After spending many eerily silent ages in the dark, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is finally just about ready to see the light of day. Games, however, don’t usually stew in the boiling juices of development because it feels nice. (That’s why I do it, but shush, don’t tell anyone.) Thechineseroom’s take on Frictional tour de force of terror, then, has fleshvomited all manner of new appendages, morphing itself into an entirely different beast than originally conceived. But what, exactly, does that entail? During a recent interview with RPS, thechineseroom creative director Dan Pinchbeck outlined what’s happened and explained why A Machine For Pigs ultimately ended up a far more natural successor to Amnesia: The Dark Descent than anyone – himself included – expected.
“I think we started working on it sometime around November [of 2011], and we thought it was going to be a couple hours-long,” he began. “But we started building it, and the story came out, and we really got sucked into it in terms of where we could push the engine and the stuff we could do. I guess we kind of got over-excited and just went with it.”
“It was last summer when we realized we could make it into something much [bigger]. Not just small-scale. Maybe 13 or 14 levels and a really strong story arc. If we had that extra time, we could invest even more into things like the art and music and really push the production values hard as well.”
Not everything I write is Dear Esther.
Given that thechineseroom’s biggest claim to fame, Dear Esther, can be finished in under two hours, it sounds like quite a change of pace. Pinchbeck, however, was actually quite grateful to end up so far outside his apparent element, and that, he explained, ultimately helped spur the change in A Machine For Pigs’ direction.
“In Esther, the story doesn’t really actually exist,” he said. “It’s just a whole bunch of ideas about a story that the player then uses to create the story themselves. Machine For Pigs has definitely got a much more traditional game story to it. I was really keen to write something that was a bit more straightforward. It’s like, sometimes you want to read someone like William Burroughs, and sometimes you want to read Stephen Hunt.”
“It just felt like I’d done something very, very, very experimental, so the idea of writing something that was kind of steampunk and cool and not having to be incredibly serious all the time, it was just fun. I felt like doing Dear Esther was poetry, and this was a chance to write a comic book. Not everything I write is Dear Esther. In terms of my taste in games, I play a lot more things that are kind of like [triple-A action games]. More Far Cry 3 than Dear Esther.”
Machine For Pigs certainly isn’t without its experimental moments, though, and it’s definitely not about impossibly large men in tights vanquishing beasties that go bump in the night. Make no mistake: this is psychological horror, and snaking ugly tendrils of fear and doubt under your skin has always been thechinesroom’s number one goal.
“What I think we have in common with Frictional is that kind of emotional, psychological element of, like, what’s real and madness, and what mind and personality are,” Pinchbeck explained. “What’s true. What’s not true. I think there’s an awful lot of that in Dark Descent. I think we didn’t want to move completely away from that, because we’re still really interested in that angle.”
“I think this has ended up more of a natural successor to Dark Descent than we ever thought it’d be. Originally, we thought it’d be this halfway point between Dark Descent and Esther, but in a lot of ways, it’s much more like Dark Descent.”
The twist? Apparently, we’ll actually care about the characters this time around. How exactly that’ll work, however, remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, there’ll be quite a lot of it – or so Pinchbeck claims.
“Once you’ve kind of seen where you can go, not going there is very hard. It just made sense to spend that extra time and reach for something a bit bigger.”
Check back soon for the full interview, in which we discuss everything from how thechineseroom’s adding new elements of horror to the mix, to Frictional’s involvement in the process, to mysterious new developments with thechineseroom’s other game, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Also, the whole interview was haunted. No, seriously. You’ll see what I mean. Probably.