Amanita Design: Beyond Samorost Interview

Richard Cobbett at

Osada

Jakub Dvorsky and his team at Amanita Design are having a busy year. They've been a little quiet since the release of Machinarium in 2009, but we can finally reveal not just one, not two, but three great looking games currently in development. At least, we say games. As you'd expect, there's a little more to them than that. Read on for details and an exclusive interview with Dvorsky about his off-beat style.

Game The First: Osada

Osada is an interactive music video created by Amanita animator Vaclav Blin and composer Simon Ornest. Dvorsky describes it as 'Czech psychedelic country music'. The graphical style is clearly influenced by Terry Gilliam, mixing surreal landscapes and photographic elements with what looks like at least a couple of special mushrooms. We're told we'll have to play the full thing to see exactly what it is, which is lucky, as we haven't a clue from these shots. Luckily, we don't have long to wait. It's going to be a free download, available in just a couple of weeks from Amanita's website.

Game The Second: Botanicula

This one is a more traditional game, with an anything but ordinary look. Botanicula is being headed up by animator Jara Placy, and is a point-and-click adventure about five tree critters on a quest to save their home's last seed from a pack of evil parasites. Described by Dvorsky as 'simple, but quite large', it's currently halfway through development, with release planned for the end of the year.

Game The Third: Samorost 3

No snazzy pictures for this one yet, unfortunately - it's much too early in development for that. However, Samorost 3 promises to be much longer, much more intricate, and much, much, much more polished than any of the already plenty-shiny Flash instalments we've seen so far. This is Amanita's big project as a studio at the moment, due for PC, smelly consoles and variably pungent tablet systems. No ETA on it yet, but we can't wait to see more soon. If you haven't played the series yet, here's the place to start, and here's a quick shot of the kind of world we might be seeing, courtesy of Samorost 2.

Five Minutes With Jakub Dvorsky

We sat down with Jakub to discuss indie development, the role of DRM (Amanita estimated that only 5-15% of Machinarium players actually paid for it, to the point that it kicked off a Pirate Amnesty to help them claw back some karma points) and being one of the artiest developers around.

Your games seem firmly on the 'art' side of the games vs. art argument, but which do you primarily see them as? Is there even a difference?

To be honest, I don't care very much about this never ending discussion about games being art. I see games as just another medium like film, literature or painting so games definitely can be art. The situation is quite similar to the film industry, where most things are crap, but you can still find real gems. I don't want to judge our games. It's up to others to decide if it's art or not.

Which comes first when creating a new Amanita game - the look, the story or the action?

In the case of our newest project which we just started we had first an idea about it's gameplay design. We knew it would be similar to our previous games but we also wanted to change our approach and push the game design a bit further. With this clear idea I started to write the story and design, and now we are at the stage of finding the right visual look for the game.

Are there any concepts you can share that you've rejected for being too crazy?

We've had some of those, but usually just for fun, or from despair when we didn't have any better ideas. I wouldn't share them as as they're usually quite obscene or disgusting.

Boo! Oh well. Do you think your background in the Czech Republic gives you a different perspective on game creation? On the flip-side, have you seen any interesting moments of culture-clash/disconnect when foreigners get their hands in your games?

It's interesting because most of our team are artists who don't have any prior experiences with video games. It sounds like a disadvantage but on the other hand these people are not influenced by other games so their approach to it is fresh and unaffected. As for the reaction of foreigners, many people tell us our style is very Eastern European or even Czech. It definitely wasn't our intention to make it that way, so it's probably deeply rooted in our subconscious.

You started off in film and animation - was there anything specific that pushed you to games?

No, no, I started with games! I grew up on my first computer Atari and later on grammar school I started making games with a couple of friends and we were relatively successful. In 1997 we published our first game, which was the first adventure game in Czech Republic with dubbed dialogs and also the first Czech game released on CD. Later I went to study animated film at the Academy of Art in Prague because it was the best place to go at that time if I wanted to make games.

Which current artists do you currently admire / draw particular visual inspiration from? Are there any other games you credit with equally artistic leanings?

I'm influenced by many famous artists and filmmakers, for example Max Ernst, Hieronymus Bosch, Russian animator Yuri Norstein, Czech animators Karel Zeman or Jan Svankmajer, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Stanley Kubrick etc. As for games, I guess Myst, Gobliiins, Discworld, The Neverhood, Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, Dungeon Master... these influenced me a lot. Today, there's Patrick Smith with Windosill. I also loved Limbo and I'm really looking forward to Fez and Sword & Sworcery.

Machinarium infamously suffered from heavy piracy. Has that (or the results of the Pirate Amnesty), changed your feelings on developing for the PC? Will your new games be equally DRM free?

Oh yes, definitely! I don't see pirates as plain thieves as I also pirated heavily when I was younger, with plenty of time to play many games but very little money to buy them. Pirates can actually help to promote the game if it's good and some of them even pay for it afterwards if they think it was worth it. Of course the piracy is still a big problem on PC, but considering how many PC gamers are in the world it's definitely worth developing for PC. As for DRM, we just don't believe it's working. It's usually only an annoying complication for paying customers.

No argument here. Is the PC still the best platform for indie game developers?

Yes, it's very easy to develop and publish games for PC and that's very important for small teams with limited budgets. You need a lot of experience, time, money and endless patience for developing on consoles - it's a really painful process.

Correct answer! Thank you for your time. But we're not done yet. Want to see more of these great sounding games? Head to the next page for a boatload of brand new images.