Éric Chahi (1967) is a French computer game designer best known as the creator of Another World (known as Out of This World in North America).Premiere 2007 p117 "Quinze ans plus tard, Éric Chahi (photo) revient sur son projet, devenu, avec le temps, une référence. «Si "Another world" reste dans les mémoires, confie-t-il modestement après avoir remixé le jeu en HD pour cette réédition anniversaire, ."
Éric Chahi started programming on Oric Atmos and Amstrad during 1983 for the company Loriciels. He then utilized his talents on platforms such as Atari ST and Amiga with games such as Jeanne d'Arc and Voyage au centre de la Terre published by Chip. In 1989 Éric Chahi quit Chip to join Delphine Software International to work on the graphics for Future Wars, a game designed by Paul Cuisset. Chahi then developed Another World (released in 1991) almost entirely on his own, from the story to the box cover; later it received much critical acclaim for its atmosphere and minimalism.
Flashback: The Quest for Identity, another game made at Delphine Software, is often mistaken to be a sequel to Another World. Although there are some similarities, Chahi had no involvement in its production and there is no relation between the games.
After leaving Delphine, Chahi founded Amazing Studio and became one of several designers that were working there on Heart of Darkness, which is an initially ambitious side-scrolling game. It suffered numerous delays, being in development for anywhere from five to seven years. When Infogrames finally published it in 1998, it was moderately received by critics due to short length and by-then dated graphical resolution, though the graphics of the PlayStation port were praised.
Chahi disappeared from the game industry for some years, but returned to games making with Ubisoft in the 2010s. In April 2005 he released a of Another World. It was created in collaboration with a programmer named Cyril Cogordan, who originally started it as a fan project. It can be played by using a GBA flash cartridge.
A version of Another World for mobile phones was made with the help of developer Magic Productions and commercially released in 2005. On April 14, 2006, Chahi and Magic Productions released an updated PC version of Another World. It features higher resolution graphics and runs on modern versions of Windows.
On June 14, 2010, a trailer for Chahi's new game, named From Dust was shown at E3 2010. The game was released on July 27, 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade as part of the 2011 Summer of Arcade, is described as a mix between Populous and Black and White. It was also released on the PC later on August 17, 2011. The game received generally favorable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 80 on the Xbox 360.
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From Dust to beyond, the return of a video game legend.
I get the impression that Eric Chahi can never sit still for too long. Speaking to the veteran games designer from his flat in France over Skype, there's an energy that's bursting out of the little video window on my MacBook, his head dancing this way and that as he gets caught up in his own enthusiasm and occasionally sidetracked by his own thoughts. Listening to the audio a short while after to transcribe it all, I can hear Chahi's smile throughout.
Chahi's not sticking around, either. The day after our chat he's heading out to the island of Rйunion, an overseas region of France in the Indian Ocean that's just east of Madagascar. It's where he is right now, in fact, observing Piton de la Fournaise, an active volcano that's been erupting for some 60 days now. It's not exactly my idea of a holiday. Chahi, though, loves volcanoes. You might have got a sense of that if you played From Dust, his last commercially released effort, which rendered Chahi's fascination with volcanology in brilliantly malleable, playable form. He explains why volcanoes are so fascinating.
"Because it is the earth in motion," says Chahi, his French accent imbuing his already lofty words with a dash more poetry. "It's the birth of the earth in a way. It's beautiful, it's powerful and it's dynamic." There's a short pause while he gathers a pocketful more thoughts. "It puts you in a relative place to the earth. It's like thinking of a billion stars or galaxies. There's the same vertigo."
Such things great video games are built upon. When From Dust launched in 2011 it marked a return, of sorts, for this designer who's always been something of an outsider after 13 years away. "I'm a bit eccentric!" Chahi says with humble pride. "I'm not going to GDC every year, I'm not playing every game that's out. I love games, and I love creating games, but because I love many other things I don't focus as much as maybe other developers." He's a man of many interests, in other words, and someone who's not afraid to indulge them - hence From Dust folding in a love of geology as well as the surrealism of Polish painter Zdislaw Beksinski and the humbling everythingness of Godfrey Reggio's film poem Koyaanisqatsi.
Chahi has excelled in bringing his outside influences to bear on his work before, and he's combined it with the same playful curiosity that led him into video games. "I was a real arcade enthusiast. I wanted to do it myself - I just wanted to create arcade games. When the teacher asked me what I wanted to do in the future, I said electronics or creating an arcade game. With the rise of the PC, it made me realise that you could create games in your home with just a computer. There's no need to know electronics. Just code. It was a revelation. And the exciting thing is that you can master something that's alive without you. That's fascinating! You can put some logic and the things react, depending on what you put into the logic, and make some picture in motion. That was extraordinary."
Working on an Oric Atmos, Chahi created his first game over the summer holidays when he was 16, and soon got encouragement to take his hobby further. "A friend of my parents, they said I should go to the importer of this computer and show them these two games and ask if they're interested. I wrote with my parents, and they said yes, they're very interested, they could give me some hardware or some money, what do you want Eric?" So, what did young Eric go for? "Hardware!" Chahi exclaims with delight. His prize was nothing more than a printer and two joysticks, but it was enough to set him off on a career.
Another World remains Chahi's most famous game, and his personal favourite.
Looking back at Chahi's work across the 80s, it's incredible how prolific he was, and how broad his output was, from gritty platformer Infernal Runner through to text adventures like La Pacte - it's sometimes hard to find a thread through Chahi's 80s work beyond his thirst for something different. "I think I'm a masochist, putting myself in this situation! It would be easy to stick to a style you know that works, to be more secure. I will do another one, two, three, four, five. It's not always easy to do this, but it's more comfortable, I think."
It was in the difficult transition between 8-bit and 16-bit computing that Chahi's work found a larger audience, even if he had some trouble getting there. "There was a time I got lost, because the computers were much better, but I felt I can't do the correct graphics, the correct programming with learning C language, and I got lost. At that time, I focussed only on graphics for two years. It was just after Le Pacte, and I'd just written Profanation - a bad game.
"I was starting to live professionally from games, and it went wrong at that time. It was difficult, so I accepted a salaried post to work on Voyage au Centre de la Terre and Jeanne d'Arc, doing graphics but no programming. And then I had an opportunity to work with Paul Cuisset on Future Wars, and that was a great time. I improved my graphics and animation abilities to the point where it was very fluent. And secondly I focussed, one more time, on coding. It brought me to Another World - I could master the two aspects."
Another World is still Chahi's most famous game, and it remains his personal favourite. Perhaps it's because it's such a personal game - the 1991 platformer was created almost entirely by Chahi himself. "It was very hard to work alone two years on it. Because the transition from the game I made before to this, the way I look at creation, it's a big transition. Because I made it alone, I'm very proud of it. It's coming from the gut!"
Heart of Darkness had a troubled development, and led to Chahi taking a 13-year break from the industry.
Well over 20 years after its release, Another World's beauty hasn't been dimmed by age. Folding in Chahi's love of fantasy and sci-fi, blending inspirations such as John Carpenter, Star Wars and the art of Richard Corben, its stirring alien surrealism left an imprint seen later in games such as Half-Life, and I think you can still see it today in the rich universe of No Man's Sky ("I've seen this project," say Chahi, "and it strikes me as something very interesting.")
Following the success of Another World, Chahi set up his own development team, Amazing Studio, though the project would prove to be troublesome. "Heart of Darkness was one of the most difficult projects. It was long. It was much longer than expected. It ended well, but it was hard. The switch from working alone to working with a team in the context where the industry was really changing with the CD-Rom coming, the PC and with 3D arriving. I took a step back - I needed to take a rest. I didn't feel like I was matching the industry where projects were bigger and bigger and bigger. I was not seeing the creativity in continuing a big studio."
Eric Chahi started his career surrounded by like-minded independent developers who flourished in the personal computer space throughout the 80s - he was, in many ways, one of the original indies. As video games swelled in the late 90s he didn't see a place for himself, or for his vision. "That was a time where you felt you couldn't make a 2D game! I remember when Heart of Darkness was released, some people were criticising that the game was in 2D. Today you can release a 2D game in very low resolution, and it's not an issue at all! There is a realism wall, and the game industry broke that wall between 2000-2006, where finally you can have 2D games, if the game is good. It shows an evolution between the developer and the public."
13 years would pass between Heart of Darkness and Chahi's next game, the new wave of independent developers inspiring him to make a comeback. "The rise of the indie," says Chahi, "made me more confident." From Dust, released by Ubisoft in 2011, took the love of volcanology that Chahi acquired during his extended sabbatical and siphoned it into what, Populous creator Peter Molyneux once said, was the first real god game; a strategy game full of fire, brimstone and playfulness.
And since then? Chahi might have shied away once more from commercial projects, but he's still been working away, most recently on what can be seen as a hardcore sequel to From Dust, a volcano simulator that's currently installed in a museum on the island of Rйunion. "The last two years I worked with another coder, a programmer, to create a simulation," says Chahi. "It's very exciting! At the museum it's playable, but it's only playable there. It's not downloadable, and it's a site specific thing. Maybe we'll use it for something else, but it has its own engine, so it's not very compatible with all the operating systems."
From Dust is probably Chahi's best game. A shame that the PC version is broken, then.
It's a very accurate simulation too, apparently: Chahi points out with a chuckle that the recent eruptions at Piton de la Fournaise were predicted by his simulator. Next for Chahi, he says, is a return to more commercial work, and the prospect of another Chahi game. "Now it's finished, I've switched to a game project. At the beginning of next year I'm starting to build a new team, a small team, to create a new project."
What will it be? There's a loose, brilliantly high-minded concept - "It's probably life," he says when I ask him what it'll be about, "the motion of life" - but beyond that there's little to share right now. "I just want to build some basis on how to create the game. I want to still work with procedural and dynamic things, but precisely what I don't know. I'm excited to explore some VR stuff too."
Chahi's a recent convert to VR, having experimented with it in his museum simulation, and having watched with interest the more recent innovations. "With Vive, it was another level," he says, his enthusiasm going up a notch. "The ability to move in a place, in a virtual place, and interacting with things, that was just amazing. I was like a kid. I had the same feeling that I had when I discovered for the first time some pixels moving on the screen - 'wow you can move on a TV screen these pixels', now I'm like 'wow, you can move around in a virtual space!' It's a new area of exploration, there's everything to discover and to build. And I love exploring. I'm an explorer!"
It's probably the most apt description of this most inquisitive of developers, a man who's currently at the other end of the world observing with glee an active volcano. What a joy it is to have him back making video games. I can't wait to see what this intrepid explorer discovers next.
Welcome to Another World, a translation of Pix 'n Love's recent book on Eric Chahi, is currently seeking support on Kickstarter.
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Wednesday 4th August 2010
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In 1991 a game was released for the Commodore Amiga that set the computer games world alight, and demonstrated the potential for games to be as immersive and involving as films: Another World.
That game's achievements seem all the more impressive today because it was the work of one person - Eric Chahi - whose latest project with Ubisoft, Project Dust, is set for release on XBLA and PSN. Here he talks about why he's looking forward to speaking at this year's GDC Europe in Cologne, and why the challenge of creating original content is still as tough today as it was 20 years ago.
Q: You're speaking at GDC Europe - what attracts you to the event?
Eric Chahi: Well, it's an event that's really focused on development, and it's a good place to share things with other people. Plus it's very different from other conventions - such as E3 or Gamescom, where it's more about the games themselves.
I'm a game creator, and it's the first time I'll be at GDC as a speaker, and it's going to be an important moment for me to talk about what we're doing right now.
Q: And what kind of things - without spoilers - will you be talking about there?
Eric Chahi: Well, first of all Project Dust is a game where simulation plays a very important part - and players interact with that simulation. The talk is about how to create a high performance simulation on today's computers - that's why Ronan Bel will be there too, it's a dual presentation. I'm a game designer and Ronan is an expert programmer.
So we'll be talking about the technology, how we creating the simulation and the relationship between technology and game design. Because we can talk about technology or game design - but it's not often that people talk about the exchange between the two, and how technology really inspires game design. or how, from a game design point of view, we had to manage a dynamic system, because Dust is made up of a dynamic system, with emergent activity talking place in the world.
It's a different approach to game design, because it's not fully predictable.
Q: Why is it important for designers, creators and developers to get together at events like GDC Europe to share their experiences?
Eric Chahi: It's important because it's a way to open our minds - to see solutions to problems that we didn't think of. It's a source of inspiration, because when we play a game we only see the results. At GDC we understand more about the methods of game creation.
Q: You use the word "inspiration" - as the person responsible for Another World in 1991, you helped a lot of people to see just how immersive games could be. Although you've been involved in other projects since, what kind of response have you had since Project Dust was announced?
Eric Chahi: When you read some of the comments online, people seem to be really pleased to see that I'm back with a new game - but I have to say that while Another World was a game I made on my own, Project Dust is very different, because there's a team of 17 very talented people involved.
In the creation process of the game, getting across my vision and making something original with soul and passion. that's the work of the whole team, not just me. When I'm working with the team, it's important that they share the vision - but I just want to say that while it's an honour to have people remember me for Another World and all that, I don't want it to overshadow the work that the others are doing.
Q: I guess that's one of the things that's changed hugely in the past 10 years - it's just not possible for a single person to create a benchmark game alone today, is it?
Eric Chahi: That's true - but on the other hand it's still possible to create a game on your own. That game might not have the best graphics or production values, but I wouldn't be surprised if a game made by one person that had a really strong concept could be a landmark.
Q: You're working in a team of 17 people - even that's considered small by some standards.
Eric Chahi: Yes, it's really small - but it's a good thing too, because it means a less expensive project. When a project is cheaper there's more freedom to create something original - and when it's a game with a team of maybe 200-300 people, it's so huge and costs so much money that publishing an original concept or idea is a big risk. There's a need to make sure there's profit, to recoup that high budget.
Q: So what's the history of Project Dust?
Eric Chahi: It was a long process - the project started just over two years ago at Ubisoft, in terms of when the team started work. But the concept dates back to 2004, when I wanted to create a new game, although it wasn't Project Dust back then. I'd had lots of ideas that were gestating, which gradually became clearer.
Once I had a sharper vision on how the game universe would look I presented the concept to Ubisoft - that was in 2006, but it took time to really convince people. When they were finally on board we then had to find the right time to do it. it took time.
Q: It's a game for XBLA and PSN - what are the benefits of those platforms?
Eric Chahi: Freedom, freedom and freedom. There's no distribution or retail to worry about - no manufacture or production costs, so it's less risky for a publisher to sign an original game. I think it's the perfect platform for this kind of game that's not really mainstream.
At retail games are more expensive, whereas on XBLA and PSN they're cheaper, so you can reach more people.
Q: Is marketing a game on those platforms a challenge, though? I guess the involvement of Ubisoft will help a lot there.
Eric Chahi: Yes - they're already very involved with it a lot. Our producer is already pushing, there's a good synergy.
Q: It can be a big challenge - you either need the backing of a big publisher, or you need to have a strong relationship with the platform holder.
Eric Chahi: Yes - and it's a challenge for Ubisoft too, because it's different. Communicating on an original project is always challenging.
Q: So if you had advice for aspiring game creators now, what would it be?
Eric Chahi: I think that my advice would be to create a game that demonstrates your abilities, or production capacity. If you want to make a game alone, you need to focus on the concept - it needn't involve sophisticated graphics. If there's more of you, maybe you could be a bit more ambitious - but no too much, because games always take more energy than you initially expect.
Also - have an open mind to inspiration from other fields, other interests, and not just games. If you try and make a game only by referring to other games, you limit your potential - you're in a closed loop.
Eric Chahi is creative director at Ubisoft. Interview by Phil Elliott.
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