Dane. Designer.

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It's Another World

Or: How I learned everything I need to know about games from Another World

In which I dive into one of my all time favorite games and just praise the shit out of it. At the end of this entry you will find all the necessary tools to try all this out for yourself, and I’ll tell you what the sequel to Another World is, and I’ll go as far as to say: it’s not Flashback.

Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m a nostalgic.

Somehow it’s crept into my blood over the last 10 years, and now there’s just no turning back… Personally I blame Star Wars and TCM, but then again I’m sure my affection for zombies, aliens and mind-control devices play in to the whole thing somehow. That, or perhaps it’s just something that slowly slips into the blood of mostly everyone as they pass their mid-twenties, and slowly—though unnwillingly—join the reverred ‘adulthood’.

Regardless, it seems that I have been lucky enough to surround myself with people of the same mindset as myself. And so we can be found, from time to time, huddled around a computer aweing things that would instantly classify us as ‘over the hill’ in the eyes of modern teenagers. Such is the life of the nostalgic, and this is the tale of one such time.

Inspired by the recent unearthing of the Flashback soundtrack CD, we had some sort of conversation going over lunch the other day. One thing let to another and as we got up we had a bet going on who could procure and setup the venerable classic ‘Another World’ the fastest.

Our protagonist climbs out of the water

Though it should be noted that I already have the brilliant DOSBox installed on my machine, it took me a mere 2-3 minutes to get this 15-year-old classic up and running, complete with sound and everything! Hurray for DOSBox! It’s all the pleasure of ancient times, but without the hassles of autoexec.bat, config.sys and the ensuing base memory, himem, ems and emm bullshit!

Anyway, to make a long story short: A quick ‘glance’ at Another World soon turned into an ‘uh, ‘ah’ and ‘cool’ fest of sorts; and before we knew what had hit us we had completed the damn thing!

A few facts though. First of all we didn’t complete it in the DOS version, but rather in the Amiga version. This is actually a crucial little bit of information, as I’m not sure DOSBox is capable of saving and loading machine-states, but WinUAE is, and we probably wouldn’t have made our way through what is undeniably one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, without having the capability of saving. By and large the game itself isn’t different, except for a curious little crab-creature which scuttles around in the first few frames, for no apparent reason…

Oh, I feel a tangent coming on: there are however various minor graphical differences between the different versions. If you’re interested in such things, head on over to MobyGames’s screenshot gallery and compare your day away. Of interest is for instance the different opening screens: The US edition where the title was Out of This World, the equivalent European and Australian title, which was Another World, and then two different ones with lightning here and here.

But to get back on track, Another World is hard in ways that only games of yesteryear could possibly be. Usually I like to chill out when I play games. Unless the game is of some particular interest to me, I’ll just not play it if I feel it gets too hard and I have to replay sections of it. Take Prince of Persia for instance; great game overall; very very impressive! But it’s hard as a motherfucker. I’m still stuck in a section of it after having tried to get through an insidious device setup by whoever it was that I was fighting, cutting me off a few seconds before I get to the door that’ll let me into the next section.

And just stand back for a moment as I launch into a tangent on savegames: Saving is a human right; no seriously, check the official book on human rights and it’s right there on page 17, next to sex. Games that do not allow the player to save should be taken out back and shot. That’s my personal opinion, and I’m sticking to it!

We managed to cheat our way out of the no-save option by saving and loading the machine state of the emulated Aimga 500. And despite being able to save, we still had fun. Maybe it’s because we used to play these games in more social setting back when we were kids. We’d have our moms drop us off at our friend’s place, and we would proceed to spend the afternoon and night huddled over whatever the new hot game at the time was.

This had some of the same air, and despite me not touching the keys once during the game, I was entertained from beginning to end.

And just for the ones that haven’t played it (and aren’t going to): Another World isn’t a side-scroller, it’s just ‘side’. There’s no scrolling involved. So when you exit right, you enter left with no idea what’s waiting for you. Bundle that up with the fact that one shot from their weapon will vaporize you in an instant (half-truth; that’s only the case sometimes… More on that later). Suffice to say that yelps, clenched fists and stomping feet were dosed out in plenty. Contrasted to the fact that I hardly clenched my fist once after the first 20 minutes of Doom 3, and I suppose you can draw whatever conclusion you want.

I will say however, that while we enjoyed running through the classic, it was quite frustrating and certainly entirely unrelenting at times. I wonder how many people have been killed so many times at the second screen that they eventually decided to just scrap it and play some SimCity instead. But then, how can you really criticize a game which can be completed in 40 minutes, which despite that fact, is still so widely recognized 15 years later?

And it’s not that Another World survives to this day only because of me being an old (goddammit, I thought I told you that I’m young still!) geezer thinking back to his glory days. It has some genuinely inventive gameplay ideas that games today could take note from.

First of all, it’s not just a run-n-gun platformer like so many other carbon copies of the day. In one scene for instance, you’re about to exit the screen right, as you’re pushed back by an alien guard. You gun slides a few feet away from you, he picks you up; you panic, hit the shoot button, and lo and behold your alter ego gives our alien friend a kick to his nuts. And as he goes down you roll over to your gun, he tries to gun you down and so on and so forth. And it’s not a cut-scene, it’s all an in-game unique occurance. It’s scripted of course, but considering the age of the game it’s not too damn shabby.

Green lamps, hmmm

And that’s just one example, here’s another absolutely brilliant example: You come to a screen with 3 green lamps. In each of the lamps there’s a reflection of a guard, doing his rounds on the ‘screen below’. It’s a 15-year old game, and there’s an animated reflection! Now it’s up to you to figure out what to do with that…

While the variation in what Another World lets you do with your alter ego is one of its main strengths, it’s also one of the things that defines what the games industry is trying the hardest to overcome just now: finite gameplay and story. You’ll never be able to overcome the alien guard who picks you up in any other way than by kicking him in the balls. You’ll never be able to escape the beast in any other way than by jumping onto the vine.

It’s linearity in a nutshell really. Now I’d love to get into linearity vs. emergent gameplay at some later point, but there’s just way too much ground to cover for me to tangent into that just now. Suffice to say that my position on the two are: I like them both, bring ‘em on.

Or how about this; one of my most memorable gaming moments:

Our protagonist is caged

Do you remember this? Remember how you’re given a clue as to what you’re doing is right, as one of the alien guards shoots into the air for you to stop, and another guard comes flying into frame in the background? It’s so cool! I love the motionblur effect!

And here, as well as in so many other places throughout the game, Eric chahi shows that he knows how to use the fact that he’s bound to a frozen camera to full effect. First and foremost, it manages to employ both fore- middle- and background all at once to convey the story. And secondly, notice how that wall on the right is made up of no more than 3 colors, not counting the blinking lights. A stylistic minimalism that goes throughout the game and just makes me all tingly inside.

As shown perfectly in one of the later scenes where you’re making your way across the screen, as imperial troops suppress a rebellion in the foreground.

But hey, back up a minute. No one ever told me anything about a rebellion. In fact, no one ever talks during the whole game! Almost the entire story is delivered to the player in an entirely visual way. From the aliens in the background of the above shot, can be seen mining, to the palace and its harem. Yes, I said harem.

Alien poontang

And that, friends, is where Another World is at its uttermost brilliance! If you can look past the pixels and the lack of Direct-X support, this game actually transports you to Another World.

Sequel and Franchise

Now I promised that I’d tell you what the sequel to Another World is, and here we go: Heart of the Alien. Eric Chahi however was hardly involved in its production, and while I haven’t played it myself, I hear that it falls somewhat short of its predecessor. While Flashback is also a spiritual sequel to Another World, Chahi wasn’t involved with that production at all, and to be quite frank (and fanboyish), I think it does show.

Chahi, who’s been out of the games industry for quite a few years now, seems to have been brewing something on the sidelines for a while now, of which he talks in this interview. And since there are strong rumors that Another World might see re-release at some point, who knows whether the franchise might see more action.

Personally I always liked to think of Outcast as baring semblance in some ways to a tribute to Another World. And quite frankly, if you haven’t played that game yet, you’re truly missing out (which reminds me, do yourself a favor and download Outcast soundtrack, it’s one of the best game soundtracks ever done).

Playing Another World

If you want to give it a try, go download Another World at Abandonia and grab yourself a copy of DOSBox for whatever platform you’re on. Read the instructions and share your experience with us. But please don’t turn this entry into a support forum for DOSBox.

If you’re not up for playing through Another World (and granted, it is very hard), you can instead watch this speed run, which will if nothing show you the game from start to finish, even if it does exploit a few bugs here and there.

Another World is #1 DOS game ever!
Another World Retro Review
Eric Chahi Interview at Idle Thumbs
Eric Chahi Interview on Edge
Another Eric Chahi Interview
I am Not an Atomic Playboy
Play Another World online! (requires IE)
Andy tells you how to play Heart of the Alien
Another World Speedrun
Another World 2006
Heart of the Alien intro sequence
Heart of the Alien outro sequence

The End