The French creative aesthetic has always been a bit different from that of English-speaking nations. In their paintings, films, even furniture, the French often discard the stodgy literalism that is so characteristic of Anglo art in favor of something more attenuated, where impression becomes more important than objective reality. A French art film doesn’t come off as a complete non sequitur to Anglo eyes in the way that, say, a Bollywood or Egyptian production can. Yet the effect it creates is in its way much more disorienting: it seems on the surface to be something recognizable and predictable, but suddenly zigs where we expect it to zag. In particular, it may show disconcertingly little interest in the logic of plot, that central concern of Anglo film. What affects what and why is of far less interest to a filmmaker like, say, François Truffaut than the emotional affect of the whole.
Crude though such stereotypes may be, when the French discovered computer games they did nothing to disprove them. For a long time, saying a game was French was a shorthand way for an Anglo to say that it was, well, kind of weird, off-kilter in a way that made it hard to judge whether the game or the player was at fault. Vintage French games weren’t always the most polished or balanced of designs, yet they must still be lauded today for their willingness to paint in emotional colors more variegated than the trite primary ones of fight or flight, laugh or cry. Such was certainly the case with Éric Chahi’s Another World.
France blazed its own trail through the earliest years of the digital revolution. Most people there caught their first glimpse of the digital future not through a home computer but through a remarkable online service called Minitel, a network of dumb terminals that was operated by the French postal and telephone service. Millions of people installed one of the free terminals in their home, making Minitel the most widely used online service in the world during the 1980s, dwarfing even the likes of CompuServe in the United States. Those in France who craved the capabilities of a full-fledged computer, meanwhile, largely rejected the Sinclair Spectrums and Commodore 64s that were sweeping the rest of Europe in favor of less universal lines like the Amstrad CPC and the Oric-1. Apple as well, all but unheard of across most of Europe, established an early beachhead in France, thanks to the efforts of a hard-charging and very Gallic general manager named Jean-Louis Gassée, who would later play a major role in shepherding the Macintosh to popularity in the United States.
In the second half of the 1980s, French hardware did begin to converge, albeit slowly, with that in use in the rest of Europe. The Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, the leading gaming computers in Europe as a whole, were embraced to at least some extent in France as well. By 1992, 250,000 Amigas were in French homes. This figure might not have compared very well to the 2.5 million of them in Britain and Germany by that point, but it was more than enough to fuel a thriving little Amiga game-development community that was already several years old. “Our games didn’t have the excellent gameplay of original English-language games,” remembers French game designer Philippe Ulrich, “but their aesthetics were superior, which spawned the term ‘The French Touch’ — later reused by musicians such as Daft Punk and Air.”
Many Amiga and ST owners had been introduced to the indelibly French perspective on games as early as 1988. That was the year of Captain Blood, which cast the player in the role of a clone doomed to die unless he could pool his vital essences with those of five other clones scattered across the galaxy — an existential quest for identity to replace the conquer-the-galaxy themes of most science-fiction games. If that alone wasn’t weird enough, the gameplay consisted mostly of talking to aliens using a strange constructed language of hieroglyphs devised by the game’s developers.
Such avoidance of in-game text, whether done as a practical method of easing the problems of localization or just out of the long-established French ambivalence toward translation from their mother tongue, would become a hallmark of the games that followed, as would a willingness to tackle subject matter that no one else would touch. The French didn’t so much reject traditional videogame themes and genres as filter them through their own sensibilities. Often, this meant reflecting American culture back upon itself in ways that could be both unsettling and illuminating. North & South, for instance, turned the Civil War, that greatest tragedy of American history, into a manic slapstick satire. For any American kid raised on a diet of exceptionalism and solemn patriotism, this was deeply, deeply strange stuff.
The creator of Another World, perhaps the ultimate example of the French Touch in games, was, as all of us must be, a product of his environment. Éric Chahi had turned ten the year that Star Wars dropped, marking the emergence of a transnational culture of blockbuster media, and he was no more immune to its charms than were other little boys all over the world. Yet he viewed that very American film through a very French lens. He liked the rhythm and the look of the thing — the way the camera panned across an endless vista of peaceful space down into a scene of battle at the beginning; the riff on Triumph of the Will that is the medal ceremony at the end — much more than he cared about the plot. His most famous work would evince this same rather non-Anglo sense of aesthetic priorities, playing with the trappings of American sci-fi pop culture but skewing them in a distinctly French way.
But first, there would be other games. From the moment Chahi discovered computers several years after Star Wars, he was smitten. “During school holidays, I didn’t see much of the sun,” he says. “Programming quickly became an obsession, and I spent around seventeen hours a day in front of a computer screen.” The nascent French games industry may have been rather insular, but that just made it if anything even more wide-open for a young man like himself than were those of other countries. Chahi was soon seeing the games he wrote — from platformers to text adventures — published on France’s oddball collection of viable 8-bit platforms. His trump card as a developer was a second talent that set him apart from the other hotshot bedroom coders: he was also a superb artist, whether working in pixels or in more traditional materials. Although none of his quickie 8-bit games became big hits, his industry connections did bring him to the attention of a new company called Delphine Software in 1988.
Delphine Software was about as stereotypically French a development house as can be imagined. It was a spinoff of Delphine Records, whose cash cow was the bizarrely popular easy-listening pianist Richard Clayderman, a sort of modern-day European Liberace who would come to sell 150 million records by 2006. Paul de Senneville, the owner of Delphine Records, was himself a composer and musician. Artist that he was, he gave his new software arm virtually complete freedom to make whatever games they felt like making. Their Paris offices looked like a hip recording studio; Chahi remembers “red carpet at the entrance, gold discs everywhere, and many eccentric contemporary art pieces.”
He had been hired by Delphine on the basis of his artistic rather than his programming talent, to illustrate a point-and-click adventure game with the grandiose title of Les Voyageurs du Temps: La Menace (“The Time Travelers: The Menace”), later to be released in English under the punchier name of Future Wars. Inspired by the Sierra graphic adventures of the time, it was nevertheless all French: absolutely beautiful to look at — Chahi’s illustrations were nothing short of mouth-watering — but more problematic to play, with a weird interface, weirder plot, and puzzles that were weirdest of all. As such, it stands today as a template for another decade and change of similarly baffling French graphic adventures to come, from companies like Coktel Vision as well as Delphine themselves.
But the important thing from Chahi’s perspective was that the game became a hit all across Europe upon its release in mid-1989, entirely on the basis of his stunning work as its illustrator. He had finally broken through. Yet anyone who expected him to capitalize on that breakthrough in the usual way, by settling into a nice, steady career as Delphine’s illustrator in residence, didn’t understand his artist’s temperament. He decided he wanted to make a big, ambitious game of his own all by himself — a true auteur’s statement. “I felt that I had something very personal to communicate,” he says, “and in order to bring my vision to others I had to develop the title on my own.” Like Marcel Proust holed up in his famous cork-lined Paris apartment, scribbling frantically away on In Search of Lost Time, Chahi would spend the next two years in his parents’ basement, working sixteen, seventeen, eighteen hours per day on Another World. He began with just two fixed ideas: he wanted to make a “cinematic” science-fiction game, and he wanted to do it using polygonal graphics.
Articles like this one throw around terms like “polygonal graphics” an awful lot, and their meanings may not always be clear to everyday readers. So, let’s begin by asking what separated the type of graphics Chahi now proposed to make from those he had been making before.
The pictures that Chahi had created for Future Wars were what is often referred to as pixel graphics. To make them, the artist loads a paint program, such as the Amiga’s beloved Deluxe Paint, and manipulates the actual onscreen pixels to create a background scene. Animation is accomplished using sprites: additional, smaller pictures that are overlaid onto the background scene and moved around as needed. On many computers of the 1980s, including the Amiga on which Chahi was working, sprites were implemented in hardware for efficiency’s sake. On other computers, such as the IBM PC and the Atari ST, they had to be conjured up, rather less efficiently, in software. Either way, though, the basic concept is the same.
The artist who works with polygonal graphics, on the other hand, doesn’t directly manipulate onscreen pixels. Instead she defines her “pictures” mathematically. She builds scenes out of geometric polygons of three sides or more, defined as three or more connected points, or sets of X, Y, and Z coordinates in abstract space. At run time, the computer renders all this data into an image on the monitor screen, mapping it onto physical pixels from the perspective of a “camera” that’s anchored at some point in space and pointed in a defined direction. Give a system like this one enough polygons to render, and it can create scenes of amazing complexity.
Still, it does seem like a roundabout way of approaching things, doesn’t it? Why, you may be wondering, would anyone choose to use polygonal graphics instead of just painting scenes with a conventional paint program? Well, the potential benefits are actually enormous. Polygonal graphics are a far more flexible, dynamic form of computer graphics. Whereas in the case of a pixel-art background you’re stuck with the perspective and distance the artist chose to illustrate, you can view a polygonal scene in all sorts of different ways simply by telling the computer where in space the “camera” is hanging. A polygonal scene, in other words, is more like a virtual space than a conventional illustration — a space you can move through, and that can in turn move around you, just by changing a few numbers. And it has the additional advantage that, being defined only as a collection of anchoring points for the polygons that make it up rather than needing to explicitly describe the color of every single pixel, it usually takes up much less disk space as well.
With that knowledge to hand, you might be tempted to reverse the question of the previous paragraph, and ask why anyone wouldn’t want to use polygonal graphics. In fact, polygonal graphics of one form or another had been in use on computers since the 1960s, and were hardly unheard of in the games industry of the 1980s. They were most commonly found in vehicular simulators like subLOGIC’s Flight Simulator, which needed to provide a constantly changing out-the-cockpit view of their worlds. More famously in Europe, Elite, one of the biggest games of the decade, also built its intense space battles out of polygons.
The fact is, though, that polygonal graphics have some significant disadvantages to go along with their advantages, and these were magnified by the limited hardware of the era. Rendering a scene out of polygons was mathematically intensive in comparison to the pixel-graphic-backgrounds-and-sprites approach, pushing an 8-bit or even 16-bit CPU (like the Motorola 68000 in the Amiga) hard. It was for this reason that early versions of Flight Simulator and Elite and many other polygonal games rendered their worlds only as wire-frame graphics; there just wasn’t enough horsepower to draw in solid surfaces and still maintain a decent frame rate.
And there were other drawbacks. The individual polygons from which scenes were formed were all flat surfaces; there was no concept of smooth curvature in the mathematics that underlay them. More modern polygonal-graphics implementations do make use of something called splines to allow for curvature, but these weren’t practical to implement using 1980s and early 1990s computers. But the natural world, of course, is made up of almost nothing but curves. The only way to compensate for this disparity was to use many small polygons, packed so closely together that their flat surfaces took on the appearance of curvature to the eye. Yet increasing the polygon count in this way increased the burden of rendering it all on the poor overtaxed CPUs of the day — a burden that quickly became untenable. In practice, then, polygonal graphics took on a distinctive angular, artificial appearance, whose sense of artificiality was only enhanced by the uniform blotches of color in which they were drawn. Again, the state of the art in modern polygonal graphics is much different today in this area than it was in Another World‘s time. Today textures are mapped on polygonal surfaces to create a more realistic appearance, and scenes are illuminated by light sources that produce realistic shadings and shadows across the whole. But all of this was hopelessly far beyond what Chahi or anyone else of Another World’s era could hope to implement in a game which needed to be interactive and to run at a reasonable speed.
For all these reasons, polygonal graphics were mostly confined to the sort of first-person-perspective games, like those aforementioned vehicular simulators and some British action-adventures, which couldn’t avoid using them. But Chahi would buck the trend by using them for his own third-person-perspective game. Their unique affordances and limitations would stamp Another World just as much as its creator’s own personality, giving the game’s environments the haunting, angular vagueness of a dream landscape. The effect is further enhanced by Chahi’s use of a muted, almost pastel palette of just 16 colors and an evocative, minimalist score by Jean-François Freitas — the only part of the game that wasn’t created by Chahi himself. Although you’re constantly threatened with death — and, indeed, will die over and over in the course of puzzling your way through the game — it all operates on the level of impression rather than reality.
According to some theories of visual art, the line between merely duplicating reality and conveying impressions of reality is the one that separates the draftsman from the artist. If so, Another World‘s visuals betray an aesthetic sophistication rarely seen in computer games of its era. While other games strained to portray violence with ever more realism, Another World went another way entirely, creating an affect that’s difficult to put into words — a quality which is itself another telltale sign of Art. Chahi:
Polygon techniques are great for animation, but the price you pay is the lack of detail. Because I couldn’t include much detail, I decided to work with the player’s imagination, creating suggestive content instead of being highly descriptive. That’s why, for example, the beast in the first scene is impressive even if it is only a big black shape. The visual style of Another World is really descended from the black-and-white comic-book style, where shape and volume are suggested in a very subtle way. By doing Another World, I learned a lot about suggestion. I learned that the medium is the player’s own imagination.
To make his suggestive rather than realistic graphics, Chahi spent much time first making tools, beginning with an editor written in a variant of BASIC. The editor’s output was then rendered in the game in assembly language for the sake of speed, with the logic of it all controlled using a custom script language of Chahi’s own devising. This approach would prove a godsend when it came time to port the game to platforms other than the Amiga; a would-be porter merely had to recreate the rendering engine on a new platform, making it capable of interpreting Chahi’s original polygonal-graphics data and scripts. Thus Another World was, in addition to being a game, actually a new cross-platform game engine as well, albeit one that would only be used for a single title.
Some of the graphics had their point of origin in the real world, having been captured using a long-established animation technique known as rotoscoping: tracing the outlines, frame by frame, of real people or objects filmed in motion, to form the basis of their animated equivalents. Regular readers of this blog may recall that Jordan Mechner used the same technique as far back as 1983 to create the characters in his cinematic karate game Karateka. Yet the differences between the two young developers’ approaches to the technique says much about the march of technology between 1983 and 1989.
Mechner shot his source footage on real film, then used a mechanical Moviola editing machine, a staple of conventional filmmakers for decades, to isolate and make prints of every third frame of the footage. He then traced these prints into his Apple II using an early drawing pad called a VersaWriter.
Chahi’s Amiga allowed a different approach. It had been developed during the brief heyday of laser-disc games in arcades. These often worked by overlaying interactive computer-generated graphics onto static video footage unspooling from the laser disc itself. Wishing to give their new computer the potential to play similar games in the home with the addition of an optional laser-disc player, the designers of the Amiga built into the machine’s graphics chips a way of overlaying the display onto other video; one color of the onscreen palette could be defined as transparent, allowing whatever video lay “below” it to peek through. The imagined laser-disc accessory would never appear due to issues of cost and practicality, but, in a classic example of an unanticipated technological side-effect, this capability combined with the Amiga’s excellent graphics in general made it a wonderful video-production workstation, able to blend digital titles and all sorts of special effects with the analog video sources that still dominated during the era. Indeed, the emerging field of “desktop video” became by far the Amiga’s most sustained and successful niche outside of games.
The same capability now simplified the process of rotoscoping dramatically for Chahi in comparison to what Mechner had been forced to do. He shot video footage of himself on an ordinary camcorder, then played it back on a VCR with single-frame stop capability. To the same television as the VCR was attached his Amiga. Chahi could thus trace the images directly from video into his Amiga, without having to fuss with prints at all.
It wasn’t until months into the development of Another World that a real game, and with it a story of sorts, began to emerge from this primordial soup of graphics technology. Chahi made a lengthy cut scene, rendered, like all of the ones that would follow, using the same graphics engine as the game’s interactive portions for the sake of aesthetic consistency. The entire scene, lasting some two and a half minutes, used just 70 K of disk space thanks to the magic of polygonal graphics. In it, the player’s avatar, a physicist named Lester Cheykin, shows up at his laboratory for a night of research, only to be sucked into his own experiment and literally plunged into another world; he emerges underwater, just a few meters above some vicious plant life eager to make a meal out of him. The player’s first task, then, is to hastily swim to the surface, and the game proper gets underway. The story that follows, such as it is, is one of more desperate escapes from the flora and fauna of this new world, including an intelligent race that don’t like Lester any more than their less intelligent counterparts. Importantly, neither the player nor Lester ever learns precisely where he is — another planet? another dimension? — or why the people that live there — we’ll just call them the “aliens” from now on for simplicity’s sake — want to kill him.
True to the spirit of the kid who found the look of Star Wars more interesting than the plot, the game is constructed with a filmmaker’s eye toward aesthetic composition rather than conventional narrative. After the opening cut scene, the whole game contains not one word devoted to dialog, exposition, or anything else until “The End” appears, excepting only grunts and muffled exclamations made in an alien language you can’t understand. All of Chahi’s efforts were poured into the visual set-pieces, which are consistently striking and surprising, often with multiple layers of action.
I wanted to create a truly immersive game in a very consistent, living universe with a movie feel. I never wanted to create an interactive movie itself. Instead I wanted to extract the essence of a movie — the rhythm and the drama — and place it into game form. To do this I decided to leave the screen free of the usual information aids like an energy bar, score counter, and other icons. Everything had to be in the universe, with no interruptions getting in the way.
Midway through the game, you encounter a friend, an alien who’s been imprisoned — for reasons that, needless to say, are never explained — by the same group who are out to get you. The two of you join forces, helping one another through the rest of the story. Your bond of friendship is masterfully conveyed without using words, relying on the same impressionistic visuals as everything else. The final scene, where the fellow Chahi came to call “Buddy” gently lifts an exhausted Lester onto the back of a strange winged creature and they fly away together, is one of the more transcendent in videogame history, a beautiful closing grace note that leaves you with a lump in your throat. Note the agonizingly slow pace of the snippet below, contrasted with the frenetic pace of the one above. When Chahi speaks about trying to capture the rhythm of a great movie, this is what he means.
For its creator, the ending had another special resonance. When implementing the final scene, two years after retiring into his parents’ basement, Chahi himself felt much like poor exhausted Lester, crawling toward the finish line.
But, you might ask, what has the player spent all of the time between the ominous opening cut scene and the transcendent final one actually doing? In some ways, that’s the least interesting aspect of Another World. The game is at bottom a platforming action-adventure, with a heavy emphasis on the action. Each scene is a challenge to be tackled in two phases: first, you have to figure out what Chahi wants you to do in order to get through its monsters, tricks, and traps; then, you have to execute it all with split-second precision. It’s not particularly easy. The idealized perfect player can make a perfect run through Another World, including watching all of the cut scenes, in half an hour. Imperfect real-world players, on the other hand, can expect to watch Lester die over and over as they slowly blunder their way through the game. At least you’re usually allowed to pick up pretty close to where you left off when Lester dies — because, trust me, he will die, and often.
When we begin to talk of influences and points of comparison for Another World inside the realm of games, one name inevitably leaps to mind first. I already mentioned Jordan Mechner in the context of his own work with rotoscoping, but that’s only the tip of an iceberg of similarities between Another World and his two famous games, Karateka and Prince of Persia. He was another young man with a cinematic eye, more interested in translating the “rhythm and drama” of film to an interactive medium than he was in making “interactive movies” in the sense that his industry at large tended to understand that term. Indeed, Chahi has named Karateka as perhaps the most important ludic influence on Another World, and if anything the parallels between the latter and Prince of Persia are even stronger: both were the virtually single-handed creations of their young auteurs; both largely eschew text in favor of visual storytelling; both clear their screen of score markers and other status indicators in the name of focusing on what’s really important; both are brutally difficult platformers; both can be, because of that brutal difficulty, almost more fun to watch someone else play than they are to play yourself, at least for those of us who aren’t connoisseurs of their try-and-try-again approach to game design.
Still, for all the similarities, nobody is ever likely to mistake Prince of Persia for Another World. Much of the difference must come down to — to engage in yet more crude national stereotyping — the fact that one game is indisputably American, the other very, very French. Mechner, who has vacillated between a career as a game-maker and a filmmaker throughout his life, wrote his movie scripts in the accessible, family-friendly tradition of Steven Spielberg, his favorite director, and brought the same sensibility to his games. But Chahi’s Another World has, as we’ve seen, the sensibility of an art film more so than a blockbuster. The two works together stand as a stark testimony to the way that things which are so superficially similar in art can actually be so dramatically different.
A mentally and physically drained Éric Chahi crawled the final few feet into Delphine’s offices to deliver the finished Another World in late 1991. His final task was to paint the cover art for the box, a last step in the cementing of the game as a deeply personal expression in what was already becoming known as a rather impersonal medium. It was released in Europe before the end of the year, whereupon it became a major, immediate hit for reasons that, truth be told, probably had little to do with its more emotionally resonant qualities: in a market that thrived on novelty, it looked like absolutely nothing else. That alone was enough to drive sales, but in time at least some of the young videogame freaks who purchased it found in it something they’d never bargained for: the ineffable magic of a close encounter with real Art. Memories of those feelings continue to make it a perennial today whenever people of a certain age draw up lists of their favorite games.
Delphine had an established relationship with Interplay as their American publisher. The latter were certainly intrigued by Chahi’s creation, but seemed a little nonplussed by its odd texture. They thus lobbied him for permission to replace its evocative silences, which were only occasionally broken up by Jean-François Freitas’s haunting score, with a more conventional thumping videogame soundtrack. Chahi was decidedly opposed, to the extent of sending Interplay’s offices an “infinite fax” repeating the same sentence again and again: “Keep the original music!” Thankfully, they finally agreed to do so, although conflicts with a long-running daytime soap opera which was also known as Another World did force them to change the name of the game in the United States to the more gung-ho-sounding Out of This World. But on the positive side, they put the game through the rigorous testing process the air-fairy artistes at Delphine couldn’t be bothered with, forcing Chahi to fix hundreds of major and minor bugs and unquestionably turning it into a far tighter, more polished experience.
I remember Out of this World‘s 1992 arrival in the United States with unusual vividness. I was still an Amiga loyalist at the time, even as the platform’s star was all too obviously fading in my country. It will always remain imprinted on my memory as the last “showpiece” Amiga game I encountered, the last time I wanted to call others into the room and tell them to “look at this!” — the last of a long line of such showpieces that had begun with Defender of the Crown back in 1986. For me, then, it marked the end of an era in my life. Shortly thereafter, my once-beloved old Amiga got unceremoniously dumped into the closet, and I didn’t have much to do with computers at all for the next two or three years.
But Interplay, of course, wasn’t thinking of endings when the Amiga version of Out of this World was greeted with warm reviews in the few American magazines still covering Amiga games. Computer Gaming World called the now-iconic introductory cut scene “one of the most imaginative pieces of non-interactive storytelling ever associated with a computer game” — a description which might almost, come to think of it, be applied to the game as a whole, depending on how broad your definition of “interactive storytelling” is willing to be. Reviewers did note that the game was awfully short, however, prompting Interplay to cajole the exhausted Chahi into making one more scene for the much-anticipated MS-DOS port. This he duly did, diluting the concentrated experience that was the original version only moderately in the process.
The game was ported to many more platforms in the years that followed, including to consoles like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, eventually even to iOS and Android in the form of a “20th Anniversary Edition.” Chahi estimates that it sold some 1 million copies in all during the 1990s alone. He made the mistake of authorizing Interplay to make a sequel called Heart of the Alien for the Sega CD game console in 1994, albeit with the typically artsy stipulation that it must be told from the point of view of Buddy. The results were so underwhelming that he regrets the decision to this day, and has resisted all further calls to make or authorize sequels. Instead he’s worked on other games over the years, but only intermittently, mixing his work in games with a range of other pursuits such as volcanology, photography, and painting. His ludography remains tiny — another trait, come to think of it, that he shares with Jordan Mechner — and he is still best known by far for Another World, which is perhaps just as well; it’s still his own personal favorite of his games. It remains today a touchstone for a certain school of indie game developers in particular, who continue to find inspiration in its artsy, affective simplicity.
In fact, Another World raises some interesting questions about the very nature of games. Is it possible for a game that’s actually not all that great at all in terms of mechanics and interactivity to nevertheless be a proverbial great game in some more holistic sense? The brilliant strategy-game designer Sid Meier has famously called a good game “a series of interesting decisions.” Another World resoundingly fails to meet this standard of ludic goodness. In it, you the player have virtually no real decisions to make at all; your task is rather to figure out the decisions which Éric Chahi has already made for Lester, and thereby to advance him to the next scene. Of course, the Sid Meier definition of gaming goodness can be used to criticize plenty of other games — even other entire game genres. Certainly most adventure games as well are largely exercises in figuring out the puzzle solutions the author has already set in place. Yet even they generally offer a modicum of flexibility, a certain scope for exploration in, if nothing else, the order in which you approach the puzzles. Another World, on the other hand, allows little more scope for exploration or improvisation than the famously straitjacketed Dragon’s Lair — which is, as it happens, another game Chahi has listed as an inspiration. Winning Dragon’s Lair entails nothing more nor less than making just the right pre-determined motions with the controller at just the right points in the course of watching a static video clip. In Another World, Lester is at least visibly responsive to your commands, but, again, anything but the exactly right commands, executed with perfect precision, just gets him killed and sends you back to the last checkpoint to try again.
So, for all that it’s lovely and moving to look at, does Another World really have any right to be a game at all? Might it not work better as an animated short? Or, to frame the question more positively, what is it about the interactivity of Another World that actually adds to the audiovisual experience? Éric Chahi, for his part, makes a case for his game using a very different criterion from that of Meier’s “interesting decisions”:
It’s true that Another World is difficult. When I played it a year ago, I discovered how frustrating it can be sometimes — and breathtaking at the same time. The trial-and-error doesn’t disturb me, though. Another World is a game of survival on a hostile world, and it really is about life and death. Death doesn’t mean the end of the game, but it is a part of the exploration, a part of the experience. That’s why the death sequences are so diversified. To solve many puzzles, I recognize that you have to die at least once, and this certainly isn’t the philosophy of today’s game design. It is a controversial point in Another World’s design because it truly serves the emotional side of things and the player’s attachment to the characters, but it sometimes has a detrimental effect on the gameplay. Because of this, Another World must be considered first as an intense emotional experience.
Personally, I’m skeptical of whether deliberately frustrating the player, even in the name of artistic affect, is ever a good design strategy, and I must confess that I remain in the camp of players who would rather watch Another World than try to struggle through it on their own. Yet there’s no question that Éric Chahi’s best-remembered game does indeed deserve to be remembered for its rare aesthetic sophistication, and for stimulating emotional responses that go way beyond the typical action-game palette of anger and fear. While there is certainly room for “interesting decisions” in games — and perhaps a few of them might not have gone amiss in Another World itself — games ought to be able to make us feel as well. This lesson of Another World is one every game designer can stand to profit from.
(Sources: the book Principles of Three-Dimension Animation: Modeling, Rendering, and Animating with 3D Computer Graphics by Michael O’Rourke; Computer Gaming World of August 1992; Game Developer of November 2011; Questbusters of June/July 1992; The One of October 1991 and October 1992; Zero of November 1991; Retro Gamer 24 and 158; Amiga Format 1992 annual; bonus materials included with the 20th Anniversary edition of Another World; an interview with Éric Chahi conducted for the film From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years; Chahi’s postmorten talk about the game at the 2011 Game Developers Conference; “How ‘French Touch’ Gave Early Videogames Art, Brains” from Wired; “The Eccentricities of Eric Chahi” from Eurogamer. The cut-scene and gameplay footage in the article is taken from a World of Longplays YouTube video.
Another World is available for purchase on GOG.com in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of bonus content.)
|More modern polygonal-graphics implementations do make use of something called splines to allow for curvature, but these weren’t practical to implement using 1980s and early 1990s computers.
|Again, the state of the art in modern polygonal graphics is much different today in this area than it was in Another World‘s time. Today textures are mapped on polygonal surfaces to create a more realistic appearance, and scenes are illuminated by light sources that produce realistic shadings and shadows across the whole. But all of this was hopelessly far beyond what Chahi or anyone else of Another World’s era could hope to implement in a game which needed to be interactive and to run at a reasonable speed.