With its inception in 1994, Oddworld Inhabitants set out to create a series of five games, all taking place within the same weird fantasy world--dubbed, appropriately enough, Oddworld. Debuting on the first PlayStation (with the side-scrolling puzzler Abe's Oddysee) and seeing its latest release (the first-person shooter Stranger's Wrath) on Xbox last January, Oddworld Inhabitants is now three titles into their quintology. But more than a shared environment links the games--Oddworld's games, first and foremost, tell stories, and relevant ones at that. So far, they've tackled issues like environmentalism, the meat and alcohol industries, and Western colonialism. Hippie topics? Sure, but the games never feel forced or preachy--and perhaps most importantly, they're fun. So it's fitting that The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants, Ballistic's tender book-length history of the company's first 10 years, feels much the same way--an enjoyable, subtle, yet thorough look at Oddworld Inhabitants' design process that speaks volumes without ever pandering. From detailed character explorations of the development house's first protagonist, Abe, to logo designs, there's a wealth of imagery and anecdotes to be found: rough thumbnail pencil sketches, intricate computer-rendered images, and telling character portraits. In a time when plenty of game developers are happy to clone simulacra of proven formulas, getting to observe the artistic design process of Oddworld Inhabitants isn't just fascinating--it also explains why their games feel so fresh and play so well. (The developers' candid self-examinations are also revealing--perfectionists, they find grievous faults with their Xbox game Munch's Oddysee, even though the game won a slew of awards.)
The best way to visit Oddworld, of course, remains playing the games. But The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants isn't bad either--as the videogame industry continues to play bigger roles in culture and economics, it's good to know that Oddworld Inhabitants will be around, developing games with passion, insight, and character.