E3 has come and gone, and now sits as a distant memory in the minds of gamers who eagerly await what the future holds. Last month, PlayStation Universe gave its best-of-show awards for E3 2014, with two titles earning two different awards among the contenders.
One title that received a double dose of love from PSU at this year’s show was Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, which received PSU’s awards for Best Platformer and Best Indie Game. As a game that made waves among those of us here at PlayStation Universe, we wanted to know more. We reached out to folks in charge of the game for their take on what it’s like to remaster the well-known title, and their experiences as indie developers working in the ever-changing industry of video games. CEO of Just Add Water Stewart Gilray and producer on New ‘n’ Tasty Craig Spiers were kind enough to share their insights on the oddworld of independent development.
The universe of Oddworld was created by Oddworld Inhabitants president and creative developer Lorne Lanning back in the ’90s, and debuted with Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in 1997. Since that time, the Oddworld series has become an established franchise. In recent years, games of the series have been getting a visual facelift, coming to newer platforms so that a new generation of gamers is able to visit Oddworld’s eccentric locales and characters. The latest to receive a modern facelift is the franchise’s very first title, Abe’s Oddysee, now dubbed Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty.
Having seen the new version in action, it’s apparent that much love has gone into this stunning visual overhaul, but has anything more been done beyond translating the PlayStation classic from 2D to 2.5D on the current Sony platforms? Have any subtle or even major changes been made by the folks over at Just Add Water, or has the franchise’s debut title been left largely unchanged in its transformation?
“We had access to the original game’s editor,” said producer Craig Spiers, “which let us dig around in both the source code and the levels, and we found a lot of really interesting methods that had been used by the original team. We’ve tried to stick to the spirit of the original design where possible, while opening it up for the improved 2.5D gameplay.
“Subtleties in the original are everywhere, though, as the established fanbase will be happy to tell and show you. We’ve tried to ease up on some of the more aggressive aspects of the original, since (as Lorne once told me) they had some pretty hardcore designers. So we’ll still wipe your inventory when we don’t want the puzzle to be too easy, but we do it less arbitrarily. We’ve upped the limits for projectiles, and we let you use them more. And the bats. The bats don’t one hit kill you anymore, on any difficulty. Those were harsh.”
With Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty’s core gameplay largely unchanged, apart from an ease in difficulty, we wanted to know how the development process is similar to or different from remastering a title as opposed to building an entirely new game on current systems. Does remastering a game allow for certain freedoms or impose restrictions not found in the traditional developmental process? CEO Stewart Gilray shared his perspective on the matter:
“You firstly need to know the title you are re-mastering in extreme detail, and break it down into its unique components and how you want to attack it. What art style: the same or stylised? The work isn’t harder or different really, it’s still work. A remaster like New ‘n’ Tasty is like a totally new product, we just happen to know the basic design goal day one. Where something like Stranger’s Wrath [HD, on PS3 and PS Vita] is a conversion so you’re already working within extremely well defined parameters from day one.”
While remastering a title presents its own set of challenges and problems, Spiers expressed an appreciation of Sony for its “willingness to get their own hands dirty.” He went on to share his gratitude for the company for everything that it has provided them throughout the development process, saying, “Sony really have pulled out all the stops for us, providing kits and advice alongside E3 coverage and pride of place among their other indie titles… We’re in good company on the [PlayStation 4], and we’re in good hands with the company.”
Gilray also praised Sony for making its current generation of consoles the most developmentally approachable in the company’s history:
“Sony have finally got DevTools right! In the past some of their hardware and development solutions have been, shall we say, challenging. With PS Vita and now PS4 they have absolutely amazing tools, including tools that work massively well in helping to make sure we stay compliant with their Compliance TRC [Technical Requirements Checklist] Standards.”
Having a strong relationship with and backing from an industry giant sets the stage for Just Add Water’s bright future. So what can we expect to see from the indie developer on Sony platforms in the future? Well, that largely depends on how Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is received by the gaming public.
Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning has previously stated that he plans to do a remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, which is likely to be the studio’s next project. Gilray reaffirmed this notion, and also said that a remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus is the gateway for Just Add Water to potentially take on completely new projects within the Oddworld universe. Whatever the case may be, Gilray expressed that the overall experience has been a “massive learning curve” with regard to understanding the process of AAA development. But it’s also been a tremendous learning experience for the company as a whole.
Spiers also spoke on the industry resources from which the developer has learned from and been inspired by:
“There’s a lot of people here at the office that play Spelunky, put it that way! We’ve got a pretty varied set of tastes here in the studio – Metal Gear Solid is the most frequently talked about, but we all have our own niches. As a games studio you need to keep up with the competition and with the market as it changes, so conversations are always springing up about the latest title or an ancient title.
“In terms of inspiration, we looked far and wide at how platformers have changed since the original [Abe’s Oddysse]. Deadlight, Trine, the remade Flashback and the remade Strider – we put those through their paces for our research.
“It’s no secret that Valve is a big inspiration for JAW management – but then, who doesn’t want to be Valve!? Rockstar are also a focus of attention, as probably the biggest UK studio still going,” Spiers concluded.
From gaming favorites to project development and company functioning, Just Add Water looks beyond itself in order to grow stronger as a developer. From what we saw of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty at this E3, alongside its existing track record, Just Add Water certainly looks to be one of the strongest indie developers in the industry, and we can’t wait to play what their journey brings us.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty will hit PlayStation’s digital shelves on July 22, 2014 at a price of $29.99. Cross-buy and cross-save functionality is supported between PS4, PS3, and PS Vita.