Another World

Video games and films have had a strange, almost sibling-like relationship, with the former standing in the shadow of the latter. Often in this quest to seek the same level of validation from the masses as the older medium, games have been driven towards imitation. What’s interesting about such attempts at “cinematic” gameplay is that some, like Another World stumble over interesting parallels on the similarities between the two mediums. On top of it, the constant tug-of-war between control and agency creates an interesting experiment on the boundaries between a player and a developer.

Linearity has been used as a pejorative in the context of modern gaming culture, and something which has often been associated with Another World, often in a retrospective sense. The notion of the developer scripting every single possible scenario is seen as an antithesis to the spontaneity of player interactivity and agency that the medium offers. But Eric Chahi’s intention of juxtaposing the core facets of cinema, in particular the constant control the director has on the camera and the flow of scenes onto a game resulted in a few interesting things. Firstly, it enhanced the feeling of fluidity for a player while performing actions. Games, due to their interactive nature, often have a pause in the direction of progression, where the player tries to figure out an aspect of the system or what they have to do next. Films, in contrast, always have the director driving the viewer from one scene to another. This form of seamless fluidity is what Chahi achieves in Another World with his “hands-on” approach, driving the player from one sequence to another.

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While this does take away the creativity and freedom from the player, it also allows the game to express intensity and danger involved by constantly chaining one action setpiece into another. You jump over the poisonous slugs to stumble onto a wild beast chasing you, who in turn chases you off a cliff but you swing onto a vine and get a chance to escape. In a game with agency and freedom, the player might have wasted time that might have worked against its intention. But in Another World, by restricting player agency to the very minimal, Eric Chahi allowed the game to be far more expressive than it was possible for in the genre.

However, expression can only take you so far. Another World implements the core tenets of film quite well but cannot figure out how to deal with failure in a complementary way. Instead, Another World returns to the conventional video-game model of equating failure with player death. In a game with already such tightly designed sequences, this was quite literally a death knell as action sequences bound to be intense and fluid, boiled down to a frustrating trial-and-error chore. Players had to figure out just how much to jump and what to not do until they got it right. Absence of a robust checkpoint system hurt the game more than not. In his attempt to build greater fluidity between the game’s action setpieces, Chahi punished failure by pushing the players back to the start of a long sequence. It was this failure to think beyond the conventional Game Over which haunts Another World, a game that would have exhibited the fluidity and expressiveness of films through an interactive medium, only if it hadn’t punished failure in such a frustratingly conventional manner.

Categories: Criticism, Reviews, Video Games, Writing