Icons - Oddworld Inhabitants

Oddworld Inhabitants

Icons - Oddworld Inhabitants Cover
Aired May 2001
Season 1, Episode 1

My first exposure to the G4 network was its acquisition of TechTV in 2004, my absolute favorite station on cable at the time. I was obsessed with The Screen Savers and all the schlubby hosts the channel featured. TechTV embraced nerdom while G4 mocked it, this wasn't a happy marriage and I bailed almost immediately, along with most of the original hosts.

I've carried a hatred for G4 ever since, and find schadenfreude in its slow demise and collapse. However, amidst all of the grating personalities G4 featured about eight years ago, there were a few interesting TV shows that caught my eye. One of them was Icons, a half-hour documentary on different visionaries, studios, and game series in the industry. Spanning five seasons on a range of topics from Atari to the history of E3 to Tim Schafer, even die-hard enthusiasts would probably learn something new when watching.

I surely won't be covering every episode (famous last words), but I'll start where Icons began, with the developer studio Oddworld Inhabitants, who obviously made the Oddworld series for the PS1 and Xbox. But before I begin, take a look at the episode list of Icons, it mirrors the fall of G4 rather well as the first four seasons are about actual video game related topics while season five covers The Onion, Lollapalooza, and Kevin Smith.

Oddworld Inhabitants may seem like an... odd place to start, the series sold well at first but continued a downward trend ending at Stranger's Wrath for the Xbox selling just a quarter million copies. But it was surprisingly popular outside of gaming circles with awards coming from interesting places, including a Grammy nomination for a short film the studio produced. It's unique art style, characters, and message made it stand out among non-gamers, but non-gamers don't buy a lot of games.

And while Icons spends the first half of the episode on the formation of the company leading up to Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, it becomes apparent in the second half why G4 kicked off at such an unexpected place: money, of course. When this episode aired in May 2002, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee had just been released on the Xbox. It almost feels like an ad for the game, with everyone chiming in how funny their own characters are and what kind of ground they're breaking by putting Munch in a wheelchair, even the narrator gets in on it.

The marketing attitude of the last few minutes sadly puts the first half in a different light, leaving you wondering if all the facts you just heard about the creation of Oddworld Inhabitants aren't quite as accurate as they were presented. But the information is still decently entertaining and edited well. Most of the focus is on the studio's two founders: Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning, who come from different backgrounds but manage to meet-cute and form what would eventually become Oddworld Inhabitants.

Both founders have obvious passion in their work and in Oddworld, though Sherry is very business-minded while Lorne is the creative lead. They talk extensively about Abe's design, and maybe spend a bit too much time on why he farts so often. Anecdotes on how budgets limited their creative vision are most interesting, and Icons finds some time for that discussion.

Another quick topic was about Oddworld Inhabitants' decision to move the Oddworld series from a Sony console to the Microsoft Xbox. Keeping in mind that Munch's Oddysee was just released, Lanning provides this choice quote:

"The Xbox is the content machine today, that machine is the machine, that if creative minds are together, they can deliver better content on it."

The way he says it makes me think they got paid a lot of money to switch teams. Either way, both McKenna and Lanning comment on the angry fan reaction, but it's hard to tell if McKenna's response is just about fans of the game in general or actually directed towards the controversy. It's at this point in the documentary that the focus changes to a more advertising tone, so my guess is she is just happily thanking her fans for their support in buying every Oddworld game available no matter what system it's on (please).

Icons begins at an interesting, but informative place. I have never played an Oddworld game so I certainly learned something new. I could have gone without the marketing vibe, but the series may very well not exist at all if topics weren't picked with timing involved. I'll just be a little more aware of it in the future.

Look for more Icons reviews sporadically as I find the time, and check out some previous TV show reviews including another G4 show, Code Monkeys.