Road to the IGF: Amanita Design's Botanicula

As part of the continuing Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra speaks to Amanita Design to learn more about its newest point and click adventure game, the whimsical and visually-striking Botanicula.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, Amanita Design has made a distinct impression on the indie game scene with its visually striking, imaginative adventure games such as Machinarium and Samorost 1 and 2. Now, the studio is working on Botanicula, a new point and click adventure game that continues the team's legacy of lovingly-crafted visuals and minimalistic storytelling techniques. The game's unique aesthetic has earned it a nomination for an Excellence in Visual Art award at this year's IGF. As part of our ongoing series of Road to the IGF interviews, Gamasutra spoke with animator Jara Plachy and Amanita Design co-founder Jakub Dvorsky to learn more about Botanicula, and how the studio's previous titles have informed the team's approach to adventure game design. How did you get your start making games? Jara Plachy: I started to work on games when I was hired by friends from Amanita Design to create some animations for Machinarium, and I really enjoyed working on the project. It was Amanita that actually showed me how to create a game. Until this collaboration, I worked mostly on animated movies, and I realized it's possible to create original and unique computer games that have narrative and expression equal to animated movies or graphic novels. How long have you worked on Botanicula? JP: Botanicula has been in development for two and a half years already. It has gone from preliminary sketches and visual style experiments to now, when the game is nearly finished. How did you come up with the concept for the game? JP: At the beginning, I just had an indefinite plan to create a game and follow my previous experiments, such as the small game Shy Dwarf. In the beginning, Botanicula was like an interactive animated movie -- like a huge maze, where the viewer -- or rather, the player -- can determine the future turn of events, just by choosing between A or B. This plan came about because I thought about the project mainly as a designer or an animator. Finally, after some close cooperation with Amanita and Jakub, Botanicula began to evolve into a point-and-click adventure game with gameplay similar to previous Amanita's games. As for the thematic inspiration, I was fascinated with an old garden full of aged trees in South Bohemia, where I was on holiday and I immediately started to think about making a game based on similar setting. Soon, I came up with a simple story about a little seed and plant-like characters and started to design all the small details inspired by this real garden.
What drives Amanita Design to the adventure game genre? What about it do you find most appealing? Jakub Dvorsky: Adventure games are perfect genre if you are looking for a slow paced game where the narrative and atmosphere are essential. We also love animated films, and adventure games are somewhere between films and games; they are like interactive animated movies, which is perfect -- there's something from both. What lessons are you taking from Amanita Design's previous adventure games, like Machinarium or Samorost? JP: Both Samorost and Machinarium were huge source of inspiration for me. From these games I learned how to actively connect a viewer with the picture, how to create a puzzle, and more. I like the visual aspect and playfulness of both games, but I always wanted Samorost to be longer game and Machinarium to be less difficult, so I can continue to the next location quickly. With Botanicula, I wanted to create a game that will be faster and have more locations to explore. What can players expect to see in Botanicula that they haven't seen in the team's other games? JP: Botanicula is more casual and not as challenging as Machinarium, but on the other hand, it plays faster and more fluidly. There's plenty of funny animations, places to explore, weird characters to meet, and hidden Easter eggs to find. There's also a collectible cards feature -- every time the player meets a character, solves a puzzle or finds a little hidden surprise, he gets a card with a small animation, and it's stored in an inventory so he can watch all his cards anytime he wants. JD: Botanicula is also much brighter, more cheerful and full of Jara's typical humor. The same is true for the sounds and music, which fit perfectly with the overall tone.
Can you take a moment to describe how you designed and created the puzzles in the game? JP: The process of creating the puzzles was fairly complicated. In fact, at the beginning there weren't any puzzles in the game. At first, the game was based only on going through the environment and watching interesting animations and scenes. But then Jakub came and said it would be a shame just to run through the game in a hurry without any challenge, and there should be some places to stop the player for a moment and let him work on the solution. It was also problematic to determine the level of skills of each player and make it well balanced. In any case, lots of trial and error was involved in puzzle creation. What would you say was the most difficult part of developing Botanicula? JP: I would say the most difficult thing is to finish such a big project. I'm working fast, so it's exhausting to go back to rework or adjust some parts, and we are doing that a lot. The whole game feels like living creature, that's changing all the time; nothing is definite. Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed? JP: Unfortunately I haven't played any of this year IGF finalists games yet. Wonderputt looks very creative, also Fez, Mirage, The Floor is Jelly and The Bridge look cool, and I'm looking forward to playing them all. What do you think of the current state of the indie scene? What is it like in the Czech Republic, specifically? JD: I think the indie scene is the most interesting segment of the game industry in general, and it's thriving obviously. Among the many smaller games created every year are always a few really innovative, clever, beautiful or just pretty weird examples, and that's good! On the other hand, it could be better; indies should experiment much more, and especially young developers should be more bold. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe the game medium is still waiting for it's golden era that will show us a wider range of possibilities of what a “game” could be. As for the Czech Republic, the scene here is small but quite healthy and quickly growing, as our country is full of creative people.

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