Oddworld — A world that was, and probably will never be…
It was supposed to go places, but it didn’t work out
A long time ago, there was this period known as “The 90s”. I talk about that era a lot, mainly because that’s when I got acquainted with video games, among other things. But even in retrospect, there’s a game that stands out as unique even to this day. Mostly, people on Reddit say that it “aged well”, though I don’t like that term because I’m generally critical of contemporary culture and its neologisms. Why? Not Important. Anyway, the name of that game is Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.
What was supposed to be the starting point of an ambitious project ended being a series of only four games. If I remember correctly, this is mostly attributed to internal conflicts between the IP-holders of the franchise and its publishers. Though I hope to reincarnate in a parallel universe where Oddworld DID actually become the revolution it aspired to be, the few games that made up the series were actually very entertaining. Although I never finished the 2nd game and I only played a demo version of the 3rd game.
Specifically, I want to pay attention to the first game in the series, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. The thing that still stands out even today is how the game incorporates various environment elements to challenge you (it’s a vague statement, but it will do for now). More so, the game had rich lore that was quite apparent, even with just four games. Of course, I could go on bragging about how much I enjoyed the game and how big it would’ve been if the circumstances were different, but that’s a write-up for another time. When that time is, I have no idea.
Virtual communication… that is… among video game characters
Even as a game released way back in 1997, it featured a system that I don’t see much around, either because I stopped caring too much about video games or because there really aren’t many games that do something like that. The game featured a system where the characters communicated through vocal signals, usually single words or short phrases. By comparison, the system was very similar to how a dog responds to various sounds, meaning that it was simple commands that told characters what to do. But it was special about how the protagonist communicated with the various characters around him, conscious or otherwise.
The problem that lies here is that… well… the potential of this idea is wasted. So let’s pretend for a moment that Oddworld becomes a thing, probably not as big as Star Wars, but close enough. Now, we’re talking about an entire planet filled with various cultures and, of course, various languages. Now, it’s not just the consideration of whom you’re talking to, but also the various civilisations you venture to. Suddenly, the whole “language” system is more than just whistling to a dog.
I wonder: if this were to be the case, what languages would be in the game? Probably an alien kind of like, you guessed it, Klingon (reminder: I am not a Trekkie).
How about we just make a better game?
First of all, it’s important to realise how complicated this situation is because of all the internal bullshit. It turns out the game never had a chance of grandiose success because of all the creative differences between the parties involved. So, the real solution is to learn from the mistakes that fell upon this vivid and imaginative video game (because that’s what it is) and make something that’s an unofficial spiritual successor. Of course, it can’t be official unless it is sanctioned by the creators or the likes, which is highly unlikely, so let’s just stay with “unofficial”.
So you created a game based on the mistake of Oddworld and made it better in every way. Or maybe you could just improve the franchise itself. Although considering that they have already chosen the “wretched path of remakes”, it’s unlikely (not a fan of remakes, anyhow).
And then, there’s my favourite solution: come to terms with the fact that the game will never become what you thought it would when you were a kid. Basically, just wasted potential… But it was fun while it lasted.
Fans of Oddworld: do they even exist anymore?
I had forgotten about Oddworld when I finished the 4th and last game in the series, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (a really good game, by the way), back in 2012, which was a bit late but better “late than never,” as they say. Because of that, fans of Oddworld should probably have a say in what they expected from the franchise when it was still relatively fresh, and now, after all the remakes and whatever.
More so, game designers should also have a say in how they think they can make a complicated language system in a game with multiple languages, real or otherwise. Although the subject is an alien culture, a weird-sounding fictional language might also work. But does that mean that a new conlang needs to be written?
Not necessarily. But it sure would fit for a game that aspired to become the Star Trek of video games. If that were the case, then linguists should also say what kind of language they would expect to hear in such a game or how they would write it. But linguists and gamers don’t usually get along. I can act as a negotiator if anyone wants… but not today.
All four of the original games are really good games, each in their own way, so I highly recommend checking them out. Even today, they still hold up and are actually enjoyable. Though I can’t recommend the remakes, mainly because I haven’t played them, and will never do so since I’m against remakes. Why? A subject for never another time.
But since the game didn’t work out, there’s no point in thinking about the series current state too much. I’m sure that people that are more familiar with the original titles, like me, could’ve also expected something great to come out. But it didn’t, and now all that there is to do is to pave the way for a better game with better opportunities, and also probably one that has an intricate language or something similar. The creators wanted to make the world immersive, which would’ve added but probably wouldn’t have saved the game.
It would’ve been really cool to see how big Oddworld would’ve become if given a chance…