Amanita Design: Surreal Masters Of Point And Click
Amanita Design are a Czech-based indie game development studio who’ve created a series of surreal point and click adventure games, like the popular Samorost titles. Watching the quirky characters pop up on screen you can see the influence of crackpot Czech animator Jan Svankmajer in their work, with a mechanical aesthetic and avant-garde leanings, but theirs is a little sweeter than his jarring visions. They’ve also made an interactive music video called Osada with Gilliam-esque moving cutouts, bringing a visually imaginative and playful influence to bear on whatever they’re working on.
Wanting to find out a bit more about how they work, we emailed Jakub Dvorský, the founder, with some questions:
The Creators Project: What’s your background and how did you get into game design?
Jakub Dvorský: I was born in Czechoslovakia in an artistic family (my mother is an animator and sculptor and my father is a scientific illustrator). I grew up on children’s books, animated movies and also on early 8-bit computer games. I owned an Atari 800XE and later I got my first PC 386. Of course I loved to play all the great old games. Later on at grammar school, I started doing my own games with some schoolmates and we realized it’s even more exciting than playing. My first game was a cross between adventure and RPG, which was published 14 years ago. Later I studied at the Academy of Art in Prague at the Studio of Animated Film and my thesis work was my first Flash game Samorost. At that time I also established our studio, Amanita Design.
What is it that attracts you to point and click games? Their simplicity?
I was always into animated movies and games—adventure or point and click games are something with the advantages of both. Point and click games are like interactive animated films where you must use your brain to advance, but you have plenty of time to figure it out. You can’t loose and you don’t have any time limitations so it’s a relaxed experience. Point and click adventure games used to be popular in the ‘90s but since then it’s made only very little progress even though I believe it’s still a very interesting genre—and we want to explore it and hopefully also push it a bit forward.
The Samorost games are rather graceful in their execution, gentle almost, they create quite a serene experience. What do you hope people feel when they play your games?
I hope they feel something similar to what we are feeling when creating the game. The game is a part of the world which we have in our heads, and we’d like to invite players to share it with us and hopefully enjoy it.
Your games are noted for being visually rich and quirky, how important is the visual aspect of a game for you?
Of course the visual side is important for us and we are very sensitive to it (5 out of 8 members of our team were educated in an art academy). But games are much more than just graphics. To create an intensive experience it’s important to [match] up the art with the story, gameplay, music and sounds. Everything must fit together with the same style and tone.
Would you ever think about moving into making console games? If not, what is it that interests and excites you about PC-based games while console gaming might be quite a lucrative market for you?
To create a PC game is much easier than a console title, so it’s a good way to start, and you can release the game quickly. Then when it’s finished, and when you see it’s successful and well received, then it’s worth creating a console version, which is unfortunately an incredibly difficult and painful process. That’s exactly what we did and we are just developing a PS3 version of Machinarium which should be released this fall. We are also working on tablet versions and we also want to bring our next game to PC, Mac, tablets, PS3, PSV [PlayStation Vita] and any other console possible.
As indie game developers who’ve been working in the business since 2003, what notable changes have you seen in the indie game industry over the years?
In short, the whole indie scene simply exploded in recent years. It was boosted by the internet, the digital downloads market and also the smartphone and tablet markets. Now it’s possible to create niche games and make a living from it, but there are also many indie developers who want to create games not because it can make them money, but because they love making games and because they want to express themselves [through] games. I can see a big potential in indie developers as they can bring ideas which help games to become much broader, [more] fun, interesting and a deeper medium than it is now.
I’ve read that your team is made up of artists rather than people who have come from a video game background. How does this affect the creation and development of a game?
It has some drawbacks but also many advantages. The view on games among my colleagues is very fresh and unmarked so they are inspired by all other things [except] games, which is good when you want to create something original.
When you set out to create a game, or say, the brilliantly bizarre interactive music video Osada, what are your motivations behind doing it?
Osada was created entirely by our animator Václav Blín, who is completely unspoiled by games (except from working on Samorost 2 and Machinarium). I guess he wanted to create a music video with some interactivity in it to make it more fun. In the end, it was quite a complicated project, the music had to be created with separated tracks in loops and everything has to match perfectly.
How does the process of a game work, do you draw it first to get the right style? Or storyboard it to map out what’s going to happen? Is it a highly collaborative process?
First we need the basic concept and also a lot of small assorted ideas (puzzles, characters, environments, situations or detailed pieces of a story) from which we create the final design. To collect these ideas and sketches you need to think about the game all the time, and whenever you have an idea or vision you have to write it down or draw it. Then we usually make very rough drawings of certain locations and think about what could happen there and take some older ideas to implement it there somehow. When the location with all of the puzzles is designed, we paint the background and characters and then it’s all animated and programmed.
Our team is small and we’re all good friends, so it’s easy to communicate everything. Plus, we’re doing it often, therefore the development is highly collaborative indeed. It’s important that everybody can speak into everything so a music composer can criticize graphics or game design, etc.
What’s the greatest video game of all time?
Only one? OK, then it’s probably Neverhood.