Nobody had really heard the name Eric Chahi, before Another World. That all changed in 1991 when the talented French developer deliver his enigmatic, cinematic masterpiece for the Amiga and other popular home systems. This is his story.
These days it’s hard to imagine a commercial game being conceived, designed and developed by an individual, whereas back in the early Eighties such a feat was commonplace, with bedroom coders churning out 8-bit hits. As the market matured and the games became more and more complex, programmers were pooled together to create slick development teams capable of meeting criteria and hitting deadlines. The days in which individuals were able to deliver their singular visions were seemingly over.
Then in 1991 the gaming public was invited to glimpse, Another World (known as Out Of The World in the US), an arcade adventure single-handedly created for the Commodore Amiga by Eric Chahi. During the game’s two-year development period, the Frenchman filled the role of designer, programmer and artist. He even painted the cover art. Aside from the audio, which was supplied by close friend Jean-Francois Freitas, Another World was solely Eric’s creation. In the evolving 16-bit era this was almost unheard of.
Lester doesn’t say a word, but you’re still able to connect with him.
Eric’s route into game creation was fairly typical, with him spending much of his teenage life experimenting with computers. “During the school holidays I didn’t see a lot of sun,” he tells us with some pride. “Programming quickly became an obsession and I spent around 17 hours a day in front of a computer screen.”
After leaving school he decided to pursue game creation as a full-time job. With several titles already published for the Oric-1 and Amstrad CPC in France, a small software company called Chips quickly hired him. “The boss took me on as a programmer and I said, to his surprise, that I wanted to be a graphic artist instead. I was becoming tired of programming and my main area of interest was fantasy illustration, painting and animation. So I stayed for a year with the company, developing my graphic skills. Then, in 1989, I met Paul Cuisset at Delphine and I become the lead artist on Future Wars.”
Released in 1990, Future Wars was a memorable point-and-click adventure that benefited greatly from Eric’s graphics work. Somewhat surprisingly, he admits that one of the joys of working on Future Wars was that he was surrounded by an experienced team, meaning that he no longer had to struggle with projects single-handedly. But by working as part of a team, Eric had to sacrifice overall creative control. This did not sit well with the unique vision he had for Another World.
The SNES version was censored so you couldn’t see bum cracks.
“I felt that I had something very personal to communicate and in order to bring my true vision to others, I had to develop the title on my own. But the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit had been difficult for me; programming became more and more complex and I’d get lost trying to manage it all. Luckily, many excellent books and tools were released that enabled easy development on the Amiga. Thanks to these, I felt confident I could go back to programming, and was sure I could handle the project on my own. I didn’t decide to go it alone for the challenge, but because I felt it was necessary to create my game without any commercial pressure.” So after finishing work on Future Wars, Eric was given a choice: either contribute to Delphine’s next game or forge ahead with his own project. He opted for the latter and work on Another World began.
To call Eric an auteur is apt as his “true vision” is perhaps more cinematic than any other game of the early Nineties. Beyond the opening movie, which sees red-haired nuclear scientist Lester Cheykin sucked into an alternate dimension following a failed experiment, there’s no real narrative as such. Lester simply moves from location to location, desperately trying to avoid grim death lurking around every corner. Within the first few minutes Lester must escape from a watery grave, stamp on a spawn of poisonous slug-things and outsmart a snarling dog-beast. The strange alien world he has been accidentally transported to is alive with danger, and the opening scene sets the game’s frantic pace and distinctive tone. After running into Buddy, an alien friend, Lester grabs a laser gun and must fight his way through an alien citadel swarming with enemy soldiers. There is never any mention of Lester returning home – the primary concern is to stay alive in this brutal world.
The game plays like a short movie, featuring scenes rather than levels. And each scene is beautifully staged, with a cinematic quality that elevates the game far above its peers. “I wanted to create a truly immersive game in a very consistent, living universe with a movie feel,” he says. ”I never wanted to create an interactive movie. 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.”
Another World came out on a large number of systems. This is the 3DO version.
Eric reveals that Jordan Machner’s Karateka strongly influenced the game’s visual style, but inspiration was also drawn from a variety of other sources. “I was influenced by everything I liked at that time. This included pictorial art and the movie Star Wars. Science fiction books, comics and fantasy art also inspired me. Painters like Michael Whelan, Richard Corben and Frank Frazetta also provided some material for me to draw ideas from.”
To create the look of Another World, Eric took the unusual step of using polygons to create a 2D game. And for that he owes a debt of gratitude to Dirk the Daring. “I played the Dragon’s Lair port for the Amiga, which boasted incredible full-screen action scenes, and became hooked on achieving similar life-like animation. The graphics in Dragon’s Lair weren’t polygons, but were compressed bitmaps read directly from the disk. I thought I could do the same with polygons since the animation was flat, so I wrote some vector-based code. The idea was to use polygons not only for movie-like animation and cutscenes, but also for the sprites. This proved to be a major advantage because you had large sprites that were scalable and took up less disk space than traditional sprites.”
Eric then used the rotoscoping process to breathe life into the flat vector shapes. The technique, used so successfully in the original Prince Of Persia game, allowed for realistically animated characters. The only downside to the polygonal approach was that the level of graphical detail had to be sacrificed. “2D 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 learnt a lot about suggestion. I learnt that the medium is the player’s own imagination.”
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