some sort of on-going crowdfunding, like a pledging system where you can pre-order the game and keep it pledged constantly until its release, maybe do some early access and stuff like that on Steam. It’s all ifs and buts at the moment because we’re hoping Kickstarter will pick up; most people’s Kickstarters do pick up in the last week.

We’re working on a new story trailer which is from Ri’s perspective, so hopefully it’s not too late, as it takes a while to get everything together. We’ve got another gameplay pre-alpha video which shows that the footage is working, and some more environments. I think we’ve got about five full environments built at the minute, a few characters, and we’ve got bits of gameplay working. We’ve been asked a lot for playable demos, which is interesting, but because we’re in a pre-alpha, it’s just not ready to show yet. That might take us another six months to get it to a point where we are willing to let someone play it. We don’t want to put it out when it’s not ready for the public to see, because it’s still a lot of work in progress, but we have got bits working which we are going to put together as a video.

Because it’s had such positive interest, it makes us think let’s keep going. It’s a unique story; it’s something that we want to do. So that’s what we’ll probably end up doing – developing it part-time like we have been doing up to now, and chucking in other jobs as we can. It’s not ideal, because we want to fully ramp up the development with the full four-strong team. You see, Chris and Andreea are almost freelance, so they’ll probably have to look for other work and projects as well.

TB: It would be nice to keep the full team together though wouldn’t it?

TNW: Yeah absolutely, because they’ve worked on it for so long now that it would be nice to pay them a full wage, and we can relax then and not worry too much about where our funding is coming from.

For release time, we were thinking December next year, maybe sooner, but we want to give the whole thing a good length of time, so we can get it polished and make it a cool, full experience for the players. So that’s kind of December 2015/January 2016 – hopefully December so we can get it out for Christmas. It’ll be out when it’s ready though, when we’re happy with it!

TB: I think having a pledging system sounds like an interesting idea.

TNW: There’s things you can do, like IgnitionDeck – WordPress have this system where you can set up a continual crowdfunded campaign, so you keep promoting it all the time, and have people pledge as you go along.

The interesting thing with Steam is that we’ve only got a few pledges – it’s hard translating those greenlights into Kickstarter pledges. There’s a big difference between placing a greenlit vote and pledging £10, say, towards a game. That’s a massive stretch, so hopefully we’re trying to get people who’ve greenlit The Corridor on Steam to get involved with the Kickstarter campaign, but it’s very hard to see if people from Steam are moving over to Kickstarter page. I don’t know if that translates across very well, because you can’t tell who’s looking at Kickstarter with the analytical tools that we’ve got at the minute. It’s tricky to know where to target your efforts.

The beauty of the thing is that going on Steam was a last minute thought. It was a case of “Oh maybe we should put it on Greenlight?” We never really thought about it weirdly enough. We got it up there, and it was nearly 50% voted in, in about two weeks – judging from what I’ve read, that’s really quite good!

TB: Yeah, impressive!

TNW: It’s quite hard to judge what you need specifically to get the rest of the way to get greenlit, but if we do get greenlit that will be a fantastic thing for us because there will be more coverage for the game, and hopefully get more people involved pledging and supporting us. That’s the thing when you’re an indie; you’ve just got to think about where the support is going to come from. It’s a huge thing for us, and you don’t always have the resources to just sit on Twitter all day. I’ve spent so long just talking to people on there; it takes up a massive amount of time, but it’s great, because I met you on Twitter, and met some other guys on there who have been really supportive of the game.

The thing with Twitter is that it just moves so fast – you’ve got to be in that timeline all the time. It’s just not having the time, especially when you’re developing and having a Kickstarter on the go as well, it’s just promo, promo, promo! No life! (Laughs) But there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s cool, it’s good talking to people about the game. It’s the nature of the beast.

TB: Well yeah, fingers crossed then! I think you’re in a good time and place to be making an interesting horror game like this, because there’s been a noticeable mainstream resurgence in horror games very recently. Horror games have always been popular on the indie scene, but if you look at this year, two of the most anticipated games for this Christmas period are The Evil Within, and most particularly, Alien Isolation. What do you think this increased mainstream interest in the horror gaming genre can be put down to?

TNW: That’s a damn good question actually! I think people like to be scared. I don’t know why. It’s like with horror movies; why do people watch horror movies? I don’t know – we have this morbid thing with fear I think. It’s almost like this morbid fascination rather.

To me personally, I think that’s why we make games and books and films. It’s like we are exploring our inhumanity if you will. That’s quite deep, but we make these games, projects, books; we write about things like that and it’s almost like we are exploring our inner selves. Why do we bother making games? Why do we bother making multi-million pound films? What’s the point? Yeah I know, for entertainment, but I think there’s also something else underneath it.

I think with horror games, they speak directly to our primal instincts; fear is one of our primal survival mechanisms. It’s really interesting; they keep making games and people keep wanting to experience new things in fear, action and story. Story ties it all up; everyone wants to be in a story and experience something outside of their world. It all goes back to escapism, going into somebody else’s shoes. That’s one of the beautiful things games can do – to put you in somebody else’s shoes and let you experience it all for yourself. When you take that feeling away with you afterwards – it’s brilliant.

I suppose it’s a process of exploring ourselves, when we play these games and watch films and stuff. I think it’s a really complex issue, but a fascinating one. I do think it’s to do with that idea of escapism and our base instinct to explore our inner nature. Fear is tied up in that, and love. The strong emotions are all tied up in that kind of exploration.

Again, with every cycle of new consoles, or generation of platforms, you can do much more with them, it’s always pushing that envelope – what they’re doing with Alien Isolation looks absolutely great, and The Evil Within looks great too. It’s a case of what can we do now with this technology? It’s like what we’ve tried to do in The Corridor is to do something that pushes things a little bit further, try and do something a little bit different so that experience is unique and fresh.

TB: Do you ever think that with ever increasingly more powerful consoles and more graphically realistic games, combined with this renewed focus on VR technology, that we will end up at a point where horror games become so realistic that they’re almost too scary or intense for a player to handle?

TNW: Interesting. I read something on the BBC recently about the future of fear in video games (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/27790865). It’s going to be interesting to see where the VR thing goes, because it’s cheap enough now, and it’s especially exciting with the stuff the Oculus Rift guys are doing with the DK2 and what Valve is doing with the low latency stuff. I think another thing is getting people to actually experience it themselves, because once you’ve had a go on it, it’s cool. Have you played it yourself?

TB: No, unfortunately not yet.

TNW: When you get chance, have a go, because it’s definitely different, and it takes a bit of getting used to, but I think that’s like anything isn’t it? My only worry is that…I wonder if it’s a safe thing? You know, people playing it safe with consoles, they know how it all works; they’ve got the joypad, or on PC they’ve got the keyboard and mouse. I mean Valve are making their own joypad.

TB: Oh yeah with the two haptic touchpad wheels.

TNW: Yeah, that’s interesting what they’re doing there. It will be interesting if things get ‘too scary’…I suppose it’s how you monitor that exactly. There’s a project they’re doing in the States which we’ve been talking to, called The Nightmare Machine, which is a VR haunted house.

TB: Oh wow!

TNW: They asked us to create something using The Corridor, but we just haven’t had the time unfortunately, which would have been cool. You basically walk around with these wireless Oculus Rifts on, and there’s 5.1 surround sound playing as you walk around this room, and it’s like you’re in a haunted house which is absolutely cool. The only problem with it is that I think it’s localised to Seattle where the developers are based, but that is ace! Stuff like that is cool, but again though, for me, there’s something about being sat, playing a horror game, in the dark, with headphones or surround sound turned up. I know it’s kind of geeky, but there’s something about it, you get that level of immersion which is absolutely fantastic. I mean, that’s why we make games isn’t it, that’s why we do what we do.

I don’t know if things will ever get too scary, because I think people are always looking for that next thing to push the envelope, but it is interesting! A lot more people now, even going back to Silent Hill, are using psychological research in their games to really pull out primal fears, and really get to the heart of what makes people afraid. That’s the key to any kind of great horror I think. Even with horror films, they pull on the strings of that deep fear that’s so primal to people. I think that’s why they work so well; people want to feel that adrenaline rush. I hope things do get scarier!

TB: Yeah me too!

TNW: I can’t imagine putting a game on and thinking “Ooh I don’t know if I can finish that”. I suppose it’s how much you get involved in that world as well; whether it really connects to you as a person. I mean there’s some films that I can’t go back and watch because you have that emotional attachment to them, and you don’t want to re-experience that emotion by watching them again. So maybe games can do the same thing.

TB: Funny you should mention that actually about films that you can’t go back to watch, one of my favourite films is Mulholland Drive, but I’ve not really been able to watch it since my first viewing because of that horrifying ‘man behind the diner’ scene. I knew David Lynch’s other work and his style going into the film, but I was just so utterly freaked out by that scene as I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever! In that moment, I was genuinely frightened out of my mind for a few moments, and I could feel my flesh crawling on my arms! Not nice, but I’m looking to get the same kind of feeling out of The Corridor as well! (Laughs)

TNW: Well I hope so! That’s the thing, can you get that emotion? I think if you can connect emotion to something, you’ve done your job. It’s like a great story or a great film or piece of music, there’s that strong emotive power behind all those kind of things. Which is what we’re trying to do; to create something that makes people really go “Argh I really don’t want to play that, but I do at the same time!” (Laughs)

The Corridor - Hatch

The Corridor: On Behalf of the Dead is currently on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight; Back the game and give it a green vote if, like me, you’re interested in being scared witless by Doctor Crow and Fat Man. You can follow Tim and the rest of the Desktop Daydreams team on their Twitter and Facebook pages to keep up to date with the latest from them and the game.

Stewart Gilray Interview & Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty Preview

Abe
Standard

Hey All’ya!

If I could go back in time using some new-fangled time-travelling device of sorts, and tell the seven year old me, that one day, I would have the opportunity to go to the studio that would be working on the Oddworld series of games, he would have most likely stared at me in disbelief… before enviously setting a pack of ravenous Slogs upon me, chuckling noisily to himself like a malicious Slig. What a nasty little seven year old eh?

Luckily for me then, no such device exists, and no time-bending paradoxical meeting with a past version of myself (with an over-developed sense of vengeance) ever took place, and thus, I live to tell the tale of my very pleasant and exciting interview with Stewart Gilray, CEO of Just Add Water and Business Development Director of Oddworld Inhabitants.

Here I am, un-savaged by Slogs, on a sunny June morning in Otley, West Yorkshire, on my way to interview Stewart about himself, Otley, the origins of Just Add Water as a development studio, and of course, the new game. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a proper HD remake of Oddworld Inhabitants’ 1997 classic Abe’s Oddysee, about to be imminently released at the end of July for PlayStation 4, with other console versions to follow later in the year.

I gaze up at the Wharfebank Business Centre, the home of Just Add Water as I cross the car park; the building itself is a grandiose old textile mill turned groovy office complex, and I can’t help but let a small, wry smile play out across my face at the irony that New ‘n’ Tasty is being made here. A game about a hero, Abe, freeing his oppressed and enslaved Mudokon people from the greedy industrial Glukkons of the Magog Cartel, is being developed in an old mill of the real life industrial revolution, infamous in the 19th Century for their appalling working conditions and high casualty rates. If Abe were here today, he’d be running for his life out of the industrial behemoth of a building standing before me, and not trepidatiously wandering into it like I am.

Don’t get me wrong though, this is certainly no Rupture Farms, or SoulStorm Brewery. Oh no, quite the opposite. The sunlight gently dapples against the majestic stone of the mill, giving it a warm and gentle golden-yellow hue against the horizon. Big leafy trees surround the outer edges of the car park and sway gently in the breeze. I pause at the edge of the riverbank, the spongy grass of the bank nestled right up to the tarmac at the far side of the car park, and gaze out at the River Wharf. Listening to the tranquil body of water, quietly but contentedly rippling along as it flows downstream, I watch the passage of the river make its way under a majestic canopy of green foliage before gradually curving out of sight. The scene is picturesque, and about as far away from the dark Satanic mills of Blake’s poem as one can imagine.

I find my way inside, and after cunningly sneaking past their Slog pens and Slig patrols, I find myself at Just Add Water’s offices. I knock on the door, and almost immediately have to resist the near-overwhelming urge to greet the friendly JAW employee that opens it with my best impression of ol’ stitch lips’ classic “Hewow” greeting. Thinking back to the original game, I half expect to have to perform a Monsaic Lines call and response style whistle and fart combination in order to be allowed to cross the hallowed threshold. Luckily for me, no such response is required, and I’m ushered deep into the land of Odd.

Out of all the treasures in the room before me, my eyes were immediately drawn to the glass table next to the sign-in book. There on the table before me, lay the original PlayStation manuals for Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus. Two bibles, if you will, of my gaming youth. I remembered pawing through these important scriptures… erm, manuals upon getting the original games when I was but a wee child, back in a now all but forgotten era when reading a game manual was the first ritualistic step to getting immersed in a new game. I quickly scrawled my name in my usual angular and spidery handwriting, eager to get a better look.

Seeing these two slim but mighty tomes of virtual wisdom on all things odd on the sign-in table just shattered what little resolve I had left mentally to remain a somewhat-respectable functioning adult and I felt myself devolve back into that seven year old Oddworld-obsessed oddity of years past (minus vicious Slog pack of course). With great difficulty, I managed to pull my gaze away from the manuals and ’90s original PlayStation beside them (no guesses as to which game was currently in the disc tray) and cast my eyes around the rest of the open plan office area.

I was in an Oddworld fan’s dream. Liberally splayed out across the walls and drawing boards are pages and pages of artwork, early concept drawings and design documents, featuring beautifully detailed artistic pieces from all the games in the Quintology so far. Jokey slogans adorn the doors, with quotes pulled directly from the games and amusingly re-appropriated for office life (‘You escape and all 28 employees in this office die!’). Awards, accolades and trophies (real shiny ones, not just those coveted virtual ones) line the shelves and are modestly nestled in amongst various magazines, props, and games consoles of years past. The passion in the room is almost overwhelming at times; part hardworking office and part glorious gaming shrine.

The office has the relaxed camaraderie of a probably very tired but undoubtedly hard working team. The JAW staff are poised at their desks, simultaneously quietly chatting away and clattering away at their computer keyboards. I try to glance at their computer monitors, hoping to catch a cheeky in-game glimpse of any characters. Abe, Elum, Mullock, hell, even a pantless Slig from Exoddus will do… but alas, my C in GCSE maths cannot decipher the strange codes of numbers and programs on their screens, no matter how much I squint at them.

With the latest E3 demo of New ‘n’ Tasty whisked away to the mystical land of LA the day before, the atmosphere here is that of the quiet but temporal eye of the storm; the release date of the remake is racing up ever closer in just over a month’s time – July 22nd in America, while we Brits across the pond get it a day later on the 23rd. The finish line is in sight, but it’s getting down to final crunch time.

In all my wide-eyed lollygagging and finding myself in this nirvana-like state of pleasant dumbfound-ness, Stewart arrives and is ready to talk. Dressed in a Star Wars t-shirt and jeans, he has a relaxed and cool confident air for someone who’s probably been under increasingly mounting pressure and rapidly looming deadlines whilst getting the E3 demo ready to go out to the States. We shake hands and I plod after him, like one of the green worker Mudokons from the game faithfully following Abe, to a quiet office where I can fling my questions at him from my word-crossbow, Stranger’s Wrath style, like a bundle of knowledge-hungry Fuzzles out for information rather than outlaw blood.

So, that’s quite enough of my yakking and incessant Oddworld reference dropping for now, without further ado, let’s hear from the main man himself.

Stewart Gilray Interview

Mullock

Tom Bennett: First of all, I wanted to know how did you yourself get started in the games industry, and what were your early inspirations?

Stewart Gilray: Oh god… I’ve been working in the business now since ’88, so this is my 26th year, but I started off as programmer on the Atari ST and [Commodore] Amiga back in the day. (Adopts Yorkshire accent) Back in’t day! I literally did it from school, I got into computers when I was 13/14, did a bit on the [ZX] Spectrum and then went onto the ST, Amiga and learned how to program, and wrote a couple of games on there. So it’s been a long haul, and a lot of years.

TB: What was the first kind of game you made then?

SG: Well the first thing we did which was published was actually the introduction sequence for the game Powermonger, by EA/Bullfrog. We were hired to do the introduction sequence, which we did, and then we were hired to do the introduction sequence for the game Birds Of Prey on Amiga. We did a Populous 2 one but it wasn’t used in the end because EA cut the budget for the manufacturing of the discs, so instead of having two discs in the box they only had one disc in the box, so our intro was cut.

TB: Aww!

SG: Nevermind. But then at the same time I was writing a game called Rubicon on the ST and Amiga for 21st Century Entertainment, and that was finished in January ’91 and it came out in February/March ’91. I did a couple of other projects on the side, and then I worked for 21st Century Entertainment as an In-House Junior Producer. I did that from ’93-’97. In ’97 I joined Grolier Interactive as an External Producer working on external projects – at the time it was David Braben’s V-2000, and a couple of other ones. Then after that I went to work at Revolution Software in York, and I worked on the very end of Broken Sword 2 American version and In Cold Blood as Development Director and Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado, which was a licence they did. Then I left there to work at Runecraft in Dewsbury, and there I did the Soldier of Fortune game on Dreamcast and Spec Ops Ranger Elite on PS1. I left there about a year or so later, and took a couple years out the industry… no I didn’t, I tell a lie! I started up my own company, Binary9 Studios, did that for a year or so, left the industry for a couple of years, came back in to start up a job in October 2006, and here we are eight years later.

TB: Wow, so quite a plethora of different styles and games there!

SG: Hmmm! I was asked recently to give my full back catalogue of what I’ve worked on, and I worked out that including different platforms, it’s 75 titles, so it’s like (nervously laughs).

TB: Wow. That’s-

SG: A lot!

TB: Yeah that’s an impressive track record there – well, following on from that, what made you want to actually start developing games as opposed to just say, consuming them and playing them?

SG: I think in the ’80s it was different, I think if you played games you wanted to know how they worked, and you thought, there’s a game, I want to play this game, but this game doesn’t exist – I’ll write it, you know? In the ’80s, programmers, well developers were programmers, artists and musicians in one. People like Stephen Crow who did Starquake and Firelord, he did everything himself, and John Phillips as well, he did everything himself. I think it was born out of that industry, in the way it was in the ’80s, and that was it really. I just wanted to make games, and my mate Richard, who’s now at Zynga in San Francisco, we grew up together from the age of 10, he did art, I did programming, and that was it really.

TB: Wow, like you say it’s very different from today isn’t it, where you’ve got highly specific development teams made up of-

SG: Thousands, yes! Yeah I mean we [Just Add Water] employ 17 people. Out of that, I’d say 13 or 14 are development. Audio in-house, we’ve got, 6 artists, 4 programmers, a producer, a QA, office people and stuff you know, so it’s busy!

TB: Well you’ve kind of partially answered my next question; I was going to ask how many people make up Just Add Water in total and what was the inspiration behind the name?

SG: Oh the name! My wife came up with the name, but I kind of took the holistic hippy-ish view to it that human beings are 70% water; so to make something you have to add humans to it, so you’re adding water to it… too much Pink Floyd in there!

TB: No no, I don’t think you can ever have too much Pink Floyd in anything!

SG: But yeah that’s where the name came from really. As for having people, there’s 16 or 17 now, you know, a couple of people have changed, coming and leaving and stuff, things like that you know, and it’s maintained at around 16 or 17 people.

TB: Nice! What was the process in getting all these people together and how did that come about; Have you just picked up people from other various projects you’ve worked on over the years?

SG: No, well, I mean Steve our CTO, he and I worked together at Runecraft, and when I started JAW in 2006, it was just me at first, and Steve came to do some freelance work back in 2009, and then, you know, he became a member of staff properly and actually later a co-owner with me in April 2011. But since then, we’ve built up and we had 4 people in April 2011, when we did this sort of reboot if you like of the company. We hired more people, and I think over that time we hire for what we need. We’d probably like to get some more programmers in, I’d like to have 6 programmers in full-time, we’ve currently got 4 as I said, so yeah, we’re getting there. I think that the number we’ll stick at for a while is 20 people.

TB: That’s kind of a comfortable size is it?

SG: Yeah… otherwise it gets too expensive!

TB: Of course, of course! What were the reasons behind deciding to locate Just Add Water to Otley?

SG:I live here! That is it entirely! I came up here at the end of 1999, to work at Revolution in York, my wife’s family was in Otley at the time, so she wanted to come back here from Oxford, so yeah we bought a house not far from here. That was it really, but I didn’t work in Otley until 2006. Everything else was away from Otley. In 2006 when we started the company up and we started work in Otley, JAW was at the house for the first 6 months, and then it was based in an office in the middle of Otley, then an office downstairs here, and now we’re up here in this one. So we’ve had 4 moves really as a company. But you know it’s been alright; If we had to move from here it would be a right pain in the backside, because when we came up here we only had 9 people and we’ve now got like I say 17 and lots more equipment!

TB: There aren’t a lot of development studios up north are there really, a lot of them are kind of mainly down south.

SG: You’d be surprised – there’s a lot in Yorkshire, of course you’ve got Rockstar Leeds, Team 17, members of Chinese Room, some of them are based in Leeds. There’s Game Republic, which is like an overhang if you like, it used to be part of Screen Yorkshire, but then the Government binned all that stuff. We, a lot of developers put money in to keep Game Republic going – it’s basically, I won’t say governing body, but its a sort of umbrella across all of us and they’d get people up first to meet us like Sony or Microsoft would come up to meet the indies. In total there’s something like 65 members in Game Republic, and that’s companies, members of the republic. Then you’ve got Ga-Ma-Yo, which is run by Andrew Crawshaw, who is part of Chinese Room – he is 260 members as individuals. So there’s a lot of developers in Leeds!

TB: So I basically need to do better research really then! (Laughs nervously).

SG: Well, no but you’re right it’s hard to work out because you wouldn’t think it; there’s Revolution in York still, they’ve just done Broken Sword 5, [and] there’s other developers not in Leeds themselves who are just individuals, you know.

The Boardroom

TB: So, what attracted you to the Oddworld series in the first place?

SG: I mean I was a fan back in ’97, when Abe’s Oddysee first came out, I was playing it, and my cat who’s no longer with us, he used to sit and watch us playing it. He used to sit and watch the telly like this and go left and right as he watched Abe run around on the screen on a big 32-inch CRT.

A friend of mine, Dan, moved out to America in 2006/7, and he met Lorne Lanning [Oddworld Inhabitants CCO and Co-Founder] before that, and I kept saying to Dan “You should get Lorne to remake Abe’s Oddysee or do a 2.5D game”, but he said he doesn’t want to do games anymore, and then I was actually introduced by Dan to Lorne in GDC 2009 and we kind of stayed in touch via email and things.

Then in June 2009, he asked us to do some stuff for him, we which gladly did, but then in April 2010, they had some problems with the developer they hired to do the game Stranger’s Wrath on PC, so we kind of took over that. Steve and I did that; Steve did 95% of it and I did the other 5%. So two of us did a PC port in five months basically, which got some slack and flack when it came out in December 2010. We did some patches and some updates for it which fixed it, but then we started doing a PS3 version of Stranger’s Wrath in… well, the art actually started in September ’10. We didn’t start coding until the end of March/beginning of April ’11, and we released it in December 2011. So the relationship came out of the fact of we were looking for work, Oddworld Inhabitants were looking for some people who they could trust, you know, the people they had before, they just kept breaking their promises and deliveries and stuff. We said, “Look, we’ll do it for cost price for you, here you go” and they went ok, and we went from there really, and our first project, it was let’s say $50,000 budget, the next one was $250,000. This one, New ‘n’ Tasty, is $2 million so it’s escalating scale, you know, and it’s gone alright, we’re awfully successful at that.

TB: Yeah I mean New ‘n’ Tasty is certainly a hyped game isn’t it, there’s a lot of people that are excited for it – me included!

SG: Yeah, we’ve got some pods in the Sony Booth at E3, and the trailer – well you know the Sony America are putting the press conference in theatres in the states? We’ve got the New ‘n’ Tasty trailer playing in the theatres before the press conference, which is cool. Sony of America are definitely behind us and we’re still dealing with Sony Europe on some stuff but yeah it’s good. We’ve not got a lot of time left, you know, a few weeks left to be completely finished, you know, but the E3 build is testament to us, the fact that we’re almost there. So it’s literally just bug-fixing and final balancing now, and then we’ll be done hopefully very shortly. So then the fans can get it in their greasy mitts!

TB: That’s what it’s all about!

SG: Hopefully it will do well!

Stockyards 2

TB: It’s really good to see Abe making a return because back in the early days of the PlayStation he was one of the main faces of the brand. You had Crash Bandicoot, who was kind of like the main Sony mascot and there was also Abe, and people have kind of forgotten about him, but it’s good to see he’s coming back to his original levels of popularity.

SG: Yeah I mean, what’s quite funny is that when people who haven’t seen the news in the past two years that New ‘n’ Tasty is coming out suddenly see a trailer and go “Oh wow, that’s like Abe’s Oddysee” – it’s like “Where’ve you been?” (Laughs).

It’s interesting, there’s enough things that are different in the game for it to be a brand new experience to a lot of people, including people who played the original ones. We’ve added some stuff in there, some mini-levels and things, which will and do make it different from the original. Some of the mechanics and the way they work have made it different as well, we’ve had to introduce some other mechanics to get past some of the design changes because of moving from the flip screen to scrolling environment system.

TB: I was going to ask you about that yeah.

SG: So yeah there are a few differences, but not massively. Most people will go “Oh I know that bit” – of course you do, it’s based on the original game – apart from that it’s a complete re-build from the ground up – there’s nothing in there that exists from the original game at all, which is nice.

Rupture Farms Wanted Abe SignTB: Right well yeah that’s a nice little segue into the next question! How did you first get started on remaking Abe’s Oddysee? Was there an obvious place to start or did you have to experiment and see what would be the best way into it?

SG: Well, I had a vision in my head of what it would all look like and play like, and I’ve been bugging Lorne for ages and with calls and stuff, and I said “Let’s do Abe”, and he said “Ah I don’t want to do it” and I said “Why?”I remember one conference call I had was me, Lorne, Dan and Larry [the old President of Oddworld Inhabitants] and Lorne and I were chatting non-stop about what to do in Abe for about 10 minutes and Larry just went “Would you two guys shut up and come back to topic please?”

Obviously we we’re starting to get charged up with ideas and things, but that was 2010, and we’d started pre-production on ideas and stuff probably mid-late 2011, and then we didn’t get more people in properly until 2012 so we’ve been working on it for over 2 years now. So it’s been a long time in coming and the problem is the longer a project is, the bigger the blues are at the end of the project. You know it’s going and you think, “Just one more thing”, those things, you know?

TB: It’s your baby.

SG: Yeah, it’s hard at the moment because a few of us are feeling fatigued, but also (in a sad voice) “Oh it’s going” you know? It makes it… not difficult but emotional I guess. It’s strange putting your baby out in the world and hoping that people don’t rip it apart! (Laughs).

This week at E3 our press guys have got the wall-to-wall E3 presentations and interviews with the press, so I think we’ll know later this week what people think! Even if it’s not reviews it’s previews still, so euuugh!

(Well, the previews are out by now of course, and they’re pretty damn good!)

Rupture Farms Furnace

TB: I know what you mean – from what I’ve seen it does look fantastic. New ‘n’ Tasty features a floating/scrolling camera now, as opposed to a flipscreen one in the original. I remember in the original you could get slight delay when running from screen to screen which would give you a slight split-second advantage over pursuing Sligs, and other creatures, I was wondering how that sort of thing works now?

SG: We’ve made some changes; there are three difficulty modes now. If you play it in hard mode, you know, it’s one shot – you’re dead. If you choose easy, Abe’s got life energy basically, so you can take two or three shots before you die.

TB: That’s interesting.

SG: We’ve done that for the players who probably don’t want to experience how raw the difficulty was in the original game, because the original game was criticised for being overly hard. Some people thought that was great because it was too hard, so experienced players will want to go in at hard mode but people who are not so much from that era can play easy or medium first.

It opens it up gameplay-wise, so there are areas where you’re being chased by Sligs and maybe a Slig gets a shot off and he hits you, you know, or you can tease them a bit more now than you could do in the original. They’re not so draconian shall we say, so you can almost climb up on a ledge and go “Wooooo!” and then run away again, and they’ll go “Arrrrrrgh!” and try and shoot you! So you’ve got a bit more fun and play involved this time.

I mean, this is because the game is in full 3D now, there’s a lot more animations going on, and with ragdoll physics as well when characters die too. Today I was playing it, and I’d climbed up, jumped over a ledge and didn’t realise there was a Slig there – he turned around and he shot me and just as I landed, Abe went flying backwards and got shot in the head and fell down a gap – I thought “Ah you bugger!” But we were laughing more than anything else, as it looks ridiculous, but in a good way! That’s been the biggest thing, the biggest challenge is to make sure that fun and laughter is still there.

TB: Yeah that was a huge part of the original – I was going to ask you later on, but on the topic of humour, can Abe still fart in the new game?

SG: (Said indignantly) Of course he can! You can’t possess the farts though, that’s Exoddus [Abe’s Exoddus, the sequel game released in 1999, introduced the highly underrated gameplay mechanic of possessing your own farts], but in Oddysee, in fact, there’s one part where… you have to fart!

TB: I see!

SG: But I won’t say why, you’ll find out when you play.

TB: Oh nice, a little teaser there! With the new trailer, I noticed that there’s quite a few cutscenes in there that weren’t in the original game.

SG: Yeah we’ve added two or three new ones. Well actually, one of them was in the original game, but it’s now completely different. That was because Lorne felt that the original version was just never what he wanted to see, so kind of in some ways, this is almost like a director’s cut of the first game, there’s things that they couldn’t get in the original development because of memory and other PS1 stuff that they couldn’t do, where we have now been able to pull them out of the design archive and use them effectively.

So we’ve done a bit of that, there’s also all these designs in the levels and environments as well that they couldn’t use in the original game because there’s no memory or they couldn’t work out how to do it, but because we’ve got live 3D we can do it all in real-time 3D now. So we’ve pulled some of the things out from the archives, for example the original 1993/4 sketches of the Elum bell [a giant rustic bell used to summon Abe’s trusty camel-like steed] from the start of Scrabania. We recreated that, so it’s now as the original design looked.

Abe, Pipe and Scrab

TB: Ah right, so is that massively different from the one in the original game then?

SG: It’s bigger! That’s all I’m going to say is that’s bigger! It looks like “Woah! That’s huge!” now. That’s been fun, and having built real-time camera transitions and stuff now, literally screwing with the camera, so for example at the start of Paramonia in the original game, you originally start at a standard 90 degree position to the environment. Now in New ‘n’ Tasty, Abe drops down the chute at the start and you’re looking at him up close and personal at 10 degrees, and as you start to walk forwards, the camera pans out gradually. It’s things like that you couldn’t do before, but that’s all real-time, they’re not pre-canned CG, it’s all real-time now. That’s nice. Even the transitions on the lifts too are real-time, and in the original game, when you would go in a door, it would be just movie-playback. One particular moment I’m thinking of is at the start of the game – that’s now a huge cargo lift, Half-Life style, where it’s all real-time. Abe puts his hand on the button.

TB: Ah yeah the three finger-

SG: Four!

TB: Ah woops, my apologies, four, sorry!

SG: Ah, the Japanese version was three.

TB: Ah of course, sorry!

SG: He’s got four fingers again – yay! Abe puts his paw on the pad and as the lift starts going down, the camera pulls and tracks out – all in real-time. So that’s nice.

Stockyards

TB: How much creative control did you have to add any new elements and ideas to the game or was it more a case of did you have to stick to what Lorne had wanted?

SG: Actually, the biggest change that we’ve made is to the jump mechanism. In the original game, you pressed X and you hopped forwards. Modern players don’t expect that. Modern players expect when you press X that you just jump straight up vertically in the air, not perform a forward hop. So we’ve changed it a little bit. When you’re pressing jump now, he starts to crouch down to his jump position, and at that time if you press right, if he’s facing right, then you’ll do the hop to the right.

There’s a few changes like that. They’re more aimed towards modern game players and the new generation who maybe didn’t play the original game and don’t know about the original hop jump, so we’ve done little things like that, but nothing that will make people go “This is rubbish!” and throw away the joystick – it’s not like that. It’s more about… I’ve kind of seen it as more bringing the original into the 21st Century, to meet expectations from today’s players rather than anything else.

TB: Just to leap back a few questions, when you were talking about the difficulty, one of the things I really liked about the original game was the fact that it was hard, it was like trial and death, as opposed to trial and error; you had to try each obstacle a few times and eventually several grisly deaths later you would work out what to do – you can see how that kind of idea of needing to die and fail repeatedly to find success has influenced other games such as Limbo, et cetera. I find it interesting that you’ve allowed players to choose an easier difficulty setting; did you not feel that would dilute the original game’s feel too much?

SG: Well there is still a lot of trial and death in it. But there are some places where I think modern players will think “I know how to do that” and work out some of the puzzle/obstacle solutions right away, as it’s… formulaic to some degree, but there’s not much of that in there. There’s a lot of the game where we’ve made changes; for example, because the problem you’ve got with the original game was that if you were one screen away from patrolling Sligs, you could still hear the Sligs, and you might also be able see them occasionally, but they couldn’t see you unless they were chasing you. But now of course, because we’ve got a scrolling camera, you can literally be in the original point, where you would have originally had a left screen and right screen and now it’s literally just one screen because your camera is halfway between the two of them. So what do you do now with the Sligs then? Well, what we’ve done with the Sligs is we’ve given them radars on their visors basically.

TB: (In awe) Oh wow!

SG: So when they stop and look, they scan out with their radars, and there’s a little beam that comes out of their visors-

TB: Like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica?

SG: Hmm, kind of, but it shows the distance of how far they can see, so as long as you don’t move within that area, you’re fine.

Abe, Sligs and Sign

TB: I see, and it’s like a motion sensor is it?

SG: Yeah kind of, so we’ve had to do that because of the problem with the camera, but the nice thing is that the view distance is the same from the original game. It’s just that we’ve had to visualise it now because we haven’t got the added bonus of having the flipscreen where you can just go offscreen and reset everything again. Things like that we’ve had to do, but it’s not… I don’t think it’s going to be alien, in fact people have told me that die-hard fans of the Oddworld Inhabitants forums, have gone “I don’t like this!” and then, scrolling down, you see four posts later “Actually, I get that now” and then after that the next five posts “Yeah that’s fine now”. They kind of argue themselves into liking it, but at first they are like “Noooo what have you done!” Pitchforks at dawn! Calm down, you know!

Slig ShootingIt’s been alright actually – if those guys get it, and if people who remember the original game do too, then that’s good. The weird thing is, the amount of people I know in life who know I make video games, they’ll say to me what are you working on these days, and I’ll say I’m remaking Abe’s Oddysee and they’ll go (shocked voice) “Oh I remember playing Abe back on the PS1!” That’s cool!

The original game sold about 3.5 million copies, which for the mid ’90s was unheard of, you know, so that’s nice. There’s a huge fanbase there for it, and I just hope that what we’ve done is respectful enough that they’ll enjoy it… and buy it! (Laughs).

TB: I think it was Rod Fergusson [Studio Manager of Black Tusk studios, currently remaking Gears of War for Xbox One] who came out with an interesting comment recently about the fact that when you’re rebooting a game or franchise, in a way you’ve almost got to betray the hardcore fanbase in a way in order to innovate and try something new and ultimately win back their trust again.

SG: Yes, yeah that’s it, there’s an adage of looking at what die-hard fans want and thinking – it’s not quite screw them but it’s just a case of… what’s more important to us is, introducing the game to a new generation because some of the people who played the original in ’97 won’t be gamers anymore, because they’ve moved on. It’s been almost twenty years since the original came out, so some people will be playing the games now who weren’t even born when the first one came out, you know? The whole thought of downloading a PS1 emulated game on their PS3 might be (in mopey voice) “Ah I don’t wanna do that”. So we have to appeal to a brand new audience that have never heard of it or played it before.

We were going to release the Wii U version of Stranger’s Wrath first and then do the Abe games afterwards, but Nintendo advised us against that because you might get people who don’t know what Abe’s Oddysee is, or what New ‘n’ Tasty is, and they might just play Stranger, see a new Oddworld title coming out and think “Oh I don’t want that because I didn’t like Stranger, I don’t want to play FPS games”, and not realise that they’re entirely different genres. So they’ve advised us, for example, to do New ‘n’ Tasty first and do Stranger’s Wrath afterwards, because of that perception.

Stranger's Wrath Title Screen

I mean I hated Stranger’s Wrath when it first came out on Xbox back in 2005. I thought, I don’t like this, but having to remake it and port it to other machines, now it’s… well I’ve come to love it! I see the first quarter of the game as pretty ‘meh’ and the last three quarters is fantastic, but you know when you’re playing a game and you don’t get past that first quarter, it’s just like “Urgh, yeah whatever” and if you get that impression stuck in your mind that that’s what all Oddworld games are like, which they’re not, then that’s the problem, so it’s trying to get rid of that perception by negating it.

TB: I suppose Stranger is kind of like the slightly odd one out isn’t it, because even Munch’s Oddysee [the third game in the Oddworld series, orignally released on Xbox in 2001] was still mainly about platforming and exploration wasn’t it?

SG: Munch’s Oddysee was still Abe and Munch, and Stranger… well there’s only two characters types in Stranger’s Wrath from the other games, which are Fuzzles and Slogs [Vykkers too actually I think, with Doc’s character]. Slogs are in every Oddworld game. In fact, speaking of Slogs there’s some funny moments in New ‘n’ Tasty actually – when you electrocute a Slog, it just cracks me up every time I see it. There’s things like that, so yeah it’s definitely a unique game and a new experience, and that’s the thing that got me to want to do it in the first place. I think the big thing, the reason why I wanted to remake Abe’s Oddysee was not that there was anything wrong with the first one, but there’s something missing from the first one for me, and that was – and this is a bit of a cheesy link, but – do you remember the original Ridge Racer?

TB: Erm, yes, er – I’m rusty but-

SG:It was basically an arcade racing game, pure and simple, but off the track, you had things happening – you had planes flying overhead, and diggers and stuff.

TB: That’s right yeah!

SG: So in Abe, I wanted to bring the environments to life, and have things happen in the background, which were nothing to do with the game. So that’s what we’ve done a lot of; there’s flocks of birds flying everywhere in Scrabania in the backgrounds and stuff, there’s Sligs patrolling parts of Rupture Farms that you couldn’t see before but they’re there now, there’s furnace areas with huge fires and big furnaces and things, there’s machines in the background mincing Scrabs and Paramites. You see them going into the machine in a cage and coming out as meat, so we’ve added all that kind of stuff, which does nothing to the gameplay, but it really brings the environments to life! It makes it more… captivating.

Rupture Farms Grinders

TB: Well yeah I think a large part of the Oddworld games is the characters like you say, and characterisation that goes into the environments and even the enemies too; you’re often terrified running from a Scrab, but you’re almost thinking “Oh wow, look at that thing!” You’re kind of fascinated by them as well as terrified in equal measure.

SG: You were in Munch because obviously you had flocks of Scrabs and Paramites chasing you in 3D! Whereas in Abe’s Oddysee and Exoddus, you didn’t have so much of that because it was still flat 2D, we’ve been able to bin that choice in some respects. Now, even the secret levels in New ‘n’ Tasty are based on the original secret levels but with some slight changes. With some of the secret levels, there’s still 2-play depth to them but we’ve also got the background as well behind that. In the original game the background would be static and nothing happened, but there’s now things going on, like there’s bits where you can run along a long bit of secret level and the environment behind it, it just looks the business! It really does, I mean, we’ve got 4 environment artists and they’ve done the entire game, you know in pretty much 18 months and that’s just… ooooph, they deserve a medal frankly! Fantastic job.

Secret Area

TB: I don’t know what you can say about the secret areas exactly, but as a fan I have to ask, do you still have the one in the very first screen that’s hidden behind the barrel?

SG: Oh yeah! All the Rupture Farms secret areas are still there; they might not look the same as the original ones, but they are still there!

TB: Nice, I had to ask that one! There’s about three or four Mudokons in that first secret area you’ve got to save – I remember on my completionist playthrough attempt back in the day I was like I’m pretty sure I got them all, but oh no I missed the ones hidden in the very first screen! (Laughs).

SG: There’s a secret area in what was the original second screen, a secret area in the bit with the mines you’ve got to jump across, there’s a secret area after the electric gates, and there’s a secret area a bit further on.

TB: Good, I’m glad that they’re still there! With regard to the gamespeak function, at the time of the original release that was, well it still is really, a revolutionary kind of interesting gameplay mechanic; have you made any changes to Abe’s dialogue?

SG: Yes we’ve kind of made changes, but we’ve kind of also made the system a little bit more like Exoddus. So in Oddysee you can control one Mudokon at a time, in Exoddus you control multiple. So we’ve now made it so that you can control multiple Muds in New ‘n’ Tasty. Which makes it a lot easier and lot less frustrating, having to go back and forth rescuing them one at a time. If you’ve got four Muds in a straight line, you can do it in groups now, but we’ve also made it so at the start of the game, Abe starts off with (in Abe voice) “Hello”, but the more you go on he starts going “Hi”, and “Hey”, so it’s the same instruction, it’s just we’ve added more lines.

Rupture Farm Walking Muds

TB: Oh wow, that’s really cool!

SG: We’ve done that kind of stuff, and that’s brought it to life. Also, with the Muds as well, before you rescue them, they’re sitting there doing their jobs like scrubbing the floors and stuff, they’ll start talking to themselves. “Why is he employee of the month?”

TB: (Laughs).

SG: “Oh, not again, more mess” – all this kind of stuff, but also when you rescue them, some of them go “Yay, I’m freeeeeeee!” as they jump through the gates. Things like that. There’s even some standing there whistling. We’ve got some cameo voices in there, and one of them whistles the theme tune for the TV show he used to be in, which is quite funny.

Rupture Farms Escaping Muds

TB: Oh nice! (Laughs) Just as little nods to them?

SG: Yeah, and there’s an awesome one, but I’ve not actually found him in the bloody game yet! There’s an awesome one, which I want to find because we recorded his voice twice, and we had to re-record it a third time. We recorded the first one twice, he did two different versions of the voice, and then he did a take of another voice which was completely different, as a homage to something. We heard that, and we thought “Oh my god, we’ve got to get it in!” So we hired a studio in LA for him to go in and re-do everything again, based on that third voice, and I haven’t heard it in the game yet!

TB: I see, you’re desperate to find it!

SG: Yeah I don’t know where it is actually I’m going to have to ask him later on. Anyway, yeah so we’ve also got 20-odd (pun very much intended) fans I think it was who’ve provided voices as well. We held a competition, and we got people to use their voices and all these people have their voices listed in the credits, so it’s definitely a fan collaboration. A guy came up with a logo, another came up with a background painting, the box pack shot as a basic, and we went from there. There’s the song by Elodie Adams [her single ‘Born to Love You’ is featured in the E3 trailer for New ‘n’ Tasty], she was a fan and she reached out to us you know. There are celebrities in the game. They’re fans – I mean I remember [that] I asked one of them if [he] would like to do a voiced videogame, and he replied with “As long as it’s Oddworld!”

TB: There you go – that’s what you want to hear!

SG: That says it all!

TB: Perfect!

SG: We’re doing another Oddworld project sometime later this year/next year and that guy’s doing a big character in that for us. I sent him the concept documents and stuff and he just went “Yeah I’m there, signed up”. Cool! Really? Yay!

Rupture Farms Creeping

TB: Check! Talking about Mudokons and stuff, are there any new Slig variants, because Exoddus had the flying ones, Munch had the Big Bro Sligs, have you got any special ones in New ‘n’ Tasty?

SG: There’s no Big Bros, there’s no flying ones, there is a special Slig somewhere, and again I don’t know where he is – I can’t even tell you because I don’t know where he is. The guys in the office will talk about it and I’ll say “Where is it?” and they’ll be like “Ah I’m not telling you” (annoyed grumbling). I think die-hard fans will recognise him as soon as they see it, but there you go.

TB: Nice, I’ll look forward to that one. Have you made any changes to the morality system – again that was quite a new unique thing in games at the time, and now every game has got some kind of morality system running through it, like “Press left for the good option and press right for the bad one”.

SG: Yeah, but those options are more like you choose it, aren’t they? In this, you choose it by not rescuing Muds, you know, so the more you rescue the better you are, the better karma, the less you rescue, the worse you are. So that’s as it was.

TB: Does that impact on what you were saying earlier about how the dialogue variations can change between Muds, do your actions impact on the conversation lines?

SG: It doesn’t, I have to say, and I think that’s something that we wanted to do, we just didn’t have time to do it. I mean, to be honest, we’re nine months late already anyway, so it’s kind of “Woah!” So there’s plenty of features on the wall we wanted to put in but we couldn’t do which will likely be in a future game, if we do decide to do Exoddus it’ll be in that, but we don’t know yet.

Rupture Farms Glukkon Head Ball

TB: Yeah I see, cool. With the PS4 and PS Vita, you’ve obviously got the new touch interfaces on these devices, have you reworked any-

SG: No-

TB: controls or-

SG: No!

TB: (Laughs) Next question?

SG: No, I mean we did Stranger on Vita a couple of years ago, in fact, 18 months ago we did Stranger on Vita, we released it with the ability to punch on the back panel, but we noticed that if you’ve got big hands, you kind of want to hold the back panels, so it’s a bit of a negative. So we ended up releasing a patch, 6 weeks later, which removed that as a default, but still gave you the option to switch it on or off in the options menu. Most people I know now play it without touching the back panel, so whilst Sony did well to add the back panel, (laughs) it’s not something we actively encourage anymore, because it’s just as soon as you become an adult, your hands just get to this size, and it’s not comfortable to hold the edge of the thing with big hands.

TB: You want to get a good grip don’t you?

SG: Yeah, and the only way to do that is to put your hands on the back bloody panel! So if you’ve got something and you’re touching it, you’re going  “Ah, forget it”.

TB: Just constantly punching! (Laughs).

SG: It’s a pain, so we decided not to use the back panel. For the front panel… we have had to use a bit of front panel on Vita, not much though. For the PS4, there were a couple of ideas we had a while ago which I don’t think we put in, which was the faster you move your finger in a circle on the front touchpad of the Dual Shock 4, the faster Abe did the chant, so you could go faster and slower, but then it became too awkward to try and get it right every time, so we binned that idea. I think at the minute, you press the touchpad button and it comes up with the pause menu! (Laughs).

That’s pretty much it, you know, truth be told, the option button on the PS4 is pretty awkward. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony changed that for a next version of the Dual Shock 4 if they do do it, but you know at the minute, for a lot of games, if you push the pad button it brings up the pause menu. It’s a big button, you can’t miss it – bang!

TB: Well, every game needs a pause menu! (Laughs) You’ve got Gravity Crash Ultra coming out in July – what specifically is it about, well you’ve already touched on it – well, touch, nice one (laughs) – cheesy pun aside, what makes you want to develop for the Vita specifically and how does it differ developing for handhold versus a console?

SG: Well… as a game or as a platform?

TB: As a platform when you’re developing for it.

SG: To be honest with you, there’s not that much of a difference; the Vita’s just a small console. It sounds a twee thing to say but it’s true! What we’re conscious of today though is that Sony last year released the Vita TV in Japan and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced it at E3 for Europe and America (This indeed did happen, with the announcement of PlayStation TV – good predictions Stewart). So, you know we have to now think about developing games for Vita which can have touch, but as a secondary option. So, from that point of view, it is literally just a small console, but a very powerful console, which happens to be a PlayStation linked to the PlayStation Network which means we can share things between different versions.

When we decided to do Gravity Crash Ultra, that literally started off as me saying to Pete, the main programmer on Stranger’s Wrath Vita, “Go on, have a bash at putting Gravity Crash on the Vita”. He finished Stranger’s Wrath off, and he had the first playable alpha of Gravity Crash Ultra running within 5/6 weeks. I sent that to friends at Sony and said “What do you think of this?”, and they went, “Yeah great idea – who’s going to publish it?” I said that we’ll publish it if we can do, because the rights to the PS3 version are owned by Sony. We sold the rights to them for large sums of money… if only it was large sums of money! But you know I said “Look, I would like to publish the Vita version.” They went okay, and we literally agreed the deal on Twitter; Shahid and I [Shahid Ahmad, Senior Business Development Manager at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe], in tweets, private DMs on twitter, in February last year. We started doing the legwork properly in March/April time but because we had licensed music from Tim Wright, CoLD SToRAGE, for it, we had to re-do and re-license it all again and that took 6 MONTHS to sort out!

TB: Ooph!

SG: So we didn’t actually start properly – we announced it at Gamescom last year, the contract wasn’t signed until mid-October last year (laughs) and we started it in the first week in November and we pretty much finished it in February this year apart from some moderation stuff, because we can create and share levels, and then it went to Sony’s submission, two weeks ago. I made a cock-up in the paperwork, so it went back in again! (Laughs).

TB: Oh no!

SG: The idea is to have it released in July. So that’s nice, but as a platform as it goes, you know in some respects it’s more powerful than the PS3. It’s got more memory than a PS3 – well, that’s not exactly true, it’s got the same amount of memory, it’s that the difference is the PS Vita’s memory is accessible by all, whereas the PS3 is 256MB of video and 256MB of system RAM. Vita’s got 512MB megs, so it makes it a bit easier, the Vita’s also got a 4-core processor where technically, the PS3’s got a single-core processor, apart from the sound chip which has got 6 or 7 cores that you can use and SPUs, but you have to program those dedicatedly. When you do Vita stuff, because it’s made basically as a single CPU with 4 cores in it, you can write proper multi-threading core technology and it goes and does it itself and things now, you don’t have to worry about it. So we’re kind of now at that stuff. I mean we’ve been working on PlayStation stuff since the PS1 days, so [when the] PS1 came along, Sony gave you libraries and you could just go write your game, it was fairly easy. PS2 came along and it was like “Oh my god!” Not that it was hard, or it was bad to program for; it was just different to program for. It was the same with the PS3, then the Vita came along and it’s just like you plug it in and you’re off – like “Wow! Really? That was what? What!”

PS4 is exactly the same again, you plug it in and you’re off within minutes really. There’s nothing like “Oh my god how do I make… oh, that’s how you do it!” You know? It’s all fairly simple. Sony have really grown up as a company and I think a lot of that’s down to Mark Cerny, who designed the PS4, but he also was made one of the leads on the Vita as well, so his involvement with Vita and PS4 is very obvious to developers. It’s been amazing from that point of view and it’s… I have to say, you know, working on Vita has been pretty good. We’ve got New ‘n’ Tasty to get done on Vita yet, and then I think we might do one other thing on Vita after that, but at the moment it’s nothing really big on Vita to come from us I think. Not saying we’re walking away from it, but we’re trying to spend more of our time on PS4 stuff, which is, because it’s a full-blown console, you have to create bigger and better experiences than you do for a handheld, and that’s what we’re doing. You know we’ve got, as a company, two other projects, which we’re prepping early work on ourselves, and you know, one of them will take us 2 years probably to do, but it’s not Oddworld, you know, and that’s going to be interesting to do and that’s been designed for PS4, so that’ll be good. (Pause) I hope I answered that in some shape or form.

MGSV: GZ Snake Goggles

TB: Yeah that was great! I remember reading a while ago that Just Add Water had appealed to Hideo Kojima-

SG: (Groans) Oh god!

TB: Yeah here we go, the Metal Gear question! Basically what I want to know is, is Solid Snake coming to Otley anytime soon?

SG: No – well not from us it’s not! The weird thing with that is, right, it started off, I kid you not, it started off as “[Do] you want something to do on the FOX engine?” Cool – we could never do that, we’re too small, I know we could never do it. “Oh you should just ask him [Hideo Kojima] for a crack at it” – that’s what it started off as, it was never meant to be serious!

TB: I remember reading your open letter at the time.

SG: Our PR guy at the time, he wrote this thing up. I said that [he should] take out line three maybe because, you know, it’s not true, well it is true in the sense that it would be cool to do it, but we’re making no bones about it we aren’t the size of company to do it, so it’s more of a case of it’s a love letter to the game and Kojima, it would be great to get the game on the platform, but not something we would actively be interested in doing ourselves on a serious level. It went out, with the note that we really really want to do it. And I literally, I kid you not, went out for a meeting with some people from Amazon, and I came back and I emailed some Oddworld CEO and heard people saying “What the fuck are you talking about?” “What? What press, I don’t know what you’re talking about? What?”

It was literally two weeks after E3 had finished, it was the Wednesday, that I kid you not, there was no other bloody news that day, and as a result, every site on the entire planet picked it up and I just went “Oh Christ!” Friends at Eurogamer said to me that if you’d released this news on Tuesday, it would have been ignored completely, but because there was nothing else on Wednesday, it got picked up! So no, we honestly have no interest in doing it – it would be cool if, but as a company we know we’re not tooled up or the size or capability of doing that project, you know? It was literally just like a love letter to Kojima, and it was never meant to be taken seriously! As it happens, I’ve heard rumours that someone else has been taken up on it… so we’ll see.

TB: It would be nice to see a decent HD remake of the original Metal Gear Solid as they’ve released the HD collection with Snake Eater-

SG: Well they’re just straight ports though aren’t they? But the thing that really got me was in Metal Gear Solid 4, when you went back to Shadow Moses, I was like “Yaaaaaaay!” I remember this and it looks good! I have to say I think Metal Gear Solid 2,3 and 4, and to some degree Ground Zeroes, they are all kind of ‘meh’ in comparison to the original Metal Gear Solid, because MGS 1 was just phenomenal. It was the first game to do those things, and the problem is he’s [Kojima] done them now so you can’t re-do them again. Like the whole thing about Psycho Mantis reading your mind and using the second controller port to beat him, you can’t do that anymore because players will expect that sort of thing now. The whole thing about reading your mind, “You’ve been playing Ape Escape“, reading your saved games off the memory card – you can’t do that anymore because it’s been done. For those things alone, the original Metal Gear Solid holds a special place in my heart. The series went too cutscene-y for me, the fact that the final cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 are an hour and fifteen minutes long in total! It’s like really? Oh please! Too much man! Step away from the director’s chair!

TB: Have you played Peace Walker?

SG: No, I never got on with the PSP [PlayStation Portable]. I mean we did a couple of games on it, but I never got on with it at all. I’ve still got my original launch PSP in my drawer actually, but I could never go back to it. I know a couple of guys have got it on PS3, was it the PS3 it came out on?

TB: That’s right yeah, it came out with the HD collection for PS3 and Xbox 360.

SG: Yeah, and you know… (pause) my idea of remakes, I think when you do remakes and ports, I still think you have to make it platform centric. Despite the fact I loved Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus on the PS2, I think Bluepoint Games screwed it up on PS3, I really do. There’s no reason for those games to be running at 60 frames per second and they’re running at 30. No reason at all. The other thing they didn’t do as part of Sony’s TRC regulations is ‘X is accept, Circle is back’ – that’s in the documentation, but no no, they made it as X to confirm, and Triangle to go back, which was the same as the PS2 days. Now, it would have taken them an hour to swap that around to be current platform PS3 certified, and they didn’t, so to me that was shoddy work. Lazy work. I played it and I just thought it doesn’t feel the same, it doesn’t feel like it did on the PS2. I know it’s rose-tinted glasses but from when we did Stranger’s Wrath on PS3, we ramped the crap out of that. The main character went from 3000 polygons to 20,000 polygons – there’s more polygons in Stranger than there is in the main characters from Beyond Two Souls for Christ’s sake!

Stranger Close-Up

There’s more polygons in Stranger than there is in an Uncharted 1 & 2 character, because we had passion and care for it, so we ramped it up, we did the controls properly, all this kind of stuff, we remade the whole UI for it, you know, we went through the levels and put higher-res detail maps in there, we took care of it. We didn’t just say, “Lift it from that platform, put it on that one, ship it!” If you’re going to port a game, you don’t just move it from platform to platform, you have to do it properly; it needs to be a proper remake, especially if you’re labelling it as a ‘Remaster’ on the box – you’re not, you’ve just ported it. The thing with Metal Gear Solid HD Collection was, when I came to play Metal Gear Solid 2 on PS3, I just didn’t like it because I got so used to changes they made to the way the gameplay works in Metal Gear Solid 4, that Bluepoint again, they made a step backwards to what was on the PS2. No – you have to grow with your audience. If your audience has grown up and got used to something else, you don’t send them back 6 years. (Pause) I’m done now! It’s a pet peeve basically, if you’re going to do something, you do it properly; you don’t just lift it and drop it.

TB: Well, you’ve dropped a few hints, but what’s next for Just Add Water? Are you wanting to go straight into another Oddworld game; is Exoddus on the horizon?

SG: We want to see how New ‘n’ Tasty does first. We’ve said that publicly a couple of time now. If New ‘n’ Tasty doesn’t sell, which I can’t see, but if it doesn’t sell, then there is no money to make an Exoddus. We don’t have publisher money. JAW/Oddworld Inhabitants are the publishers and developers, so to make the next game we have to make money from the current game. We went over budget with this one by a huge amount because we spent an extra 9 months on it, so we’ve spent the budget for pre-production of Exoddus kind of already, so we’re going to be waiting 3-6 months to see how New ‘n’ Tasty does before we make the decision about doing Exoddus. Yeah we’d like to do Exoddus. If we do decide to do it, because we’re doing our non-Oddworld projects next, we will have to ramp up to twice the size probably to do that, because Exoddus, even though it’s the same game engine and the same gameplay, as you mentioned earlier, you’ve got flying Sligs, and there are a few other things that are different, possessing farts-

TB: Yeah, that’s crucial!

SG: But the big thing is that there are twice the number of locations, so you need more artists, so it’s chicken and egg. Before we commit to doing Exoddus, we have to make sure though that there’s enough money in the bank from ‘New ‘n’ Tasty to make sure we can do Exoddus and do it right. We’ve got a couple of other projects ourselves, I think there will be an announcement at Gamescom for one of them… touch wood. I’m talking to people on Wednesday at Sony about something else as well, we’ve already pitched another project to Sony Europe, which is the 2-year project I mentioned to you, but that will be more of a case of… we want to greenlight that, but we want to greenlight it at the right time, so we’re going to go through all our steps for Sony Europe first and make sure we come up with a project that’s right, and we’re not just wasting our time with it because it’s a big one. It’s a complete departure from anything we’ve done before, so that might surprise some people if we do go ahead with it. On top of that there’s another mini-ish nine month project that I’m hoping to greenlight by the end of June/beginning of July, so we’re going to be busy. We’ve got a new website coming as well, and it’s got 6 project icons on the front page, and two of them just say ‘unannounced’, so that will be interesting to see those when they can be announced!

TB: A few teasers there then?

SG: Yes, well we like teasing people. I get in trouble for it. Our PR guy, Alex, keeps giving me grief – “Shut your mouth!” Sorry! (Laughs) “I know you’re the boss but shut your mouth!” Okay! I’ll hide in the corner now, whoops! (Laughs).

TB: Brilliant! Well, thank you very much for your time Stewart!

SG: Not a problem at all.

E3 Demo Impressions

Rupture Farms Electricity

After the interview, I had the pleasure of seeing the full E3 demo of New ‘n’ Tasty’, which again got my heart racing. Moving to a room complete with a massive flatscreen TV and surround sound system, I set myself down into one of the chairs while Stewart grabbed a Dual Shock 4 and fired up the dev kit skulking on the coffee table below the TV like a great silvery beetle. “Wait, that’s not a PS4!” I cry, both unsettled and fascinated by the big bulky box on the table before us.

The dev kit boots up, and there on the PS4 interface is the menu picture for New ‘n’ Tasty. It felt incredibly exciting seeing how things look on the developer side of things as opposed to the fan’s side of the fence, and that difference really hit home when I saw the main logo. Seeing it there, perched on the screen made the game feel tantalisingly closer and yet still so far away.

The game loads up, and we’re presented with Abe’s apologetically smiling face leaning out at us from the Oddworld Inhabitants sign, just like he’s always done in Abe’s Oddysee. It’s as if he’s been patiently waiting here for us to return to play for the last 17 years, with that loveable yet lonely wide-eyed expression and once again I’m feeling both emotional tinges of melancholia and desperate unabashed excitement in equal measure.

Stewart points out the three difficulty options players have to choose from when starting a new game, and then we’re off. The game starts and launches into the opening cinematic, which is even more awe-inspiring and beautiful looking than I had imagined it to be. Everything looks brighter and much more vibrant, whilst still retaining that same fearsome dark and gloomy aesthetic of the original meat packing plant we ran through with Abe all those years ago.

Lorne has re-recorded his opening monologue as Abe, and he impeccably nails every line and inflection with the same precise yet comedic delivery that I remember from all those years ago. I point out to Stewart that the Glukkons sound different; they seem to have a much lower voice, which makes them sound even more gruff and menacing. Stewart laughs and says well that’s down to Lorne getting older and changing vocal chords and whatnot. Mullock’s dismissive grunt of “Watch” to the other Glukkons in the boardroom sounds much darker and more threatening compared to the original take.

The cutscene ends and we’re thrust into the opening chase sequence. The game looks stunning. Absolutely stunning. Abe dashes across the screen on a long catwalk, the classic large ‘Wanted’ sign flashes up on the screen behind him as he passes, and there’s a pack of gun-toting Sligs hot on his tail. It’s at once very familiar whilst at the same time it looks like an incredibly new and fresh experience. The camera then pulls away from the chase scene and swoops down to that familiar wall of barrels from the original game’s first screen as our blue hero descends on a large lift as Stewart mentioned earlier.

It’s a real treat to see the game running in a buttery 60 frames per second. The character animations and ragdoll physics combined with the super smooth frame rate makes the gameplay look so much more fluid. Abe in particular looks and moves with such charm, and the hideous Scrabs now barrel after you with a frightening, lurching gallop, which will make even the most hardcore of returning Oddworld fans tremble in their… ah Mudokons don’t have shoes… loincloths then. Their loincloths.

Stewart shows me the secret area in what was originally the second screen. Instead of hoisting himself down onto a hidden ledge and dropping down into the screen below in the old game, Abe now performs a new animation where he pulls open a trap door in the factory floor before jumping through. It’s small touches like these that really make you see the attention to detail JAW have brought to the project, in addition to their ingenious and playful twists on the original source material.

Rupture Farms Chanting

Before long we encounter our first Sligs, in fact immediately before we leave the first room they come charging in, and they look just as freaky and menacing as they did all those years ago as they hiss and clank about on the screen. Complete with their motion detecting visor radars, they look set to even the advantage the player now has with the scrolling screen. Stewart navigates through the early screens, demonstrating the way they scan out with their radars and look for you when you’ve eluded them, and how on lower difficulties Abe can take a couple of shots from a Slig’s machine gun before going down.

Hearing about this feature during the interview, I wasn’t massively convinced about this choice being a stubborn fan of the original, but seeing it in action I can see that it was a sensible and considered way to let players pick the difficulty that’s right for them. After all, death is never far away in New ‘n’ Tasty, and it’s easy to see how a new player could get discouraged after repeated failure to get past those pesky trigger-happy Sligs on the original one hit and you’re dead hardcore difficulty setting.

Like Stewart brought up during the interview, the game seems to strike a good balance between catering to those who are completely new to the series, whilst also still appealing to those most die-hard of Oddworld fans. Along with giving the player a choice of difficulty modes, this ethic can be seen very prominently in the improved checkpoint system. Checkpoints now appear throughout the game far more frequently; one of the complaints often levelled at the original game in comparison to it’s sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, is that the sequel had a much better checkpoint/autosave system. In Abe’s Exodus, if you so desired (as I often did) you could neck a bottle of SoulStorm Brew, let rip with a noisy stomach-churner of a fart, and possess it before blowing yourself into a nice ‘n’ tasty pile of Mudokon chunks without fear of losing much progress – the checkpoints were effectively spread out and regular.

If you mis-timed a jump or couldn’t quite outrun that vicious Scrab in Abe’s Oddysee you were usually faced with a respawn quite significantly further back in the level from where you died, which could be quite annoying. The resulting slog (sorry, I’ll stop with the puns now) back through the level to where you originally died gave Oddysee a harder and more unforgiving feel in comparison to Exoddus.

New ‘n’ Tasty addresses that issue head on; in the demonstration I saw, checkpoints were much more plentiful. Each checkpoint is aesthetically designed to match its environs too; the ones in Rupture Farms are electronic with TV screens built in – changing from the stern unflinching gaze of Mullock the Glukkon to the dopey yet loveable mug of our stitch-lipped blue friend. The ones in the more rural areas of the game are all organic and resemble totemic witchdoctor-esque poles complete with blue gems – I must say, I do like a good blue gem.

Free-Fire Zone Mines

What’s more, when you do get torn to shreds by a pack of hungry Slogs (what a way to go) or get pounced on by Paramites, you’re respawned instantly, so there’s no hanging around staring at the screen and waiting for the game to load as there sometimes was in the original. It’s good to see how the checkpoints have been updated to accommodate an unfamiliar new player to the game and it’s systems, while simultaneously making the game much more enjoyable to play for returning players.

Having said that, you will find yourself staring at the screen an awful lot anyway, as the graphics and visuals look incredible. The combination of a graphical powerhouse like the PS4 and the fantastic art direction is a perfect match and the results look phenomenal. The Oddworld series has never looked so alive and vibrant, even whilst you’re still inside the grimy blood-splattered interiors of Rupture Farms.

Rupture Farms Slig Meat Room

Great big smelting vats and furnaces throw up fantastic orange embers and the glow from the swirling orange liquid metal creates some fantastic lighting effects, giving some of the early factory scenes a hellish Dante’s inferno look to them. Out in the Stockyards, the twilight evening sun that’s setting as you first set foot outside Rupture Farms is a real highlight, with lovely dynamic lighting from the low setting sun casting long shadows across the kennels and cages.

The attention to detail is impeccable too. You can see Sligs on faraway platforms diligently patrolling (and probably grumbling loudly to themselves out there in the distance), and the aforementioned Scrab and paramite meat conveyor belts can be seen clunking away in the background of the early Rupture Farms scenes. Outside the meat plant, the guard towers, glinting in the twilight now move like automated gun turrets and scan the environment in the foreground and background, with floodlights that sweep through the pens and catwalks that Abe’s navigating through.

New camera angles dynamically respond to where Abe currently is in the environment, giving the game a smooth polished cinematic sheen that massively improves on the original game’s pre-canned CG transitions. The camera gracefully arcs over the scenery to track Abe as he goes through doorways, and it cinematically zooms in to create dramatic moments, and zooms out to bridge transitions between environments, all in glorious real-time 3D.

Stockyards 3

A particularly impressive camera moment in the demo presented itself when Abe is escaping from Rupture Farms for the first time and navigating past the Scrab pens and motion-sensor laser gates in the Stockyard. Just before you exit the area to go the Free-Fire Zone, the camera pulls back and frames Abe against the full backdrop of Rupture Farms; the resulting view is both equally beautiful and horrifying. The full sight of the pulsating, smoke-belching sepulchral mass of metal and steel that is Rupture Farms engulfs the screen in its enormity, and it gives a great sense of scale to the hideous meat plant that was never quite visually achieved in the original game – it utterly dominates the horizon. Seeing the entire plant in all it’s horrifying glory at the end of the level is a fantastic move as it only encourages you to quickly hightail it out of there as fast as you can!

Free-Fire Zone Creeping

We’re now in the Free-Fire Zone, the atmospheric (but still very dangerous) area just after the Stockyards, with its beautiful star-lit night sky complete with numerous moons. This area was particularly dark in the original, but here, the environment really benefits from being a bit brighter. Splashes of turquoise from the clumps of luminescent fungi growing on the ground add much-needed bursts of colour to the almost entirely black foreground, and they work well with the ambient motes of light from the fireflies which guide Abe’s way. Campfires along the path add small areas of contrasting warmth to the environment, and the dynamic lighting from their flames cast flickering shadows on the rock walls. With the full expanse of the dark blue night sky framing everything, these small artistic additions and graphical tweaks give the environment a much greater sense of atmosphere and mystery as opposed to the original design.

Naturally then, this is the perfect time to check out the stealthy new additions to Abe’s moveset. Our favourite blue chump now has the ability to shuffle forward whilst crouching, in addition to his normal forward roll. This looks to be an incredibly useful way of quietly sneaking through an area in addition to just the standard tip-toe sneaking of previous games. Stewart navigated Abe through a particularly dense flying minefield at the start of the Free-Fire Zone, using the crouching shuffle, and it will be interesting to see how this move is utilised in other no doubt just as sadomasochistically difficult sections of the game.

Free-Fire Zone

Although during the interview Stewart said that Solid Snake won’t be infiltrating the picturesque town of Otley anytime soon, Abe has certainly learnt a few tricks from Kojima’s stealthy hero in the passing years, specifically Snake’s use of empty magazine cases as noise making distractions. Taking a leaf out of the Foxhound agent’s stealth playbook, Abe now has an unlimited supply of bottle caps (presumably SoulStorm brew bottle caps no doubt), which he can throw to distract Sligs. The trade-off to having an unlimited supply of these handy noise-makers is that they can’t be used to inflict damage to enemies or trigger off mines and explosives – you still need to source out rocks and grenades just like in Oddysee to get the pyrotechnics going.

Rupture Farms Lift & Mines

We reach the end of the Free-Fire Zone, and the E3 demo draws to a close. It’s time for me to go, and let Stewart and the rest of the team get back to work. Try as I might to desperately think of cunning ways to prolong my stay in the JAW offices for a bit longer, my well and truly blown-mind fails to come up with suitable shenanigans. We head back to the front door, and my eyes feverishly look for a place to hide and stowaway somewhere out of sight until everyone in the office has gone so I can play some more New ‘n’ Tasty.

However, with each anguished step bringing me closer to the front door that leads to reality and the outside world, such genius childish ideas start to dissolve and ebb away, and with regret and some sadness, I feel my (only ever so slightly) more mature 24 year old mind-set reassert itself. Just in time actually, as at that moment I find I need to say my goodbyes. With a Steef upper lip, I smile and graciously thank Stewart, who reciprocates, before opening up a Mudokon bird portal for me to exit through. A friendly handshake and a running leap through the portal later, and I once again find myself standing outside of JAW’s offices, Otley’s ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of gaming goodness if you will.

As I make my way back outside, even though I’m well aware I’m in a bit of a post-adrenaline/excitement slump, I can’t help but notice how… well… just how un-odd everything is on the outside. I trudge back across the car park, expecting to find a great big dopey Elum waiting for me at the side of the road to saddle up and ride home, but alas there’s just my car parked up instead. I sigh, and unlock the door, get in and start the drive home.

However, what little sadness I felt at my wonderful experience at JAW being over, I’m extremely heartened that one of the most beloved games from my childhood is, without a shadow doubt, in the best possible hands. The passion, care and loving attention to the smallest of details that JAW have brought with them to the project, combined with their own inspired artistic touches, have managed to bring Abe’s classic adventure into the modern day.

I’m so happy that Abe’s back, and I’m very much looking forward to going on more fantastical adventures with my blue childhood friend and hero once again in the near future. “Follow me”; of course I will Abe.

Abe Hoover