A few thoughts on Another World (iOS)

April 25th, 2014

Another World is considered a classic in the video games industry, and rightfully so. The cinematic, rotoscoped cutscenes and minimalistic storytelling were groundbreaking for its time. The game established a precedence for new forms of storytelling within the medium and was a strong influence on game designers like Hideo Kojima and Fumito Ueda. Its gameplay, strangely enough, doesn’t seem to get talked about much, and having recently beaten the game, it’s clear why. I’m going to let the examples do the talking for this one. You can see the whole game completed in 8 minutes in the video above.

A frequent lack of form fits function

This is the only guard in the game that can destroy terrain with his grenades. His friends, who throw identical-looking grenades, have no such luck. (To be fair, the floor does appear somewhat damaged, but it’s difficult to make out).

Even though the stalagmites are drawn in the same way as the right-hand platform, you can swim through the stalagmites.

Sometimes you die from a few laser blasts; other times you can be continually blasted for 10 seconds and still walk away without a scratch.

On-screen controller and input buffering

Take a classic game that originally used a controller. Now put that controller on the screen and place your fingers on the digital buttons. As is the case for all iOS games with an on-screen game pad, your fingers naturally obscure the action. The limited view is highly problematic in the shooting sequences, where you’re required to read your enemies and react.

The other problem with digital buttons is the lack of tactile feedback. This issue is conflated by the delayed reaction to your inputs (which, from what I can gather, was part of the original game). You would think that the gameplay challenges would have been designed to work around this obvious limitation, but many of the movement and jumping tasks require accuracy within the range of a few pixels. So when put up against such challenges, it’s easier to walk up close to an obstacle and then jump/run ahead of time than trying to jump while you’re still running. With my fingers blocking the screen and my inputs one step behind the game’s visuals, I sometimes felt that it was better to look away from the screen and just internalise the timing through trial and error.

Poor feedback

Shooting this chandelier will release the obstacle in Buddy’s path, which makes no sense at all as only the chandelier itself drops.

Shooting this power line closes a door later on in the game, which briefly protects you from enemy fire. Problem is, the only way to find out about the relationship between these two elements is to have gone on ahead and failed to escape the enemy fire.

One screen below, there’s a guard walking around. You’re meant to cut the rope so that the ball hits the guard on the head and knocks him out. You can’t see the guard, though; and if you miss, you need to restart from the last checkpoint.

I don’t know what these rooms do either.

Frequent checkpoints = fast turn around = no time to reflect on mistakes = more mistakes = more more wasted time

To minimise the effect of the poor feedback and puzzle design, Another World resorts to frequent checkpoints. While it would be nice if the game was free of all the issues listed above (and more), the checkpoints are appropriate. One side effect, though, is that the fast turn around doesn’t give the player time to reflect on their mistakes, which is an important part of understanding and progressing through any game.

Conclusion

I can respect Another World‘s influence on the gaming landscape. It’s apparent from the first few minutes of play that the game is something else. Its similarities with a number of contemporary indie games is also quite remarkable (Iji, Super Meat Boy, Limbo, etc.). Such is a worrying trend, however, that its poor gameplay has been swept under the rug by many commentators. This is a topic that I explore further with Uncharted 2 in Adventures in Games Analysis: Volume 1. Speaking of which, it should be out soon. Hurray for that.

  • Richard

    Seeing these screenshots feels so nostalgic lol, I don’t have an iPhone but I clearly remember the excitement when I first saw Another World on PC. Back then I had an EGA monitor and 16MHZ CPU (if I remember right)… I’d love to play AW again on PC, wonder if there’s any chance to get a PC version today and would it run under Windows 7 :S I love playing silly games even today I enjoy cooking flash games at http://papasgames.us/ site…

  • KirbyKid

    Another World? More like… another video game (that I’ll pass on).

    muwahahah.

  • For the point with the lasers:

    I think this is simply an issue with the camera angle. The video you show has the lasers just about missing the hero, but the 2D side on perspective makes it difficult to make out.

    The times you die in a few hits are when the lasers actually connect.

    They were basically trying to go for a scene where the enemies keep missing you with a barrage of laser shots, but couldn’t make it work well within the game’s camera angle.

    The point with the stalagmites is a good one, but it’s not really exclusive to this game. A lot of titles have foreground objects that you can’t go through (yet look solid).

  • Sure. The lasers certainly seem to be behaving in that way, but it’s not so easy to read. Never mind that in almost every other situation involving laser fire, you die on the first shot.

  • This is merely the tradeoff the game makes for a more ‘cinematic’ experience. That’s one of the points it was marketed with, that it was a game that felt like playing through a sort of movie. It had to choose between what looked cooler and what worked best mechanically, and chose the former.

    Running and narrowly dodging lasers looked cool, but had the downside of ‘dodgy’ seeming collision detection due to the viewpoint. Dodging them as they shot towards you in a straight line and did consistent damage as in other parts of the game… that would work better mechanically, but would also take something away from the game’s ‘feel’.

    It’s the trade off all games have to choose between; looking really good at the expense of more ambiguous collisions, rules, etc, or being mechanically precise with the downside of looking blocky and ‘game like’.

    Similar to the trade off between platforming with clearly defined edges and ‘blocks’ (aka 2D Mario games) and platforming with more natural landscapes with less clear collisions (aka Donkey Kong Country, Rayman and Wario Land 4).