Gaming Made Me: Another World

By Adam Smith on April 5th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Another World’s 20th Anniversary Edition is now available on Steam. In 1992, when I first played it, discovering something so beautiful and strange contained on two disks seemed like an act of science fiction in itself, and realising that I can now download the entire thing in about four seconds is astonishing. Eric Chahi’s enduring voyage is a masterwork of visual communication and companionship, and it has grown in my memory over the two decades since its original release.

The first time I picked up the gun, I felt like I’d reached into the bulbous screen attached to my friend’s dusty Amiga. The object was on the ground, a dead alien’s loot drop but before such banalities, and the thrust of the skinny arm that grabbed it was seen from my perspective, the side-on view cutting for a brief moment of immersion that was book-ended by a tiny but noticeable pause as the computer processed this glimpse of the future.

Little did I know that I’d spend a great deal of the next twenty years picking up and firing weapons from a first-person perspective, and a much smaller portion of time exploring other worlds. Some of the weapons I collected later in my gaming life would spin and float just above the ground, others would flash and flicker to draw attention to themselves – the vast majority would make it very clear, one way or the other, that they were the most important part of the worlds they inhabited. Levels are often designed around the guns they contain, whether to demonstrate the firing of them, be they shotgun or sniper rifle, or to secure them, tucked away in mazes or behind locked doors. Guns are the prizes at the centre of too many labyrinths.

In Another World, I wasn’t collecting the gun because it was bigger and more bombastic than the sixteen others I had rammed up my inventory. I didn’t have an inventory beyond the pockets of my jeans and whatever could be held in my two hands. The gun, despite its ability to create energy shields and reduce living creatures to ash and bone, was valuable because it was the only means of fighting back against the unknown. I would have gladly taken a cudgel or a fork. Until that point I’d been pursued, devoured punctured and imprisoned, and discovering the means to fight back changed the emotional state and rhythm of the game, from the twitching back and forth of the hunt to the screen-flipping staccato spit of instantaneous laser death.

If I were to pick through my collection of favourite games, many could broadly be described as ‘immersive, first-person things of one sort or another’; in that category I include the likes of System Shock, Thief, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Frictional’s fine work. I’d stretch to the gun-focused but distraction-packed dust, sand and danger of Far Cry’s various locales as well, but there are few side-scrolling (or flip-screen) games that have successfully drawn me into a credible environment. Another World, with that teasing early tangent into first-person, is one.

Playing now, the game quickly and neatly divides into a collection of short activities, none of which require instruction but many of which require repetition to perfect. Although the individual components are lethal, rapid, and rely on timing and the sort of predictive powers that only memory and reincarnation can provide, Another World is no Dragon’s Lair. The actions performed by the ludicrously named Lester Knight Chaykin are directly and clearly related to the player’s input – he is a fluid and elegant avatar rather than a series of stubborn storyboard sequences.

Anyone who has played the game must surely remember the beast as one of gaming’s most memorable monsters? The cutscene in which it is first encountered is a masterpiece of minimalism – eyes red, teeth white, shape as black as emptiness, the thing pounces into position and looks directly at the player. The animation lasts for less than five seconds and tells the entire story. You’re alone, you’re lost, fuck knows what this thing is, but it’s hungry or angry or both and it is RIGHT THERE.

Before the face-to-face meeting, the background holds the tale. The beast is there from the start, scrambling and leaping as it stalks Lester. It always ensures that it’s one step (or screen) ahead, a hint of the pursuit to come, which defies the left-to-right commandment that is as natural a part of gaming as end credits that scroll from bottom to top. Fleeing from the beast, covering ground already trodden and moving away from your unknown goal (escape? to where?), which MUST SURELY BE TO THE RIGHT, is disconcerting. It’s Braid’s untwisting knot, Kiss Me Deadly’s inversion of the credit sequence and Seven’s moodier adoption of the same. Another World uses visual cues to teach, to tell its story and to convey mystery.

It’s a happy coincidence that I didn’t first meet the game under its alternate title, Out Of This World, because it’s the wrong title. Lester’s world, shown in the game’s introductory and most indulgent non-interactive sequence, is not THIS world. It’s already another, in which scientists perform dimension-tearing experiments and own sports cars. The most warming trace of the familiar is Lester’s appearance, his shock of hair and everyday clothes, the way that his every movement is a convincing recreation of the somewhat cumbersome and yet remarkable human form.

The opening chase, capture and escape are the moments that live strongest in my memory. Weird, wonderful, full of threat and subversively educational without featuring a single tutorial or button prompt. If you don’t swim to the surface when you find yourself inexplicably transported into a tendril-haunted fathom, you die. If you don’t kick out at or jump over the alien ooze-slugs that litter the landscape, you die. If you don’t run, you die. Another World teaches by killing but every death contains a clue for the next attempt, sometimes by forcing a change of direction, sometimes by suggesting an entirely new approach.

Another World’s makes the player try and try again, often failing and not always failing better. But the beauty of the game isn’t only in the environments and character designs, which would be lauded as artistic marvels if they appeared now, it’s also in the ways that it communicates the reasons to care and to go on. Alec recognised Bioshock: Infinite’s Elizabeth as “perhaps the best FPS companion character since Alyx Vance” and the time that has lapsed between the two is telling. Games have not tackled companionship well, which is one reason why the term ‘escort mission’ exists and is a warning flag, and also perhaps one reason for the desirability of cooperative play.

Eric Chahi created one of gaming’s greatest companions more than twenty years ago, an alien being who communicated through gestures and a small lexicon of syllabic barks and encouragements. Like an all-but silent film, Another World doesn’t waste its close ups or its perspective switches. There is value wrung from every precious byte and hour of work, and for all of the frustrations its crueller screens contain, its controlled elegance remains, and the many methods by which it communicates its intent and credible strangeness to the player are as potent a lesson as ever.

Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition is available now but was the catalyst for these thoughts rather than the focus of them. I’m very much writing about Another World: 0th Anniversary Edition.

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56 Comments »

  1. Deadly Habit says:

    Now if only we could get Flashback as well.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      You can play it on modern systems with this. Someone even ported it to the DS.
      http://cyxdown.free.fr/reminiscence/

      • LionsPhil says:

        Good old Delphine Software. Trying to do “cinematic” and ending up with “stunningly beautiful” rather than the modern “horribly railroaded”.

        Hunh. Apparently Cobbett didn’t like Future Wars.

        • Serpok says:

          Who did liked Future Wars? It was a lousy remake of Advance Wars.

    • scatterlogical says:

      I was scrolling down to write that exact same thing!

      And as for playing it on an emulator, sure, but to have a re-release with those wonderful rotoscoped vector graphics in glorious HD would be amazing.

    • Reefpirate says:

      Maybe I was too young to really click with Out of This World (as it was known to me), but I remember playing its first level or two around the same time as Flashback. I went back and got my ass kicked by Out of this World a few times, but Flashback kept me coming back for more until I beat it.

      Even though Flashback became the more outstanding of the two for me, Out of this World definitely was memorable and I always loved the way it looked.

      (Honorable mention for Blackthorne with his badass shotgun. There’s really a small genre of platformers that these three games share but I can’t think of a name for it).

    • Somerled says:

      Also Heart of Darkness, another title from Chahi (and others). A nice little game hit with a bad case of the late 90′s.

      • Shadowcat says:

        “Heart of Darkness” is a wonderful wonderful game. I can’t think of a single bad thing about it.

        • Serpok says:

          Same thing that was bad with X-Com:Apocalypse – horrible early 3D

          • Shadowcat says:

            “Heart of Darkness” is a 2D game; you’re confusing it with something else (and given the context, I’m guessing it’s “Fade to Black”).

            The only 3D in “Heart of Darkness” is the cutscenes, and they are incredible.

  2. benkc says:

    I’ve been trying to remember the name of this game for years! Thanks.

  3. WrenBoy says:

    This game ruined me. I was completely convinced that I would grow up to be a scientist and that I would drive a sports car.

    Everything was perfect in the game though, not a pixel wasted indeed. I can still mimic the companions dialog and I havent played it in 15 years.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      Yeah, the dialog in this game was greatly memorable. Remember when it tells you to “blooblooblipblopblop!”? Or when it goes “blioublepblopbloop”? That last one was hilarious!

      • WrenBoy says:

        If I check on youtube Ill probably find out Ive remembered it completely wrong but I think that when he “asks” you to follow him he shouts something that sounds like “Knights Aruba!”

        EDIT: Ha! Just like I remembered. Happy days.

        • edwardoka says:

          Really? Could have sworn that he shouted “my tumour”.

        • MajesticXII says:

          lol i remember most of the gibberish dialogue myself

          the guard would go “Alesta, alesta…Onchella”. and when the cage drops and he asks you to follow him,i always used to hear something like “my toolbar” lol

          • Premium User Badge

            bonuswavepilot says:

            I always heard it as “Arusta, Arusta… morchella” (with the r pronounced slightly hard, like in Spanish), and the ‘follow’ bit as “Metsuwah”…

            Oh I love this game – the first time I played it some of my mates were playing through simultaneously, and we would compare notes. The ending was a bit of a revelation too, I don’t remember any other games at the time having such an effectively melancholic conclusion.

  4. db1331 says:

    I remember playing the hell out of this in the computer lab in 7th grade. I don’t think I ever made it past the 2nd area. I just loved playing the first level over and over. One of my friends knew the command to skip to the last level. He would beat it and we would watch the ending.

  5. MichaelPalin says:

    Hell yeah! Whenever someone makes the question “what would be the Citizen Kane of gaming?”, this is my answer. Now, on to read what the article actually says.

  6. Laurentius says:

    So again i somehow feel off with this Gaming Made Me. When i read Cara GMM, i thought, “oh come on, it’s too anecdotical, don’t people have normal, ordinary gaming experience like I don’t know, living regular life and one day playing Another World and being blown away by it…” Now i read this and it sounds too banal… Oh some people can’t be satisfied.

  7. LaundroMat says:

    I remember one of the aliens saying something like “Hei roeste, wa goat zijn da?” (in some kind of Dutch dialect), which can be loosely translated as “Hey red-head, what are you going to do?” (that’s when you’re swinging the cage).

    Final scene brought real tears to my 17 year-old eyes back in the day.

    • Skabooga says:

      I’m glad to hear that another person was as emotionally moved as I was upon reaching the ending. Games are so often derided for their poor endings; Another World was one that got it right.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Slightly boring question: Is the 20th anniverary edition any different from the 15th anniversary one I bought from GOG.com a while back?

    The game itself was indeed wonderful, and its storytelling still puts most modern games to shame. Stuff like the 1-second cutscenes and the ultra stylized graphics must have been at least partly down to hardware restrictions of the time, yet it’s those same things which stand out now.

    • Premium User Badge

      strangeloup says:

      As far as I can tell — and I’m not going to buy another copy of something I’ve already bought to make sure — the only differences are that 20th Anniversary has cheevs and controller support, though I’m not sure that the latter wasn’t in it already. It’s also slightly more expensive.

    • 00000 says:

      That’s exactly why it stands out. But as 8-bit was a hardware restriction, it isn’t a compromise in Another World – it’s a framework for creation and that’s what made it truly beautiful.
      It was something lacking in bitmap graphics then, and has haunted PC gaming since. This Dx9-attitude of “lets make it a real as possible!” – but what they ended up with is ultimately neither real nor beautiful. Each year people lauded the latest graphics, while frantically trying not to look back and see the freak-show of 32-bit graphics: triangles pretending to be Bézier curves, blurry textures pretending to be detailed structures and disfigured puppets pretending to be humanoid.

  9. Beef says:

    Do not to forget the technical brilliance of Another World. Eric Chahi’s use of vector graphics in the age of bitmapped graphics was brilliant, but so was his structuring of the entire code base as a virtual machine (think SCUMM). This made the game very portable. In fact, the anniversary edition basically just replaces the painted backgrounds, without changing much of the code base at all.

  10. MrThingy says:

    That bit where you flood the cavern and have to time your jumps across the ravines as the water crashes along after you…

    I remember absolutely shaking with rage and then being threatened by having my computer allowance taken away by my mum if I didn’t calm my nerd rage. :(

    And that was only last week.

  11. Skabooga says:

    There are so many beautiful and wonderful things about Another World that I never know where to begin. Everything aspect of this game is so cohesive that it is hard to mention one without ending up talking about another, and I just end up talking or writing for hours. To save everyone the tedium, let me just say, thank you, Adam, for the excellent words about an excellent game.

  12. LionsPhil says:

    I think I had a demo of this on the ST that was just the intro. Must have stared at it agape dozens of times at the smooth full-screen animation.

    More recent attempts to emulate the full thing met with a mix of awe and disappointment when it repeatedly crashes halfway through, but I really don’t want some “remastered” version. Those pixels were well-chosen and don’t need replacing.

    • Scandalon says:

      Like many modern “HD” updates, you can turn off the new backgrounds.

  13. derbefrier says:

    Absolutely love this game even though I have never beat it. Goddamn thing was tough. But it was tons of fun.

  14. Scandalon says:

    Also – Chahi’s post-mortem, lots of anecdotes. http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014630/Classic-Game-Postmortem-OUT-OF

    More detail on the virtual machine, including links to reverse engineered opcodes (!) at this code review: http://fabiensanglard.net/anotherWorld_code_review/index.php

    Mr. Smith, I request you amend your article to include these sources of info. It’s truly fascinating to me what creativity when faced with constraints of the time came up with.

  15. frenchy2k1 says:

    You forgot to mention that it is now also available in the humble bundle for android running right now
    https://www.humblebundle.com

    Pay what you want as usual.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      Oh, thanks!
      A bit off-topic, but still: I wanted to get “The Room” for my iPad earlier this week as well, but found out that it does not run on the first generation. Which make me wonder: is there any way of finding out if those games will run reasonable well on my phone (original Samsung Galaxy)?

      I bought the last bundle, but e.g. “Waking Mars” really was too slow. At least, you did get Windows-versions with it, as well. That does not seem the case here… hm. (Probably also the reason why RPS didn’t post about it, I guess.)

      Seriously, can you even play Metal Slug on a touchscreen?

  16. guygodbois00 says:

    It is still my Top 5 game and I play it now and then again. As some of the previous posters I found the end of the game very emotional and quite befitting. The gameplay is still marvelous and somebody talented should make a sequel or prequel or something along those lines. Who ones the rights for this masterpiece?

    • ShadowNate says:

      Hopefully a sequel or a successor, better than the official (but sans Eric Chahi) and SEGA-exclusive “Heart of the Alien”.
      Which was not terrible by any stretch, but it was short, very unforgiving (even more that Out of this world) and the story conclusion was the definition of “well, shit”.

  17. ZX k1cka55 48K says:

    My favorite game right there. So many good memories…
    This baby was a waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of its time.
    Eric managed to accomplish so much with so little.

  18. BooleanBob says:

    My favourite part was the bit where you moved in a direction, or didn’t move in a direction, and the game killed you for it.

    • scatterlogical says:

      Well that’s because you were supposed to move in the OTHER direction.

  19. Lemming says:

    Sorry for being a bit slow, I’ve only just realised Limbo is the spiritual successor to this.

    • pandiculator says:

      Ahh! Ahh! You just broke my brain! How did I not see that?!

  20. Premium User Badge

    frame says:

    There’s a really great demoparty invtro remixing the intro of Another world.

  21. Michael Fogg says:

    I also remember this fondly, but to think more about it, it seems AW is one of the forefathers of the ‘cinematic’ trend in gaming, which I belive turns out to be a dead end. Linearity, trial and error gameplay, intrusive cutscenes, quick time events, all that jazz.

  22. Slinkyboy says:

    Xenonauts just hit beta. REPORT IT!!

  23. evertju says:

    It is on sale on Google Play Store for Android for $1

    • bill says:

      Anyone care to comment on whether the Android port is worth playing?

      I remember playing the PC version to death when I was a kid, but I don’t think I ever completed it. The atmosphere was amazing but the gameplay could get frustrating at times. However it seems liek it’d be a good fit on Android and might be worth revisiting in small doses.

      • Premium User Badge

        Kasper says:

        For $1 it’s definitely worth it. It takes a bit to get used to the touch controls, but once you do, they work pretty well. And the game is still amazin. Runs well on my Galaxy S2.

  24. pilouuuu says:

    I still remember when I first got the demo with the intro on the Amiga 500 and then I got the full game, which was an unique experience, even to this day.

    It was cinematic, but not rail-roaded, it was mysterious and its gameplay was based on experimentation and trial and error. Also as many other mentioned its ending was very emotional and I remember that when I finished it I felt such an accomplishment that I rarely feel with games endings these days.

    This game is really Another World because it’s unlike any other game (except maybe Flashback and Limbo).

    And having such an experience in just a couple of floppy disks is even more mind-blowing!

    • ZX k1cka55 48K says:

      You already have listed Limbo & Flashback, the other few games where I had a similar experience as with Another World were:
      Shadow of the colossus
      ICO
      Demon Souls
      Dark souls

  25. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    One of the greatest games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. Certainly one of the games which helped form my ideas on what gaming can be.

  26. floogles says:

    Last time I replayed Another World I was living in a tiny village, completely isolated with just my girlfriend. We fell in love with the scene when the alien puts his hand on your shoulders, speaks and then points.

    Amiga Longplay cued to this scene:

    Our closest translation was “Maes a rubar” – and to this day it’s something we say to each other often at the start of a journey as a sign of encouragement and trust :-)

    As other posters have said, “Heart of the Alien” the sequel is definitely worth playing. And “Heart of Darkness” is absolutely brilliant if you can find it.

  27. gingerbill says:

    I played it on the amiga , it blew me away , me and my friend just sat playing it in silence with smiles on our faces. Hard to put your finger on why but it’s one of those games that just sucks you in . It was a work of art.