It was 1992. I was at my friend Paul’s house, playing games on his mighty 486 PC, and we’d just finished a complete playthrough of Monkey Island for probably the 100th time. Bored, he turns to me and says “Oh yeah, my brother got this new game. Let’s play that.”
He fires it up, and within ten seconds, my jaw is on the floor. I will never be as impressed with a game’s visuals, relative to the competition, than I was that day.
The game? Another World. Or, as Americans know it, Out Of This World.
There had never been a game like. And really, haven’t been many since. Another World was the product of veteran French developer Eric Chahi, who has been making games since 1983 (and who is still making them, upcoming sandbox title From Dust being his baby).
Having never released a successful title during his early years, in the late 80’s Chahi saw a home computer port of arcade classic Dragon’s Lair and had an idea. He figured that, instead of painstakingly animating every frame of a video game properly (which took up a ton of memory), he could use vectors and get the same overall effect for a much smaller footprint. So in 1989 he decided to make a game based on the principle.
Like Jordan Mechner did with the original Prince of Persia, Chahi grabbed a camera and filmed himself performing basic actions like running, walking and, as players would end up many times, falling down dead. With that footage compiled, he used his vector system to translate them into incredibly realistic video game animations that, despite their fluidity, could run on the relatively primitive computers of the early 1990’s.
This resulted in not only fluid and realistic animations during gameplay sequences, but also some of the most jaw-dropping cinematics (again, relative to the time) video gaming has ever seen, including an intro that must rank as one of the medium’s finest.
The technical aspect of the game, then, was revolutionary. The creative side? Less so, but refreshingly earnest all the same. Like a mad author burning the midnight candle, Chahi didn’t sit down to “write” Another World. He just starting coding and wrote the game’s plot as he went, his only guidance being an overall desire to do something science fiction.
The plot ended up centring around Lester, a physicist who, while working on an experiment during a thunderstorm, sees his equipment struck by lightning, after which he’s teleported to an alien planet. Where he’s almost eaten, definitely shot, and makes his getaway from a prison with his new alien best friend Buddy. On top of a pterodactyl.
Sounds sloppy, but that’s what you get when a game is made almost entirely by one person. You may get mistakes and quirks, but you also get something special, a spark that’s missing from games designed by focus groups and worked on by hundreds. Indeed about the only thing in the game that’s not the direct product of Chahi is Jean-Francois Freitas’s incredible score.
In terms of gameplay, Another World was a 2D platformer, though its brutal difficulty and obtuse puzzle-solving makes it more a constant death simulator than anything else. It was also, in what’s the only lasting criticism of the game, woefully short, though being a one-man game this is somewhat understandable.
After almost two years of development, during which Chahi eventually had to “skimp” on some sections of the game by showing static storyboards instead of creating levels (just so he could finally get the game out without killing himself), Another World was eventually released on the Amiga in 1991 to rave reviews. It would go on to be ported to the PC, SNES, Genesis and 3DO, while more recently it’s been resurrected on platforms like the Game Boy Advance and mobile phones.
Another World spawned a sequel, Heart of the Alien (in which you play as Buddy), which had nothing to do with Chahi whatsoever. It also heavily inspired a game called Flashback, which was published by the same company behind Another World (Delphine).