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INTERVIEW WITH
ERIC CHAHI

This article is by Mat

Eric Chahi is one of those game designers that doesn't have the name recognition he deserves. In 1991, he designed Out of This World (released in Europe and Australia under the more logical name Another World), a 2-D platform game that used polygonal graphics to create a psuedo 3-D feel with effective cinematic cut scenes. Though the game is a bit short, if not hard to control at times, the storytelling is wonderful, done much like a silent movie due to the lack of dialogue in the game. Originally released for the PC and Amiga, it was later ported to a number on consoles, including the SNES and its Sega CD. Three years later Chahi released Heart of the Alien, a sequel to Out of This World for the Sega CD.

I recently contacted Chahi to ask him for an interview and he generously agreed. Providing a melange of intriguing answers on topics ranging from his thoughts on the controversial ending to Heart of the Alien to cinematic influences on Out of this World. It was truly an honor to interview Chahi and I only hope that those of you that read this article are inspired to snag a copy of Out of This World to experience one of the more unique video games ever made.

E-BOREDOM: Remember the first video game you played?

ERIC CHAHI: It was Space War, a two player game where ships battle around a gravity star on a screen capable of displaying vector graphics. The second generation of arcade games (Tempest, Defender, BattleZone, Pac-Man, Xevious etc...) that inspired me to create games.

E-BOREDOM: How did you get you start in the gaming industry?

ERIC CHAHI: While I was attending high school in 1983, our Math teacher was responsible of a little Computer Club. She teached some introductory lessons of the BASIC programming language on the ZX81. That was my first step in programming. At the same time, I realized how computers could be a useful tool to create games with.

During the summer, I got my first computer when I was 16. It was an Oric. I decided immediately to create a game, actually two, written in BASIC. One was a clone of the arcade game Carnival, and the other one involved a frog eating insects. After finishing both games, I contacted importer of the Oric computer and asked them to publish m games. They agreed, but only paid me with some small pieces of computer hardware. While it wasn't a large payment from working all summer to make a game, psychologically it was most rewarding.

Next, I learned assembly langage. For the next ywo years, I continued to program games by myself-- it was an obsession. Each game was published for the French market, and I received actual money this time! In 1987, I decide to make my living from game creation, so I dropped out of school.

In 1988, the Amiga 500 changed the landscape of computer gaming by allowing games to have colorful graphics. My interest in illustration pushed me to become a graphic artist, leaving programming by the wayside. For a year I worked for a small game company creating backgrounds and animations on Amiga.

In 1989, Paul Cuisset at Delphine was searching a freelance graphic artist for his new project Future Wars. My portfolio didn't please him at first, since my past creation on amiga was based on retouched scanned images. For the next 3 weeks, I worked like a crazy man to improve my portfolio. Finally, Paul was conviced to work with me. After wrapping up Future Wars, I started to study programming again and began to create Out of this World.

E-BOREDOM: Did any films inspire the cinematic style of Out of This World?

ERIC CHAHI: The movie that influenced me the most was clearly Star Wars. However, I would say that science fiction books and fantasy artinspired me more than movies. Curiously, comics were a big influence because sequential art is closely related to storyboards.

E-BOREDOM:Out of This World features a great character known as Buddy, an alien who befriends the protagonist of the game. Did any other aliens from other media influence your sympathetic alien portrayal?

ERIC CHAHI: The first aliens I met lived on a blue planet named "Earth." But other than that, the first imaginary extra-terrestrial I encountered was The Thing From Another World. John Carpenter later made a remake of it.

E-BOREDOM: What led you to create the graphics for Out of This World with polygons instead of sprites?

ERIC CHAHI: The polygon idea came from playing the Dragon's Lair port for the Amiga, which was showing incredible big animation on the screen, thanks to Randy Linden. That game's graphics weren't polygons, but were compressed bitmaps directly read from the disk. This was revolutionary for the time.

I thought it could be done with polygons since the animation was flat. I wrote a vectorial code and programmed some speed tests. The idea was to use polygons not only for movie like animation but also for gameplay sequences. Think of the sprites as an assemblage of vector shapes. This proved to be a major advantage because you had big sprites that were scalable which took up less disk space than traditional sprites.

E-BOREDOM: When designing Out of This World, how challenging was it to prevent levels from being too easy or too hard?

ERIC CHAHI: It is really a trap because the creators know the game so well they progressively adjust skill level and rules so that it remains enjoyable for them. This creates a problem by making the game too difficult for beginners. It is important to proceed to some test with external people, just to watch them play to know where and why they got stuck. To adjust the difficulty level, it is necessary to stand back and take a look at the game.

Globally, I think that the most important quality for a game designer is to be able to have an outer look on their creation, to have the illusion of the first time playing the game constantly throughout the design process. They need to be able to feel it from inside and outside at the same time. It is valuable for any aspect of creation.

E-BOREDOM: Did you originally have a sequel in mind when creating Out of This World?

ERIC CHAHI: Not at all. This sequel was decided from the pressure of Interplay. I never had the initiative to do a sequel. So instead of a real sequel, I thought it would be much more interesting to replay the game from the alien's point of view.

E-BOREDOM:Heart of the Alien has a very controversial ending, causing some fans on the Internet to be in an uproar. Was the ending always intended to be so bittersweet?

ERIC CHAHI: Well I prefer the ending of the first game. I wanted it to be uncertain regarding the hero destiny, is he alive ? Heart of the Alien lifted the veil to much. Personally, I'm not happy with the sequel. Hopefully, this has been released only on Sega CD.

E-BOREDOM:What are you working on now?

ERIC CHAHI: Actually I'm collecting and sorting ideas in order to create a new game. I really miss designing games.


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