Fresh after winning the IGF award for most graphics for Dear Esther, thechineseroom Creative Director Dan Pinchbeck and I sat down for a natter about their upcoming continuation of Frictional Games' Amnesia series, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. It went a little something like this:
RPS: How did Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs come about?
Pinchbeck: We've been fans of Frictional for a long time now. Around about the time Amnesia came out, I got an email from Thomas saying "we're really big fans of your work". I just sat there for a while and went "Woooo!", and they said "Do you want to have a look at the game?" (I'd preordered it months before). We kind of got talking about stuff there, on and off chatting after that. We ended up at GDCE together, talking. Jens was there, and beer flowed. They're investing quite heavilly in rebuilding the engine for their new game, and they didn't want there to be a blank period where they did't have a game on the market, so they said that they were interested in talking to someone about possibly making some sort of Amnesia game in the middle, and were we interested. We said "Yes, we'd love to". That was in Summer, so we talked about it for the next couple of months, concept docs went back and forth, a lot of skype conversations, until we settled on something. We signed it all off in Autumn, and started development in December, then a couple of weeks later I sat their and said "Oh Christ, we have to make an Amnesia game. What have I done? These are really big shoes", but yeah, it's fantastic.
RPS: So you're the main developer, what is Frictional's involvement?
Pinchbeck: They're executive producers. They're effectively funding it, and we work for them. It's almost like as a 3rd party, but we have full developmental responsibilities, and the great thing is we have more or less complete creative freedom. We signed off on a loose concept, and bounce ideas back and forth, but they're really letting us run with it, they're really trusting us to do it. I think because they know we're such big fans of the original Amnesia game. I'm going "There's real sacred ground here, we have to look after this game". It's kind of like making a sequel to half-life or something, there's no way I'm ever going to be able to live with myself if we fuck this up.
RPS: What kind of things have to be in a game for it to be an Amnesia game?
Pinchbeck: It has to be absolutely, bone-shatteringly, terrifying. That was the key thing, Thomas said "If we don't get as many Youtube videos of people spazzing out, then we haven't done our job." We're looking at emphasis on story, which is there in Amnesia, which is a great common ground for us, obviously. It's not just make you jump terrifying, but it's got that deep, crawling horror. Even when you're not being scared out of your wits by something on the screen, you're really disturbed by what's going on as well. One of the things that they did really well with Amnesia was unique events, so you couldn't just apply the same logic that you've used before, you have to try and work out your environment. We've really looked at that as well, so the journey that you take through this game, you're not ever going to the same kind of actions to get out of problems each time you're presented with them. You have to think on your feet each time we throw something at you. Of course there's no combat, you're completely defenceless against anything you might come up against, which is such a cornerstone to how the series works.
RPS: So it's a new setting, and new characters?
Pinchbeck: Yep. It's 60 years later, the new game takes place on New Years Eve in 1899, in the streets of London, so it's full of mist, Steampunk, Victoriana. It's set broadly in the same universe, but it's not a direct sequel, these aren't descendants of any of the characters. The underlying mythos of Amnesia is present, but making itself felt in another story, another time, another part of the world. That's been really great in term of making the game. Even if we're not making it explicitly clear to the player, the logic of what's going on, the development team are going "Well that makes sense, because that would fit in there. There are bits where it's going to be interesting to see how direct a comparisson people draw. For us, we've got this amazing playground, fictionally, to build this new stuff off. Because we've gone that far forwards, it means we can do all kinds of other stuff, in terms of industrialisation, in terms of machines for pigs.
RPS: What is the Machine for pigs then?
Pinchbeck: That's the story, that's the central thing: What is a machine for pigs? The story is, We have this industrial tycoon, who works with livestock. He disappears off to Mexico, with his familly in tow, on this mysterious treasure hunt adventure thing. Something goes horribly wrong in Mexico, we don't know what that is, but he becomes gravely ill, falls into a coma-fever, and the game starts with him waking up, not knowing how much time has passed, having had these terrifying dreams of this dark machine. As he wakes up, he hears something start up far below him. Your journey is is to discover what's happened to him in that missing time, where he is, how much time has passed, and is this machine real, or is it fantasy. That's where you jump in.
RPS: When are we going to get to play this?
Pinchbeck: The target is Halloween, we'd really like to release it on Halloween at midnight. Things going the way they are at the moment, we're looking on course for that, so we're hoping to start to let people have a glimpse of some of the stuff that might be happening around Summer.
RPS: Thank you for your time.