Eric Chahi, creative director at Ubisoft Montpellier chats about his newly announced downloadable game, Project Dust.
Q: A lot of gamers are still today paying homage to "Out of this World" as their first great video game memory. How did you create this masterpiece?
Eric Chahi: I've almost created it on my own on Amiga. I handled programming, tools, gameplay, graphics and animation. The only aspect of the game that I did not directly take care of was music. The development lasted two years and I finished game in 1991.
All the experience that I accumulated since 1983 when I've started to create games, was concentrated in this concept. My ambition was to provide the player a unique experience, the feeling of being lonely in an unknown world where friendship has a strong and special place. I decided to break all the video games traditional codes, such as score, lives, bonus etc. I wanted to remain focused on the essential: feeling, challenge and emotional pacing. Give the player a global experience is still part of my inner motivation.
Q: What happened since the release of your latest game "Heart of Darkness?" in 1998?
EC: Heart of Darkness was a long and exhausting experience which lasted six year. After that, I made the decision to step back from video games and spend time on other passions such as travels, music, painting... and... finally I start developing a new idea about a game!
In 2005 this idea became more concrete, so I started to give structure to my ideas and built a real universe. At the end of 2006, I proposed Dust to Ubisoft and they considered it promising and very original.
Q: When did you start working for Ubisoft?
EC: I started 2 years ago. I'm now working in Montpellier Studios with a small team of people really talented and committed. At the beginning there were only 3 of us, by February 2008, we are at 17 people. That is at the same time a complicated and exciting experience since we are creating something new from scratch.
Q: What is your new project about?
EC: Project Dust is based on a technological breakthrough which allows us to have a world that's entirely dynamic. You've probably noticed the ground crumbling down in the video we presented at E3 Ubisoft's conference; well that's in the game. Players will be able to manipulate ground, water, vegetation, lava as if playing sandcastles on the beach. Breaching a lake open, digging craters, flooding valleys... And all this is simulation, not just graphics visualization.
The technology behind the game is at the top of what can be done on today's computer architecture. The team did some impressive work, way beyond my expectations when I conceived the design.
Q: Can you describe your project in a few words?
EC: Project dust is the spiritual heir to Populous. The game is set in an extreme version of Planet Earth where nature unleashes her power in a much more violent way than what we are used to. Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, volcanic eruptions are what the days are made of for the people of Dust. In this kind of God game, users will play with powers to manipulate the world around them. Ground, water, lava, fire, plants and trees -model the world like a child playing sand castles on the beach. With such powers, players will help their people resist, expand and migrate so they can accomplish their quest to find a safe place.
Q: What are your ambitions?
EC: With Project Dust, we want to be the most spectacular XBLA/PSN game to date by players a deep experience, in a believable world. Make them live an epic human adventure.
Q: What are your main source of inspiration for this game in term of others games / movies?
EC: Specifically for this game, inspiration came first from life experience! I decided to create Project Dust during a trip in Vanuatu in 1999, I was near the Yasur crater and it was strongly active. I could see its explosion; the sound was incredibly loud, like an air plane breaking the soundwall. Bombs were falling everywhere and sometimes really close to us. I was at the same time fascinated by this breathtaking beauty and really scared. I remember I had two thoughts at this very moment: "I want to create another game before I die" and "in the game I want to convey this ambivalence of Nature, beautiful and potentially violent at the same time".
Populous had also a big influence for sure, as well as games like Rez because music is an important part the universe of the game.
Q: On which platforms will your project be available and when?
EC: It'll be available on Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and downloadable for PC on Spring 2011.
Q: Why that choice?
EC: We've chosen these platforms as we feel that they allow us a freedom and rapidity which match the tone of the game. We're able to be just that little bit more daring and creative. We also know that there are a lot of players out there today on XBLA and PSN - just look at the top ten on XBLA. It's full of really diverse genres like classic platformers and cool strategy games like Toy Soldiers. We think that Project Dust will find a good niche there.
Q: What are your artistic / creative influences?
EC: Paper like Real-Time Fluid Dynamics For Games from Joe Stam and Evasion team at INRIA. Conway's Games of Life, for all propagative elements like plants. Painter Zdzisław Beksinski has always been for me a very important reference for his incredible and surrealistic ambiance. And, last but not least, Koyaanisqatsi, the movie from Godfrey Reggio.