It’s been a few years since we heard much from Éric Chahi, the French designer most famous for his work on Another World and 2011's From Dust. He’s back in 2019, though, with a monster game for the PlayStation 4 called Paper Beast.
I got the chance to interview Chahi ahead of the game’s announcement today, and given the time between his major releases, I was wondering what he’d been up to for the last eight years.
After messing around with Unity a little after From Dust’s release—mostly experiments with physics, using animals that could walk by themselves—Chahi went to work on a project that had nothing to do with video games, but which turned out to be the spark for what’s become his latest effort.
“I had the opportunity to work on an interactive volcano simulator for the prestigious volcano museum on Reunion Island”, he says. “That was exactly the kind of project I’ve dreamed of for a long time. I had the chance to meet a talented GPU coder, François Sahy, who is now working on Paper Beast. That year, we studied volcano theory, observing how lava flow runs on a slope. That was inspiring.”
While working on a reproduction of Piton de la Fournaise, the actual volcano began erupting in the real world, and so Chahi and Sahy got the chance to visit the site, make some scans and turn their work into a virtual simulation of a volcano eruption.
They did this kind of stuff until around 2014. Afterwards Chahi began to work his thoughts on physics, wandering animals and experience with VR together into a game idea. That game very quickly became Paper Beast, and entered production in 2016 with a small team of just four people.
“From the beginning, we decided to create a VR game”, Chahi says. “We have this desire to explore a new way of interaction.
“It has always been a VR game in my mind, from the beginning—even before the concept of the Paper Beast universe was envisioned. We made some visual choices complementing VR. We design creatures that look like origami — very angular. These naturally look great in VR with low-poly designs.
They match very well with our physics system and our universe, which is built on the core idea that the world of Paper Beast emerged from the binary soup of Big Data. This is a virgin land where nobody has gone before. In VR, the player explores a fascinating and quirky world—a place with vibrant wildlife, where each species has its own behaviour.”
“VR has something special about space. It is the only digital media where you can feel the size of a thing—smallness or immensity. Objects become tangible; the world has a deep sense of presence. Manipulating entities in 3D space is so crazy, especially when physics is involved.”
All that said, the game isn’t a VR exclusive. While Paper Beast will be launching for PSVR in 2019, it’ll also be coming to the regular ol’ PS4 in 2020.