Tonight I have another very special guest post for you guys to celebrate the blogger holiday Voluntine’s! This post is from Chip of Games I Made My Girlfriend Play, a blog about one of Chip’s most beloved hobbies: gaming! (We have that in common.) He shares his love of games with his girlfriend, so the blog covers both of their opinions on games, and it’s always interesting to see where their tastes match up or differ. Also, be prepared for the occasional fun tangent post, like Chip’s Listmas post about beer. =)
“Out of This World”
One of the greatest bits about science fiction is immersion in an alternate reality. The idea that there are a vast number of worlds just beyond the reach of humanity. Some of these places are wholly unlike the world we know; rife with alien species and strange architecture. Others seem only slightly different from our own plane of existence, where science and technology have advanced to a point that fantastic things can be accomplished. No matter what the world, it only makes sense that science fiction would translate so well to the medium of video games. Instead of simply reading about or watching tales set within these amazing locations, a player can take control and navigate these spaces at their own pace.
Many of the modern examples of science fiction games map out their alternate realities in meticulous detail. For example, the Mass Effect Trilogy has presented players with a complex and deep universe to explore. Hundreds upon hundreds of conversations and characters with which to interact, dozens of unknown planets to explore, and of course, plenty of epic high-tech battles to be won; all of these pieces make up the very detailed world of Mass Effect.
This sort of “explain everything” approach to world-building can be very satisfying to a player. It presents a universe that is fantastic and new, but makes sure to actually detail the science and technology at work behind the scenes. There is generally very little left to be waved away with the cop-out of “it’s magic,” or “future tech, duh.” At the same time, the feeling of mystery can be stripped away from the story. These worlds are considered “alien” for a reason, and when the player feels comfortable in a well-defined world, the mood of the experience changes. There are those games that can provide a story that never quite feels right; where the protagonist is completely out of their depth, and the player has to struggle to get him/her through a bizarre and foreign situation. Just as its original title would suggest, Another World is one of these games.
Another World (known as Out of this World in the US) was designed by Eric Chahi and originally released for the Amiga in 1991. Since that time, the game has been ported to damn near everything from the SNES generation of consoles and more recently, to Steam and iOS. Despite its critical success during the days of my childhood, I had not played Another World until very recently, when I picked up the 20th Anniversary Edition of the game for my iPad. This version of the game features updated HD graphics along with touch screen controls, however both of these may be switched out for the original visuals and a classic D-pad control scheme. Knowing only the basic images I remembered from screenshots in old issues of GamePro, I started Another World with virtually no knowledge of the game and its story.
The result of this “going in fresh” attitude was a series of brutal deaths for the protagonist right out of the gates. The main character, a young physicist named Lester, is transported to an alien world after a freak electrical accident during his experimental work with particle acceleration. With no tutorial or explanation of controls to guide me, I watched as Lester was drowned, strangled, and poisoned by vicious slugs within minutes of starting the game. None of these creatures or landscapes offered any buffer for the scientist as he tried to make his way through the barren wastes of the planet. Even once I got the hang of Lester’s movements and actions (which are basically walk, run, and kick), most of the opening was a sort of trial-and-error gauntlet of grisly, albeit, quite cinematic deaths. This sort of thing did get frustrating at times, but on a whole, the challenging gameplay suits the mood of a relatively weak human being thrust into a harsh new world.
As I led Lester through the game, one thing that started to stand out was an utter lack of dialogue or inner monologue. There is no sort of lore to be read or explanation to what is happening around Lester. Everything occurs to the player as it would to the protagonist: through visual storytelling. Even when Lester encounters the humanoid species that inhabits the planet, they do not speak English so there is nothing to be gleaned from their chatter. Over time, it becomes clear that Lester is considered a hostile being by the aliens, since they will attack or subdue him at every encounter. The only creature that seems to be okay with the human is a captive alien usually referred to as “Buddy” outside of the game’s context. Lester helps the large humanoid to escape the cage they share, and since the two are eager to flee, Buddy will help Lester at random times throughout the game (normally creating some great cinematic moments).
The rest of the game revolves around the unlikely pair making their escape from a hostile citadel. Buddy comes and goes during the plot, often leaving Lester (and by extension, the player) to figure out the numerous puzzles and situations that block their progress. There is combat present in Another World, mostly consisting of laser battles between Lester and his captors. The laser pistol is just as alien to the player as the rest of the game, with no explanation of mechanics or use. As I played, I figured out that the gun can be used as an offensive or defensive weapon during battle, and it can be used to destroy walls or disable technology in the citadel. All of the gunfights in Another World felt more like puzzles instead of enemy encounters; most of them required a very specific set of actions to clear the way. Like the trial-and-error gameplay that occurs outside of the citadel, the gunfights can become rather tedious when played over and over again, especially due to the lack of hints that have become so common in modern gaming.
I suppose that is what made Another World feel so alien during my playthrough. I have become rather used to video games providing me with tips and tutorials over the course of play. This fish-out-of-water feeling did enhance the overall mood of the plot, but it also caused a lot of frustration and disengagement from the experience. For as many moments of science fiction bliss I felt playing, there were just as many times where I threw my hands up and referenced a walkthrough to help me out.
So would I recommend Another World? Of course! The game is a masterpiece of minimalist storytelling in video games. It has influenced great developers like Hideo Kojima and Fumito Ueda in their work, and it still holds up after 20+ years. My only advice would be to toss away your gamer’s pride and be ready to look up a tip or two when you inevitably encounter a tough spot. Then again, you could just let yourself go and become fully immersed in this bizarre reality like the protagonist Lester; relying only on your wits and the visual cues to help you through this alien world.