Interview: Éric Chahi and the Inspiration of Art
Éric Chahi is well-known in the industry for his innovative work on Another World (called Out of This World in the U.S.) and Heart of Darkness—and for his nearly ten-year absence from the industry. XBLA Fans sat down at E3 2011 with the legendary game designer for a quiet chat about art, inspiration, and the craft of telling stories.
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Our quiet corner of the Ubisoft booth is a welcome relief from the noise and chaos of the show floor. We settle down on some cushioned seats, surrounded by larger-than-life Rabbids. The relentless soundtrack of an Assassin’s Creed preview serves as our auditory backdrop. It’s a strange place for profound conversations.
Chahi himself is incredibly humble and approachable. He’s also a consummate artist. He speaks passionately and eloquently about his vision and about the process of achieving that vision.
Our conversation starts with the obvious: since the announcement of From Dust, Chahi’s fans have been embracing his return and questioning the hiatus. Why the long break? Chahi is unruffled by the question; it’s one he’s been asked many times. “If I am going to make a game, I feel it is important to be inspired.”
Despite telling the story to many reporters these last couple years, Chahi’s eyes still come alive while he describes his journeys from volcanos to the stark Sahara. “Some things you see and you know they change. Other things seem to change not at all… But they all change. Everything is changing—ephemeral.”
This is what sets Chahi apart in the world of game design. His ideas are driven by a deeply felt inspiration and by a desire to communicate. “With From Dust, I am trying to tell a story.” Chahi describes a story about “the erosion of geography and the erosion of life,” but the game also draws out the arrogance of people to think they can have ultimate control over nature.
That’s a pretty heavy message for an XBLA title, but the visionary developer seems unconcerned. “I am not making this game for any specific kind of person. I think it is a story for all people.” Videogames might seem like a surprising choice for Chahi’s story, but it’s the unique advantages of games that he loves.
“You can do something with a game that you cannot do with film or books. In films, you are forced to go from one thing to another. You have no choices.” Is there any other platform that can tell a story this well? “Theatre is maybe the closest thing—especially improvisation. The story can go many ways and it forms around choices.”
It’s this freedom of choice coupled with Chahi’s incredible artistic vision that makes us so excited to play From Dust. And if you’re daunted by the idea that people can’t control nature, rest assured that your powers increase over the course of the game. Chahi hinted at some of the exciting things you’ll see toward the end of From Dust, but we’d rather leave that bit of suspense in tact.