Level Up: Out of this World
No matter what Roger Ebert thinks, video games are gaining acceptance as art. To me it’s a no-brainer; video games are the emergent medium of our time. I’m also young enough to use my thumbs without arthritic pain. Recent games like Journey, Flower, Braid and Limbo focus on emotive, symbolic experiences rather than intense action and graphical showpieces. Released in 1991, Eric Chahi’s Out of This World (titled Another World everywhere besides ‘merica) was a precursor to this movement. Its artfully directed gameplay, cinematic feel and unique atmosphere make it an aesthetic experience unique to gaming.
As a kid I bought OotW for DOS. The clearance price and epic box-art had 9-year-old-me sold. After the pain of a 1993 installation, I booted it up. I’d never gazed upon a game quite like it. OotW‘s limited, but artful color palette, fluid animation and great sound design gave it undeniable atmosphere. After several abrupt deaths I learned that the game was not to be passively enjoyed. Every screen hid a plethora of death scenarios. My prepubescent attention span got the best of me and the game was eventually erased to free up hard drive space for shareware and demos that came with PC Gamer.
Some time passed and a friend rented OotW for Genesis. We had more resilience as a duo and managed to get into the meat of the game. The sheer variety of action blew our minds. In the first moments you’re transported to another dimension where you swim away from tentacles, are attacked by poison-spiked slugs, chased by scary wildlife, and lazered by aliens just for saying ‘hi’. Next thing you know, you’re escaping jail with an alien who, it turns out, has your back for life. We couldn’t finish the game, but the experience solidified OotW in my mind as a truly original game.
It wasn’t until years later that I picked up a copy of the game for SNES at a local video game exchange. Again, I bought the game partly because of the box. Except this time it was because of the hilariously bad SNES art. The power of nostalgia didn’t hurt either.
Popping the game into my SNES must’ve triggered a planetary alignment because the stargate was opened and I was sucked into OotW. Fuzzy memories and Internet walkthroughs got me through the game in a couple days and I was floored by its fully-realized setting and mood. I was even more impressed that Out of This World was able to tell a captivating story without a single line of dialogue.
I’m of the opinion that telling a story by inserting cut-scenes between play can feel clumsy. Taking control away from the player disconnects action and plot development. Out of This World‘s narrative has no such breaks. The occasional cut-scenes are consistent with the game’s art style and never last more than a few seconds. Emotional moments are experienced during play that often involve the player and his alien friend saving each other’s asses from seemingly inescapable death. Without long-winded exposition, the narrative ends up feeling more like a poem, song or short film.
Its consistent aesthetic and approach to narrative make Out of This World highly influential in the development community. Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus, ICO) Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) all cite the game as an influence. If you haven’t played Out of This World, get the high resolution re-release for PC direct from Chahi. And if you’re interested in its unorthodox development there are ‘making of’ features online that are nardgasm worthy.