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Jordan Mechner, of course, is best known as the creator of Prince of Persia -- a game that made waves for its cinematic style when it was first released, even though it did not rely on cutscenes. Eric Chahi's Another World (known as Out of This World in the U.S.) was another early '90s title that pushed the boundaries of cinematic style within the context of gameplay.
Late last year, the two came together to discuss inspiration, creativity, and the idea of gaming auteurs with developer Eric Viennot. The resulting interview was published in French on the Viennot's Blog. Gamasutra is happy to publish this translation, rendered in English by journalist and translator Tristan Ducluzeau.
The interview, which discusses why both creators stepped away from games for a time and the very source of inspiration, contains the hard-won insights of these creators of foundational works.
"A game should be about something, not just about other games," says Mechner. Meanwhile, Chahi teases his unannounced new game project. For more, keep reading:
You both created games which eventually attained cult status. Prince of Persia started one of the most beautiful video game franchises and many critics regard Another World as one of the first artistic works in our field.
What's more, these games were practically single man endeavors. Do you think this kind of approach is still possible today? Does the industry have room for auteurs?
Jordan Mechner: I think it's absolutely still possible today for one person to create a game that will have a major impact on the field. The level of technology and tools available, and the instant worldwide distribution network afforded by the internet, are absolutely incredible compared to what we had to work with in the 1980s. That doesn't make it any easier to do, but it wasn't easy then either.
Eric Chahi: Absolutely. I fully agree with you, Jordan. You can create beautiful works while keeping it modest; you don't have to go down the path of multi-million dollars blockbusters.
Over the last decade, video game development has gradually become an industrialized process. Is this the reason why you put some distance between you and the industry?
JM: I seem to average one videogame about every five to seven years. That's not very prolific, but it's not the fault of any changes in the industry. My problem is that I also love making films, writing screenplays and graphic novels, and there are only so many days in a year. This was my problem even back in the 1980s, when I had to balance programming Karateka and Prince of Persia with finishing college and writing my first screenplay.
EC: For me, the industrialization of video game development was only part of the reason. Suffice it to say that after Heart of Darkness, I needed to take a break, to clear my mind and explore other avenues.
It is true that by the end of the '90s, the direction the industry was moving in was such that creating a new game was the last thing on my mind. Our field was going through a period of mutation and restructuring as marketing was establishing its iron grasp. In the end, it didn't prevent me from getting back on board. I just needed to take a step back from it all for a while.
Today, things are a bit more organized; I have been working with a team on a new game for a year and a half now. Actually, Jordan, I have the opposite problem: when I start working on a game, it becomes an obsession. It's all I can think about until it's done and it's difficult for me to do anything else.
Many people still picture developers as geeks stuck in front of their screen, but both of you are passionate about things that don't have anything to do with video games: Eric is into painting and volcanoes while Jordan is interested in the Templars, comics, and cinema. Do you use these as a source of inspiration or are video games simply one of your many areas of interest?
JM: In all creative fields, innovation comes from combining things that haven't been put together before. If you immerse yourself too single-mindedly in your chosen art form, whether it's video games, movies, comics or whatever, your work can easily become just a reflection of what others are doing in that field, rather than breaking new ground. A game should be about something, not just about other games.
EC: Video games have to find their inspiration somewhere. Unless you are aiming for a completely abstract game, the interactive material from which video games are formed relies on symbols, codes, behaviors, rules, perspectives, points of view and emotions, all of which stem from our experiences outside video games.
Video games, like other expressive forms, cannot exist in a vacuum, they cannot feed on themselves. Video game creators draw from the real world, from their passions. All these inspirations brew in their subconscious until they find their definitive form, whether it ends up as something new or not.