Wot I Think: Machinarium

By John Walker on October 16th, 2009 at 9:00 am.

The long awaited adventure Machinarium is finally available today. After staring in wonder at the artwork and trailers for months I was able to play through a finished version this week in order that I could tell you Wot I Think.

I love him.

Machinarium is an extraordinarily beautiful creation. It’s a sort of beauty that games are almost never graced with. The awesome panoramas of a Crysis or a Far Cry 2 can be remarkable, but it’s always technically remarkable. The gorgeous graphics of games like the recent Prince of Persia or the forthcoming Borderlands are artistic works, imaginative and fresh. But Machinarium’s scratchy, hand-drawn robot world is beautiful.

If you’ve played Samorost 1 or 2 you’ll already know something of the worlds creator Jakub Dvorský designs. Where those games combined his adorable cartoons with organic real-world collage, Machinarium’s point and click adventuring is entirely hand-created. Each location is breath-taking – as in, every time I walked to a new scene I sharply drew in breath in wonder. Elaborate rooms bursting with intricate detail, alive with charm, ready to be explored.

The protagonist is a small, adorable robot. He has been thrown out of the city, and your task is to get him back in again. Any other goals grow organically once you’re inside. These might be aiding a group of busking robots to restore their instruments, or helping an elderly robot to oil his broken wheelchair, each contributing toward the next, making a path to your final goal. Much of it is about puzzle solving, either collecting and combining objects and using them in the correct place, or literal puzzles: lever challenges, a board game, even some arcade challenges.

Room puzzles like these soon evolve into wider areas.

Early stages play out as a series of scenes, each to be solved until you can access the next. But a third of the way through Machinarium blossoms out into a much larger world. Once in the city you have a hub area with many directions to head in, puzzles solved in one vital for progress in another. In many ways, it’s a traditional point and click adventure.

And one of those traditions is quite how hard it can be. Success is about exploration and experimentation. The opening puzzle requires you to disguise yourself as a guard robot to gain access to the city. But first you must figure out that this is what the game wants you to do. As a long-time adventure game player it’s an instinctive notion, and emulating a disguise from the surrounding objects has been the solution to dozens of games’ puzzles over the years. But I wonder how instinctively painting a traffic cone and stealing a light bulb will come to those who didn’t have such irrational logic etched into their brains as a child.

However, to ensure no one is stuck for long Machinarium offers two levels of hints. Most scenes will have a very simple clue available by clicking the bulb that appears in the top menu. A thought bubble will appear with a simple sketch indicating the key action that needs to be taken. If you’re still stuck after that, there’s a clue book that can be clicked on which will offer a detailed pictorial guide for what that location requires of you. However, to prevent lazy peeking, the book is itself a little arcade game. You must guide a key through a side scrolling hazardous route, dodging the rocks and firing at enemy spiders, until you reach a keyhole. Er, yes. Do this and the walkthrough is yours. It’s not difficult, but it’s time consuming, and it’s one of the best ways to put you off cheating I’ve seen. And I should add, some of the puzzles are brilliant. The butterfly wing/slide projector puzzle is a pleasure to solve, and many – like the popcorn/crowbar incident – are just so special.

The hub.

Another way in which the game can prove hard is finding the hotspots. I think this is going to be a matter of some contention. In previous games Amanita Design have let you explore the scene with the mouse to discover items with which you can interact. When the hand icon appears, you know it’s of interest. However in Machinarium you must be standing near something before it will reveal that it’s accessible. As I played through I rarely found this to be a problem. The use of the ‘walk’ icon is in a large part to thank – generally if there’s nothing useful in an area you can’t walk there. So in turn, if you can go there, there’s something to do. The other key thing to remember is that your robot has a stretchy tummy – perhaps game’s first stretchy tummy since James Pond. This means you can make him taller or shorter, letting him reach higher or under objects. It’s an extremely cute device, made cuter by his waddling about when at these extremes.

While I can predict people getting upset by a lack of direction in some areas (there were three occasions where I was forced to turn to the hint book for help), it’s hard to care for long. Everything about it is so joyously engaging.

Dvorak's music is so perfect here.

Regular Amanita contributor Tomáš Dvořák once again provides the music, which is wonderful beyond compare. Almost every scene has its own score, each good enough to task switch out of the game and leave running in a loop in the background for hours. The scene in which you reunite the band with their instruments is an incredible highlight, and as they begin to perform this gorgeous jazz should you leave your robot still he will dance along. The game comes with the full soundtrack as mp3s when bought directly from Amanita, and they accompany me as I write this.

Then there’s the daydreams. The story is simple and delightful, but is importantly discovered as you play – even the description on the game’s own website says far, far too much. And the daydreams are part of the slow understanding of what’s going on. They’re portrayed as minimalist Flash cartoons within thought bubbles above the robot’s head, roughly drawn black outlines dancingly animated. You might see your robot accompanied by a friend, the two playing together, laughing and full of happiness. As the dream bursts, the sadness of the little guy’s isolation in this decaying city becomes so much more poignant. Or perhaps you’ll see memories of being bullied, special moments ruined by larger, crueller robots. They’re heartbreaking. Hand over your mouth, eyelids blinking away.

In fact, so much made me coo and aww out loud. A moment with a large police robot and his tiny broken pink robot bunny is as wonderful and touching as anything in Pixar’s WALL-E. It’s a world bursting with love and sadness. I laughed out loud so often, and gasped even more frequently.

Oh, the owl.

Some people won’t like some of the more obscure puzzles, and there’s no escaping this. But while the sliding tile challenge (it is slightly different from a regular one, I promise) may irritate, the same scene’s owl is too astonishingly lovely to maintain any malice. I shall not spoil anything, but believe me, when you’ve played it you’ll want to find someone else who has too and talk about the owl. Oh, the owl.

There’s so many of these tiny vignettes, little delights, that melt you. I cannot think of any other game in existence where remembering a puzzle brings tears to my eyes, but as I hurriedly went back to edit in a mention of the popcorn puzzle, that’s exactly what happened.*

Machinarium is a delightful point and click adventure, if slightly flawed on occasion in its five or six hours. The hotspot hunting is going to put some people off completely, and I’m not sure it was a good design decision to require proximity to find them. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a work of passion, and it’s ludicrously adorable.

Arcades!

Machinarium is available from today from here for $20, and comes with the 51 minute soundtrack. Here’s the trailer:

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*And screw my reputation for being a cry-baby, as I mentioned here that’s been two games ever.

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130 Comments »

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  1. Wilson says:

    Hmm. I enjoyed the demo, and had been planning on waiting for it to become cheaper. But five or six hours sounds like a decent amount to time, so maybe I’ll just buy it already. I do like 2D adventure games.

  2. Premium User Badge

    P7uen says:

    Website isn’t selling it yet… damn you, international time zones.

    *drums fingers*

  3. duel says:

    Pre-ordered this about a month ago, I just think this is too good to miss, it just looks so beautiful :)

    but thankyou RPS for reminding me that the release date was today! I had completely forgot, and it seems the email with my download link was lost in my spam folder, so many thanks!

  4. JohnArr says:

    If you pre-ordered check your junk filters!

    Getting the soundtrack to play at work now, hurrah!

  5. Lewis says:

    Thought you might like this one, John. Agree on all accounts.

    The owl! AND THE CAT THAT GOES “MNNEEEEEEERRRR!”

  6. LewieP says:

    Sounds excellent.

  7. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    I got completely stuck in the demo within minutes, nay seconds. I finished Ben There Done That the other day so I don’t think I’m that adventure-dumb.

    P.

  8. Dominus says:

    argh! where’s my preorder download link :(((
    its not even in the spam folder :<

  9. Risingson says:

    Amanita do really have a touch for cuteness. But don’t mix things: this is not a traditional 2d adventure. This is more an interactive feast of clicks, following examples like “The Manhole”. Which is not a bad thing, but it’s like saying that “Fool’s Errand” is a traditional adventure.

    • John Walker says:

      Have you played the game? Because it’s very much like a traditional point and click adventure. Something that surprised me once I was past the first few rooms.

  10. Craymen Edge says:

    I have my email with the download link, but now I’ve got to wait the whole working day before I can try it. This is going to be a long day. :(

  11. triple_a says:

    I have this preordered from Gamersgate so I will get to test this after work. Looks & sounds beautiful.

    Lots of good indie adventures this year, it seems.

  12. Paul says:

    I don’t like point and click adventure games, gameplay is too slow and uninvolving for me (rpg thus being my genre of choice), but I preoredered this on steam because it just looks so BEAUTIFUL.And I like supporting such talented artists.

  13. Ian says:

    I’m glad there is a built-in tips/walkthrough system. I enjoy adventure games but I have long since accepted that if I’m to finish them I WILL have to cheat sometimes.

    When I read a walkthrough and see that I was supposed to grease the cat and combine it with a pair of frilly pants I can say in all honesty I’d never, ever have got it without just combining everything with everything.

  14. Mort says:

    hmm that was a gushing WIT.
    For whatever reason I find point and clicks terminally boring. I bought time gentleman on the strength of coverage here, and hated it. However, I loved samorost.
    Luckily, they tend to be cheap enough to just take a chance, but then I have that unfinished game guilt notched up yet another level.

    Not sure on this, everyone goes on about the art, and rightly so, but the pretty art is useless without the gameplay, that will be what holds me, and I’m a tad reticent due to the hot spot thing.

    I’ll buy though, who the hell am I kidding?

  15. Schaulustiger says:

    I just wish they had used a programming framework that is a little bit more serious than Flash.

    • Tei says:

      *joke* Macromedia Director? *joke* ,… fear not more. Adobe is moving Flash to a full framework system. Since it serve well has a Epic Troyan Horse to enter markets like the iPOD. Is hard (for the users) to avoid the need to watch Youtube videos,…

      Is *sure* that Adobe will make his javascript engine faster (with realtime compilation to native assembler, or other ninja technology), and remove all traits to web-ish stuff… like the menu that you see wen rigth-click. The installer and these stuff feel already native-like.

      *looks in Captain Forever direction* It will be good if more flash games move in this direction.

    • RobF says:

      Eh, why?

      Does it matter?

  16. Hmm says:

    If the game is as good as the demo, it’s a GOTY contender for me.

  17. Kid A says:

    TOO. MUCH. STUFF. TO. BUY.
    Also: crybaby.

  18. Thirith says:

    Why, Schaulustiger? Is it that Flash doesn’t do the job for this game?

    • John Walker says:

      The inability to right click is a shame. Otherwise it seemed to work well.

    • Schaulustiger says:

      I found the inventory to be a bit fiddly. It needed too much precision to put an item back in there and I blame Flash for that. Right-clicking to dismiss an item would have been alot better, but this only brings up the ugly Flash context menu which always breaks the immersion.

  19. The Sombrero Kid says:

    they shouldn’t’ve written it in flash, i was so disappointed when i found out it was, on the plus side though in a few month we’ll all be able to play this on our phones, £11 is too much money though imo.

    • Richard Clayton says:

      @The Sombrero Kid: Why so disappointed they wrote it in Flash?

      I can agree that the default right click context menu and default “hand” icon are constant reminders you are playing a flash game but aside from that I don’t see your problem.

      Does it matter whether a game is written in C, C++, Cobol, Fortran, LUA?

      Having played the demo I can’t see that the developers’ game design was limited by the choice of technology. Flash is ideal for 2d adventure games and ideal for this kind of hand drawn art.

      John, having played all the way through are there points where the game is limited by its technology?

    • Premium User Badge

      Dan Milburn says:

      I can agree that the default right click context menu and default “hand” icon are constant reminders you are playing a flash game but aside from that I don’t see your problem.

      That is the problem. I just played through the demo; it was fun and I may well buy the game.

      But the use of Flash badly affects the UI, and worse than that it damages the feel of the game. Given that so much care has been taken over the lovely graphics and sound, this is unfortunate.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      what dan said & also flash is a scripting language, c++ is compiled to native code, native code runs faster, doesn’t need to be jitted, is more stable, has a smaller memory footprint, and doesn’t have garbage collection (which is a good thing)

    • Richard Clayton says:

      @Sombrero and Dan:

      In that case, yup I agree with what you both say. I’ve only played the demo and didn’t find the interpreted nature of flash to hinder the performance of the game.

      And you have to admit it does make it possible to build games with less outlay, resources and technical ability (Windows DirectX programming etc).

      This enables games designers and games artists to actually produce a game with only a little technical expertise.

      This is often a BAD thing! But in this case definitely a good thing.

      However I personally would made sure that one of the first things I did was to disable the right-click context menu to hide the fact that it was flash and keep everything enclosed within the game.

      Thanks for expanding on this gents.

    • GibletHead2000 says:

      I’m sorry but how on earth does having garbage collection impact on the quality of the gameplay? Just because C++ is ‘faster’, doesn’t mean it’s required. You’re not pushing this game to it’s limit, trying to megatexture a gigabazillion ultravoxels a second or anything… You’re esentially viewing hand-drawn animations. Does it really have to run at 200fps, when the animation is only drawn at 15?

      I don’t take the point about the hand, either. I think the only problem that there is when something “reminds you it’s flash”, is that you’re so used to playing free flash games that you end up (irrationally) feeling like you’re paying for something you shouldn’t have had to.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      it matters to me that it runs at a low framerate and is jittery on my laptop needlessly thanks to the interpretation layer and memory manager, saying that i agree that the lower barrier to entry of scripting languages is overall a good thing.

  20. Dan Milburn says:

    Also available on Steam for £11.24 in the UK, which I think is slightly cheaper.

  21. Hoshimodo says:

    So glad I pre-ordered yesterday…..

  22. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    RPS is bad for my wallet. In the case of Machinarium, that may be a good thing.

    • kalidanthepalidan says:

      I have $20 in my gaming budget left for the month. Need to decide between this or Torchlight. Oh what to do, what to do?!?

    • jsutcliffe says:

      Torchlight.

      This post is brought to you by Jsutcliffe’s Amazing Decision Engine (JADE).

  23. Lewis says:

    Interested that so many people are finding it brutally difficult. I didn’t at all, though that might be thanks to the hints system – which admittedly I used quite a few times, but it felt more like an integral part of the game than it did properly cheating.

    Or maybe it was just a breeze in comparison to Outcry, which I played the day after.

    • John Walker says:

      Um, Lewis? If you used the hint system a lot, doesn’t that somewhat imply you found it rather difficult?

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      the hint system is part of the game though, it’s supposed to be used. like when valve use lighting and stuff to draw your attention to something, it’s not cheating to use it.

    • Xocrates says:

      Adventure games are adding hint systems so that people don’t have to alt-tab into a browser the moment they get stuck, not to make the game easier. It’s not cheating, but using it does mean that you needed to.

  24. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Good good, I’ll be picking this up when my wallet isn’t quite so strained.

    As an aside, does anyone know what the story behind Axel & Pixel is? It’s very reminiscent of the Samarost games but with mini-games and QTEs thrown into the mix. All I can seem to find out about it is that a different Czech indie studio (Silver Wish Games) developed it.

    • Paul says:

      Axel and Pixel is actually made by 2K Czech, creators of Mafia franchise.It is their little sideproject.Silver Wish is just used for a lowbudget games.

  25. Kerry says:

    Just out of curiosity, why the disappointment?

  26. Kerry says:

    Ack. The above comment was a response to the further above comment concerning the fact that it’s a Flash game.

  27. Xocrates says:

    I tried the Demo, but between not being able to know if you can interact with something unless you’re in range, the somewhat obscure puzzles (made far more difficult due to the first issue), and the start of the game (or at least the demo) giving you no motivation to do anything other than “because you can” it made it hard for me to care.

    Which is a pity since I tend to enjoy both adventure games and indie games.
    Dunno, maybe on sale, but I already spent too much money this month and there are still games that I want. This one just got pushed terribly back :(

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      actually i agree with you there, i probably would’ve payed £11 for this in the summer, but as it stands i’ve got the void and borderlands winging thier way to me and i’m not even bored of batman or RE5

  28. Owen says:

    Blimey, this is turning into a rather expensive month. However, the flip side of that is it must therefore be a GREAT month for gaming.

    Hurrah!!

    Utterly gorgeous game though. Wonderful to see such talented artists showing their work off like this.

  29. Nero says:

    Guess I will get it really soon, so looking forward to it. And I like that image with the band getting their instruments back, the drummer looks so happy :)

  30. Lewis says:

    I fear the reply system may fail me here, so FAO John, RE: difficulty:

    No, because using the hints systems felt like an organic process that was supposed to happen. And, indeed, was intended that way – Amanita have spoken about it in a few interviews. It’s all woven together as very much part of the game itself. As Xercies says, it’s not like alt-tabbing out to use a walkthrough, because it’s in the game, vaguely contextualised by the game world and poses a superficial challenge in itself just to use it.

    In other words, it’s a system that alters the nature of the game and makes it easier as a result, but it’s still within the confines of what you’re supposed to do.

  31. Lewis says:

    (Actually, I did find it reasonably difficult. But in a neat, challenging, fair way. And never once was it frustrating. I guess I’m used to people bringing up difficulty only when there’s been a specific problem with it.)

  32. Lilliput King says:

    @Sombrero Kid: Hooray! None of that really matters for a 2d adventure that would run on an iphone though, does it?

    Also, does anyone know if the steam version comes with the soundtrack?

  33. bill says:

    Loved samorost. Bit worried about it being too much like a point and click adventure game though. P&Cs always annoy me by making obvious solutions obscure and fiddly…

    what i liked about samorost was i could ejoy solving the puzzle without worrying that i was doing th right thing, but in the wrong way. As such, having to be in the right area sounds a bad idea.

    But the idea of a mini-game to access the hints system is AWESOME. And that should alleviate all the possible frustrations of P&C games, but without feeling too cheap.

    I think i might give it a go.

  34. Taillefer says:

    I find it a slightly odd perspective on the hints system not counting because it’s part of the game. It’s like using the suggest move in chess then claiming the AI is too easy. At least, in my opinion.

    I don’t seem to have my email yet. I want to talk about owls and jazz robots!

  35. Taillefer says:

    Okay, so there’s a delay with getting the download links to some of those who pre-ordered.

    From the forums:
    “please be patient we are still sending – it’s more problematic then we thought but everybody should have the email with the download links today. we really appreciate you have pre-ordered the game earlier as it helped us to finish it. thanks!”

  36. Igor Hardy says:

    The most difficult adventure game I played in a long time (maybe too difficult at times). Also, lots of great stuff in it. The fan puzzle has blown me away (no pun intended).

  37. abhishek says:

    Pre-ordered on Steam, can’t wait to play this. Although going by Steam’s recent track record, it will probably be quite a while before they unlock it. Can anyone who has already got the game mention what the download size is?

  38. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    Cool. I really enjoyed the demo.

  39. Lugribossk says:

    Looks like there’s a bit of a pricing difference between the various download places as usual, at least while it’s still a preorder with discount for some of them
    Direct from the developers: 20$
    Steam: 13,2€ (=20$) discounted, 17€ (=25$) normally
    Gamersgate: 15€ (=22$)
    Direct2Drive: 15$ discounted, 20$ normally
    Impulse: 15$ discounted, 20$ normally

    Steam is nice and all, but would it kill them to stop cheating on the currency conversions?

    • Premium User Badge

      Fede says:

      To add:
      pre-order from developers was 17$, which was around 12€

  40. Sam says:

    Damn it. Now I need to go and buy this.

  41. Mike_in_Akron_Ohio_USA says:

    Oh this is good, really really good stuff. I’m not a puzzle game fan but I just played the demo and
    it’s fantastic… for $20 U.S. it is a steal.

    This game should be a GOTY contender hands down

  42. JM says:

    James Pond!

    Now I feel old :(

    • Στέλιος says:

      James Pond 2: Robocod was better. Especially the soundtrack. heh.

  43. malkav11 says:

    I found the puzzles in Samorost obtuse and frustrating, and that was with not having to move to see hotspots. I’m extremely dubious that I will enjoy Machinarium’s puzzles. But that art is worth $15.

  44. Gotem says:

    I wanted to like it, but it was really frustrating, only been able to pass the first screen without checking the hint book
    And that was after figuring out that you could shoot in the mini-game
    and then finding out that you could control it with the buttons and spacebar.
    and kept pressing the right mouse button used to it being a shortcut to the inventory only to find the flash player menu.
    It does really look beautiful, but managed to turn me into an angry adventuregame man in just a small demo.

  45. Pags says:

    I really want to play this but my pre-order download is taking forever and a day. Should’ve pre-ordered on Steam I guess.

  46. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Almost wish i’d bought this off Steam rather than preordering direct. I want instant robot awesomeness and I can’t get that at 10.8 kB/s

    I’m glad this game has been getting good reviews – I was sure I’d love it anyway and it’s just making me anticipate it all the more.

    10.8 kb/s – at the very least I’d epect that to be accompanied by the old fashioned internet dialing noises!

  47. abhishek says:

    The game just unlocked on Steam. Downloading at max speed now :)

    To answer my earlier question, the download is 345mb.

  48. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    5% of 1 file – 8.6 kb/s – 11 h remaining. :(

  49. abhishek says:

    Ouch :(

    I guess their servers are getting hit really hard with all the people downloading right now. Hopefully the load will ease up soon and speeds increase.

  50. Pags says:

    Okay this is just fully ridiculous. At this rate I’ll be playing the same time tomorrow. 2D Boy had the right idea when they sent links out to people based on when they ordered; even though you had to wait, at least when you got your link you knew you’d actually be able to download it in a reasonable amount of time and it meant people didn’t all flock on to the server at once.

    Watching this download slug along at 8.7 kb/s at best is making me cranky.