My review of Oddworld: Abe’s Origins
Back in 2018 a new artbook was announced using first the ARG and later social media by OWI. The book was created by a company called Indie by Design which is run by two people and have been making similar books since 2015.
I originally wasn’t going to get this book, mostly because of financial reasons, however, with the help of a really generous fan and friend (thanks again Dark!) I was ultimately able to have a copy of my own.
I have read through the book since and have plenty to say about it, so I figured the best way to share it would be through an article here. Let’s begin.
The book looks good! It’s way thicker than what I expected, it is truly like a tome. The paper quality is excellent and very strong, on the materials-front Abe’s Origins wins by an arms length compared to The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years (which I’ll be referring to as TFTY from now on).
On the other hand, the choice of cover is weird to say the very least. This is - similarly to the rest of the review - absolutely subjective, but I found the new cover a bit bland, compared to TFTY’s imposing and remarkable image, depicting the old twin-fetus logo of OWI.
Farzad Varahramyan’s slightly smiling Abe is a fitting representation of the character. As an artwork there is of course no problem with it. However, as a cover I think it fails do fulfill its purpose of capturing the potential reader and not letting them go until they buy the book and find out their secrets. The old book with its almost morbid appearance was much more captivating in my opinion.
Lorne Lanning Interview
The book starts with a huge interview, where Indie By Design asks several dozen questions from OWI’s co-founder. I personally wouldn’t really linger on it, because it’s mostly old content, sometimes the answer Mr. Lanning gives as almost word-by-word what he said previously.
Lorne Lanning: For me, being a relatively poor kid growing up with parents who were divorced and having a single mum, I was thinking of art as a way to make a living. I was drawing axes and dragons and a lot of the stuff that young kids are really compelled by, but I wasn’t thinking about it deeply.
All in all, if you’re not exactly stoked about the idea of reading decades old interviews and just want a distilled version, the interview can be worthwhile to read, but otherwise you won’t find much as much new content here as one would expect.
The image quality leaves little to be desired. The pictures are crisp and the artists’ notes can easily be read, which is a huge plus as they provide a little insight into their own personality and the company culture of late-nineties OWI. The old masters of art who used to work at OWI truly did their best to create a world so alien, yet alive at the same time. Their work can only be praised. It is quite touching and humanizing to see the little notes they left next to their concept arts. Little jokes, insightful comments and a lot of exclamation marks show that these people weren’t only working with care, they were putting their heart and soul into it. Don’t get me wrong, TFTY didn’t dehumanize them at all, but the focus was less on this part of their work.
However, the selection of the images is a bit disappointing. Whether the supposedly nearly endless supply of concept art isn’t all that endless after all or OWI was just unwilling to crack open a previously unseen vault of images, most of the content in the book was already presented to us in one way or another (as part of TFTY, The Lost Archives, TOGG or elsewhere). This of course doesn’t mean that there isn’t a single new image in the book, there are some, it’s just that one would expect what TFTY delivered: A huge cache of exclusive content.
This is where I feel like the book falls apart a little. I do not know the reasons why, but the descriptions given for the images are some of the blandest, most minimally functional texts I’ve read in any book yet. I really don’t wish to offend IBD (I assume they wrote these), but it was hard not to roll my eyes as I read paragraph after paragraph of almost the same content. It’s like the same basic information was phrased five or six times to fill out the pages.
The book repeatedly goes out of its way to say how greedy the Glukkons and how unethical the Vykkers are. This is something anyone who ever played an Oddworld game knows and even if they didn’t, mentioning it once should be enough.
At places the book even leaves out things previously established. While this wouldn’t otherwise be a problem, the book otherwise is acting like a definite source of background lore, so I think this is detrimental. Take for example the description of Skillya, the Slig queen:
Abe’s Origins, Page 236:
Skillya, queen of the Sligs, is one of Oddworld’s largest, laziest inhabitants. Her every need is catered for by the Glukkons in return for her giving birth to a stream of fresh Sligs that are immediately taken away to begin their training as guard and soldiers for the Magog Cartel.
She is a fickle, easily-pleased individual and a mother who seemingly gives no thought to the fact that her offspring are destined for a life of servitude and submission under direct Glukkon rule. Much like the brood she births, as long as Skillya’s needs are met she is a willing servant to her corporate masters.
In contrast, this is what OWI’s official Queens page says (and it’s not even the whole article):
Skillya sells the Sligs as security workers and directly benefits from it. The explanation for her behaviour is simple - she hates her children.
The birthing process is so painful for her that it fills her with a deep hatred towards those she considers responsible. Her anger surfaces in other, even more unusual ways, too - it isn’t uncommon for her to eat her children as soon as they’re born, just as pay back for the suffering they cause her during delivery.
Nature or Nurture?
Maybe the Sligs inherit their Mother’s mean streak, or perhaps this goes some way to explaining their sadistic behaviour. On top of never having known any love or affection, the Sligs also have to deal with the fact that if they don’t scramble away fast enough when they’re born their Mother might just eat them alive.
The differences here are evident. While the Queens page itself simplified on the characters, the book reduces their depth even more. Perhaps the reason behind this was that other things took up the space, but I’m not entirely convinced.
One of the strongest parts of TFTY was that it contained lore never heard before. It was comparable to “Nathan interviews Lorne Lanning” and its sequel, which are both interviews that expand the world of Oddworld immensely. Meanwhile, had there not been so many notes left by the artists, I would have been left knowing nothing more than I did before reading the book. I’m not saying this to boast about my knowledge, rather to point out that most fans know what’s written here very well already.
I imagine this is what a lot of people are interested in. There isn’t much. We get to see the same promotional matte paintings of the new/reworked locations that OWI has been showing us since 2017 and the Glukkons’ names are revealed. Despite what Lorne Lanning said in 2017, most of them are using their old names.
Lorne Lanning, 2017, EGX: We’ve renamed all the Glukkons that come with the other factories, so Aslik, Dripik and all of this. These are different guys now, as we were getting more away from what that original story was. This is focusing on the later story.
Molluck is still Molluck. The Brewmaster is still the Brewmaster. Aslik is still Aslik. However, the mean looking Glukkons who kind of looks like a hammearhead shark was named Baron. I found this name a bit weird. It’s much too “normal” next to the others, but this is of course just a nitpick.
So… Is Abe’s Origins a bad book? No, “bad” is definitely not the word I’d use. It does not commit any huge crimes and I am sure Indie By Design tried their best. However, “superfluous” is a word I probably would use. If you never read TFTY, you might enjoy Abe’s Origins a lot. But if you did, it’s doubtful whether you’ll find your money’s worth here.
Of course this is something everyone will decide for themselves, but I personally recommend sticking with sites like MoM and TFTY, which while isn’t sold anymore officially, can easily be found online at second-hand sellers.