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Interview with Jakub Dvorský of Machinarium

October 7th, 2009 by

We didn’t get a chance to talk to Jakub Dvorský at the Independent Games Festival, and it was our loss. The CEO of Amanita Design shared a lot of details about the upcoming Machinarium that might not be obvious from their advertising and site. Read on to learn about the role of language in adventure games, the game’s gorgeous art, and why you should buy it directly from Amanita over a traditional publisher.

Pixelsocks: Can you tell me about Machinarium?

Jakub Dvorský

Jakub: Machinarium is a 2D hand-drawn adventure/puzzle game. It’s about a robot who lives in a town that is populated solely by robots. The town is a little worn out and rusty, but otherwise it’s quite a pleasant place to live. However, there are some evil robots, the Black Hat Brotherhood, who are holding the main character’s robot girlfriend. So the main character has to fight them, but in a more sophisticated way than just guns.

Machinarium is our first full-sized game—though we previously made some shorter games like Samorost—and we’ve added some new features. For the first time, we are using an inventory. The main character also has some special features, like extending and contracting his body. He’ll be able to reach some higher places, crawl through sewers, and things like that.

Pixelsocks: There has been a conspicuous absence of text in the trailers, demos, and other media for Machinarium. Is there just no language in the game?

Jakub: All the communication is done by animations and symbols in comic bubbles. It’s much quicker and more accessible—we didn’t want any long text conversations, because they can be boring. It’s also easier to localize.

Pixelsocks: Most adventure games rely heavily on text for rewards and clues. Is it harder to express the story and describe the characters without text?

Jakub: It works. It can be harder to create a complex story, because it’s not always obvious just what’s happening. On the other hand, that also lets you think about it a little, and the story is open to interpretation.

Either way, Machinarium is a comic game, so [nonverbal storytelling] works because the story is quite simple. That said, there are lots of little stories. Every time the main character meets someone new, he recalls their history together in a comic bubble. For example, if the character meets a bad guy, he’ll recall the bad things he did.

Pixelsocks: Is it harder to explain the game’s mechanics or have a hint system without any language?

Jakub: Not really, though it depends on the player. We wanted the game to be challenging for hardcore gamers, but accessible for casual gamers. So if you get really stuck on a puzzle, we made a walkthrough that looks like a comic book. You access it by beating a minigame, and the hand-drawn pictures explain the puzzles at your current location. It’s not super obvious what to do from just the walkthrough, so it’s still a little game just to figure out what to do from the pictures. We know that there is a text walkthrough for every game nowadays, but we wanted something nicer.

Pixelsocks: Machinarium won an IGF award for its rich and unique art. Can you tell me how you came to the style?

Jakub: We didn’t want to copy the style of our previous games, like the photo collages from Samorost. Machinarium is about robots, so we wanted a handmade feeling for this game. It needed to feel alive and intimate, so we drew everything on paper, scanned the images, and finished them on the computer. Some of the textures are actually from photos, like the cracks in the walls, so they would be more detailed and organic.

The characters are bitmaps, so we used cutout animation. Unlike with 3D models, we can’t modify the characters, so we have to treat them like paper dolls with hundreds of animations. It was probably the hardest part of making the game, because there’s over an hour of frame-by-frame animation. It’s like a feature animated film.

Pixelsocks: Will you be releasing Machinarium independently?

Jakub: We’re not quite done with the game yet, because we’ve realized from watching players at PAX that some parts are too hard or not clear enough. However, it will be available on our website in the middle of October, and everyone who buys it directly from us will get the soundtrack as an archive of mp3s. It will also be available on Steam, Direct2Drive, and GamersGate.

Pixelsocks: Having been at both the Independent Games Festival and PAX, have you learned different things from the different crowds?

Jakub: It’s funny, but people at the IGF like to look at your game and ask questions, but they aren’t so fond of actually playing it. However, here at PAX, people are playing—some for a really long time—so we can actually see their experiences.

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