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'The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994-2004'

Peter Plantec contributes to the Digital Eye column this month with a riff on the wizardry of previs.

The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994-2004 edited by Cathy Johnson and Daniel Wade.

My first thought upon thumbing through this slick new book was: When are these guys going to print some posters? The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994-2004 contains so many beautiful images that Id find it difficult to choose just one to have as a poster; I would want them all! Putting my poster greed aside, I realize these folks know theyve got something amazing to offer and are careful with how they exploit it. An example is the book cover art; its barely a tease. Depicted on the cover is a strange embryo lying within something that looks like an ancient artifact. They could have used almost any image from within the book. Deciding instead to tempt readers with this brief glimpse at what lies inside is clever.

For the uninitiated, Oddworld is a universe filled with freakish yet lovable creatures, living in a crazed, hyper-real yet still cartoonish universe. Oddworld has all the grit, grime and mysterious ambience of the best film noir. In addition to the insane level of detail is the equal attention paid to the story of Oddworld. There is a rich and complex back-story tying this series together, some of which is revealed in the text of the book. The book gets the image to text ratio just right, something that is not always true in this type of book. The book makes for an excellent companion to the games. The games are so action filled youll hardly have time to take in the lush art while playing and will most likely find yourself delving into the book after each gameplay session for a better view of the creatures and their surroundings.

If you are unfamiliar with Oddworld, you may have been surprised to learn that this is a videogame universe. Its true: all of this intensity is focused on making videogames. Perhaps you havent heard: games have not only evolved theyve arrived into something of a renaissance. With considerable sums of disposable income, 24- to 35-year-old men now make up the majority of the gaming audience. Aimed right at this demographic, the Oddworld series is best known for its sometimes crude, sometimes political and always visually stunning elements. Where else will you find a gangly, alien, slave laborer who struggles to liberate his people by utilizing his gift for passing gas? Ahh, games I love `em! Mixed in with the elementary school humor are some deeper concepts. In particular, the Oddworld universe pokes fun at advertising and propaganda through its use of fake product placement and political posters. While by description alone they may seem disgusting and juvenile, the posters that identify the cuts of meat on a Mudokon are surprisingly funny yet sad. Im not sure there is a deeper explanation for the digestive humor, but then again who hasnt felt this pain.

Abe is one of these Mudokons, and the star of the first game in the series, the appropriately titled, if questionably spelled, Abes Oddysee. In fact, hes the aforementioned odiferous liberator. The basic premise is that you play as Abe and free your people. You have numerous tasks to complete in varied environments. These environments receive some attention in the book, but the characters in Abes Oddysee are given more attention. The other games in the series follow a similar gameplay pattern but instead introduce new characters with Oddworld-appropriate names such as Munch and the mysterious Stranger, a gun toting, cowboy hat wearing, American western inspired creature.

The book includes an Inspiration chapter followed by a chapter devoted to each of the game titles released so far: Abes Oddysee, Abes Exoddus, Munchs Oddysee and the brand new Strangers Wrath. There are two brief, interesting forewords: one written by Sherry McKenna and one by Lorne Lanning, co-founders of Oddworld Inhabitants. Rough pencil sketches, refined drawings and many, many paintings, both digital and traditional, are spread throughout the book. Some highlights are the detailed anatomical drawings of each of the creatures, various mood, color studies of environments and numerous high-resolution 3D renders. Interspersed with the beautifully printed artwork is supporting, relevant text. The book works well when browsed for a few moments of enjoyment or read as a whole for a more complete understanding of this crazed universe. The writing is not always on par with the artwork, but then again this isnt a book to buy for the writing.

I do wish the book came with a DVD or CD containing some of the game cinematics and information on their production. Oddworlds cinematics are some of the best in games so their absence is felt. However, the book is not incomplete without such a bonus. Ill be looking for something along these lines in The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The Second Ten Years book that should arrive, hopefully, sometime in 2014.

The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994-2004 gets very high marks from me: Im a sucker for fantasy, sci-fi driven stories and political humor. Oddworld is a rare treat for us genre geeks, as we are usually starved for well-executed material. Its fun, exciting and thoughtful. This book is a strong addition to the brand and a tribute to the artists that have made Oddworld so special. Filmmakers and other storytellers, along with visual effects artists, animators and production designers, will undoubtedly be intrigued with this book and the world within. At more than 250 pages and costing around $40, this full-color soft cover edition is a must have for game fans and sci-fi, fantasy art fans everywhere. There are also more expensive hardcover and limited editions available.

The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994-2004 edited by Cathy Johnson and Daniel Wade; Mylor, SA: Ballistic Publishing, 2004; 256 pages. Softcover: ISBN: 1-921002-03-4, AU$52 (approx. US$40); Hard Cover: ISBN: 1-921002-02-6, AU$63 (approx. US$49); Limited Edition: ISBN: 1-921002-01-8, AU$199 (approx. US$153). Available only at and its resellers.

Fred Galpern is currently the art manager for Blue Fang Games in Waltham, MA. Since entering the videogame field six years ago, Galpern has held management positions in several game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. He began his art career as a comic book creator and also has professional graphic design experience. He has created characters and developed stories for numerous childrens television series. Galpern has satisfied his long-standing interest in education by teaching at several New England colleges. He is currently an adjunct instructor at Bristol Community College, where he created the gaming curriculum, and where he also teaches and advises for the electronic games certificate and associates degree programs.