The team at JAW Ltd have had an incredible E3, capping off a story that is a legacy for the ages. The Oddworld games were a major staple of generations of yesteryear. Abe and his quirky cast helped define a generation on PS1, setting industry standards in animation and interactivity.
The games eventually found a more permanent home in Microsoft’s Xbox console. In fact, the Oddworld games became console exclusives for a time. But shortly after Microsoft’s Xbox was replaced by the 360, the Oddworld games became conspicuous by their absence for many years. It’s only as we’ve come close to the end of this console generation that Oddworld has finally seen a resurgence. This time, however, the games have gone back to their Playstation roots, but also made good friends with Nintendo and even embraced the world of mobile gaming. Meanwhile their relationship with Microsoft seems to have completely soured.
We chat to JAW Ltd and ask them about the radical changes they’ve had to contend with over the years, but also what benefits an independent developer will reap as we move towards the next-generation of systems.
Congratulations on an amazing E3! You guys have had an amazing show.
Thanks! It’s been very exciting for the whole team. We’re really grateful to Sony and Nintendo for the exposure. The relationship between devs, publishers and platforms needs to be mutual. Fingers crossed, Microsoft will see that soon.
I’ve got to ask, how on earth did you get Stranger’s Wrath onto mobiles!? Surely this is one of the biggest console games yet to make the jump to mobile. Also, with a game as high quality as Stranger’s Wrath, do you feel this gives doomsayers further ammunition when they claim that the traditional gaming handheld platform is on borrowed time?
Well the short answer is, we didn’t. We’re working with a partner on this project, SquareOne Games in Vancouver, who previously worked on projects like The Bards Tale on iOS, Android etc. Having Stranger on mobile is definitely a boon for us, as there, as you rightly said, very very few titles of this nature on mobile devices. The team at S1 are working with the original Xbox game assets which is obviously lower polycounts than the HD versions, but they will be using some aspects of the HD version on the mobile versions. Traditional consoles are not going anywhere, I think they will still be around for the foreseeable future, however I think games like Stranger’s Wrath will be few and far between on mobile devices.
Developmentally, what seems to be the toughest part about bringing Stranger’s Wrath to mobile so far?
I don’t honestly know, as I said we’re not doing the actual dev work, but from my personal point of view, it’s getting the controls right, which is still being worked on and still has a ways to go yet.
So how does an entirely touchscreen interface work for Stranger’s Wrath?
We are still working around the control system to get a system that works effectively and fluently, but I think we’re definitely getting there.
Are you likely to bring some of those touch-screen features onto the Wii U version of the game, or are you planning something quite different for that considering the second screen? Anything you can share with us?
We have some ideas for using the Wii U controller for both Stranger’s Wrath HD and New ‘n’ Tasty. Much like the touchpad on the DualShock 4 controller, the screen on the Wii U pad opens up some possibilities for our games. It’s too early to tell what we will do, though.
How is New ‘n’ Tasty different from the original (aside from the obvious HD upgrade)? What are some of the key areas you’ve changed and modernised?
Apart from using the Unity3D engine? Abe’s Oddysee had a whopping resolution of 640 by 240 (stretched to 480). We’ve obviously had the game running in 1080p. Using Unity3D means we could take a step back, dissect the visuals of the original and see what we could do to make it all come alive. RuptureFarms now looks like a vibrant, busy factory churning out junk food. There’s machinery grinding and chopping in the background. The temples have a sense of depth and size, with wildlife going about its business in the background. We’ve been able to go back through the design concepts for everything and pick out and use ones that had to be changed due to limitations of 1997’s technology. There’s so much more going on, thanks to the tools we’re able to use now.
For New ‘n’ Tasty, are you taking advantage of each format’s capabilities as you have done in Stranger’s Wrath? Will each version offer a slightly different experience? For instance, can you talk a bit about how New n Tasty takes advantage of PS4’s capabilities?
There’s certainly going to be some nuances in the level of detail on screen on each platform. Obviously, the next gen (PS4/PC) versions will have all the graphical bells and whistles. We’re looking to run all the cutscenes in-game with the hardware that can handle it. Gameplay-wise, everyone will have the same experience. It’ll be the same game. We would love to do things like off-TV play for Wii U, or use the PS4’s controller touch pad. In regards PS4, however, apart from making the most of the extra horse-power (we’ve had the game running at a steady 1080p@60fps on our test build), we’re still looking at ideas.
At this point, do you know if New ‘n’ Tasty will be a PS4 launch title? Is that the focus right now?
We’re planning a “launch window” release, rather than day-one. This is something that’s out of our hands, unfortunately.
As an independent developer, what do you feel Microsoft are doing wrong at this point and what can they do to entice you to develop for their latest platform?
We’ve been quite vocal in the last couple of weeks about Microsoft’s stance on indies self-publishing. It’s a very important issue, so I’ll reiterate what we’ve said to others. Right now, it’s impossible for indie developers to get their games on any Xbox console without turning to a major publisher, who then takes a cut. With physical media, this used to make sense as the initial outlay was astronomical compared to digital… discs cost money. With digital only, this is a farcical situation. Every other platform owner has a system to give indies access to publish. Cutting out indies is bad for everyone, especially Xbox customers.
With an all-digital future becoming more apparent and major corporations finally realising that the time of physical media is coming to an end, what advantages does the independent developer have over major AAA releases in the digital distribution realm? Is this Indies time to shine, both in terms of marketing and sales opportunities?
Indies are traditionally more agile, less risk-averse, and a more creative and hungry industry. The amount of innovation coming from indies is staggering. The business models forming around the indie scene are also interesting. Look at Minecraft, basically building income around releasing alpha and beta product. There is also, by nature, less noise coming from within the organisation, so fans are better heard and listened to.
Some have claimed that they don’t see major differences between current and next-gen gaming, therefore aren’t bothered about making the jump. Having the opportunity to work on such a variety of platforms, do you feel next-gen hardware has allowed you even more liberating possibilities? Do you see the massive generation gap?
There’s a massive gap in the hardware. We are able to do things like sub-surface scattering and tessellation which wasn’t possibly on PS3 gen hardware. This is a massive improvement, we can run faster and at higher resolutions, and all the nice little things like that.
Putting you on the spot! Do you feel next-gen platforms will give JAW Ltd the freedom it needs to make a completely new entry in the Oddworld series? Have you got some ideas on how you could do that?
There’s never a shortage of ideas when you’ve got Lorne Lanning on your team! Because Oddworld Inhabitants closed shop for a while, we’ve definitely got a backlog of games to make. Everyone in JAW Towers has their own preference for where Oddworld heads next. There’s no doubt that some of those ideas would be better off on next-gen.
Thank you so much, guys! Look forward to seeing more from you later this year!