Oddworld's Lorne Lanning talks inspiration and design

Shacknews sits down with the one and only Lorne Lanning to learn more about the creative inspiration and design approaches behind Oddworld games.

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It takes a lot to stay fresh in the ever-evolving gaming industry, and few people would know that better than industry veteran Lorne Lanning, co-founder of Oddworld Inhabitants. With experience dating back to the early-to-mid 90s, Lanning has watched as the video game landscape gradually changed. However, his ideas of what makes a good game still seem as relevant today as they when the studio was first founded.

Shacknews was recently able to speak with Lanning in order to learn more about his game design philosophy as well as some of the inspirations and approaches that have made Oddworld games so offbeat and charming. Check out our full interview in the video embed featured below.

For those who don't know, Lanning's first big break into video gaming came with the 1997 release of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. Since then, development studio Oddworld Inhabitants has kept to a rather unusual design philosophy that tends to make its releases stand out from the crowd. As for why, Lanning has a few ideas, and they date back to the earliest design inspirations behind Abe's first adventure.

"I always looked at the nature of the storytelling, of having to be relevant," Lanning said. "That's where I planned [Oddworld] — as a five-part series that would see the slave rise from the lowliest position to eventually affect the world economies and birth a revolution."

For a game with loads of propaganda and offbeat humor, this narrative-driven inspiration may seem unusual. For fans of the series, however, this will come as no surprise: Oddworld has always felt steeped in fairly heavy themes, even if comedy does serve to lighten the mood. Lanning goes so far as saying that the game's themes were inspired the works of a couple of famous authors, notably those known to employ dystopian themes.

Lorne Lanning Shacknews Interview - Oddworld Soulstorm Abe concept art
Concept art for Abe in Oddworld: Soulstorm

"Time and business and opportunities sort of took us off track from [the original goal with Oddworld,] but to get back to to that message and stay true to it and stay relevant, my inspirations were [Aldous] Huxley and George Orwell, people that were making relevant content.

"That was always important to me as a storyteller; I felt like if we stayed relevant, we could resonate with people, and attempt always to focus on empathetic gameplay over aggressive and nasty gameplay."

Of course, staying relevant requires an examination of the current world climate. Toward that end, Lanning's approach favors going against the grain:

"The trend we chase is the anti-trend — we say, 'Well, if everyone's going that way, and if everyone's going multiplayer, [...] then let's really dig deep down on the single-player action-adventure story.' If we can really do that — create a stronger emotional connection, which has always been an objective of ours — then hopefully we're successful at it."

Lanning goes on to speak about just how the team has kept up with the industry, particularly when it comes to new technology. Of course, the approach for Oddworld is often the same — black comedy with a fair amount of the absurd. As luck would have it, that formula doesn't appear to have changed for Oddworld: Soulstorm, which should hopefully release sometime in 2020.

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Guides Editor

Kevin Tucker is a core component of Shacknews' powerful guide development team. For questions, concerns, tips, or to share constructive criticism, he can be reached on Twitter @dukeofgnar or through e-mail at kevin.tucker@shacknews.com.

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