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[Published at 2023.11.24.] [1428 words]

No Love For Old Games

It’s been little over a week at the time of writing since two particular games’ 25th anniversaries have coincided. The first of these two was Half-Life 1, Valve’s eminent shooter, which set the company on a path of domination when it came to the gaming world.

Recognising its cultural importance and in a display of genuine love, Valve launched an interactive website commemorating Half-Life and showered fans with a trove of content, including a massive patch for the game which restored a lot of nostalgic features, original art to be used as backgrounds, new maps, restoring old, obscure DLC content, and even putting “Uplink” back into the game, a mini-campaign that was previously only “half-legitimately” available through Sven Coop, a delightfully retro multiplayer mod for the game. All of this for free, by the way, as the (already cheap) game was made free to own for nearly a week.

Oh, and if this wasn’t enough, they also created a one-hour interview with developers. You know… as a small extra. Safe to say, it was a true and deserving celebration for a beloved game still enjoyed by millions.

However, though far more niche and less toiletified by young people despite its toilet humor, Half-Life wasn’t the only game reaching such a notable age. It was, of course, as one might expect from what blog they are reading, none other than Abe’s Exoddus, which also reached the 25th mark around the same time.

Now, Oddworld Inhabitants is no Valve. They don’t have a multi-billion(!) net worth and they haven’t been dominating the video game industry despite hardly releasing any new games these days. What they do similarly have, however, are loving and enduring fans. Fans, who have overwhelmingly shown, that Abe’s Exoddus is their enduring most beloved game of the franchise.

With this in mind, it’d be natural to assume that even if OWI cannot afford the spectacle of Valve, they would still do something notable for the single game that is not just one, but arguably two heads taller than its peers… But no. The 17th came and passed. Amidst the roaring silence, OWI’s Twitter finally released a single clip. It was about Munch’s Oddysee and it was part of a series of videos created to promote the games which started far earlier anyway.

Picture presented without commentary.

No announcements, no video, no blogpost, no key giveaway (which used to be a staple after Soulstorm’s release), not even a “Yay, AE is 25! #indiegames #oddworld #nostalgia” tweet. OWI’s social media, which otherwise loves to (re)post anything that’s even tangentially relevant to the series, remained stubbornly silent, almost as if their mouths were sewn shut.

Now, to say they had done absolutely nothing would be wrong. Fans on the Oddworld Reddit did hold a small celebration for the game and OWI co-founder Sherry McKenna (who surprisingly often hangs out on the site) joined in and expressed her gratitude to the fans for sticking by and enjoying the game. Yet, while this was a sweet moment, it’s practically nothing considering the status of the game we’re talking about.

But even when OWI did commemorate their games, these events weren’t without their own bitter parts. While it is true, that Abe’s Oddysee did get a much better treatment for its 20th anniversary (including a PS4 theme) one of the celebration’s often overlooked details also stung, albeit for a vastly different reason.

If we take a short trip down memory lane to 2017, OWI broke its silence with the Lost Archives, a series of images containing mostly previously unseen art, along with short explanatory descriptions. Though at the time I wasn’t a big fan, looking back it was a nice initiative.

And it also happened to clearly align with AO’s 20th, so much so that in the announcement (linked below), one might catch OWI stating the following:

Oddworld Inhabitants: And while we’re here on this day of discoveries, we’d also like to announce that earlier this year we also uncovered the source code to the original Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, but we’ll have more to talk about on this in due course!

While I don’t really have any hard evidence to provide to you here, believe me that this was a huge deal. I remember fan communities talking fervently about what this could mean for the originals. After all, while New ‘n’ Tasty has its fans, the fandom’s overall heart still beats faster when they see Abe’s 1997 charm.

The year now is 2023 and what “due course” means remains to be seen. I attempted to ask about it multiple times and was either met with confusion or ignored.

One of my attempts at trying to clear things up during a Q&A with Lorne Lanning.

And before anyone wonders, no, the PS4 and 5 ports aren’t the results of this discovery. They run on a PS1 emulator, which means it is simply the original game untouched.

Some of you (I admire your memory!) might object here saying, “But Nemin, OWI did create videos for Oddysee’s 22nd and Exoddus’s 21st birthdays!” and you’d be entirely correct. Despite the more than weird picks for which years to celebrate (which somewhat gives the impression, that they forgot AE’s 20th and improvised a year later) both games indeed received three videos each… Totalling six minutes of content. No, not per video. Together.

I know how the saying goes, “offering an inch and demanding an ell” and all, I do not want to seem greedy or ungrateful. Rather I just wish to point out, how there is almost no real love shown for the two games that arguably kept the series relevant (as relevant as it still is) for all these years. Even now, Soulstorm has to market itself as “what Exoddus was supposed to be” and New ‘n’ Tasty is even more blatantly just a remake of Oddysee, showing that, as much as OWI tries to obsolete these games, they were and still are the primary axes of the series.

Knee-deep in Nostalgia.

And I think the indifference shown here is tragic. When other franchises create remasters or reinvent themselves, they tribute the old age that allowed them to still be around and innovate. DOOM (2016), for example, added classic levels and little collectibles that play the original game’s music. Re-released JRPGs often allow you to switch to the original soundtrack. Even in the indie-sphere, Cave Story+ allowed you to play with either modern or classic graphics. Everywhere in the video game industry developers that actually care celebrate their own past. OWI meanwhile seems almost ashamed of it.

From Soulstorm’s press-kit. The entire pamphlet contains a single, tiny picture of Exoddus.

Oddworld is aggressively burying its pre-2000s past. While AO and AE are obviously still available to buy and will certainly remain so for the future, beyond a slightly-buggy PS5 “port” (i.e. a Sony-made emulator slapped on the original) it feels like OWI would rather prefer if we just forgot these games existed.

And for a series that wears the themes of remembering one’s ancestral past and raging against the erasure of culture so proudly on its chest, I find the historical revisionism when it comes to Exoddus and the indifference shown towards Oddysee darkly ironic.

The account that used to be OWI_Alex’s, an ex-JAW and (more recently) ex-OWI developer who worked on Soulstorm.

Even Munch and Stranger, which were included in OWI’s “main games” list, aren’t much better off themselves. While they are pushed on any and every storefront conceivable (Did you know they were released even on the Ouya? The Ouya of all things!) OWI is already considering Munch non-canon to the new Quintology and poor Stranger always had a hard time fitting into the story, whether we take the original continuity or the new one.

Twenty-six years and six games later, Oddworld Inhabitants have released two installments of their intended five-story epic. And they’d rather you didn’t question the math.