First posted on 15 October 2009. Last updated on 16 September 2010.
|Jakub Dvorský is a Czech game developer and the founder of Amanita Design.|
For more information, visit Amanita Design.
Few, if any, indie game developers have garnered the critical accolades as Czech developer Jakbu Dvorský has. Winner of the 2007 Webby award as well as the 2007 and (again) 2009 Independent Games Festival competition, Dvorský has earned a reputation for his whimsical Flash games that feature graphics with a distinctive organo-mechanical and almost surreal art style. In 2003, after finishing his study at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, Dvorský founded Amanita Design to pursue his passion in video game design. Samorost (which, in Czech, means a tree root resembling a creature), the first game he released to play for free online, was actually a project he created for his thesis while he was still studying as a student. Samorost2, the sequel to Samorost, was his first commercial game and offered both free online play and paid offline play, the latter of which included additional puzzle levels.
Since then, Dvorský's games have appeared as commissioned works for BBC (Questionaut), Nike (Rocketman VC), and The Polyphonic Spree (The Quest for the Rest). His latest game, Machinarium, is full-fledged point-and-click adventure game set in a mechanical world inhabited by robots that unconsciously pays homage to the steampunk fiction subgenre. The game has already attracted much media attention long before its release, again because of its whimsical art style and clever puzzle design.
We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview Jakbu Dvorský of Amanita Design about his work. In the interview, Dvorský speaks about the distinct art style of his games, his preference for Flash as a development platform, the behind-the-scene making of Machinarium, his opinion of video games as an art form, and what holds in the future for him and his company.
- What was the first adventure game you played? What inspired you to choose a career as an indie game developer?
- I used to play first text adventures (I don't know the names), then text adventures with some static graphic (Boggit) and later all that famous LucasArts games (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, etc.) and, of course, Myst.
I started doing my own games with some schoolmates while in grammar school. My first adventure game called Asmodeus was published 12 years ago. When we started doing games, I realized that it's actually more adventurous and funny then just playing them.
- How big is the indie game development scene in the Czech Republic where you live? How popular are adventure games in the Czech Republic as compared to games of other genres?
- Indie scene here isn't big as the whole Czech Republic isn't big:) However, there are some more or less indie companies engaged in adventure games (Cinemax, Future Games). Adventures used to be quite popular here, so I hope it's still true.
- Unlike casual games, it is rare for adventure games to be developed on Adobe Flash. Why do you choose Flash? As a game development tool, what are its strengths and weaknesses? How tricky is it to script complex chains of events for a game in Flash as compared to other programming frameworks?
- I don't know much about scripting; however, it's not so important if you are programming the game in Flash or other software. On the other hand, Flash is a great animation tool. Of course, it also has its weak spots like quite high CPU demands when rendering more animations at the same time, etc.
- Your games had appeared as commissioned works for BBC, Nike, and The Polyphonic Spree. How did the experience of developing games for others differ from that of developing games for yourself? How much creative input did you receive externally during development of these commissioned games (such as the questions used in Questionaut, a Flash game commissioned by BBC)?
- We were lucky to work on nice commissions with a lot of creative freedom, and the collaboration with all of the customers was smooth and enjoyable.
In our latest project, Questionaut, we received all the written questions and also the request that there should be several different locations in the game, each representing one school subject like biology, mathematics or grammar. Besides that, the whole game design, environments and puzzles were up to us.
- You favor puzzles that are based on trial-and-error experimentation. What are examples of puzzles from your own games that best illustrate this design philosophy? How do you answer your critics who claim good puzzles are those that can be solved by rational deduction alone without the need to fail first (either by death or by trial-and-error)?
- I would agree with those critics. It's mostly true. In Machinarium, we are trying to come up with better and more logical puzzles where you can use deduction and still be amused by its originality. However, what is most important is that the puzzles shouldn't be repetitive and boring, so sometimes you can break all the rules and create something little different which will require some experimenting from the player.
- Approximately how many hours of development time did you spend in Samorost, Samorost2, and Machinarium? How much of the work in each project did you choose to outsource?
- Samorost was developed only by me and sound maker for 1 year (but not very intensively); Samorost2 was 1 year full time with animator Vaclav Blin, sound maker and musician. Machinarium is really much bigger project; we have been working on it for 3 years, and the team is also bigger. Beside me and main animator Vaclav Blin, we have also professional programmer David Oliva, painter Adolf Lachman, 2nd animator Jara Plachy, and our usual duo of sound maker and musician – 2 guys with the same name Tomas Dvorak.
I can't say we are outsorceing any work, because we all work under Amanita Design brand.
- To what extent is the mechanical art style in Machinarium influenced or inspired by the steampunk fiction subgenre popular in the 1980s?
- I don't know. It's not influenced by this subgenre directly, maybe subconsciously. The direct inspiration comes from old rusty machines, abandoned factories, industrial buildings and also from many science fiction books and films (Stanislav Lem, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Stanley Kubrick, Karel Zeman, etc.).
- Atypical for an adventure game, there is no verbal dialog in Machinarium. Is it a technical limitation (because of language localization, for example) or artistic decision not to have any dialog? What is the major challenge in storytelling without dialog?
- The music in Machinarium is very rhythmical and yet whimsical. What is the inspiration for the game's music? How does the music reflect the mechanical nature of Machinarium's world?
- Our musician is fully responsible for the score, and he also has complete freedom and our trust. The music isn't simple at all, it has to create the atmosphere and some emotions and at the same time it can't disturb the player. It's composed very carefully for each location, with special track which will be usually 1-3 minutes long. There are many live recorded instruments and samples, and from what I heard so far it sounds fantastic and truly original.
- Aside from being more elaborate, how are the puzzles in Machinarium different from those in Samorost? How many levels of puzzles are in Machinarium? Are these levels interconnected?
- There will be two kinds of puzzles – classical adventure tasks, e.g. If you want to pass through the police control you must dress up like policeman, so you need to get beacon (bulb) and something what resembles the police hat (colored traffic cone), and logical puzzles, which are usually in detailed window that opens when you click on some machine, etc. As I said above, the puzzles will be definitely more logical, but harder and hopefully more amusing.
The whole game will have about 30 locations, some of the locations will be interconnected.
- Some media critics do not consider games to be a valid art form. To what extent do you consider your own work as primarily interactive art? Is the division between games and arts just senseless and arbitrary?
- It depends on the definitions of the terms 'art' and 'game'. For me, a game is just medium like any other (painting, literature, music or film) so, of course, even a game could be an art.
We are focused to create the best game we can, and whether it's art or not is probably up to subjective judgment of everybody.
- Beyond Machinarium, what other projects are in the horizon from Amanita Design? What can we expect from Jakub Dvorský in the next 5 years?
- It's too early to tell, I have a couple of ideas but we will see:)