Game Changers: Another World
A cinematic world in an age before it became the vogue, a narrative-driven experience before story really mattered in games, we take a closer look at eric Chahi’s masterpiece
One of the first games to truly mix a cinematic sensibility into its videogame action, we delve into the design of Eric Chahi’s passion project
We ask developers a simple, but challenging question at the end of every interview: “Which game do you love and why do you love it?” It’s the basis of our Why I love spreads every issue and it’s always a fun way to end a conversation. But, there are a handful of games that we can often predict will come up every few interviews and one of the most frequent and passionately supported is eric Chahi’s Another World.
We’ve always had a deep appreciation of Another World but, frankly, having so many developers tell us that it’s a game they love has made us re-examine the atari st and amiga release. perhaps its most important contribution to the future of gaming was how cinematically minded it was. There’s a sense of scene and place in the game unlike anything you would typically expect to find in an action adventure of this type. But this wasn’t an interactive story with mild player participation. Another World is a fully featured, challenging and sometimes complex platformer and shooter. Its cinematic sensibility comes through its structuring and scene setting, rather than heavy-handed narrative or cut scenes. There’s only enough story here to make sure you have motivation to move on to the next challenge and even then none of it is spoken or written in words you could understand.
One of the great examples of this movie inspiration is how Chahi used the different planes
PART OF THE REASON FOR THE GAME’S BREVITY IS THAT IT WAS A LARGELY IMPROVISED DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
of the 2d game to create depth. There are several sequences in which you see things moving in the background and foreground that help to establish this alien planet as a living place with action and entities all around you. You may only be able to move forward and backward, but the planet exists in 360 degrees.
and then it will play with you a little, giving you access to those planes of existence, such as sneaking behind a guard house when Buddy gets stopped by alien enforcers and taking them out from behind. even something as simple as being able to walk up slopes and staircases that appear to be set behind your 2d plane added depth to the experience.
structurally, also, Another World feels more like it’s constructed into acts rather than into levels. The experience is continuous for a start, without level breaks or title cards, so you move from one area to the next, and often back and forth, without interruption. each part of the game has its own feel and tone too as you search aimlessly and defenceless in the early stages of a strange and intimidating world, then you sneak and stealth your way around once you’re armed and you close out the game in an all-out rush trying to escape. Another World was a game about story and experience, tone and mood, but not about scores, like so many games of its type from the era before.
In fact, Another World is completely without a HUD, which is pretty extraordinary even today. Not that it has a lot that it needs to tell you about exactly, but there’s no map to the overworld, no indicator for your weapon when you finally get one and no health to speak of. Another World is incredibly challenging thanks to its single hit kill and threats all around you. Thankfully, the checkpointing was relatively generous so you wouldn’t lose too much progress. and the game wasn’t terribly long to play through either, which at the time of its release was a point of some criticism, but in the modern context seems relatively reasonable.
part of the reason for the game’s brevity is that it was a largely improvised development
process for Chahi, who programmed and designed the game on his own for the most part. He has since explained that in many ways the structure of the game began to reflect his own personal experience as each chronological piece was built based on what he felt was the right direction to go in next. lester Chaykin begins the game alone, much as Chahi was alone in development, then he meets Buddy and works with him as Chahi began to desire some companionship from the experience. Finally, lester is exhausted, dragging himself to the final moments of the game, much as Chahi felt finishing the game working 16-hour days for the last three months of development to get it all done in time.
This freeform style of game-making goes some way to also explain why it took two years to make, something that today would sound pretty fast for a game these days. Chahi took the game where he thought it should go as and when he reached a new impasse, building up the pace and tension of the experience as he went.
so, where would we ultimately be without Another World? Well, the more cinematically-influenced games that would follow would have likely taken a little longer to come along, outside of adventure games at least. The quality of the animation achieved through rotoscoping wouldn’t necessarily prove very influential, but the final quality of it was something many strived for through other animation techniques. We’re not sure that the games of playdead like Limbo and Inside would be what they are if Chahi’s release hadn’t come first. and, tonally, it was just more mature and considered than many games had attempted before and hit players in a way that many had never experienced. Another World showed that you could bring narrative, action, puzzling and drama to a game experience and still hand over most of the control to the player. That’s something that should never be underestimated.
When pitching the game for a publisher Virgin Interactive said it would take it, but only if it was adapted into a point-and-click adventure