AtariAge, that repository of all things Atari, reported word that the Retro-Gaming Connexion is actually releasing a cartridge-based version of Another World for the Jaguar. It’s all in French, but determined retro-players can find their way through it if they want to pre-order their own copy for $62 EU ($81 as of 1.8.13).
It’s also an amazing testimony to the enduring awesomeness that is Another World, or as it’s more popularly known in North America, Out Of This World. Released by Delphine Software in 1991 for the Amiga and the Atari ST, it would find its way onto an open pasture of platforms in the years since then ranging from the Apple IIGS to the 3DO. And, much later, to Android and iOS.
OOTW was also a labor of love by its creator, Eric Chahi, who spent nearly two years working on it by himself thanks to royalties earned from his work on the point-and-click adventure, Future Wars, that gave him an opportunity to independently explore his own game tackling interests in sci-fi art and comics.
The decisions on what to code it in (Assembly), on programming the tools he would need to realize the frame rate he needed and the polygon engine that would push it, all the way down to the art and the puzzle designs, were made during the course of his one-man development schedule. Eventually he began approaching publishers, including his former employer, Delphine, who he chose to go with. When it was released, it was done without any actual playtesting — fixes, and testing, were implemented along with additional content when Interplay sought to release it in North America on a number of platforms including the SNES.
Players took on the role of Lester, a physicist whose awry experiment would also find parallels with another famous incident years later with Valve’s Half-Life. In Lester’s lab, however, his accident literally zaps him (and part of his lab) to another world where the player’s first challenge is to try and avoid dying seconds into the actual game. This was a game big on killing players, and players still loved the game for it, a sentiment shared by players today with game such as FromSoftware’s Dark Souls.
It also took incredible risks. There was no HUD, no “health bar” or “score limit” to track. No mini-map and only very little dialogue, all of it alien or performed via visual cues such as hand or arm motions laying the groundwork for the kind of minimalist communication seen in other games such as thatgamecompany’s Journey on the PS3. This was a game that wanted to immerse the player deeply into its world and story leaving very little between them and the protagonist. It also aided the cinematic immersion transporting players to this strange place whose abstract, 2D art direction made it unlike any other action adventure game on the market.
While it used polys to present characters and other elements of play, it also used camera perspectives to show action in the foreground and events occurring elsewhere on each screen — the game advanced as the player moved from screen to screen rather than follow them — turning a number of tense moments into a mix of in-game cinematics and flash tested reflexes. It’s something that a number of annoying QTE elements in today’s games seem to have forgotten.
Because of the lack of hand-holding hints that an interface might otherwise suggest, the game forced players to rely instead on environmental cues to get by without dying all the time — though the seamless in-game cinemas did make a few of the deaths entertaining, if not frustrating.
Tentacles from that pool you escaped might actually get their snack if you linger too long at the edge of the pool. Laser blasts that miss you as often as Stormtrooper blasts do in Star Wars might eventually find their mark if you fail to take precautions. That bat in the cave might help keep you from dying from something lurking in the ceiling in the next screen. Nearly every screen has something that might otherwise cut your adventure short. Even when you have a laser gun that can project a temporary shield and blast through barriers, it wasn’t a guarantee of survival as it could also run out of juice — or save your life if the enemy gets the drop on you first.
And Lester wasn’t alone. He had an alien buddy to help him out as the two of them tried to escape the strange city they now found themselves in. Though players didn’t control their new friend, he would also be an early example that later games — such as Half-Life 2 — would also utilize to great effect providing opportunities for puzzle solving as well as creating an emotional tie-in to the subtext of friendship being created through those actions between these two. He might not always be around, but whenever he turned up, I couldn’t help but smile and cheer him on as I tried my best to do my part to save him from falling to his death or drop the guards holding him up. We were two strangers aiming only for one thing — to be free. And it turns out that regardless of whatever world the game took place in, it was something everyone understood.
The only bad thing I’d say about the game was that it was short, something that critics had also noted, although playing through it the first time could easily take several hours in stumbling experimentation.
OOTW’s release on the Amiga and the Atari ST also relied on using a codewheel for copy protection, something that was popular back then with a number of games such as the Bard’s Tale III. Later, on consoles such as the SNES, a password system was used to pick up the action at pre-set points within the game.
Throughout its ports, the game underwent a series of enhancements and tweaks whether it was the musical scores on the SNES (which Interplay added in) tp the backdrop to the bitmapped backdrops that replaced the unique look of the alien horizon with a degree of detail that clashed with the foreground.
When Delphine finally shuttered its doors in 2004, Eric Chahi managed to snag the rights to the game back and went to work on a mobile version with graphics specifically tailored for the smaller screens.
A sequel had also come out bundled with the original game on the Sega CD called Heart of The Alien which took up the story shortly after the end of the first game. Chahi had an idea to make a game that would take the player through the first one again, but this time, through the alien’s perspective which it did do to a small degree at the beginning. However, the sequel was primarily ground out Interplay with a higher level of difficulty and a generic approach to its levels missing out on the spirit of the first game — especially with its ending.
In 2007, a 15th Anniversary CD-ROM for Another World was released with enhanced graphics for higher resolutions along with a “making-of” video, the soundtrack, and technical notes. You can snag it over at Good Old Games or from DotEmu. There’s even a demo over at the official site maintained by Eric Chahi for Another World.
Another World is an amazing game by any measure that adroitly balanced fun, puzzle-solving and action mechanics in with a compelling narrative illustrated with a stark and refreshing art style that did everything to try and pull players right into its movie-like embrace. It also fulfills much of what makes a story-driven title like this fun — a lesson that other games from Lucasarts’ Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis to Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain have also taken to heart.
So when ye olde argument of “are games art” comes up, Another World has often stood as one of those examples that can be tossed into the mix and not strictly because of its visual sense. That’s really only the first step to the journey it takes the player through.