I recently played through the 15th Anniversary Edition of Another World, known in the US as Out of This World, and walked away deeply affected by this game. There are many older games I can appreciate for what they were, but almost none that resonate with me for what they still are. Another World is, and I mean that very much in the present tense, a masterpiece of visual story telling. The lesson it imparts for narrative games today is one that our best story tellers already know and yet far too many games ignore: they key to a good game narrative is visual variety.
To provide a little context, Another World is a game created by Eric Chahi that was released on the Amiga in 1991 and ported over to other platforms in subsequent years. It falls into a loosely defined genre called the cinematic platformer. The genre is defined by a group of games starting with Prince of Persia and that later included titles like Abe's Odyssey. They are platformers that eschew the floaty physics and improvisational gameplay of Super Mario Brothers and instead require deliberate actions to clear certain areas. Gameplay resembles a kind of reflex oriented puzzle solving. Poorly defined as the title may be, it's safe to say that if Prince of Persia established the gameplay that defined the genre then Another World was responsible for inspiring the cinematic moniker.
Compared to Another World, the storytelling in many of the current era's major games is staid and primitive. There are narrative techniques in games that, because they work at some marginal level, have become nothing less than dogmatic principles a developers are expected to abide. Consider the cut scene: It is a sorely abused narrative device that usually ends up delineating two separate portions of gameplay. It was no small shock to me when, instead of watching Lester, Another World's protagonist, die at the fang of a strange creature in the side scrolling perspective the game's play takes place in, the game switched to a cut scene where the fang on the creature flicks out and slices at a close up of the character's knee. It's a brilliant use of cut scene that takes the player from the confines of a two dimensional world into the temporary perspective of a three dimensional one. The world, in the player's imagination, is indelibly changed into a much larger and more detailed place with that small cinematic.
Another World also has a keen sense of the visual planes available in even a side scrolling game. Often there is action occurring in the foreground and background of the game at key points that emphasize the chaos or danger of a situation. It's unexpected when it occurs, and gives the game's story a sense of immediacy. Another World is remarkable for the sheer number of perspectives it uses, despite falling under the designation of a side scrolling platformer. It shifts between the perspective of the gamer, a passive viewer and even, in brief moments, the main character. In doing so the game becomes visually interesting: its setting more evocative and its moments of trauma more dramatic.
Also interesting are the moments in which the perspective of the character, even in the fixed state of a platformer, changes radically. At one point Lester turns sideways and rolls through air ducts. In changing the characters physical orientation frequently, the player is given more cues about the space around him. Environments are more than abstract obstacle courses in which the character repeats the same moves. They become real environments that force the character into strange and unique positions. All these small touches serve to create a sense of place and personality in the totally silent Lester.