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Idle Thumbs > Another word with Eric Chahi

Even if you don't know his name (or his vector-based reduced-color face), you know his games. Eric Chahi was designer, programmer and artist of the highly cinematic classic Another World. He pretty much did everything on the game, which is a kind of auteurism seldomly seen in video games. He was also responsible for the visual design on Future Wars, a flawed but perhaps overlooked sci-fi adventure game by Delphine Software. Following up on our retro review of Another World, we managed to track Eric down for a couple of questions. Although he declined to dwell too much on the much-troubled Heart of Darkness project, he was happy to discuss his oeuvre... and his potential return to gaming. - An Interview by James Spafford

Another word with Eric Chahi

You're frequently cited as the creator of Another World (AW). Can you tell us to what extent AW was the vision of one person?

When I conceived AW, I had gone some time without programming. Please understand that when I started programming games, it was in the 8-bit era, and the simplicity of these machines allowed me to create anything easily...The arrival of the Amiga forced a change in my way of working and I had to make a choice and specialise. As I had already developed a real passion for painting and particularly fantasy illustration, this choice was made quickly, and I dedicated myself exclusively to graphic design on the Amiga.

Sidebar mini-bio!!
Name: Eric Chahi
Worked on: Future Wars (1990), Another World (1991), Heart of Darkness (1998)
Is: Awesome
Portrait: Drawn by himself
It was just after Future Wars (FW) that I started to get a buzz from programming again. Therefore, limiting myself to the visual side of a game was no longer satisfying for me; the idea of 2D polygons was the triggering point. I returned to programming and created AW just as I had created my very first 8-bit games: looking after everything myself. This was a time of (sometimes deep) reflection. Actually, it was thanks to the commercial success of FW that I was able to create AW entirely on my own, without contract or publishing pressure. It was only at the end of the development (which lasted for over a year and a half) that an agreement was signed with Delphine Software, the publisher. At that point I redoubled my efforts to have the game out in time for Christmas as I was responsible for all areas of the game, other than the music which was being written by a friend (Jean Francois Freitas).

Finally, looking back throughout my career, I have focused alternatively on different aspects of development, graphic design and programming. AW remains my most personal project, including the boxart, which I drew myself..

AW is quite a short game. In fact, it can be completed in about forty minutes. Did you originally intend the game to be longer, or are you happy with the finished result?

Yes, at the launch of the Amiga, there was an issue: people wanted more. So, I lengthened the PC and console versions a little, but I don't think it really changed much. The feeling of frustration was still emphasised by a rather unusual ending. The game is a little bit short but I like still like the way it is. Adding anything could break the overall rhythm that holds the game together as a whole. If I had to make any changes, they would be to change the level of playability, and the management of the saving points that are sometimes too far from one another.

At the time, the vector based graphics of AW were quite revolutionary. Can you tell us what inspired you to choose that particular graphical method, instead of a more traditional approach?

The idea of using this technique came to me when playing the adapted Amiga version of Dragon's Lair. This arcade game was streaming a real animated cartoon (directed by Don Bluth) from a video disc; the interactivity was extremely limited, but it looked terrific. Coding videos was something impossible at the time. However, the developers of the Amiga version had managed the trick of keeping all the original animated sequences, and it was the first time that we could see bitmap animation that big. On the other hand, this game did use a great number of floppy disks, 8 I think! But really, it stunned me. The flat drawings of the characters were really close to vector-based drawings. That's when I thought that it would be fantastic to create a 2D game, exclusively with polygons. Thus, you could gain a huge amount of memory space while having huge sprites on the screen, and particularly, while keeping a strong interactivity.

These paintings were all studies for the box art.

In retrospect, was there anything you especially wanted to do with AW that you weren't able to, perhaps because of the limits imposed by the technology at the time, or because of lack of time/resources?

The console versions were adapted by Interplay, who wanted to create a follow up game for the Mega CD version. I was involved in Heart of the Alien only at the level of the initial concept; Interplay looked after the rest. I was disappointed by the result, and I felt they were taking the suspense away and removing the aura of mystery which suffused the last scenes of the game. Apart from that, the only title which I was involved with at Delphine was FW, created by Paul Cuisset. Regarding Flashback, I did not participate at all in its development even though the influence of AW was very strong.

In Heart of Darkness (HoD), Andy discovers a portal to another reality. Was it a spiritual successor to AW?

Somehow...yes. And I would say it wasn't necessarily the best choice, because, basically, I like renewing myself. I wasn't totally prepared for the success of AW and for all the requests that it triggered. Under external pressure and eager to take advantage of opportunities being offered to me, I started a new project too quickly. I mean, I don't regret this game, but more the length of its development.

Things seemed to go exceptionally well for Amazing Studios while HoD was in production, with offers from Steven Speilberg for a possible movie and offers from Sega to buy the cinematic engine. At what point did things go wrong? Did the troubles with HoD cause you to leave the games industry?

Without going into too much detail about the development ups and downs (which more than justified the title "Heart of Darkness"), what pushed me to get away temporarily from the world of video games was both 6 years of torment and also the lack of rest between FW, AW and HoD. I needed a long break to refresh myself. I could not do it after AW, so I did it properly after HoD. Since then, I have distanced myself somewhat from Amazing Studios. I don't have much to do with the company, with whom I do not really share the same philosophy.

Same art, except aligned as a festive color spectrum.
If you were to make a game today, what would you do differently from the games you made in the past?

That's a tricky question. I want to create something new, but I can't tell you more right now, no rush. I think that the new physics engines are an interesting channel to explore. It's a change from the race for 3D graphic performance of these last 10 years. Even if it remains technical, at least it is now moving towards interactivity. We'll just have to see what the creators will do with it... If it is only to simulate the most beautiful car crash, hmmm...

It's been said that AW inspired the developers of Outcast. Have you played Outcast? What is your opinion of other games with a "French touch", such as Little Big Adventure or Beyond Good & Evil?

Yes, I played Outcast, and the immersion in that universe left me some superb memories. I did not know that AW inspired them. I don't have a precise opinion on French video games. Regarding the existence of the "French touch", I think it's exaggerated, and anyway, I don't like categorising...

Do you have any plans to revisit Another World in some form? More generally speaking, do you think you'll go back to design a new game?

A GBA version of AW may come one day. But more seriously, at the moment, I'm assembling my ideas to crystallise them into a new project.

What possible new ideas could Eric have? Discuss in the forums...
posted August 27, 2004

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