A retrospective & next-gen interview with Eric Chahi

Edge talked to Eric Chahi. After joining Delphine as a graphic designer on Future Wars, he went on to create, program, and design (down to the cover artwork) the seminal adventure Another World. Following its successes, he took on his most epic project, Heart of Darkness, which led to years of troubled production, and a hiatus from games making when it was finally released. Now, years later, Chahi is working at a measured pace to make a return to games, and in the meantime, Another World is enjoying a resurgence in popularity with official ports landing on a number of handheld devices from GBA to mobile phone. Here are the most interesting answers from that interview:

What was the first game you ever played?
It was Space Wars, a vector game with two ships dueling around a gravity star. I enjoy that game so much.

What was the first computer/videogame machine you owned?
Videopac was the first console. My first computer was an ORIC 1.

What was the first thing you ever created for a computer or console?
A game named Frog, where the player ate insects as a frog, launching his huge tongue to catch them. There were two kinds of prey, flies and bees. It had an energy bar that was slowly decreasing, so the player had to eat fast but not grab bees, which would make the poor frog explode. I wrote the game in Basic in two weeks – my very first game.

What was your first job in the games industry and what was the first thing you ever designed?
I sold the previously mentioned game to the French ORIC importer – my first freelance work.

What was the last game you played and what did you think of it?
Liquid War – so simple, so intuitive. A game that needs to be better known. Very addictive.

What upcoming game are you most looking forward to?
Shadow of the Colossus and Spore.

How many hours a week do you spend playing games?
Hum… It depends the game I’m playing. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes 15 hours.

What’s your favourite book/album/film of all time?
I love theatre, I love painting, I love deserts, I love volcanoes, I love grass with that strange aroma of moisture, when leaves start to fall after a little rain. I love watching people walking in the street lost in their thoughts. I love…

Of all the games you’ve been involved in, what’s your favourite, and why?
Another World, because it was truly personal in many aspects. It was the concretization of many things I’d learned from previous experiences. For me, the game is at the same time a huge achievement, relative to that period of my life, but also “une oeuvre de jeunesse” in the absolute. I’m not sure how best to translate that – it’s a creation of someone that has not yet totally reached his creative maturity.

What game would you most liked to have worked on?
Katamari Damacy. It is probably the most innovative game I’ve played in a long time. The concept is very simple – it’s really a fresh breath of air to play. It’s based on the changing perception of universe by the player, an appreciation of an object’s size: Is it bigger than me? Can I roll it? It’s not only challenging, but the theme is very clever, getting bigger, absorbing all these things, people’s houses… It’s really an echo, a metaphor for our world, our materialist civilization where we always want more, often to the detriment of others.

What annoys or disappoints you about the industry?
That’s the point, now it’s just an industry. Industry means “productivity and profitability.” It’s just locked in a deadly closed cycle, the same kind of games with just some enhancement from previous successes. Licenses rule. Publishers (and many developers, too) prefer to compete with each other on a non-creative basis, and focus on technical aspects – everything that can be quantifiable, data. Filling more data, meaning more human resources. This logic demands a lot of money just to distinguish themselves a little inch from other games. Everybody wants the top technology. If there are twice as many customers tomorrow, I’m sure that game development will cost twice as much, just because publishers are in a data race, and not in a creative race.

The biggest successes have come from original games – people are waiting for something new, the expectation really is there. All the great genres of today’s games have come from older more conceptual games. Video games themselves were born because some guys in the seventies had the nerve to go in an unknown field. Unfortunately, most of today’s publishers have nothing in common with that pioneer soul. They live on their established positions and the fear of suffering heavy losses on the stock exchange.

I have a lot of doubts about content evolution. I’m afraid it’ll be many, many more years before creators and publishers take more responsibility with game ethics. I’m not talking about the un-nuanced politically correct from whom video games bear the brunt, but simply of an underlying ideology. People talk often of violence in games, but that’s not the problem. It’s truly the way a subject is approached, and what is communicated to players that must be considered. I’m not saying all games must have critical views on things; it’s possible, of course, to create them with that casual jewel of pure gameplay. I’m just saying that any creator or publisher has responsibilities, and must be conscious of things other than gameplay and money.

What do you enjoy most about working in the industry?
After I just said all that, I must look quite grumpy. But I’m still very excited to start a new game. I feel true energy aside from all the big machinery, I feel things are moving. Well, I hope I’m not wrong…

Whose work do you most admire?
People who try and make things evolve. It can be anyone from established people like Peter Molyneux, Keita Takahashi, or small independent developers who create and publish outside the mainstream.

What excites you most about next-gen?
Nintendo Revolution’s spatial interface, because interface is the communications bottleneck between player and program. Any improvement in this direction is better than drawing an extra zillion polygons.