Oddworld Blog: Polishing the Iconic Opening Level, The Raid on Monsaic
You only get one chance to make a first impression. For Oddworld: Soulstorm, the first level would have to engage newcomers to the franchise, while impressing loyal fans, and at the same time introducing the game’s mechanics. Polishing this level and designing puzzles fell on the shoulders of Free Range Games’ Mary Krefting (Level Designer).
Mary: Lorne had a very strong vision for the level and what it needed to accomplish. He wanted a departure from past games, and he wanted it to convey a strong sense of urgency that would keep the player constantly moving forward. He also wanted Abe’s world to feel as if it were crashing down around him, which literally does as the Sligs discover the Mudokoans’ hideout. At the same time, since it’s the first level, it needed to carefully introduce the player to the controls and make sure they can master Abe’s abilities, which presented a challenge.
The first level needed to accomplish two important functions: teach the basic controls and mechanics of the game, while also pushing players to run for their lives.
Mary: Oddworld Inhabitants designed, and we polished, The Raid on Monsaic introduce jumping, running, and climbing. Players were introduced to the dangers of fire and how to put them out with water bottles. Abe even gets to harness the power of fire in this level and to use it to his advantage to solve puzzles and find clever ways of getting himself out of certain situations. This game, especially this level, combines action platforming elements with old school classic puzzles that fans love.
Mary: There are little safe areas for players to take a breath and work out the puzzles. As you progress the difficulty escalates: the fire moves more quickly, bridges collapse underneath Abe, and Sligs fire at you through walls while you stand still.
I always wanted to work on 2D (or 2.9D) platforming gameplay. Lorne’s team at Oddworld Inhabitants developed a prototyping tool that made pushing and pulling the environment so easy, so you could quickly put together the type of platforming puzzle as soon as you think it.
The level also needed to be cinematic, impactful, and memorable. With puzzles and platforming providing the gameplay challenge, the level itself still had a story to tell.
Mary: There was a lot of what Lorne likes to call stagecraft involved, where scripted events set the scene. Andrew, our technical designer did anamazing job here helping to bring this level to life. He added in streams of other Mudokons fleeing the area on separate paths that wind all around the main player path.
Little by little they get further away until around mid-way through the level it dawns upon the player that they are mostly alone and separated from the others, and then the sense of urgency shifts to Abe wanting to be reunited with his people who are now scattered about in the world. This of course, was all part of Lorne’s larger vision for the level’s narrative, which sets the stage for the game's larger narrative.
There’s a lot of fire, explosions, and destruction all throughout this first level, which again were all carefully scripted events. Lots of Sligs flying by, chasing you with flame throwers, and dropping bombs all around you. Grenades go off when the player turns a corner. If the player keeps moving, they’re not in too much danger, and the real danger of the level is in not taking action.
This all crescendos in a big ending where everything is collapsing around Abe and players must use all their platforming skills to make it to the end.
Mary: It’s one of my favorite moments of the level. It happens so quickly, but it’s all so memorable.
The result of Oddworld Inhabitant’s and Mary’s hard work was a jaw-dropping, thrilling opening level.
Mary: I actually started my career at Sony QA and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was one of the first titles I ever worked on. Working on Soulstorm was like coming full circle for me, a bit of a dream.