In 2017, I had the chance to do a long interview with Eric Chahi for the creation of the book Indie Games. He talked at length about the creation process, the difficulties and joys of being independent, free to create the game of your dreams.
He also talked about his new virtual reality game Paper Beast. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Is it still possible to improvise during game production today?
Éric Chahi : Yes, it’s still possible and that’s what I’m putting into practice right now on Paper Beast: I did not want to define the gameplay in advance; things get clearer as the game making process advances.
So, the improvisational approach is always possible. But it depends on the production environment, the size of the team, etc.
Anyway, in the video game industry as in other creative areas, it is imperative to iterate and to test to find the right formula.
And when you start implementing features, you have new ideas.
So, it is necessary to leave some room for the unexpected. It would be restrictive to only develop what was in the initial draft and not integrate new possible ideas.
In this case, can you describe how you improvised in the production of Paper Beast?
Éric Chahi : The game is very much based on a simulation of the living. To play with this, it is necessary to set up systems and technical solutions to build credible animal movements.
We spent a lot of time building that. Around this central element, other ideas have emerged and this is where improvisation begins.
Moreover, there are no predetermined narratives. We start by prototyping with these systems, then a universe develops and a narrative frame emerges from it.
There are some key moments that we absolutely want to see in game. As with Another World, the development of the scenario is done piece by piece, and we later set up the elements in chronological order. […]
What does VR bring to your current project?
Éric Chahi : My opinion of VR changed from the moment I could have controllers in my hand and interact with the virtual environment.
You are really immersed spatially in a universe that becomes tangible for the user.
There are constraints that are more physiolo- gical and psychological, especially in relation to the management of vertigo. When you move the player without his knowledge, it can cause discomfort and it requires a different design.
Apart from that, you do what you want. You can tell stories, experience adventures, paint, accomplish challenges. […]
What are the cinematographic and visual inspirations for this new title?
Éric Chahi : For Another World, it was Star Wars and science fiction in general. For my next game, it’s rather influenced by David Lynch.
But I don’t have any really direct inspirations for the graphics. Let’s say that we took from several cultural sources and that the theme is given by the title of the game. […]
What is the worst event that happened to you during the production of a game?
Éric Chahi : During the Heart of Darkness production, Virgin abandoned the project and we had to find a new publisher to release the game. But this turned out to be a good thing.
When Infogrammes took over the project, it was almost finished and we had a win-win partnership with them.
But for six months nothing was certain and it was particularly hard to keep on developing the game.
Despite the stress of having your studio, do you want to stay independent?
Éric Chahi : It’s true that we have a lot of time constraints and budget restrictions. In the case of From Dust, the concept was presented to Ubisoft and it was developed with an internal team. It’s “semi-indie”, if you want.
There were the constraints and workflow patterns of a big company. We had to comply with 1998 internal validation and editorial processes.
For Paper Beast, it’s my studio and a team that I united around a common project. We choose the content of the game and there is no external interference.
I also used personal funds to create it, before getting some financial support from a French institution CNC.
We also have a partnership that helps us and gradually we have found more resources while keeping our independence. When you have your own studio, you have to make sure you have the money to pay everyone.
I also have to handle all the administrative aspects of having a company. Even if I delegate a lot of work, I have to do some and it prevents me from spending more time on the creative process.
There are 10 of us in the team and it can start to be difficult to manage. Beyond 10 people, I think it would be harder for me to keep a fluid and flexible production process.
So, yes, indeed, being indie is a lot of stress. When you are independent, there are risks because your investors can stop helping you at any moment.
But it’s always better than having a sword of Damocles over your head that can crush you. When you are employed in a company, your project can be cancelled at any time and you can’t do anything about it.
In any case, there is no safe situation. Let’s say that at least we have creative autonomy. We are totally free and that is priceless! I prefer to create smaller projects and retain this freedom.
About Éric Chahi
He started programming games in the 8-bit era and since then he has never really stopped designing videogame worlds. His most famous title, Another World (1991) has inspired more than one game designer, from Fumito Ueda (The Last Guardian) to Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid).
The game even made its official debut at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012. After a collaboration with Ubisoft on From Dust (2011), Chahi is once again at the head of an indie studio, Pixel Reef. He is working on his next VR (virtual reality) title, Paper Beast.
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