Oddworld came into existence at a fantastic time for gaming. The shift from 2D to 3D was still stumbling about, and the industry had just come out of the incredible streak of games released on the Genesis and Super Nintendo. The makers of Oddworld: Abe's Odysee called themselves Oddworld Inhabitants, and they created a game which was beautiful, bizarre, odd, and highly innovative. The game shines in every single aspect of production, but for now; I'm concerned with the game's sound and its sound alone, and there's plenty to get in to.
The most innovative feature of Abe's Odysee is the voice of Abe and the other stumpy Mudokons which you encounter. You are able to make Abe say a few different prompts by holding down an L button and a face button including: two different whistles, a hello, a giggle, an angry hiss, "come here", "wait", and a glorious fart. Each sound is used in a game you play with other Mudokons, which is virtually just a game of Simon Says which joyfully ends with a fart every time. The most endearing sound in Abe's voice is the boyish giggle he makes after he lets one loose.
Back in 1997 this kind of sound interactivity was almost unheard of, although PaRappa the Rapper was released in the previous year. The game's Simon Says tasks fall into an audio category which Karen Collins, a game sound author, calls "adaptive audio". Adaptive audio is any sound in a game which reacts to a players input; like gunshots or in our case, a cute little fart. The difference between Oddworld's approach and previous examples of adaptive audio is that the skill of memorizing the sequence of sounds creates a slower and more methodical feeling, and the ultimate effect is that you truly feel like you are talking to the other Mudokons with a special language which you and them share. This conversation illusion is evident at the beginning of every encounter, where you must reciprocate the other Mudokon's "hello" before they start to speak with you. While PaRappa the Rapper used adaptive audio to create a purely technical challenge for the player, Oddworld uses the input of the player to immerse them in a foreign world, while also maintaining a technical challenge to keep it fun and realistic.
An interesting thing to note before I get into the other voices is that ALL the voices in ALL the Oddworld games were voiced by one person. Lorne Lanning is his name, and he's a badass. But Abe's Odysee only includes one other fully voiced character within the gameplay, and it's the Sligs.
Sligs are vile, nasty creatures with snouts that look like an ill fitting glove. The sligs are mean as bees, and their voices portray this with a mixture of croaky mumbles and grumbly exclamations. The points in the game where you can control the sligs allows you to talk as one, but it's much more satisfying to make them shoot eachother. The sligs have a ton of attitude, and they're at their most crude when one kills Abe and lets out oa few victory croaks.
The last character voice I wanted to note isn't really a character at all, but a horse-camel-kangaroo dinosaur thing called an Elum. The Elums are very obedient and sweet, and it makes my heart flutter every time I hear one make a mournful moo-howl whenever you ask it to stay behind, they're just adorable.
ATMOSPHERE! This game has loads of it, and it is conveyed through a few different ways. If you're inside the slimy metallic factory setting of Rupture Farms, there's grinding noises and a general soundscape of what I can only describe as mechanical tedium. If you're in the desert setting of Scrabania, there's a lot of animal noise in the background, with an abundance of half cricket-owl noises throughout. These sounds were nothing revolutionary in video game sound design, but they were presented with such detail and care that still today they outperform other titles in the depth and imagery contained within them. The real experiment going on in Abe's Odysee was it's adaptive score.
In video games, an adaptive score is a musical arrangement which changes based on the player's actions. A recent masterpiece of an adaptive score was Shadow of the Collosus, wherein the music would begin as suspenseful and minimal, then slowly build in intensity and OMG-ness once the player had mounted the colossus. In Oddworld, the score will add in exciting drum fills whenever Abe was jumping a particularly treacherous cliff or if he had unwitingly alerted a nearby Scrab of his presence. The drums can get a bit annoying at times, but when they are implemented right, they add a dramatic tension to several segments of the game that make the tedious trial and error gameplay into a much more tolerable, and downright exciting gameplay experience. Adaptive scores have been around since the speeding up of the music at the end of a timer in Super Mario World, but Abe's Odysee really stepped up the whole concept by making it into a more spontaneous effect.
That's it, with science.
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