Friday, March 9, 2012

Games To Play Before You Die: #12 - Out Of This World

Out Of This World (Another World) (1991)
Publisher: Delphine Software International and Interplay Entertainment
Designer: Eric Chahi

“It took six days to create the Earth. Another World took two years.”
-- Another World tagline

Out Of This World, or Another World as it was known in Europe, may not have been the first game produced by an independent designer and then sold to a publisher, but it may well be the most personal. Eric Chahi’s tale of a young physicist named Lester Knight Chaykin who opens a gateway to an alternate dimension during a late-night particle acceleration experiment was the result of twenty-four grueling months of solitary development, and Out Of This World stands as an unique authorial work upon which the hallmarks of its creator are clearly visible.

Told entirely without dialogue, text or a Heads-Up Display, Out Of This World nevertheless manages to convey specific moods and emotions, not to mention a cohesive and fully immersive narrative. Chaykin is truly a stranger in a strange land, and the player immediately experiences an almost tangible alienation at the beginning of the game, which becomes more tolerable but never fades away entirely as things progress. The detachment and loneliness experienced by the player during the first part of the game reflects Chahi’s own experience programming the game from the ground up for the better part of two years, and when Chaykin eventually gains an alien Ally, there is a sense of relief that is at least partially emotional in nature. By the end of the game, battered by his experience, Chaykin is near death but pushes forward nonetheless; this is, by his own admission, a mirror image of Chahi’s own mental state as he neared the end of the game’s development.

Visually, Out Of This World is a startling achievement, and the polygonal, vector-based graphics and motion-capture rotoscoping were utterly unprecendented in 1991. Chahi captured video of himself and used this as the basis for character animations, effectively inserting himself - quite literally - into his game. The rotoscoped polygonal sprites, along with the core engine, were coded by Chahi from scratch, and he was able to cram a consistent 20 frame-per-second frame rate into the game, an unheard accomplishment at the time. The cinematic platformer format had been previously explored (in, for example, Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia) but Out Of This World took it to an entirely new level, and presented a gaming experience possessing an incredible sense of both fluidity and vitality.

Chahi also pioneered the concept of foreshadowing upcoming puzzles and obstacles by having them appear in the background on earlier screens. Thus, for example, a wild beast can be occasionally glimpsed off in the distance, baying at the moon or stalking Chaykin, before it is actually encountered. The end result was an environment with depth, a place which, quite conceivably, was inhabited long before Chaykin’s arrival, and is reacting dynamically to his presence.

Out Of This World was originally released on the Amiga, which took advantage of that platform’s unique ‘genlock’ capability, allowing background and foreground to be rendered separately and simultaneously. DOS and Mac versions followed suit, and Interplay ported the game to various consoles including the Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive and 3DO. A number of unofficial ports of Out Of This World exist, including a Windows 3.x version in 1995, a Game Boy Advance port reverse-engineered from a previous Atari ST version in 2004, a Dreamcast version in 2005, and a PalmOS Tapwave Zodiac port in 2006. Chahi himself re-released the game in a 15th Anniversary enhanced edition in 2006, with upgraded graphics and audio, and in September of 2011, the game received a 20th Anniversary edition for iPad and iPhone.

(1992’s Flashback, also by Delphine, is often erroneously considered a sequel to Out Of This World due to its similar cinematic visual style and almost identical gameplay. The actual sequel to Out Of This World is entitled Heart Of The Alien, and was released for the Sega Mega-CD in 1994, which was later unofficially ported to Windows and Symbian.)

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