Game Description: Machinarium is award-winning independent puzzle / adventure game developed by the makers of popular web-games Samorost and Samorost2. A little robot who’s been thrown out to the scrap yard behind the city must return and confront the Black Cap Brotherhood and save his robot-girl friend.
HIGH: Overlooking the city from the game's high points.
LOW: The somewhat anti-climactic ending.
WTF: The oddly convenient series of pipes in one of the puzzles.
It's easy to think that adventure games are a stagnant lot. The formula really hasn't changed all that much in about ten years, so any new adventure game's mission consists mostly of two things. One is to make the puzzles and other obstacles interesting and challenging enough to make the player feel like he is actually progressing through the game rather than just tagging along for the ride. The other is to wrap a familiar set of gameplay mechanics in a good package of style and substance to make the experience feel fresh. Machinarium, the recent Flash-based adventure hit from Amanita Design, does both of these things and does them extremely well.
Saying that Machinarium looks good simply does not do it justice—this game is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The open areas that overlook the rest of the world are absolutely breathtaking, and at the beginning of the game the scenery looked so good that I thought I was playing some sort of introductory cinematic and the in-game graphics would be coming soon. Every single area, even the small enclosed ones, are so painstakingly detailed and stylistic that it really fells similar to playing an episode of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. In fact, sometimes the game looks so good it can be difficult to see items that can be picked up or used in some way. I honestly can't put into words how well-done the visuals are in Machinarium—it's probably better expressed through a quick Google image search.
Machinarium casts the player as a simple little automaton known only as "The Robot" who must find his way back into the city after being taken out with the garbage. The game's backstory is told largely through a series of animated dialog bubbles that were always a treat to watch, as the hand-drawn sketch style used in them really lends itself well to the overall theme. Similar to the storytelling in Wall-E, the narrative is expressed mostly through gesture and a few emotionally charged spurts of sounds from the characters, and the result is something endlessly charming and always heartwarming. The music is also fantastic, creating a sometimes playful, sometimes sad, and always engaging feeling throughout the game. With its stunning aesthetics, Machinarium immerses the player into its world entirely, with all the wonderful quirks that go along with it.
Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game executed to near perfection. The player must find and use items within the game world to solve puzzles and access more areas. The only interaction with the game world is clicking on things and using items on things by clicking on them, so the controls are pretty simple. This is where I make the only negative comment I have about that game, in that I wish that after taking an item out of my inventory I could right-click and send it back rather than having to drag it back up there (a la The Longest Journey), but even this doesn't come close to dampening the experience. The puzzles are challenging, extremely challenging in some cases, and the feeling after finding a solution was always rewarding. It was very, very satisfying to see such a gorgeous game (similar to what Aquaria did) not be afraid to show some bite to go along with the bark.
Make absolutely no mistake about it—Machinarium is a difficult game. Some of the brain teasers took me a long time to figure out, and the game is not afraid of throwing something out there that looks insanely difficult at first glance. That said, the player is also given a quick and easy way to find solutions if he so desires. Hints are given in two forms. One is in a small dialog bubble in the main menu which gives the player a hint as to what the end goal is in a specific area. The objective for a particular area isn't always obvious, so these can kindly give the player a little nudge in the right direction without feeling too cheap.
The other method is much more drastic. At any time the player can choose to play a little side-scrolling shooter minigame, and upon completion he is given the solution to the entire area. This might seem a little disconcerting at first, but in the end it really didn't bother me. A similar topic was also brought up in a recent podcast, and ultimately I felt that this was a perfectly fine way to walk the line between being too hard and being too easy, since any player who didn't want to use the guide could choose not to. I will admit, however, that I did wind up using it a few times. Four to be precise.
With a brilliant musical score, gorgeous artwork, solid adventuring mechanics, and a ton of other generic positive reviewer comments I can heap on it, Machinarium is elevated from merely good to gaming greatness, and I can only hope that the minds at Amanita produce some more masterpieces like this one.
Disclosures: This game was obtained by download through Steam. Approximately 10 hours were spent completing the game once. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game has not been rated by the ESRB at the time of this writing. This is a great game for kids, as there is no real questionable content and there are lots of good brain-teasers. There is one instance of innuendo, but it's probably more my filthy mind than anything else.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Unfortunately, colorblind players will likely have a lot of problems with this game. Many of the puzzles are color-based and there is no colorblind mode to assist them. The situation is mitigated by the guide system, but it still leaves puzzles that probably can't be solved. There is also a puzzle near the end that requires the player to play a song by hear, which would obviously be a problem for deaf players.
I recently had the pleasure of playing Machinarium, a fantastic adventure title from indie developer Amanita Design. Currently available on Steam and on their website, Machinarium has received accolades from many critics, myself included. Their CEO, Jakub Dvorsky, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the game his company, and his team (pictured above).
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do at the company, and how Amanita Design got started.
JD: I was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia and I still live here however it's only Czech Republic now. I studied at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague and my diploma work was Samorost, my first Flash game. After my studies, in 2003 I established Amanita Design studio. In 2005 joined me animator Vaclav Blin and together we created sequel to my thesis - Samorost2. Since then we have found several excellent collaborators - musician Tomas 'Floex' Dvorak, programmer David Oliva, painter Adolf Lachman, sound maker Tomas 'Pif' Dvorak and animator Jaromir Plachy. Besides independent and commissioned flash games (Samorost1, Samorost2, The Quest For The Rest, Rocketman VC, Questionaut) the studio created also a couple of music videos (Plantage, Na tu svatbu), websites, animations, illustrations and production design. Now we are focused mainly on games, but most of us have also some side projects, Vaclav Blin is preparing very strange interactive music video, I'm working on production design for animated feature film, Adolf Lachman is freelance painter and sculptor etc.
The artistry and music in Machinarium were superb-what sort of professional backgrounds do you and your co-workers have?
JD: Most of us are educated artists, me, both animators are from studio of animated film at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague and our painter and also music composer are from different Academy of Art in Prague.
Where did you get the inspiration for Machinarium's setting and main character?
JD: When I was designing Machinarium world I was strongly inspired by old rusty machines, abandoned factories and industrial buildings. Of course besides this direct inspiration I was influenced by many artists, filmmakers and also writers (Yuri Norstein, Karel Zeman, Stanislav Lem, Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci, Max Ernst and many many others).
How much time did it take, from initial concept to rollout, to make Machimarium?
JD: It took us almost three years. It's very long time and it wasn't easy to stay focused on only one project all the time. Of course the whole game also changed significantly over the time. The basic concept was much simpler and our idea was to create longer but quite simple looking game and we thought it will take us about one year to finish it. In the end I'm really glad we spent all that time on it, because it's much better and more polished than what was the initial plan and it definitely paid off.
What was the hardest part of making Machinarium? Was Machimarium ever in any danger of not being finished?
JD: I was a bit worried about the technical side of the game until I found our current programmer and putting together the whole team which consists of 7 people was perhaps the most important part. Everybody has to be really passionate about the development as it's long and sometimes frustrating process. The worst moment was, when I had to say goodbye to our first background painter who is talented, but he wasn't really interested in the game and was extremely unreliable. Then I had to find another painter very quickly - I was really worried about the whole project at that time, but I was lucky to find the best artist possible who was keen to work with us.
What are some of your (or your co-workers') favorite games, and how have they influenced your work?
JD: Here are some of my all time favourites: Myst - when I played Myst for the first time in 1993 I was inspired by it's atmosphere, graphics and logical puzzles and immediately started to learn how to make 3D graphics. I gave up and returned to 2D graphics a couple of years later, but the logical puzzles are still my favourite. Neverhood - probably the most inspirational game for me. Truly masterpiece. I love it's clay characters, environments and animations, the soundtrack, the story and puzzles but the most wonderful is the world where the game takes place. Grim Fandango - brilliantly written game. Great story, dialogs and world. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream - I love the gloomy atmosphere and really deep story. Gobliins - very lighthearted game with funny characters and surreal puzzles. It was strong inspiration especially for my first Flash game Samorost.
You don't use any dialog to tell story in your games-how did this come about?
JD: We had several reasons not to include any language in our game. First of all I'm poor writer, it's also more accessible, easier to localize and it's also more funny - I don't have patience to go through those lengthy dialogues in most of the adventure games. However there is some kind of communication with other characters in Machinarium - it's all done only by comic bubbles with animations and symbols.
Most of your games are point-and-click adventure games-where do you see the genre going in the future?
JD: Yes this genre suits us well so far, however we want to experiment also with other game mechanics and try to enrich our games as much as possible. I don't know if this genre will be still called point-and-click adventure in the future but games, where the story, puzzles and relaxed pace are the main characteristics, will definitely stay here.
There are a number of standalone flash animations and websites featured on your homepage. Do you see Amanita moving away from games at any point? What is in the future for Amanita?
JD: Of course we had many general ideas, but it's too early to talk about it. We definitely want to continue in independent games development and maybe we will try to experiment a little and push our style a bit.
Big thanks to Jakub for taking the time to talk to us and for helping to produce such a great game. Here's hoping we see more from Amanita in the future.