By Brendan Caldwell on March 28th, 2011 at 2:10 pm.
Machinarium creator Jakub Dvorský was at this weekend’s GameCityNights event, announcing not one, not five, but three new games to come from Amanita Design. We dispatched monocled investigator Brendan Caldwell to track him down and find out everything possible. Dvorský tells us how he plans to rescue the adventure genre, his views on piracy, and what we can expect to see in the new projects. You, and anyone else you know, can read about the new games, and see their chat, below.
Remember that Samorost? Of course you do. Remember that Machinarium? Of course you do. You’re a man and/or lady of prolific memorisation skills, unspecified reader. Plus, it had robots in it. Nothing sticks in the mind like robots. They’re mnemonic. Or pneumatic. Or some other awkward word that’s spelled nothing like it is said aloud. Oh, I don’t know. You remember it. That’s the important bit.
Jakub Dvorský of Amanita Design, the Czech developers behind Machinarium, has just announced three new games. Aye, you heard right. Three. Then he showed them off during a presentation at this month’s GameCityNights event in Nottingham. It’s nice in that Nottingham. I’ve been there. It’s got caves in.
The first game is called Osada and will be available to play on Anamita’s website within a couple of weeks. Jakub admits it isn’t so much a game as it is an “interactive music video.” The player is taken through several screens of delightfully twisted Monty Pythonesque animations set in the Wild West. Clicking on different objects and characters determines the musical instruments or sounds, ranging from tinny guitar to whistling bottles to a chorus of Native Americans. It’s all deliciously surreal.
The second game announced is called Botanicula. It is more characteristic of Amanita’s style. The player controls a band of five plant and fungus-like creatures as they wander around their home in a big ol’ tree, trying to find the last seed in order to save their home from parasitic beasts. “So it is a simple story,” Jakub says. “With a lot of exploration and a long journey.” You progress in very much the same way as in Samorost. There is pointing. Also, there is clicking. And plenty of Amanita’s typical part-bizarre, part-logic puzzles.
“For example, here we are trying to put together a chicken,” says Jakub. “It’s not easy.”
Chickens are important, we are told. They power a giant engine within the tree. Of course they do.
The animation looks encouraging. But then you will have come to expect this from Amanita. As I have already said, unspecified reader, you have an elephantine memory of these things. Of course, I don’t need to remind you of that. Sorry.
The third game looks even more characteristic of Amanita’s visual trademarks. This is possibly because it is a sequel – Samorost 3. Yes! The little white guy is back. What is that little white guy anyway, you ask? “Uh… a white… nameless… space gnome,” says Jakub. There we are folks. Mystery solved. A space gnome.
Right now Samorost 3 is still in the early design stages. But Amanita know that they want it to be set in the same kind of world, only much bigger, so that the story can be fleshed out. No prizes for guessing what genre of game it will be. Okay, one prize. Answers to my email. Winner gets a big stamp on their forehead. It will read: “I know a thing.”
Knowing things isn’t so important though. Amanita wants Samorost 3 to be a more welcoming puzzle game. “We want it to be more accessible. We just want to change the approach of the whole game. The goal shouldn’t be to defeat it and solve all of the puzzles as quickly as possible. The player should enjoy it. So we are thinking of it as an interactive toy.”
Jakub laments what he calls a lack of replayability in the adventure genre. “We want to approach it like a music record. You hear it once, but it still has value the second time, the third time.”
His presentation ended here, just after Jakub showed us a change to the main character’s design. He will be more ninja-like, able to jump around and move more fluidly. So there we are. A white, nameless, ninja space gnome. What do you make of that?
But more questions must be asked. Questions are important. They help us learn.
RPS: So. Botanicula. What does that mean exactly?
Dvorský: Oh, it’s nothing in particular. The whole game takes place on a tree, so. We’re probably just trying to create a new word so that when you Google it and you get the first result – it’s your game. It’s worked so far with Samorost and Machinarium.
RPS: With Botanicula and Samorost 3 you’ve said you want to change the way the games play slightly, from what you had before with Machinarium. How are going about that?
Dvorský: We want to make it more accessible and more playful. So, it should be really relaxing experience. You shouldn’t be trying to think too hard or need any special skills to play the game. You should just enjoy playing it because it’s easy and it’s fun. Basically it should be fun. We want to achieve that by having an interesting world which is fun to explore, by having interactive things that are fun to play with. I was showing earlier our interactive music video Osada, which is not a game at all… to call it a game… it’s too easy, too simple. You’re really just switching on and off different tracks. But still it’s fun to play it. And try it, you will realise it’s quite fun to just click on it and to play with the sounds and with the music. So this is the way we want to go. That it should basically be fun to play with.
RPS: Some developers have said for a while that the point and click adventure genre is broken, that it doesn’t really work any more.
Dvorský: And they were right. There was some golden era of adventure games which were great and then later the games started to be more and more difficult and you had to [handle] tens or even hundreds of items at the same time in your inventory and there was no logic involved in places. And there were endless dialogues which were sometimes really boring. Sometimes the dialogues were funny but it’s not playing a game. It’s reading a book. So, it started to be quite annoying to play adventure games. I want to change it, make it more streamlined, more fun to play, more accessible. Of course we want some hard puzzles but still it should be in some boundaries of possibility. To solve it on your own, without help.
RPS: Machinarium was still quite hard at times though. You still had to use trial and error at times.
Dvorský: I believe it’s possible to find out the solutions by logic only. But sometimes I must admit it’s really hard. This is why we integrated the help system there. It’s just different. We want to change this approach a bit.
RPS: When you talk about dialogue being very long, in Machinarium you used speech bubbles with simple pictures in them to keep the narrative going. Is that something you’re going to continue for Samorost 3 and Botanicula?
Dvorský: Oh yeah. I’m always saying that I am a bad writer and I can’t write meaningful dialogues or funny dialogues. But anyway, I always hated the dialogues in adventure games. But some communication is needed for telling the story and for broader reasons. I just believe that these comic bubbles are communication by animation, which is much more fun to look at.
RPS: And your games do put an emphasis on their visual impact. How are you going to develop that in the new titles?
Dvorský: We want to make the visual style of Samorost 3 a little different. It was me who created all the backgrounds in Samorost 1 and 2 but this one will be created by our graphic artist Adolf Lachman, who created Machinarium. So it will definitely change because of this. But we are actually trying to find a new look for it – a new technique for this game. And we do that every time we are starting a new project. We are first thinking about the world where it takes place, then trying to invent the proper graphic style. So, we are now trying to find it. It’s not easy.
RPS: Machinarium took three years to make and it was never meant to take that long. Now that you are planning two titles basically at the same time, is the pressure on?
Dvorský: No. We are making two titles but at the moment we are in fact two separate teams inside the studio. It’s just Jaromír Plachý who is creating Botanicula and one programmer and the musicians. The other team members are just speaking to him and I do a little bit of game design for it. Samorost 3 is our main project so all the members will be involved in it. Our main music composer, Tomáš Dvořák, isn’t involved in Botanicula. So in fact those are two separate teams so we are quite free and we are not under pressure when in development. And because of the success of Machinarium we are also quite all right with money and everything’s fine so we’re not under pressure at all.
RPS: It’s very popular in Russia, apparently.
Dvorský: Not only in Russia! It’s doing well everywhere, so…
RPS: Would you contribute some of that success to deals like the Humble Indie Bundle? How much do things like that help?
Dvorský: It did help a lot. It was a big success. The game was already more than a year old and then we created the Humble Bundle with the Wolfire guys who are really nice and it worked so well. More than 230,000 people bought it in fourteen days, which is great. So it helped.
RPS: Were there any points during those three years of development when you felt it was going to fall apart?
Dvorský: I never believed that it was going to fall apart but there were some moments when it was really dark. We had to change the main artist, the main painter of the backgrounds in the early stage of development. The guy who started working on it was great and talented and everything but he wasn’t really passionate about it. I think he didn’t believe that it would be a good game or a successful game so he wasn’t working really hard. So we kicked him off at some point. Or rather he just stopped working so we had to find another [artist] and we were very, very lucky to find Václav, whose really professional and a really nice guy and talented. So there were moments, sure, when we got depressed. It’s always like that.
RPS: Considering the piracy that hit you guys, is that something that riles you up?
Dvorský: Despite the piracy of the game and other games too being really high, there is also a huge amount of people who are willing to pay for it. Even some pirates. Even some pirates who downloaded it for free somewhere realised that they really enjoyed the game and pay for it afterwards. Or at least they spread the word. So, they are part of our free marketing efforts. So that’s not so bad with pirates. Definitely we don’t believe in any piracy protections because finally any protection can be cracked or overcome.
RPS: Not a fan of DRM then.
Dvorský: No. In the end it’s always an annoying thing for paying customers so we don’t believe in it. However, I don’t have any examples of it, just our guess that it wouldn’t help.
RPS: What brought that interactive music video about?
Dvorský: It’s our side project. It’s developed by one of us, just by animator Václav Blín, the second animator, or the main one from Machinarium. And he developed it with an external musician, who’s also not our member – he’s not part of Anamita. He created it in his spare time, he’s also hard working. Only our programmer helped him. I was helping him very little with design in places. Basically it’s a one man project.
RPS: Where did the inspiration for the scratchy animation style originate?
Dvorský: I don’t know. Maybe from illustrations or older animated movies. We definitely wanted to achieve a warm feeling for this cold robotic world, so we decided for a hand drawn style. And I also wanted to make it with some more free handed drawings. I can’t explain this well but our graphic artist created everything very precisely and it wasn’t ‘it’ so I was pushing him to work more freely. And in the end he found out that it was much better to draw it with his left hand because he is right-handed. When he was drawing it with his left hand it was perfect. It was more loose or not so precise. So he created all the backgrounds with this left hand. But the problem was that in the end he started to be very skilful even with his left hand.
RPS: You should make him draw with his feet.
Dvorský: Next time.
RPS: Or his mouth.
Dvorský: Or his ear. But it could hurt.
RPS: You say you took inspiration from old animated movies. Now that you’ve actually worked on Kooky, what’s it like going from designing an interactive medium to puppets in a movie?
Dvorský: It was quite a pleasant experience and very refreshing. Because when I am doing games I am the director of the team, I am the game designer, I am partly art director and I am also the businessperson, the marketing person, the PR person. And responsible for everything. So it was really nice to be a small part of the big team for a while. It’s nothing that I want to do all the time but it nice to be just the designer of the puppets and the props on the film. It was quite a nice experience.
RPS: This indie scene has kicked off over here quite a bit. Is it the same in Eastern Europe?
Dvorský: I would say the situation is quite similar to the UK or America but we are just much smaller in number obviously, so the scene is smaller. But I would say the scene is quite strong. In our country there’s lots of big studios. Well, not lots. There’s two of them. But really big. And many small developers and beginners. I would say it’s okay. Quite a similar situation to the UK.
RPS: Finally, any release dates set for Samorost 3 and Botanicula? Any time schedule set for yourself?
Dvorský: We want to finish Botanicula maybe in the end of this year, or the beginning of next. For Samorost three we don’t really know. We don’t want to promise anything yet. It’s really at the early stages. So, we will see.
RPS: Thanks for your time.