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that won’t die
Out of This World (known as Another World outside of North America) is a true gaming classic, hitting systems as diverse as the Super Nintendo and iOS since its 1991 arrival on the Commodore Amiga. Creator Eric Chahi has now given his blessing to one more adaptation of the game on an unlikely console.
French computer scientist Sébastien Briais is the man at the heart of the project, and the platform of choice is the Atari Jaguar, a powerful machine that’s notorious for being one of the worst-selling video game consoles of all time.
Jaguar: Atari’s last console
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A lack of support from third-party publishers such as Activision, Electronic Arts, or Capcom led to an understocked games catalog, and Atari had more or less accepted defeat by the time the new kids on the block, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in 1995.
Atari’s report to stockholders that year was bleak: “From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar. As of December 31, 1995, Atari had approximately 100,000 units of Jaguar in inventory … . There can be no assurance that Atari’s substantial unsold inventory of Jaguar and related software can be sold at current or reduced prices if at all.”
Out of This World
Briais is an enthusiastic Jaguar programmer, and despite the console’s retail failure 20 years ago, he is confident that it will prove a worthy home for Chahi’s classic cinematic adventure game.
“The story began in 2007 when I attended the Atari Connexion in Congis not far from Paris,” says Briais. “This event was organised by the Retro Gaming Connexion. Eric Chahi was invited to the event, and he was very enthusiastic to see some crazy people still having fun coding on old hardware. Some friends of mine and I asked whether he would let us adapt Another World for the Jaguar.”
Eric Chahi recalls his first meeting with Briais with equal clarity. “The event organizers presented me to [Briais’ programming group] The Removers,” he says. “They asked me if it would be possible to port Another World on Jaguar. I was impressed by their ability to code on this machine. These guys sounded like crazy people, so I immediately said, ‘Yes.'”
But the Out of This World Jaguar project remained just a concept until 2010, when Briais finally had the time to seriously work on it. Chahi provided Briais with the original Atari source code, along with the latest data and enhanced graphics from the 15th anniversary edition. “I gave Seb technical info on the game engine,” he says, “and later I resized the graphics to the native size of the Jaguar so that there is no dithering [scattering of pixels to make up for a limited color palette].”
With Chahi’s support, Briais managed to not only get the game running but take it to a stage where it was outperforming the original. “About one year ago, [Eric] came to my home and tried a beta version,” says Briais. “I think he was quite impressed by the console, as the game runs very smoothly on it.”
“It was like jumping into an alternate reality in the past where someone coded Another World on this computer,” recalls Chahi. “I was amazed by the quality of this version. Seb coded it in assembly language using the advantage of the Jaguar hardware. It is one of the best versions, clearly. The code is so well optimized that if the frame rate is not limited, it can run maybe at least five times faster than the original with all the enhanced graphics.”
A truly limited edition
The term ‘limited edition’ is tossed about almost too casually these days. Briais’ Out of This World project takes it very seriously.
Briais will produce just 200 copies of the game, priced at €60 ($78) each, and pre-orders have now closed. He currently has no plans to make the game available for sale after this initial run. “We expect about 200 orders and thus will produce 200 units,” he says.
Being a cartridge release, the production process is far more time-consuming and complicated than a CD-based game. “We need time to manufacture the cartridges,” says Briais. “We are about to order all the parts. Then we have to assemble them and program each game individually. This will take time.”
Briais expects to start shipping the first units of the game in June of this year. Boxed, labelled, and packed with a three-language instruction booklet, they will be as close as you can get to an official release.
For Chahi, this is the biggest draw of all. “The most incredible thing is the cartridge edition,” he says. “Manufacturing a cartridge today for hardware that is not produced anymore demands a lot of courage. I have unlimited respect for these developers to do this. I can’t wait to get the physical object in my hand.”
The game itself will be playable with the original graphics in 16 colors or using the 256 colors of the deluxe 15th anniversary edition. It will also feature both normal and speed-run modes, which is unique to this version. “[Eric] enjoyed the speed-run mode a lot,” says Briais.
Briais explains how he utilized the latent power of the Atari Jaguar in his coding. “As a computer scientist, I am quite proud of the technology involved in this version,” he says, “including just-in-time compilation [editor’s note: a method of improving runtime performance], on-the-fly depacking [editor’s note: allowing code to unpack as it loads, which conserves memory], and high-quality sound rendering. I even needed to slow the game down a bit in order for it to be playable.”
The biggest challenge was squeezing the entire game onto a single cartridge. With only 4MB of space available, it was difficult to include all the data needed for the 256-color version of the graphics.
Chahi can closely relate to Briais’ endeavors having single-handedly coded the original game in his garage over 30 years ago. “I felt very close to these people by the way they code passionately,” he says. “Sébastien has a lot of perseverance.”
But have today’s Jaguar retro-programmers got it easy compared to the developers of yesteryear? “It is a bit easier because you can get advantage of today’s tools, compilers, and flash memory cards,” says Chahi. “But, well, the machine is the same, so it is still difficult. Coding in assembly is hard.”
A Jaguar rebirth?
This isn’t Briais’ first foray into Jaguar development. “My first project was a port of Atomic, a simple puzzle game,” he says. “Then I started to write a library to ease game development on the Jaguar. It has been used by a few projects from other developers, such as Frog Feast and Dazed.”
Briais had also started writing a Bomberman clone for the console, which reached an alpha-build stage; however, he aborted the project due to “a lack of time and motivation.”
Releasing new Jaguar games on cartridge has only been made possible very recently. Briais explains it is down to “some friends of mine from the Jagware [online community] team, SCPCD and Zerosquare, who created a new electronic design to build cartridges with modern components.”
Besides Out of This World, the console has seen very few new cartridge releases in recent years. Briais points to 2009 shooter Mad Bodies and 2012 puzzle game Blackout as examples. Both had extremely limited runs.
“I know that some other people are going to release new cartridge games in the future,” says Briais. But he isn’t thinking of anything beyond Out of This World. The game will be the culmination of his eight years of Jaguar development, and it is arguably the most ambitious Jaguar release since the console ceased production in 1995.
So what motivates him to work so hard on developing for a supposedly dead console?
“The answer is simple. For having fun.”
Out of This World screenshots and box art via Removers, console close-up via Ian Muttoo/Flickr, Out of This World gameplay image via Jagware Reboot/YouTube, Jaguar console image via Easterbilby/Flickr, Eric Chahi portrait via Official DGC/Flickr, and original cover artwork via Eric Chahi.