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Chakan Dreamcast Preview

By: Wallace Poulter
Date: 08/16/1999
Original Appearance: www.videogames.com/dream/adventure/chakan/index.html

The Genesis game Chakan was a unique title in the video-game industry, not because of its sales (a few hundred thousand at a time when that was the norm for a Sega-released Genesis title), but because it was one of those titles that game-industry professionals seemed to appreciate. So when Ed Annunziata and his development studio AndNow announced they had acquired the video-game rights to Chakan and were working on a Chakan sequel for the Dreamcast, it was no surprise that all kinds of individuals and publishers came out of the woodwork to contact Annunziata for information.

Annunziata, who is best known for Ecco the Dolphin, started AndNow back in 1996 with fellow Sega alum Gerry Blau. Besides creating such original titles as Spider-Man, X-Men, and 688 Attack Sub, Annunziata was the designer of Chakan on the Genesis. Ironically, Annunziata was working on Chakan at the same time that he was working on Ecco, a game that was the antithesis of Chakan. The original Genesis game followed Bob Kraus' comic book story about Chakan's endless quest to rid the world of supernatural evils.

Annunziata explains the original story: "Basically, Chakan is an unbeatable warrior. Out of arrogance, he says, 'Even death himself could not beat me in battle.' As you would expect, this pisses Death off and Death comes to make a bet with Chakan. The deal is that if Chakan wins the fight against Death, then Chakan gets to live forever. However, if Chakan loses, then his soul is Death's to do with what he pleases. Chakan loses (Death wins, but barely), and Chakan is then cursed to live forever, until he rids the earth of supernatural evils."

What Annunziata was looking to develop was "a [Genesis] game that hard-core gamers could really sink their teeth into," he says. "Chakan is a hero, but a reluctant one. He feels more pain than anyone, and his life is absolute hell. We wanted players to feel his pain. He feels the pain of the victims and that is what drives him to each enemy."

The premise? "Finally, after a 1000 years, Chakan beats the last of the supernatural evils on the planet and tries to kill himself, but he doesn't die. Death appears and says, 'you rid the earth of supernatural evils, Chakan, but look up. Each of those stars have planets, and on many of those planets are supernatural evils.'" That twist at the end sets up the Dreamcast sequel perfectly. Now traveling throughout the stars from planet to planet, Chakan continues to fight and defeat evil.

The game's engine is being built from scratch, and while it will emphasize animation, interpolation, and skin deformation, it is the lighting and sound that will receive the greatest amount of attention. The power of the Dreamcast allows layers of sophistication that game designers had only dreamed about Chakan's audio will drive the pace and gameplay of the levels more than the audio in any other game that comes to mind.

Part of the secret of the cult-like following that Chakan still commands can be traced to the trashing of an unwritten rule that Annunziata alludes to: "We estimated that only five percent of the players actually would finish a game to the very end. But 100 percent of the players would see the first level. So the logic of putting most your time and money on the first few levels became an unspoken rule. What we wanted to do was reverse that and put all of [the best gameplay] in the later levels. We wanted to reward that five percent for being such badass players." Therefore not surprisingly, he says, "If you find someone who beat Chakan for the Genesis, I guarantee they will tell you how amazing the game gets as you beat it. It may have been the hardest game of all time, but I feel that it rewarded the player who persevered like no other."

Chakan for the Dreamcast promises to be a new gaming experience. It's an action game, but it is not a game where you can walk in and hack and slash. Subtlety is the word. Chakan is a hunter of supernatural monsters that are almost always more powerful than he. Therefore, if the monster sees Chakan first, then Chakan is toast. This means the only way to beat the monster is to see it first, understand it, and finally figure out a way to kill it.

There's a wicked sense of anticipation at a good horror movie when you know something is going to happen but not what and when. If you are quick enough you can pick up minute clues about the impending danger. So as it is here, where all unwinds into a game where everything is a clue: The crickets that stop chirping in the forest, the flames that dance toward a specific direction, the sounds of foot steps, or ripples in quite quiet water. Here, tromping through the woods, you will last about 30 seconds. The way to play is to stop and listen. Be quiet and observe everything. Think like a hunter who can easily become prey.

Now add this layer of suspense to a video game, and a different game experience is in the offing. In retrospect, this shouldn't be a surprise. Having used dolphins and humming birds as protagonists in the past, Annunziata is used to surprising us with new and unique entertainment experiences.

As Chakan travels the mysterious River Styx, you relive and play a series of memory flashbacks as Chakan evolves from a fantasy story to a pure science-fiction setting. "My goal," Annunziata explains, "is pure intensity - where playing one level will make your jaw muscles hurt from clenching your teeth so tightly."

It is anticipated that Chakan will have twelve levels. Six have already been designed, and the remainder are in the works. Both outside and inside environments will be built, including a particularly creepy haunted forest. As the story evolves so will the character's weaponry. Chakan will have access to one-handed weapons such as spiked clubs and hooks, two-handed weapons such as axes, and an array of guns, laser cannons and pistols. Nominally, Chakan carries two swords, which after thousands of years of combat have become almost natural extensions of his limbs. Finally, as in the first game, Chakan is an alchemist, so there will be a number of alchemy-based power-ups.

Chakan is at the moment only planned for the Dreamcast. Annunziata has a sense of nostalgia when it comes to the title as it was "born a Sega game." There will be a number of cinematics within the game. Interestingly the plan is to allow the game player to move the camera during these and for a specific reason. It's all about mood, and being scary. "We are not going to try to impress anyone with our plug-ins," says Annunziata "we want to scare you."

There are a number of better-known designers, but in terms of pure creativity, Annunziata's peers can be counted on one hand. Chakan is shaping up to be a classic title.


By Wallace Poulter

Posted 08/16/99