Capitalism and global market are two phenomenon that took over the world by storm and dominates the society we live in today. Globalization has deep roots in today’s socio-economic culture and it has become so entangled with our lifestyle and media that separating one from another might seem like a futile method. We have enjoyed an innumerable number of luxuries and facilities due to the formation of the global market like acquiring products made on the opposite side of the world with little to no fuss. But all is not sunshine and rainbows, as there are a lot of hidden agendas, exploitation and power-play within the system, no doubt about which the majority of us has studied in schools and colleges. Many movies, magazines, plays etc have tried to shed light on the dark side of globalization throughout the years. But when it comes to video games, globalization and consumerism are topics which have been left relatively untouched (Probably because it benefits the most from it). Save for one; Oddworld- Abe’s Oddysee, the unique cinematic platformer which will be my playdate this Saturday.
Oddworld:Abe’s Oddysee is the lovechild of Oddworld Inhabitants, an American video game developer founded by special-effects and computer-animation veterans Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning. The cinematic platformer came out at a time when 3D technology was the next best thing. Yet, unimpressed by the quality of 3D back then, Lanning decided to make his game a 2D side-scroller with pre-rendered backgrounds and realistic animations. In Lanning’s words “we focused on creating the lifelike aspects of the characters and environments. Their animations, their sound effects – we were aiming for it to feel more like a film“. What resulted was a unique platformer with a beautiful art style, a twisted yet relevant story comprising of highly enjoyable and creative gameplay. The game went on to become a critical and commercial success for the PC and PlayStation, selling 3.5 million copies and bringing in a whopping 180 million dollars for the studio. Moreover, Abe and his adventures left a legacy of visually artistic and cinematic platformers in its wake, of which there are plenty these days.
My (Odd)World Experience
Back in the 90’s, I was so busy kicking demon asses back to hell in Doom and surviving the apocalypse in Fallout to pay any heed to other games, ones like Oddworld. It wasn’t until the late 2000’s that I got a chance to experience this new (odd)world. I was impressed. I was genuinely impressed by the game and soon hailed it as a magnum opus of the genre. The whole experience was like watching a well-made animation movie. The first thing I noticed when I booted up the game was the alien, strange and weird world and its inhabitants. The hero of the game is a blue-ish humanoid called Abe who belongs to a race of spiritual beings call Mudokons. Mudokons, once a superior race was now under the oppression of Glukkons, their former allies. Abe, along with the rest of his kind spends their remaining time as slave workers in the Mudokon food processing factories. Abe’s miserable life is cut short by the revelation that Glukkon overlords were now slaughtering Mudokons and turning them into delicious and Proteinaceous canned food. Abe plans an escape from his shackles, trying to save his kindred on the way and thus begins the oddysee of Abe.
Words cannot describe how much time and effort the developers put into creating the history and lore of the game. Abe himself is a lovable character and you genuinely feel for his plight and that of the Mudokons. Being an Indian, I am not so unfamiliar with the concept of slavery and oppression even though I haven’t witnessed it firsthand. The game just sucks you in through the amazing visuals, catchy music, overwhelming atmosphere and man, I had a blast, even though I sucked at it for the large part of my playtime. Abe is able to issue commands to his kindred and open portals for them to escape. Doing so needs you to take care of nearby enemies and hazards. Each area is handcrafted with set-pieces that lets you progress creatively. So as you can see it’s not a generic platformer and there is more to it than meats (pun intended) the eye. Abe can talk to fellow workers in a goofy voice, express anger, bewilderment and even fart. It all adds to the immersion and you legit feel like you’re on the run for your life and that freedom is only a step away.
Sure, the visuals might seem low res and dated now but back then it was a visual treat. The lifelike animations distanced itself from your average clay animations of the time and looked natural, even for a blue coloured alien. The rusted factory railings, washed out painting, neon billboards and strange alien world design makes you stop dead on your tracks and admire the beauty for minutes at a time. The atmosphere is gloomy, pessimistic and screams enslavement. Backgrounds are highly detailed and transition well into the 2D world. Each and every aspect of the game just works along and oh man….playing is believing. The game sometimes relies on precision platforming and it’s the only thing that might be off-putting in this game. But it’s not even an issue really as you learn to control Abe and his weirdly-lifelike physics sooner than you can make instant noodles. The game can be quite difficult if you’re used to games that handhold and railroads you every step of the way. You’ll reload checkpoints quite often. To me, it’s a good kind of difficulty and I love a challenge. But your mileage may vary. There are so many varied mechanics that ease out the long length of the game. Even the light stealth mechanics are so well laid out and smooth you wonder how much time did the developers actually take to craft such a near-perfect game.
Magic Realism Vs Consumerism
Abe’s Oddysee visualizes the struggles of an alien slave and his plight to break free from his shackles. But the interesting thing here is that Abe and everything in it are just symbols or objects that the devs used as tools to convey their opinions on world events and craft meaningful modern day myths. Unlike many of the video game protagonists of the time, Abe is neither a beefed up action hero or a heroic messiah. He’s the embodiment of the common man who works more than 8 hours a day, being a slave to corporate overlords. Abe wasn’t the muscle-bound superhero that you wanted to be – he was the rather pathetic chump that you actually are with stitched-up lips that symbolize our inability to speak out against social evils. The story is about creating the journey out of the more powerless beings that we see ourselves as and at the place we most typically are, which is at the bottom of the global corporate food chain. The oddworld is an inverted image of our own world with broken pieces representing the twisted society and the people in it. The RuptureFarms, where Abe works represents the multinational corporations and Mudokon is the everyday man whose every action is monitored and controlled by these corporations. capitalism, third world exploitation, environmental degradation and the influence and effects of fast food industries are recurring themes throughout the game.
Mudokons and the average Joe are similar in the fact that both of them has accepted servitude and slavery as their fate and lives and dies by that code. Much like how globalization has us strung like puppets, Mudokons are suppressed under the boots of Glukkons. Not only that but Glukkons are slaughtering and turning them into processed food and make their own kin consume it, just like how these corporate giants exploit the resources of one country to feed the next. We all know it. But no one dares to raise their voice because we are shackled by an imaginary chain that we helped screw in place. Despite the huge nationwide propaganda, the lower class is still treated like stray dogs in many parts of the world. Like someone once said, the working man is a sucker. The developers have visualized something akin to fantasy, a dream but it’s not just an imagination. There is some truth behind this fantasy. The way how the team depicts Gabriel Márquez’s magic realism was unseen in the video game industry at that time.
The developer’s use of themes surrounding mysticism becomes apparent by the epiphany Abe witnesses at the opening cinematic. He learns that the masters are using his kind in answer to the increasing famine and make a nice profit in the process. Abe’s mind which has been clouded by the illusion of forlorn hope and fate is cleared by this revelation. His survival instincts kick in and he unwillingly becomes a symbol of rebellion and freedom in the hours that follow. In short, he becomes a messiah for the deprived and downtrodden. He develops shamanic powers in response to the industrialist powers of the antagonists. It is to be noted that Glukkons play only a minor role in the gameplay of Abe’s Oddysee, and the main villain of the game is RuptureFarms itself, a way of showing that it’s not against individuals that we should take up arms but against the system itself. The game effectively portrays how we are nothing but maggots in the grand scheme of things and how media and corporate giants influence and control our freedom of speech, expression and liberty. Consumerism, ethics, human rights, environmental protection and social stratification are nothing but meaningless words in the modern age, used only as a blindfold in the face of the working class. Abe’s Oddysee is a symbol, a mirror, the twisted reality of the 21st century where even human emotions are rated by the hour and pound.
Old man Oddworld
Oddworld-Abe’s Oddysee is now over 20 years old. It isn’t as fortunate as some of the titles from the same period and hasn’t been blessed with an HD remaster. There is a remake called Oddworld-New ‘n’ Tasty, which I won’t recommend because I think it totally changes a lot of things that made Oddysee great. But that’s a story for another day. The original is available on GOG and Steam but as you can guess, everything is low res and highly pixelated. You can download several programs from the internet like DXGL which will make sure that the game runs in your native resolution. The controls are still tight and smooth and with some tinkering around, you can even configure an XBox controller to work with the game. Then again, the enjoyment of the game boils down to the player himself.
Oddworld-Abe’s Oddysee served a lot of people who wanted to see deeper and more developed characters in games that had more real-world relevance to them and in its wake, paved the path for two sequels, one remake and a spin-off with multiple sequels confirmed to be in development. The game also served as an inspiration for many of the aesthetically unique adventure games of the 2000’s. Lanning believed that the power of the medium could have greater and more nutritious impact that added something to people’s lives and perspectives on the high-jinxed world around them, full of lies and deception being brought to them by governments and corporations. There was said to be a 72-year-old man named Alf Gamble, who swears the game saved his life and wrote a multi-paged heart-breaking letter to the devs which made tears stream down from all of their cheeks. It resulted in Alf being placed as one of the characters in their second game, Abe’s Exoddus. Oddysee is still remembered as the best game in the franchise and is considered to be one of the greatest of the genre, sharing the throne with Another World and Heart of Darkness.
You know how people say that there are certain things in the world that you must try once before you die? You can add Oddworld-Abe’s Oddysee to the list… and that’s it for today folks. Everybody have a good weekend and do give good ol’ Abe a try when you get the time. I’ll be here next week with a different gem on Retro Saturdays.