Machinarium

Posted by Bruno de Figueiredo.
First posted on 18 September 2009. Last updated on 23 November 2013.
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Machinarium
What at first sight resembles a common scrap yard is, in fact, a morose robot necropolis.
Machinarium
The early sketch shows an industrial area where some unidentified mineral is refined...
Machinarium
...and the rendered screenshot shows the added color and details that make each location a unique work of background art.
Machinarium
In the sketch, a strange oil dispensing mechanism is explained...
Machinarium
...and in the rendered screenshot, a crate that is out of reach is presented as a puzzle.

The author wishes to acknowledge Jakub Dvorský for granting access to a pre-release build of Machinarium for a hands-on preview of the game.

All images are courtesy of Jakub Dvorský, Amanita Design © 2009.

About the game

Machinarium will be released initially via digital distribution. A pre-order pack is now available from Amanita Design that includes additional 5 hi-res pictures and 5 MP3 soundtracks of the game.

About the author

Bruno de Figueiredo is the founder of the Portuguese game site Core Gamers.

For more information, visit Core Gamers.

In its original form, the Czech word "robota", later translated into the English word "robot", was first popularized by the author Karel Čapek—although invented by his brother Josef Čapek—in the 1921 science fiction play Rossum's Universal Robots. Since its early use in that visionary drama as a descriptive term for humanoid biomechanical machines forced to labor, the word has progressively developed a wider connotation towards the form in which it is used today—often a replacement for automaton: an independent and complex machine generally designed to compulsively perform a task or service. Almost a century later, Jakub Dvorský and his team at his Czech independent studio Amanita Design are recapturing this heritage in the form of an automated dystopia, where the complex life of self-ruling robotic mechanisms takes center stage, once again.

In one of several scrap yards outside the large, oppressive city space, a regular flying dump vehicle drops yet another load of metal chunks: in that cargo, a small and silvery robot finds its way into the ground, fragmented into pieces, after being evicted from the metropolis where he last saw his sweetheart being snatched by a group of ruthless machines...

The very first puzzle of Machinarium consists of restoring the robot's original form, while tenderly introducing the protagonist to the player, in what is one of the simplest and most promising moments of recent adventure gaming—the prologue of a journey which is bound not only to give new life and meaning to the genre, but to congratulate it with the rare gift of true progress.

While adventure game designers appear to insist on following the strict norm of multiple command controls and extensive tongue-in-cheek dialogs between characters, Dvorský has decided to search for inspiration in alternative sources: from Doug TenNapel's fabled point-and-click adventure game The Neverhood, the inspiration of Jules Vernian machinery, to the imagery of Eastern European animation films as the main resource for visual references, Machinarium is undeniably headed for a superior category of videogame artistic expressiveness.

Amongst the first impressions acquired from this game is the extent of the similarity with Dvorský's first game project, Samorost, and its sequel, Samorost2. While there are several undertones to be shared between all of these independent projects, Machinarium aspires to higher production values that make it more accessible—a small step away from the surrealist intricacies of Samorost—yet also a clear statement of Amanita Design's growth and maturation of its proprietary game development techniques. Interestingly enough, regardless of the substantial advancements already seen in early builds of the game, Dvorský continues to make use of Adobe Flash as the designated multimedia platform to showcase his work. In order to overcome the limitations of that tool, particularly in the area of animations, Dvorský has refined an almost seamless blend between the use of bitmaps and vector graphics. Background art, on the other hand, proudly retains its original pencil outline. Taken together, Machinarium is shaping into an unequivocal statement that the use of such visual style is by no means remedial; on the other hand, it continues to be a valuable resource in game development.

The musical accompaniment in Machinarium is composed by Thomas Dvorak and includes several themes that range from ambient sounds, often reminiscent of the resonances of industrial apparatus at work, to more melodic tunes that are set to enhance the experience beyond visual spectacle, blowing a strange form of spiritual life to the decadent conurbation. To further sustain this outlandish atmosphere, Dvorský and his collaborators from the animation studio at the Academy of Arts in Prague have consciously excluded text captions and voices, favoring the language of animated imageries instead—as the communications between robots are established by means of short and self-explanative sequences inside dialog balloons. Such brief scenes also take place when the "hint lamp" icon is used: enabling the protagonist to ponder about his surroundings and provide an animated clue that will surely help the player face the problem at hand. Despite the simplicity of a few mouse commands used to control the extendable and retractable leading robot, the game offers up over 6 hours of play time in between contextual puzzles, dozens of abstract riddles, and mini games.

Machinarium is destined for a very seldom visited category of independent game productions, mostly defined by larger investments and more demanding production schedules. Given its contents' intrinsic quality, entirely perceivable even from its premature version, there is no doubt that Amanita Design's hard-earned recognition and awards are being steered to good use. Nonetheless, the importance of this undersized project exceeds its own production details, given its rank among the elites of independent game design and the innovation it pledges.

Machinarium is scheduled for release in October 2009.

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