a review of Another World (aka "Out of This World" (aka "Outer World"))
a videogame developed by eric chahi
and published by delphine software, interplay, et al
for dos, iOS, mobile phones (symbian operating system), the amiga, the apple iigs, the atari st, the macintosh operating system, the nintendo gameboy advance, the panasonic 3do interactive multiplayer system, the sega mega drive, the sega mega-cd, the super nintendo entertainment system, windows and windows mobile
text by tim rogers
Another World (released as “Out of This World” in the US and “Outer World” in Japan) is, perhaps by default, the best game of all-time by our criteria: it was designed and programmed by virtually one man, it is not long, it features no heads-up display to clutter the screen, it features precisely one weapon which can be used for three purposes (regular attack, charge attack, shield) using only one button (we love games that let us hold down a button and then let go), it possesses unshakable confidence in the sharpness of its mechanic (conveyed in level design that prompts the player to use his multi-faceted gun in many creative ways), it features puzzles whose solutions require no more than common sense, it has amazing music, it is gorgeous to look at, and it tells a story while it moves, relentlessly, never stopping, never preaching, never speaking, from the frightening beginning right up to the heartbreaking conclusion.
Out of This World was ahead of its time in 1991, and it is still ahead of not-its time in 2008. One might call it an art film of a videogame. This wouldn’t be a wrong description so much as a lazy one. It’s more of a silent film of a videogame. Or, better than that, it is a videogame of a videogame.
Out of This World shows (not tells) us the story of Lester Knight Chaykin, a red-haired physicist working in some kind of laboratory. The introduction scene impresses us immediately with visions of the familiar: a car (headlights), a building, a thunderstorm. Lester — whose name we will only know if we’ve read it out of the instruction manual — descends into his laboratory and boots up a large computer. He leans back in his chair. He sips a can of what might be beer. It’ll be the last can of what might be beer that he’ll ever have. A lightning bolt strikes the building outside. We see Lester’s car again, for a split second. Something explodes and implodes simultaneously deep inside the lab. A spherical hole replaces Lester’s chair. The screen hangs there for a moment, perfect, weighty cinematography befitting . . . cinema. Then there’s a crash, and a splash. Lester materializes in a pool of water. Vine-like tentacles begin to reach toward the sunlight on the surface of the pool.
The game begins.
Out of This World, from this moment until its fascinating conclusion, represents an Actual Genius’s osmosed omniscience regarding game design: we can say that it is Super Mario Bros. turned on its ear. In Super Mario Bros., the player knows he has to go to the right because his recognizable-as-human avatar is facing to the right, and standing just left of the center of the screen. The reason for going to the right is explained only in the instruction manual: a dragon has kidnapped a princess, and Mario must get her back (our imaginations fill in the perhaps-promise of getting laid). Out of This World doesn’t need an instruction manual: here we have a hero who was in one place, and is now in another. Sinking in a pool of water is objectively worse (humans can’t breathe underwater) a situation than sitting in a desk chair drinking beer (what’s a few dead brain cells?). We must get out of here. To further impress the situation upon us, we have those growing, evil tentacles.
It is possible to die a grisly, uniquely animated death not one second into Out of This World. It’s likely that the designer, one Eric Chahi, intended for the player to die the first time the game began. This is how you die in the beginning of the game: you don’t press any buttons. You just stare at the beautiful and serene pool of water. This is, in fact, what most people would do, if they found themselves suddenly transported from a desk chair in a laboratory to a pool of water beneath a vaguely alien sun. That one second is long enough for Lester to sink just far enough for the evil tentacles to grab him. Now you’re being dragged underwater. The next thing you know, you’re dead.
All great art tends to originate from a somewhat shy little need. Most of the time, the “need” is only a placebo. The artist eventually realizes he didn’t need anything. Like The Stone Roses said, “You don’t have to wait to die / the kingdom’s all inside”. Or something. Eric Chahi’s production of Another World began when he saw the game Dragon’s Lair, found the animation fascinating, and dreamt up — probably in a split second, while standing dead still in the middle of an intersection with a Styrofoam cup of coffee in his hand — a method to make similarly fluid animation using much less data storage space. He set to work immediately, having no clue what he was going to make — only a basic idea of how he was going to do it. It’s said he planned at first only to make a game like Karateka and Prince of Persia, only in a science-fiction setting. He spent half a year developing his excessively complicated though ultimately amazingly efficient animation technique. He developed it the only sane way: while using it to make a cinematic introduction for his game.
Now it was time to make a game. Eric Chahi presumably did not bother to jot his game design idea onto a bar napkin. The “game design” pre-production phase of Another World did not exist. Chahi had presumably had a simple idea brewing. When it came time to make a game, he figuratively snapped his fingers, and a genie exploded out of his ears.
Every third man who owns an electric guitar will claim to have met and hung out with the person who only they consider “the best unknown singer / songwriter alive today”. These singer / songwriter-warriors often impart the same advice regarding songwriting to every friend cool enough to drink a beer with them: if you want to write a song, man, just heckin’ write a song. Anything can be a song. A song can be anything. And If you have a song, sing it. This is not just the method for writing songs — you can replace these verbs and adjectives at random, and you’ll end up with a pretty fool-proof philosophy.
Another World is a song of a videogame. The dumbfounding simplicity of its core mechanics are such that they must have been set in stone from the very moment Chahi began level design. Chahi says, nowadays, that the level design was done completely at random, in a spur-of-the-moment sort of way, and this sticks: only when the game design is so thoroughly complete is the level design allowed to be spur-of-the-moment.
The basic gist of Another World is that you must not die. You play the part of a man in a world completely different from the home of cars and laboratories glimpsed in the introduction, and then never again. You escape from the tentacles in the pool to find yourself on a barren, rocky planet. You may walk either to the right or to the left. To the left is a cliff, and a vine. To the right are some slugs. If a slug bites your leg, you will see a pan-flash close-up animation of a silver stinger cutting through khaki. Then it’s back to the main screen. Lester falls over, dead. Your next attempt, you might try pressing a button. Press the Action Button, and Lester kicks. Kick the slugs to kill them. Press the Jump Button to hop over the slugs. Keep moving right, and you will come face-to-face with a beast. The beast is huge, and black. It is, in fact, the first thing you see upon exiting the pool at the beginning of the game: the beast is standing on a cliff in the distance. When you emerge from the water, he turns and gallops off-screen. You cannot kill the beast, and you will immediately know this because you know how Lester is hardly a match for a slug. Whether you walked left at the beginning of the game or not, whether you saw that vine and that cliff or not, you will be compelled to run back the way you came by virtue of the fact that the beast literally takes up most of the right side of the screen. You will run left, jumping over the slugs. The beast chases you. You run all the way off the edge of the cliff, grab the vine, and swing around as the beast rears up to avoid falling. Now you have to run again to the right, jumping over the slugs again. Make your way all the way back to the screen where you met the beast; when you run off the right side of the screen, the game suddenly betrays your just-founded expectations (that running off the edge of one screen takes you to a new screen) by having your character fall backward onto the rocky ground. Robe-shrouded, large humanoid forms walk into the frame. The beast comes gallopping into the screen. One of the robed men immediately shoots the beast with a concealed weapon. The beast crumples into a pile. Lester stands up, thanking his saviors. He is punched in the gut with a laserbeam, and the screen fades to black.
You wake up in a cage. It’s a brief cut-scene. You see an alien sitting across from you. This is very important: at the lower-right corner of the screen is one of the robed aliens. He immediately removes his robe. Underneath is a large, albino-gorilla-like muscular being wearing a skin-tight black shirt and briefs. This alien being is precisely identical to the alien beings mining in the background — and the alien sitting next to us in our cage. Why are we in the cage? As with most of the questions presented in Another World, this is a question we don’t need to ask. We can ask it — and then answer it — anyway: these aliens all look precisely the same. Lester doesn’t look anything like them. Lester is in the cage, perhaps, because he is an obviously intelligent being who looks nothing like the resident intelligent beings of this world. The narrative plays our brain on subconscious levels: if Lester is arrested for looking different, then these people might have some kind of racism in their hearts. That would make them inherently bad. We don’t hesitate to assume that the reason they locked up one of their own kind is because he is not bad. If the game’s first puzzle is getting out of the pool, and the second puzzle is escaping from the beast, the third is wondering why these terrible things keep happening to us. The solution to the puzzle involves a leap of conscience: escape from the cage. Escaping from the cage requires as much common sense as swimming out of the water. In the water, you pressed up. In the cage, you press right and left to make it swing. Make it swing once, and the guard in the lower-right shouts some unintelligible alien words at you. He fires his gun into the air. Guards appear in the background. Now you know you’re on the right track. Swing harder. The cage falls off its chain and crushes the guard dead. A quick cut-scene shows Lester’s hand approaching the floor, picking up a gun. The guards in the background panic.
The rest of the game begins.
The immediate, short-term, and long-term goals will, for the duration of the experience, be “move”, and “survive”. Moving will involve running and jumping; surviving will involve shooting and dodging.
Another World is a game centered on death. As we’ve established, Eric Chahi’s inspiration for creating it came from looking at Dragon’s Lair and wondering if he could create a similar graphical effect using much less storage space. There had to be a little more to the Dragon’s Lair inspiration than Eric Chahi has perhaps let on. Dragon’s Lair‘s initial appeal was its full-motion-video graphics. It was better than something that looked “like” a cartoon — it was a cartoon. That was enough, in Dragon’s Lair‘s day and age. People wouldn’t care about the control or depth of a game if it looked like absolutely nothing they’d ever seen before within the same medium. You play Dragon’s Lair by pressing the correct button as dictated by a glint on the screen. Press that button, and the hero will move, initiating a “successful” video segment. Don’t press that button, and the current segment of video will flow directly into the “failure” animation. Dragon’s Lair‘s conscience is a weird one to peg, however, because nearly as much attention is paid to “failure” as to “success”. Some would even argue that watching your hero die is more interesting than watching him succeed. If you have only successfully completed Dragon’s Lair without making any mistakes, then you haven’t seen the whole game. Another World is the same way, only — thanks to the beautiful animations taking up much less data storage space than full-motion video — there’s an actual game shoehorned into it.
Dragon’s Lair had been joyfully free of then-modern videogame genre restrictions: the action was shown from many bizarre, quasi-cinematic angles. Another World was intended from the outset to be an experiment in streamlining an artistic game experience. So it ended up as a side-scroller in the vein of Super Mario Bros. Chahi probably never had a doubt in his mind that many of the set-pieces in the game would rely on use of a context-sensitive Action Button. It’s the button you will immediately think to press when an alien grabs you buy the shoulders; press it in time and you kick him in the groin, and he drops you. No game has done Action Buttoning as well as Another World, try as games might. The simplicity of the situations — always one man, expressively and silently facing a faceless opponent in a unique struggle — and the honest, terse dread of every moment-to-moment conflict lend themselves well to a just-barely-subconscious instinct that knows to Press That One Button. The variety of set pieces exploits the Action Button’s function and timing in enough entertaining ways to qualify this game as a masterpiece, as the undisputed king of the “adventure” genre, far better than all those point-and-clickers with their byzantine puzzles with arcane solutions and tacked-on tacky humor. Then the game goes and takes one step closer to the edge of the Grand Canyon, when Lester picks up a gun; minutes later, we are playing The Greatest Videogame Ever.
Pick up the gun and proceed one screen to the right. You will see guards in the halls. The gun is the king in Another World: no living thing survives more than one shot. Landing that one shot is the trick. In your second fight, you will see a guard hold his gun out, and a ball of energy grow at the tip. Eventually, the ball of energy will become a shield roughlythe height of his body. He will then poke his arm out of the shield and fire at you. You can duck his shots. The game is telling you to hold your own Action Button down. Hold it down long enough, and you produce your own shield. Poke your arm out and shoot at his shield. Shoot his shield enough to break it. Or you can hold your trigger until the glowing ball appears, and then let go to fire a massive, shield-destroying shot. With the shield destroyed, fire another quick zap to disintegrate your enemy.
If Another World were made today, or one day later, or one day earlier, you maybe would have just had a gun that fired when you pressed the fire button. Maybe you would have gotten another gun, later, which fired really fast, and a third gun, which fired really big bullets. Another World‘s game design, however, was gracefully decided in what we’ve determined was the length of a snap of the creator’s fingers. A gorgeous one-off informed by all that was ever fun in videogames, and all that would ever come to be.
To recap, your gun can:
1. Fire enemy-killing lasers
2. Create a force shield capable of absorbing several shots
3. Fire a charged shot capable of destroying an enemy force shield in one burst
The level design escalates smoothly, then sharply. We learn how to shoot. We learn how to shield. We learn how to break shields. Then the game pushes us down an elevator shaft, the sink-or-swim approach. Soon, we’re making shields on staircases, or making two shields, or three. Soon, we have enemies attacking from two fronts. Eventually, we’re attacking enemies with craft. Each screen, each skirmish, becomes a little puzzle. Another World owes its elegance in no small part to its screen-by-screen nature. Like Pac-Man, like Donkey Kong, all action in the game takes place within one screen. What we can see right now is what matters. Maybe some literary theme is hiding behind the scenes of this, or maybe not. Either way, it works, because the creator only needed to think of every gunfight in the context of one screen.
Some will say that Another World‘s controls are hokey, or ropey. We say that they are exactly as they’re supposed to be. We’re not even going to cop-out and say that life is hokey and ropey, nor are we going to say that the characters in Gears of War move really slowly. We’re just going to say that everything bows to the game design. We believe that the highest compliment one can pay a single-player adventure game is that a two-player deathmatch mode, with each player controlling a clone of the main character, would be amazing. This is certainly the case in Another World: we can imagine a single-screen arena where players are free to set up shields, blast shields down, and take shots at one another. In that context, the controls would feel just right. It’d be at least as engaging as Pac-Man Vs., or as entertaining as four-player “Don’t Touch The Floor” in Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
The game flows along, through Action Button scenes, platform segments, environmental puzzles, split-second-long yet mesmerizing cut-scenes, and increasingly elaborate gunfights. Lester will eventually have to swim, solve a dastardly puzzle requiring him to flood a large cave, and pilot a tank in a death arena. All the while, you keep running, terrified. The story shows itself deliberately, with elaborate foreground and background animations. Eventually, there’s a “main bad guy”, who looks exactly like every other alien — including your buddy. The “final battle”, which you fight on your stomach, crawling at one-sixteenth your previous walking speed, involves a hysterically brilliant play on the physical appearance of the aliens, eliminating all doubt: no, Eric Chahi most definitely did not make all the aliens look the same because he was lazy. (Then again, to say he intended this conclusion all along would negate what he’d said about doing the level design randomly. In other words, Eric Chahi is even more of a genius for deciding to stage the final battle the way he did. Wow.)
The ending is beautiful, and you’ll never forget it.
Certain questions regarding Another World‘s continuity will only ever be asked by fourteen-year-old kids: at the beginning of the game, we see these aliens shooting a beast with a gun. If the only purpose of having a gun is to hunt for safety or for food, why is there a shield function? The answer to the question is, of course, another question: why are the aliens imprisoning one of their own, who happens to look exactly like they look? Eventually, if you want it, Another World becomes about more than survival. Eventually, a quite frankly spooky theme settles down gently over the experience: we are a man sprinting for freedom in an absolutely, mind-crushingly foreign universe. There it is: no matter how sharply the rules of life might suddenly change, any man will know from instinct alone what freedom is.
Right after the first gunfight, Lester and his Alien Buddy get on an elevator. You can go down — the right way — or you can go up. If you go up, you will find yourself in a small, dome-shaped room with a window. Walk over and look out the window. We see through Lester’s eyes. The first time you see it, you don’t know what to think.
It’s a view of the expanse of this terrifyingly foreign world. Immediately, you look at that, and you know you’re going to die. You know Lester is going to die, some day, even if — especially if — he survives this. All at once, the Looney Tunes nature of grisly death and oblivious rebirth subconsciously becomes an essential artistic element of Another World‘s design.
Playing Another World before age sixteen can, probably, make one a better human being in the end. It’s certainly more qualifiable as “art” than any Disney animation.
Aw, we shouldn’t have said that. That was kind of rude.
Another World is a lean game, designed through a series of what must have been excruciatingly difficult choices. Chahi chose not to incorporate every possible gun/shield-dynamic permutation into the game, because this isn’t a game “about” shooting. Overstaying his welcome was never Chahi’s intent. Chahi’s intent, presumably, was to make a game that begins, middles, and ends. He composed event sequences on the fly, maybe fiddled with the arrangement, and then set about removing what didn’t work perfectly well. This is something modern game designers don’t do, more often than not. Just ask the crew behind the Final Fantasy games: past a certain point in the development, if an idea is still sitting on the table, it will be in the game. It’s a terrifying staring contest. Luckily, one man can’t have a staring contest with himself, so Another World, with regard to flow, is absolutely perfect.
Modern game designers also toil over the question of how to balance story and action segments: if the game is too hard, the player won’t be able to witness the full extent of the story, which means we might as well not have a story. Attention, game developers: if you’re thinking this, maybe your game is, at its core, too long, too complicated, or just plain boring. Another World keeps the context front and center, and the most complicated it gets is offering us the opportunity to easily kill a near-invincible guard by climbing into the tunnel above his chamber and shooting a hanging green orb the instant we see his reflection pass under it. We’ve previously said that Lost Vikings and Portal are amazing games because the level designers stop at nothing to exploit every facet of their brilliant mechanics; now, we’re going to say that Another World is more brilliant because it possesses sparkling self-confidence, and uses its mechanics as a tool. It stays cool-headed, elegant, and noble until the end. It isn’t a “game” with an “engine”; it’s an experience, one big, elaborate “puzzle”. It’s a story. It just happens to contain the bones and sinews of an excellent game. As a “piece of art” where the focal theme is the utter dread of being a stranger in a strange land, both the very concept of dying and being reborn (offered the chance to try again) in a videogame and the Looney-Tunes-like snap-to presentation of the post-death rebirth lends itself perfectly to the theme. From the moment this man’s life is upset (again: transported from a laboratory to a bizarre alien world), we know deep down, instinctually, that he will die some day, and so will we. His multiple deaths in our effort to learn the ins and outs of the experience perfectly — and, (crucially,) accidentally — present us with a plausible “ending” at any and every deadly turn. No one can ever pronounce Another World‘s thoughtfulness “pretentious”, because it’s not. It’s unassuming, nonchalant, confident, and cool. In short: yes, it’s French.
Another World is just simply not a game in which to stand still. This is crucial: casual players the world over can aesthetically break any game in three to four seconds by standing still. During its conflict phases, Another World will not let you stand still. It works a miraculous magic on the player, compelling him to always be acting out his role.
The second fight we find ourselves in involves several guards coming from the left side of the screen. Our New Alien Friend pounds away at a computer panel. We immediately recognize our role, without some FPS-like commanding officer barking orders at us: keep the enemies back while our man opens the door. This is as fist-sized and logistical as the fights will get, or will ever need to get, for Another World to prove its point.
Other games saw fit to expand on Another World‘s spear-like, joyfully geometric mechanics in rudimentary, fundamental, or elaborate ways. Interplay’s Blackthorne is perhaps best described as Another World: The Videogame: the level designers picked up the slack and put Another World‘s crisp conflict model into a non-stop, overwhelmingly thorough puzzle-solving blast-a-thon. Years later, Oddworld Inhabitants, perhaps thinking they were being clever, unleashed Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, which they paraded as a brilliant, brand-new thing. Going by the way the developer hyped it to the media, they seriously believed it would be the Next Huge Thing, the next Super Mario. The game was essentially Another World, turned into a “videogame”, expanded, multiplied by eleven, and starring hideous character designs that not even a mother’s mother could love. (Thus we actually happen to like the game a lot.)
Modern games have inherited Another World‘s showmanship and close to none of its subtlety. BioShock pays fetishistic, loving attention to its own world, which it realizes with an awe-inspiring level of beauty: despite being very obviously a videogame, a “simulation”, its visual and sonic confidence exudes subconscious-like understanding of the greatness of Another World. Too bad the “game” part is convoluted and bogged down by a design document that no doubt contained an entire ream-long section labeled “Bullstuff”.
Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami has gone on record as considering Another World the absolute best game of all-time, and the primary influence on Resident Evil. Using Another World as a yardstick, we can say that Resident Evil is hilariously unsuccessful — it is laden with red keys, red doors, blue keys, blue doors, and an inventory management system that smacks of the developers being scared that the game wouldn’t have “enough stuff” in it. It goes without saying that Resident Evil possessed the opportunity to be as sophisticated and perfect as Another World; however, through the process of think-tanking and regularly scheduled Monday-morning hung-over brainstorms, through the absolute lack of “common sense” as a job requirement for the level designers (or: the absolute lack of the “level designer” in post-Famicom-era Japanese game development), the game became unnecessarily dirty. When it came time to “improve” the game in sequels, we ended up with only more bullstuff. Resident Evil 4, an amazing and beautiful game in its own right, saw Mikami getting conscientious, and leaning closer to the dream of Another World. The “horror movie” genre of videogame had perhaps been too ambitious, Mikami must have noticed. So they went about making an “action movie”. It worked tremendously well, and had it featured only one truly awesome gun and no speaking cut-scenes (seriously: heck that radio stuff), we’d probably love it a whole lot more than we already do.
Goichi Suda, CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture and director of games such as Killer 7, Flower, Sun, and Rain, The Silver Case, and No More Heroes, all titles so close to being masterpieces that they suck royally, is also a repeat professor of his love of Another World. Suda’s love of Another World stems from its absolute unwavering execution of atmospheric mood. You can see plenty of influence in Suda’s titles, if you squint hard enough. The confidence evident in the sound design and visual sense alone earn his games hall-of-fame status. However, the issue of game design has a problem — namely, that there isn’t any. We can certainly see what Suda is driving at with games like No More Heroes: he is imagining a concept and a world, and is keeping the game elements to a minimum so as to allow each boss encounter to be a game in and of itself. The problem is that he hasn’t hit on the right minimum yet.
Fumito Ueda would have to be the only Japanese game designer who “truly” “gets” the Another World aesthetic. He, too, praises Another World above all games. When we interviewed him on the subject of Shadow of the Colossus in 2004, we asked him some questions about Another World, and he replied by very frankly saying that it depresses him when he reads gushing reviews of ICO, which fail to note the copious Another World homages. Ueda is a game designer’s game designer, and he may or may not surpass Another World in the future. For now, however, his parents allow him the keys to the Ferrari, though not the Lamborghini: Ueda had apparently wanted Shadow of the Colossus to not feature any kind of HUD display at all, like Another World, only his higher-ups literally told him that having no HUD would result in the game being “looked-down upon” as “unsophisticated” by critics and players. What kind of hecked-up world do we live in, where (#1) people who have worked at a company for 30 years, being promoted only because they’re not doing anything worthy of being promoted (and laws of societal niceness dictate that we not tell a man implicitly that he’s “not making anything better”) are trusted over people with genuine creativity (#2) someone with a university degree can possibly think that a little icon showing a sword is absolutely necessary in a videogame where the main character stands in the center of the screen and one can clearly see, at all times, that he is holding a sword? It’s like face portraits by dialogue boxes in RPGs: these days, when the characters are so big and expressive, having a face portrait by the dialogue box is freaky and depressing. Either way, Shadow of the Colossus can’t be a perfect game, because there’s no explanation for why the bow has unlimited arrows. What a pity! We will gladly, turgidly anticipate his next works, however, because it’s clear he both loves Another World‘s vibe and appreciates Zelda‘s aims. A bullstuff-free, flowing game possessing Zelda‘s attention to detail could be amazing.
Of all the Japanese game designers claiming to love Another World more than any other game, ever, Hideo Kojima would have to be the most hilarious and ironic. He makes the longest, ugliest, most logically convoluted orchestrated fatuosities yet produced by modern man in the name of attempted entertainment; if he actually loves Another World, we have to say that his love has not inspired him, or, rather, his love has inspired him to run like the wind in the opposite direction. Furthermore, we would like to express our condolences to his wife.
Okay, maybe we’re being mean. Maybe, just maybe, we can see some Another World in the original Metal Gear Solid; some cinematics can be described as “virtuoso” (these tend to be the silent ones), and the setups for small-scale grunt conflicts express an eerie tightness which insinuates that Kojima, like Chahi, had allowed “play situations” to come along naturally. Likewise, we recall Fumito Ueda describing the production of Ico as “design by subtraction” — they designed puzzle-challenges one at a time, and then arranged them in the best logical order, eliminating the ones that were too easy, too hard, or redundant. Many confrontations in the Metal Gear Solid series feel the same way; it’s just that Kojima seems to adore the raw concept of the videogame on far too many levels. The fans have grown up alongside him, and they find the idea of Shakespeare in Japanese: Starring US Army Special Forces, Giant Robots, and Cyborg Ninjas to be as captivating as he must find it hilarious.
If anything, we arrive at the core of this analysis believing in the cold center of our hearts that the “design by subtraction” that Fumito Ueda speaks of is the only way to make an excellent videogame. We arrive at the conclusion of our list of the Best Games Ever awakened to the fact that Level Design is the most important part of any game, be it an epic cluster of entertainment purposely fashioned to be impenetrable to non-gamers or a sleek and simple rope-like experience. Game designers: think of a single, sharp, spear-like mechanic, stick with it, set it in stone, and then make awesome levels. If there’s a mood you want to go for, keep it in mind. In short: be cool, and you too can make a masterpiece. Even if your single mechanic is amazing, it doesn’t mean anything without great levels. However, even a bare-bones mechanic (like, say, “running and jumping”) can make for spectacular entertainment if the levels are great (Super Mario Bros. 3).
No one loves on Another World enough, these days. Five furious minutes of internet research have yielded us the information that no major gaming news / review site has ever put Another World on its list of the best games ever — not even at #100. These are lists that have hecking Hogan’s Alley or Kingdom Hearts on them, for God’s sake.
It’s safe to say that some of the right people like this game, however. We can’t exactly prove it, though when we played Call of Duty 4, there were times where we felt like everyone involved in that game must have instinctively gotten the point of Another World: for every moment of commanding officers shouting orders, there is a balancing poetic moment of fine level design; when the game twists the “conventions” of its “genre”, it does so matter-of-factly, without pretention, a post-Kojima kind of anti-bravado.
Gears of War‘s cover mechanic still feels to us more like something out of a 2D platform-action game — and a specific one, at that — than an FPS, which is probably why it works so well in 3D.
Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun is a whole game in and of itself, and the greater part of the game simply radiates with confidence and direction.
And then there’s the issue of Portal: like Another World, it begins disorientingly, and it ends apocalyptically. It tells a story with feet; it lets the player absorb the atmosphere and make of it what he or she will. It’s talky, though never annoying, because it’s also funny (at least to us). No one (even us) can accuse it of being “too linear”, because, like Another World — and unlike Half-Life 2 — your character literally is a prisoner in a restricted world.
Like Another World, Portal has often been criticized as being “too short”.
A game cannot be too short if it’s memorable. Portal‘s sterile atmosphere implants itself in our brains precisely because there exist moments of visual clash; the dialogue implants itself in our brains because it rides a change in theme. And the main reason the game works is because it has a brilliant mechanic: the Portal Gun. Another World is a better game than Portal, mostly, because we say so. Because it’s not glib, and offers no reason for no one not to like it. It is honest, humble, noble, and at the same time hugely artistic and expressive. It tells a story, it presents awesome, unforgettable gunfights, and it lingers in the back of the mind for an eternity. It is the closest videogames have yet come to a great film, and we probably shouldn’t ignore it anymore. Every element that causes critics to jump up and down with joy in modern games existed in a perfect, pure form in Another World. Everyone making games — or writing about them, or playing them — should either play it, play it again, or at least think about it. Because, seriously, though we can’t say with a straight face that we “need” more games like this, once we have a whole bunch more of them, we’ll definitely start wondering what we did without them.
*Footnote: no, there is no particular reason we didn’t mention Flashback in this review. We thought about going back and adding it to the part re: Abe’s Oddysee, though we hesitated and now can’t remember the exact intended wording. Anyway, Flashback is a very nice game as well. It just tries a tiny bit too hard. We also almost mentioned Beyond Good and Evil because it too was envisioned by a French man, though we figured maybe we shouldn’t bother. That’d be like telling a Japanese person that you like Haruki Murakami and having them reply immediately with “I don’t know, man, I prefer Ryu Murakami.” Seriously, a man’s peers aren’t decided by his last name.