Road To The IGF: Amanita Design's Machinarium

Continuing interviews with the 2009 Independent Games Festival finalists, Gamasutra talks to Amanita Design's Jakub Dvorský about Machinarium -- a gorgeous full-scale adventure title populated with rusty, hand-drawn robots, and nominated for the Vi
[Gamasutra is talking to this year's Independent Games Festival finalists, this time interviewing Amanita Design's Jakub Dvorský about Machinarium -- a gorgeous full-scale adventure title populated with rusty, hand-drawn robots -- nominated for the Visual Art Award.] Based in the Czech Republic, Amanita Design has made a name for itself producing visually unique point-and-click 2D adventure titles, crafting several commissioned games for the BBC, Nike, and symphonic group the Polyphonic Spree. The studio is best known for its Samorost games, a series of Flash-based releases in which players control a gnome on his quests to save his home planet and recover his kidnapped dog, exploring and interacting with a collection of surreal backdrops to advance the plot. Samorost 2 was a finalist in two categories for the 2007 IGF competition, and took home the "Best Web Browser Game" award. Machinarium, Amanita's latest title, is once again a point-and-click title featuring detailed, decayed scenes, but it's also the developer's first full-length project. The game will release later this year for PC, with other platforms under consideration. Featuring hand-drawn graphics, Machinarium follows a little robot who's been left to rust in a scrap yard, as he tries to save his robot-girl friend and stop a bomb attack from the "Black Cap Brotherhood." We spoke with Amanita's founder and designer Jakub Dvorský about Machinarium, nominated for the Visual Art award at this year's Independent Games Festival (part of Think Services, as is this website): What kind of background do you have making games? Jakub Dvorský: I grew up on early 8-bit computer games; I owned an Atari 800XE, and later I had my first PC 386. Of course, I loved to play all their great games. Later on in grammar school, I started doing my own games with some schoolmates, and we enjoyed it a lot. My first game, Asmodeus, was published 12 years ago. Later, I studied at the Academy of Art in Prague at the Studio of Animated Film (my diploma work was Samorost 1). What sort of development tools have you been using for Machinarium? JD: Our tools are pencils and paper, digital camera, tablets, PCs, Photoshop, Flash, Rebol, sound recorder and some musical instruments. How long has your team been working on Machinarium? JD: Two years already. It should be finished and released this fall.

What advantages or attraction do you see with the point-and-click genre over others that have kept you producing these adventure titles? JD: The narrative part -- the story, puzzles, characters and the whole micro-world itself -- are the most important things in adventure games. I prefer these things over game mechanics and tactics, which are the main elements of first-person shooters or real-time strategy games. It's also possible to create a standalone adventure/puzzle game independently in a small team like ours, which is probably absolutely impossible for a first-person shooter. Did you notice any differences in your development process, working on a full-length adventure title versus the shorter experiences you've usually released? JD: We put together a bigger team, and the communication between us is now a very important part of the work. Therefore, it's more complicated, but we also have more fun and the results are better. Also, we need more patience as the development process is really long and it's always difficult to stay concentrated on one project for such a long time. What lessons did you take from your previous games that you were able to apply with Machinarium? JD: Firstly, we gathered important general experiences from creating games and working in a team. However ,smaller projects like Samorost 1, can almost be made without a proper scenario, which is necessary for a bigger full-length game. Secondly I learned a little about how to create game puzzles, which I hope will be much better in Machinarium than in our previous games. What can users expect to see in Machinarium that they didn't see in your previous games, or perhaps in any other titles in the genre? JD: Compared to our older games, Machinarium will be bigger and more detailed. [It will have] a stronger story line, more logical puzzles, an inventory, and a couple of other new features, like mini-games and animated communication between characters. The main character, a little robot, will be able to walk freely around the locations and be telescopic. Compared to other titles in the genre, I think we try to put a bigger emphasis on details and things which aren't in the main focus -- subtle animation jokes, music composed carefully for each location, and every building, character, or item in the game having its own history and meaning. We also try to think a little differently when designing the puzzles. Was there any specific art or media that you looked to for inspiration or guidance for Machinarium's visual feel? JD: We were influenced by a lot of science fiction books and films -- Stanislav Lem, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Stanley Kubrick, Karel Zeman -- and also by older adventure games like Grim Fandango, Myst, Gobliins, Discworld, Neverhood, and Monkey Island. Besides that, a lot of our inspiration comes from old rusty machines, abandoned factories, and industrial buildings. Machinarium's protagonist -- a little robot left behind in a scrap yard -- will naturally draw comparisons to Pixar's recent film Wall-E. What did you think of the movie? And did seeing Wall-E affect the development or direction of Machinarium at all? JD: I saw Wall-E when we had the whole concept, main character, and also many backgrounds and animations already finished, so it didn't affect us at all. However ,I must admit there are many similarities -- the post-apocalyptic world, the main protagonist being a rusty robot, almost no dialogue, etc. Still, the poetics and the conception of our game is very different. I enjoyed that film; the animation part is especially awesome. The characters in your games speak very little, if at all, and hardly converse with each other. Why do you feel this is important in your games? JD: It's for a couple of reasons -- listening to endless conversations is boring, I'm a bad writer, and it's easier to localize the game when there are no words in any existing language. However, this time the main character sometimes communicates by comic bubbles with simple, funny animations instead of written text or speaking. Can you describe the process with which you usually create the puzzles and scenes in your adventure games? JD: First, we create a lot of small assorted ideas -- puzzles, characters, environments, situations or pieces of a story. Then we usually make a very rough drawing of some location and think about what should happen there and take some older ideas to use it here. When the location with all of the puzzles is designed, we paint the background and characters, and then it's all animated and programmed. What animation technique did your team use for Machinarium, and why you decided to use it? JD: We use cut-out animation, which is a simple classical animation technique where you paint all parts of a character's body separately, cut it out with scissors, and the animate it frame-by-frame under the camera. It's similar to puppet animation, only it's 2D. Of course, we are doing all the graphic parts and animations in the computer, so we don't use scissors and a camera, but most of the animations are done essentially similarly -- frame-by-frame and very carefully. Were there any elements that you experimented with but decided didn't work with your vision for Machinarium? JD: Yes, we wanted the main character to be more convertible into different shapes with different functions, but it was technically very difficult and it also didn't fit into the story, so we abandoned that idea. However, I still think it could work nicely in a game like this, so maybe we'll try to implement that feature in some future game. What do you think of the state of independent game development, and are there any other independent games out that you currently admire? JD: I've seen independent game development growing and blooming recently, and I'm very glad about that. There are a lot of really great new ideas, and big developers are obviously inspired by that. I really enjoyed Knytt Stories, World of Goo, and most recently Dyson, an addictive RTS. I'm looking forward to Fez, Blueberry Garden, Feist, and Night Game. Is there anything unique that you feel that Amanita, as an independent studio operating in the Czech Republic, has in its that isn't present in most other developers in other countries? JD: The Czech Republic has strong tradition of animated film -- Jiri Trnka, Jan Svankmajer, Bretislav Pojar, Jiri Barta -- so I hope that we are its followers.

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