The final Oddworld: Lorne's Exoddus

Lorne Lanning is leaving the gaming industry and taking Oddworld with him. And you know what? Good.

I remember an early Oddworld magazine article, circa the release of the first game, where Lanning was described as some kind of storytelling genius. The story - which may be apocryphal and just a marketing bullet point - went that Lanning had this vision... the years-in-the-making, years-in-the-telling story of the saga of Oddworld. And he excitedly told his story to someone (wife? business partner? both? I forget) and the two of them were up until dawn drafting the overall plot, the delicate character interactions, the subtext and the literary themes.

At a time when the average video game storyline was "save the princess," Oddworld was likened to the second coming of Pong. The Oddworld series was going to a five game epic, the gaming equivalent of a serialized novel.

And then the first game came out and it sucked.

Here's my problem with Oddworld - Abe's Oddysee way back on the PS1: it was obnoxious. The basic gameplay had its moments, but it was ridiculously hard and required complete perfection. Miss a jump or trip an alarm? Start over. You could blow hours just trying to compute the proper angle for throwing a damn rock. And then not realize one of those stupid yappy dogs was on the next screen and have to start over. Again.

Then there was that glorious, glorious storyline, the one that was so deep and layered that it was going to take a decade to unfold. I'll summarize: Soylent Green is made from people.

Gamers must never read books. Or even watch movies. Because when games like Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and Beyond Good and Evil get praised up and down for amazing, involving plotlines... well, I just don't get it.

So okay, I ended up not particularly impressed by Abe's Oddysee. I was willing to walk away semi-satisfied. The game did put itself out there, the puzzle elements were challenging... just not my thing. And I wasn't buying the preachy Save the Trees story that was better told in any of a thousand high school-quality sci-fi short stories. But I lived in Oddworld for a short time and gave it a shot. Had it all ended there, I would have remembered Oddworld as being okay but frustrating.

Then, over the next few years, Lanning turns up the media heat and starts being an ass.

First, we find out that the next Oddworld game wasn't even going to be part of the core quintology. No, now he wants to do a sidestory... probably because the shareholders want more of Abe so they can turn the ugly little Mudoken into a franchise-selling mascot. So we get Oddworld - Abe's Exoddus. Not an Oddysee, which, going forward, is the stupidly spelled non-word by which we're intended to identify a genuine chapter of the epic.

Then, before the Xbox launch, Lanning goes on the PR circuit to declare that the Xbox will be the exclusive home of his Oddworld games because only the Xbox is powerful enough to handle his vision. His vision being an item-collecting mascot platformer. Oh yeah, no other system could possibly handle something as complex as that. (Memorably parodied by Penny Arcade.) The game, Oddworld - Munch's Oddysee, is touted as one of the major players in the Xbox's original lineup, but no one buys it. Oddworld is effectively DOA.

But last year, we started hearing rumors about a new Oddworld game. Surprise of surprises, this one is going to be a first person shooter!11!!!11!! So Lanning's incredible vision seems to be susceptible to the influence of current popular gaming genres. BUT, this is an FPS with a difference: the heretofore never-before-seen and completely innovative invention totally unique to this game... your character in the game will recycle enemies in the environment as the ammo for his gun. Innovative to anyone who hasn't played a Kirby or Klonoa game, I guess.

And it doesn't take too long before somebody leaks that this new game, usually referred to as Oddworld - Stranger by this point, is also in the works for a PS2 release. D'oh!

As it happens, Stranger's Wrath (final title) looks like it isn't going to get a PS2 version... which is one of the many reasons why Lanning is exiting video games so he can go tell his heavy handed morality plays somewhere else. He also cites rising costs, lack of advertising by his former company, and a general creative malaise in the industry. I guess we won't have poor old Lorne Lanning to kick around anymore.

I guess I respect what he attempted, at least in the beginning. And I'm sure he has been jerked around by shareholders and CEOs and marketing mistakes. I definitely respect his stance on creator's rights and controlling intellectual property. But I don't have the time to entertain jerks who think game designers ought to act like/be treated like rock stars. Or asshats who play directly to the fanboy aggression mill by openly dumping on the competition's systems. I'll back the classy, I'll back the eccentric, but I won't back the jerkweed, especially when the claim is as dubious as "those other consoles just aren't powerful enough."

The real question is, will anyone notice that he's gone? Oddworld isn't even a blip on the radar, even with Stranger's Wrath still relatively fresh on store shelves. It's just another PS1 series that has finally breathed its last. At the least, Lanning has the good sense to pull the plug (and retain ownership) before his stuff goes the way of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Tomb Raider, Twisted Metal, or Resident Evil prior to RE4.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe published on April 18, 2005 2:54 AM.

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