Q&A: Another World's Eric Chahi
The creator of the iconic Amiga adventure, which has been reissued for the PC, talks to GameSpot about the games industry, past and present.
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Back in 1991, a landmark title was released for the Commodore Amiga. It was the futuristic side-scrolling adventure Another World (Out of this World in the US), and it raised the standards for its genre at the time.
The game has now been rereleased in downloadable form for PC users. To find out how game design has changed since the early '90s and what it was like to work on such a title, we spoke to the game's creator, Eric Chahi.
GameSpot UK: What made you decide to rerelease Another World on its 15th anniversary?
Eric Chahi: Several things helped me decide to reissue this game. Firstly, Another World is a very personal project; it is the one that brought me recognition. This game was the outcome of everything I'd learnt since 1983 when I started to create games. So it will always have a special status for me.
Secondly, as you know, the game was created with polygons, which can be adapted to any resolution, and when I created Another World, I was thinking that one day it will be able to run on a higher, more powerful computer. The idea was to present something as a mark of respect to the first release, so the enhanced backgrounds are in harmony with the flat polygon animation. That was the true difficulty to not to go too far with the enhancements.
Also, I really wanted to preserve the first release so the game can be played in its original form with 320x200, 16-colour graphics. It is important to keep a trace of how the computer game has evolved. We are talking about graphics, but the gameplay has also been improved, it is now more fluent. In this rerelease, I wrote some notes on the initial game design document, graphic design, to explain the game design process.
GSUK: What was game design like in those days?
EC: Game design was something in the background, and the developer was usually the programmer or graphic artist who was also doing the game design, and very few people specialised. I can't talk of how it was done precisely since I was working alone and I do not know intrinsically what the main method was for other creators.
Personally, on Another World my approach was based on a kind of improvisation where I developed progressively a world, a game around a theme, or a technique by making and seeing things become sharper. As an example at the beginning I created the intro and the first part of Another World without knowing how it would end. Things came progressively, just listening as to whether the feedback was good!
GSUK: How has the industry changed in the past 15 years?
EC: That's the right word, it's an industry, it's all changed, and it is now more financially centred than ever. Sometimes people talk about a computer game crisis. But commercially on a worldwide scale it is a goldmine. The monetary mass produced is huge--it has never been so high. It's a very active industry. The crisis is about the creativity and the way to create games; the problem is the more expensive a medium is to produce, the less creative it will be. Publishers want to make sure they get back their investment, and they prefer content based on previous success. The duality between originality and money has always existed, but today it is so unbalanced.
Unfortunately, publishers are not the only ones to blame; developers are also responsible. For example, 15 years ago everyone wanted to create shoot-'em-ups or point-and-click adventure games. Everyone was copying previous successes for mercantile gain or just because the first reflex is to reproduce what we like, adding a little bit of novelty. That was not the sole desire of the publisher and today it is the same, but creativity was more enhanced. The industry was less structured, so it let experimentation occur. The author dimension was naturally induced, emulated, by the small team size.
This has the advantage of favouring personal vision, and as the teams have grown, games tend to be more uniform. Market change and their transition time often introduced a lot of creativity--as an example, the transition from '80s console (I'm thinking of the Atari crash) to home computer has been so rich in diversity--just look at the Apple II or Commodore 64.
Today it's a heavy commercial machine perfectly lubricated under the pressure of unbalanced development costs. Creation is very compartmentalized--on many projects we can feel a lack of vision, like a director on a movie, but the comparison with cinema obviously stops here. However, from this unbalanced situation, things are moving. Underground and independent development is rising--Darwinia, Gish, Façade, Storytron, and so on. Consoles are more open to independent creators, and that is a good thing.
GSUK: Do you think there are any other games that have succeeded in emulating the style of AW?
EC: It is always difficult to answer such a question, but I think emulating is not the right word, because it is like copying something and not bringing something new. Indeed, all creations are nourishing each other. Another World took some influence from Jordan Mechner's Karateka, in terms of both movies and in fantasy art. Ico has been influenced by Another World and emphasises the emotional relationship between two characters, and so on.
GSUK: Following AW, what have you worked on since then?
EC: I worked on Heart of Darkness, which was a difficult development. After that I decided to take some rest for a while, preferring to express myself in other fields rather than the computer game arena--abstract painting, volcano photography, sound synthesis. I really needed to recharge my batteries.
GSUK: What is your proudest moment in gaming?
EC: I can't remember one especially. Maybe when my first game was published--I was 15 then.
GSUK: What were your influences when designing AW?
EC: Another World has been influenced by everything I liked at that time of my life, mainly pictorial art and movies. Star Wars had a big influence. Science-fiction books, comics, and fantasy art inspired me, too--painters like Michael Whelan, Richard Corben, Franck Frazetta. I was very focused on illustration at that time of my life; I even envisaged leaving gaming and moving into that field.
The starting point was the use of polygons to create 2D games after I played the Dragon's Lair port for the Amiga, which was showing incredible full-screen animations. That game's graphics weren't polygons but were compressed bitmaps directly read from the disk. I thought it could be done with polygons since the animation was flat. I wrote a vectorial code and programmed some speed tests. The idea was to use polygons not only for movielike animation but also for gameplay, contrary to Dragon's Lair, which has almost no interactivity.
GSUK: Where did the story come from, and how long did it take to make from start to finish?
EC: I don't know precisely. For a long time I wanted to create a sci-fi universe; what I really wanted was to create a truly immersive game in a very consistent and living universe with a movie feel. Extract the essence of a movie--the rhythm, the drama--and put it in a game. To do this, I decided to leave the screen free of an energy bar, score, life, icons--everything must be in the universe. It took more than two years--it was like a marathon.
GSUK: If you could have worked on any other game in the past 15 years, what would it be?
EC: Total Annihilation? Katamary Damacy? I'm not really sure.
GSUK: What can we expect from you in the future?
EC: I have been working on a new game design for a long time now, something very different. I'm impatient to start it, so keep looking out for the first real news on this!
GSUK: Thanks for your time.
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