Another World Creator Says Low Budgets Offer Creative Freedom

Andy Chalk

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Another World Creator Says Low Budgets Offer Creative Freedom


Eric Chahi, the man behind the cult classic Another World [http://www.amazon.com/Another-World-15th-Anniversary-PC/dp/B0012ILWTM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1300813105&sr=8-2], says that when it comes to creative freedom in game development, "The less it costs, the better it is."

The feeling that success in the videogame industry means creating either a huge triple-A hit or a low budget indie sleeper is becoming increasingly common. But while Ubisoft said in August 2010 that the money is in Heart of Darkness [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/103163-Ubisoft-Only-Triple-A-Games-Are-Profitable] recently countered by claiming that when it comes to creative freedom, it's better to be cheap.

"The less it costs the better it is because the less it costs the more creative freedom we have," Chahi told CVG [http://www.computerandvideogames.com/294755/news/lower-development-budgets-mean-more-creative-freedom-another-world-creator]. "It's true that there are more creative things on the low budget side than on the triple-A side. If you have a graph of creativity it will be lower on the triple-A and higher and on the lower [budget] because creativity is not linked to the development cost."

What is linked to development cost is sales; a multi-million-dollar budget has to be recouped and that means playing to what sells. That adds up to a certain consistency and reliability but it also has a way of stifling creative urges that are potentially awesome but might not attract much of an audience. In that regard, Chahi also pointed out that the production quality of low budget games is improving dramatically, which will inevitably attract more mainstream attention.

"We can see that on the XBLA and PSN the production quality is increasing right now if you compare the games on the XBLA from a few years ago to today," he said. "I don't know how it will evolve; maybe we will have bigger budgets for original games, but don't think that it's a goal."

Chahi is currently at work on From Dust [http://fromdustgame.com/], which is slated for release later this year on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network and Steam.


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rembrandtqeinstein

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Good for him. Another World was one of the best gaming experiences of the early 90s, and an innovative use of the technologies of that era. I hope his next game replicates that feeling.
 

Kilo24

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I'd agree, though there are more reasons than he gives.

The higher the budget is - even though more developers are involved - the harder it is to experiment with things that might screw up. A designer can't redesign elements of the game as easily when you've got several artists making 3d models of what you're designing, and writers aren't allowed as much creative freedom when they'd have to scrap the whole scene to rewrite a script. It means that the the work needs to be managed in such a way that it can be shuffled from one specialist to another, which means that if it screws up it's a lot more costly to redo than if it's the work of a one guy who wrote every line of code.

It's also a lot easier to understand "We're going to make a video game of Indiana Jones", "We'll do the same thing but with high-quality graphics" or "In this sequel, we're going to fix all the problems that the original had" than it is to understand "We're going to make a brand-new game with a mechanic or two that nobody's seen before." A large team that works off of a vague idea is going to stumble into a lot more difficulty than a small team that has the same idea, just because the amount of communication that a project requires increases exponentially with the number of developers. Unclear ideas are costly to kludge together for a small team, but prohibitively expensive for a large one.

Because of this, the higher the budget is, the safer the developers play. It's not just to recoup costs.

On the other hand, there are an awful lot of extraordinarily poor low-budget games out there. It's quite possible that given the relative amounts of low-budget games and AAA games, there's the same ratio of creative versus uncreative games between the two. It's just since there's a lot more small-budget games out there, people unconsciously cherry-pick the best of them to support their view of the indie game industry.
 

Andy Chalk

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Another World was brilliant. I'm still on the lookout for an original, although I managed to score a copy of the 15th Anniversary release, which was a hell of a good deal and still a wonderful gaming experience. Chahi hasn't been overly prolific but when it comes to making games with impact, the man knows his shit.
 

geizr

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I completely disagree with this constant thinking that there exists a single, explicit rule that you just blindly follow to instantly create a successful game. Video games are a creative effort, and, being such, there just is no single hard, fast rule that you just do. There are many different elements that must be put into a game, and they have to all be balanced against each other such to create an enjoyable, holistic experience. It's a matter of the developer having the artistic eye to understand when the parts are working together to create that experience and when they are not. Such ability and understanding of the crafting of video games is something that is independent of the budget of the game or the technology that goes into the game. Making up a blind rule to just follow unquestioningly is what has given us all these terrible rip-offs that are designed using the "like X but..." philosophy of game design.
 

FinalFreak16

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My interest in From Dust just quadroupled. Another World AND Heart of Darkness? Where have you been all this time!?
 

The Rogue Wolf

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FinalFreak16 said:
My interest in From Dust just quadroupled. Another World AND Heart of Darkness? Where have you been all this time!?
Eric Chahi knows how to create bleak landscapes and feelings of hopelessness and being overwhelmed by the very world around you. He kinda scares me that way.
 

SaintWaldo

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Another way to express what he's talking at is, lower budgets create less pressure to just "hack it", as in, "through a jungle", rather than "craft it", as in, "make a work of art".

When you only have 100k to pay off, instead of 1 million, that's a whole order of magnitude less pressure to cover rent on your capital. It's less pressure to just hack it out the door instead of putting another layer of polish, or hell, going back to REWRITE if needed.

To put a film analogy on it:
He's saying that in Spider-man, if Norman Osborn had not had so much _other_ money on the line, he could have accepted the scientists warning to go back to formula on his serum. Less money would have been less pressure to keep a broken idea alive and in production. This is a situation where money, in the form of pending military contracts, was jeopardized by actual honesty by makers. That formula was crap and dangerous. But Osborne HAD to use it, to "prove a point". And it ruins him.

Shoulda gone back to formula, and if it had just been for lower stakes, he would likely have been able to do that. And maybe make a REAL super serum.

That's what I think Mr. Chahl is saying. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
 

Trogdor1138

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Andy Chalk said:
Another World was brilliant. I'm still on the lookout for an original, although I managed to score a copy of the 15th Anniversary release, which was a hell of a good deal and still a wonderful gaming experience. Chahi hasn't been overly prolific but when it comes to making games with impact, the man knows his shit.
It's good to see some love for Another World, it's my favourite game of all time. I actually have an original copy that I found for 10 bucks over here in Australia awhile back, as well as the SNES, Megadrive and XP versions.

If anybody wants to play the game, get the XP Anniversary edition, the updated visuals are stunning and add even more to the game, it's also much smoother, best and most faithful update to a game I've ever seen. It's good to see him in the news again, I still can't get over the fact he's got a new game coming out after all this time, I didn't even need to hear the concept before I decided on buying it at launch.

The man knows what he's talking about when it comes to this, he made Another World practically by himself in his basement over two years, he's insanely talented.
 

Mista Gav

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I have to agree with this statement not just for the reasons people have already said but a few others. If you have a smaller budget you usually have less resources at your disposal and in a way forced to innovate in order for your game to stand out amonst the crowd. It's easy for the AAA developers to make a solid game as they know strong marketing will help with sales but it doesn't work for the smaller developers.

This is also why I don't agree with Cliffy B's comment that 'Middle class gaming is dead', they just need to rethink their strategy and so instead of trying to fight the bigger boys with a smaller budget they should just work with what they have and try and do something different. Not just in terms of the game but also price point and platform to launch on and marketing. Constraints lead to innovation I say!

Lastly I really like the idea that Tim Schaefer is doing at the moment, that is splitting up his development team into four smaller teams and working on four smaller projects as opposed to one AAA budget game. It sounds like a creatively healthy thing to do, not just for the industry but for the company too creatively. Imagine someone like Treyarch taking a year and a half out to work on two smaller games rather then another COD...sounds like a wet dream though knowing Activision!
 

D_987

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Trogdor1138 said:
It's good to see some love for Another World, it's my favourite game of all time. I actually have an original copy that I found for 10 bucks over here in Australia awhile back, as well as the SNES, Megadrive and XP versions.

If anybody wants to play the game, get the XP Anniversary edition, the updated visuals are stunning and add even more to the game, it's also much smoother, best and most faithful update to a game I've ever seen. It's good to see him in the news again, I still can't get over the fact he's got a new game coming out after all this time, I didn't even need to hear the concept before I decided on buying it at launch.

The man knows what he's talking about when it comes to this, he made Another World practically by himself in his basement over two years, he's insanely talented.
Ah, now I recall it - I bought the Anniversary edition of Another World from GoG based on someones recommendation - must've been yours - great recommendation by the way; the game is fantastic. I didn't realize he was behind Heart of Darkness; a game I fondly remember.

He's also correct in his comments, for reasons SaintWaldo states; if you attempt innovation, and it doesn't work; you can't go back on your idea and create something new after early development; there's to much risk and money involved for you to do that. It's much better to stick with what you know works.

Mista Gav said:
I have to agree with this statement not just for the reasons people have already said but a few others. If you have a smaller budget you usually have less resources at your disposal and in a way forced to innovate in order for your game to stand out amonst the crowd.
I also agree with this statement, it's why you see so much forced innovation occurring within the indie scene.