Another World wasn't your typical early '90s videogame. Almost entirely a solo project, visionary young Frenchman Eric Chahi fused his artistic talents with his programming nous to deliver one of the most memorable videogames of the 16-bit era.
The term 'cinematic' has long been overused to describe videogames, but Another World was arguably one of the first that justified the term. Emerging at a time when cutesy visuals and cuddly characters with superpowers were the norm, Another World was, in 1991, the antithesis of this. It was dark, eerie, and extremely hostile. The hero was a nobody.
There was no energy bar, no power ups, no special moves, no 'lives', no text, and only the merest hint of dialogue. Just you, alone on a hostile alien planet with inhabitants that seem determined to kill you.
Inspired by the animation techniques used in mid '80s titles like Impossible Mission and Karateka, Chahi developed his own unique polygonal visual style that allowed him to cram a stunningly rich environment into the meagre confines of the Commodore Amiga.
Kicking off with a monumentally impressive (for its time) animated intro sequence, the style and atmosphere instantly sucked players into a strange, beautiful and dangerous platform adventure that required players to use their intuition to survive.
Following the game's release, Chahi helped port the game to practically every 16-bit platform around at the time. All told, the game sold around a million copies, helping to establish a lasting legacy for one of the most visionary and memorable games of its time.
And to celebrate the game's 15th anniversary, Chahi has returned to produce a revamped version for the PC, with improved visuals and more balanced gameplay. We grabbed Eric for a quick chat to discuss the game's genesis, what brought him back to the games industry and his plans for the future...
Eurogamer: Tell us about how Another World came to be, and why you ended up making the game almost completely by yourself.
Eric Chahi: Right from the beginning I wanted to create Another World by myself. It was something I was used to doing ever since I started to create computer games; I'm an autodidact. When I started on the Oric 1 in 1983, computer technology was such that one guy was enough to create a game. With time and machine evolution this has become difficult, and when the 16-bit computer generation arrived I had to make a choice to be a programmer or a graphic designer. I'd started to get lost in programming, and illustration was my new passion so I worked in a team as a graphic designer on the Amiga.
That was a very nice experience. I worked on 'Future War' with Paul Cuisset which was one of the nicest collaborations I've done. It was the success of Future War and its royalties that give me the chance to program Another World without any constraint of any sort or any editorial pressure. So after Future Wars I had the choice to work on Paul's next game (Operation Stealth) or create my own game which hadn't happened since 1986. I had something very personal to communicate and wanted to bring a vision with unity.
Also, there had been many books and tools released to develop easily on the Amiga at that time. I felt confident I could go back to programming.
Eurogamer: How many copies did the game sell in total - and which format did it perform best on?
Eric Chahi: It has sold a million on all formats worldwide! I don't have the exact number but probably the SNES version sold the most.
Eurogamer: Which version did you use as the basis for the Anniversary Edition? The Amiga original or the expanded PC version?
Eric Chahi: The closest version is the PC version. But indeed the game evolved through time and each version, it is not exactly this one.
Eurogamer: You're charging seven Euros for the full version via your personal website, but the boxed version costs GBP 9.99. Why the big difference in price? What do you get with this version that the downloadable version doesn't have?
Eric Chahi: For an online game there is no manufacturing cost. A boxed version is always costly, not only to make but also to distribute. For the 15th Anniversary Edition, I'd like to have something material in hand, a nice object. The package include two CDs, one with a 'making of' split into two sections: a video with a selection of interviews, and also digital media with original design notes and annotated drawings to explain the process of creation behind the game. That is an important part of this edition. The second is an Audio CD with music from Jean-François composed especially for Another World. It is really a collector's item.
Eurogamer: We've had a quick play of the demo version - it seems very faithful to the Amiga original. Which elements have you changed, and what did you retain?
Eric Chahi: The game evolved through each version. The Amiga version was shorter and unbalanced. Then the console versions were well balanced but harder at the request of Interplay - too hard, I think. Finally the current version has better-balanced gameplay with a readjusted difficulty level. I've added some save points, especially in cave. I've adjusted timing and in some places the controls are more fluent. But yes it is the same game with high-res graphics and remastered sound. Curiously when people play this version they don't realise immediately the graphic improvement. When I show them the same game in low-res 16 colors, they see the real improvement. Indeed the new version is closer to what they have in their memory!
Eurogamer: It might not be well known that you added an extra level to the PC version after the Amiga original was released. Has that been added to the Anniversary edition? Where does it fit into the timeline of the game?
Eric Chahi: Yes it is included. I like this extra level a lot because it reinforces the close relationship between the hero and the alien by developing their mutual aid. It has been added at the beginning of 1992 when I was working on the PC and console. After the game was released first on Amiga, articles criticised its short lifespan. So Delphine Software suggested I extend it. I had a few ideas left which were enough to make an entire level. That's convinced me to do it. However, I didn't want to break the global rhythm of the game, so it was impossible to add anything after the end of the game. The ideal location was just before the arena when the friend rescues Lester at the end of a long dead-end corridor.
Eurogamer: It looks like you've enhanced the backdrops significantly, yet retained the exact same style for the character models. Did you consider improving the character models to bring them up to today's standard? Why didn't you?
Eric Chahi: It's a part of the style of game. In 1991 when I created it I didn't feel limited for the animation, but using polygons for the background was difficult, because I was limited for details - when many polys overlap it is a nightmare. But for animation polygons are great because it is possible to change 'globally' a shape just by moving few points.
Eurogamer: The most impressive aspect of Another World was its incredible atmosphere. Very few games have ever captured that sense of truly being in an other-worldly place - what inspired this environment?
Eric Chahi: Another World was influenced by everything I liked at that time of my life - mainly by pictorial art, movies and science fiction books, like Dune or Hyperion. Comics and fantasy art also inspired me; artists like Michael Whelan, Richard Corben, Franck Miller and Franck Frazetta.
Eurogamer: Do you think Another World could ever be brought to life in 3D?
Eric Chahi: Yes it is possible to do it in 3D. The important point is to use the flaw of media to express something with it, to use it as a medium. As example, polygons are angular; I incorporate it in the style of Another World. Always better suggest the reality than copying it.
Eurogamer: Would you ever consider working on a true sequel to Another World?
Eric Chahi: I don't think so. I prefer to create something new.
Eurogamer: After Another World came out you spent about six years on Heart of Darkness. Seriously - what took so long?
Eric Chahi: I can't explain it or I would have to go into detail and I would have to write a book!
Eurogamer: What have you been up to since Heart of Darkness? Why have you not released any more games since then? Did the experience make you want to get out of the games industry?
Eric Chahi: Heart of Darkness had been a difficult development and I was exhausted after six years of development. So after this I decided to truly take some rest. I've been traveling for a while. Then I'll go back to creation, but I preferred to express myself in other fields than computer games, such as abstract painting, volcano photography, sound synthesis programming. A way to recharge my battery with no commercial pressure.
Eurogamer: What tempted you back?
Eric Chahi: Gaming is my second nature that was missing me.
Eurogamer: Would you consider making a completely new game? Why?
Eric Chahi: Yes of course. Mainly just because I've accumulated ideas and they need to get out.
Eurogamer: Does it annoy you that people think that Flashback was the "unofficial" sequel to Another World?
Eric Chahi: At the time, yes. Many people were thinking I did Flashback. That was disturbing. But in a sense it is also flattering.
Eurogamer: Would you agree to Another World being made available on Xbox Live Arcade or Virtual Console?
Eric Chahi: For sure.
Eurogamer: Do you still play games today? Which ones?
Eric Chahi: Yes, I have my cycle. I haven't really found a game that appealed to me for a long while - many months. So I played an 'old' game, Shenmue 2, I missed when it had been released. Next games on my list are Viva Pińata, Lost Planet and - when they come out - Supreme Commander and Spore. Also I can't wait to play on Wii.
Eurogamer: Why do you think people love Another World so much?
Eric Chahi: There could be many reasons, and I don't know precisely. One of the less obvious reasons could be that anyone can project and imagine something into that game because it is suggested - there are no details in the graphics or in the story. Another World is being constructed in the mind of the player it is not totally defined by the game. It offers a lot of unvoiced feelings. It is an open world to player's imagination. A kind of poetry and soul between pixels!
Eurogamer: What inspired you to buy back the rights for Another World in the first place? Did you think there was a chance you could still make money out of your game after all these years?
Eric Chahi: I didn't buy the rights, I just got it back. Another World is something that has always been alive in my heart so I take care of it. I was not sure of it potential.
Eurogamer: Have you started work on a new game? What sort of game would you like to make? Can you drop any hints regarding this?
Eric Chahi: Yes, but for now I'm working alone on a game design, my ideas are very clear and I hope to start it soon. The closest hint I can convey is it a strategy game but I can't tell anything more for now.
Another World: 15th Anniversary Edition is due for release via Lexicon Entertainment on PC in March in UK (GBP 9.99), Italy, Australia, India, Iceland, and South Africa. A demo can be downloaded off of that yon Internet thing.