Postmortem: The Chinese Room's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
May 23, 2014 Page 3 of 7
Lastly in this section it is necessary to mention the team's passion, and the belief in the story TCR were trying to tell. Such a statement may seem somewhat cliché, but that passion is a critical component in crafting a game that feels "complete." This passion especially applies to the political element of the story, which was a point of particular interest for the team. Having a singular vision for a game is important regardless of what game is being discussed, but for a game that rests on its ability to strike emotional as well as horrific chords with players, it is even more critical. That singular vision needs to include not only what must be happening on screen or being heard by the player at any given point, but also the emotional state the game is trying to instill in the player at any given point as well. Even with multiple staff changes during development on the art team and the sound team, that singular vision remained consistent. This again is testament to the excellent team rapport and communication, as new staff joining mid way through development were soon briefed and integrated into the team.
4. Environmental Storytelling
TCR's previous games make use of voiced narration and internal monologue as means of telling the player a story. Environment design has been important in these past titles to ensure the story is placed in rich, believable and cohesive worlds that provide context and a sense of place for the player. Storytelling through the environment itself can be seen in Dear Esther, and in Pigs the aim was to bring such environmental storytelling to the fore to a greater extent.
In a horror context, telling a story through the game world itself provides the potential for both greater poignancy as well as greater ambiguity. The poignancy is critical in creating an affective, emotional experience for the player. The game environment has far greater potential for this than a spoken or written dialogue describing that environment. For example, a single picture of the shoe room at Auschwitz, or of the lone protester facing up to a tank at Tiananmen, are far more arresting, far more powerful images than anything that could be described through words alone.
The poignancy of such environmental storytelling is important. However ambiguity is also a key part of this type of storytelling. Even the above examples offer levels of ambiguity despite seemingly portraying quite obvious events. Each pair of shoes at Auschwitz has an implied life story attached to them for example. The picture of the Tiananmen protestor poses questions regarding his thoughts and emotions at the time the picture was taken. It is these associated implications that assist in the creation of the emotionally affective aspects of a story. The image, or environment, is simply a cue to thought and to consideration, rather than an explicit, closed story. Makoto Shibata, director of the Project Zero (Fatal Frame) series discussed such an approach in an interview with The Guardian stating that it is not about simply showing scary things, but providing players with fragmented information through a variety of means that forces them to consider for themselves the horrific events of the game. Ultimately, that which occurs in the player's head will almost always form itself into something more disturbing and more horrific than anything the game could explicitly portray.
Sequences such as the Pig Nest in the Sewer level allow storytelling through the environment and characters alone, without revealing lots of explicit detail.
The script for Pigs was nevertheless initially very long and included a substantial amount of voiced internal monologue. It quickly became apparent that the amount of voiced storytelling was going to have to be reduced to prevent players listening to voiceovers for long periods. TCR had also initially underestimated the size of environments that would be necessary to allow such an amount of voiced storytelling to comfortably fit while still allowing the player to move around freely. While small sections of the voiced script were cut, much of it ended up being moved across to written notes that are found throughout the game, thus the overall script itself is largely unchanged from the original version in terms of its content.
These written notes however are intended to support the story suggested by the game world through the design and contents of the different environments that the player travels through. For example, the hidden corridors and rooms in the game's early levels are not explicitly explained by the game, although the script may allude to them at points. The player is left to determine their own interpretation of what they were used for. This same approach applies throughout the game, and it is rewarding to see many different interpretations of the game's overarching narrative, as well as specific objects or characters, appearing across discussion boards online. This individual interpretation was also the reasoning behind the removal of voice acting for the written notes. With a voice actor, it is much harder to leave ambiguity intact as emphasis and intonation will always suggest a "correct" interpretation. Suggesting such definitive interpretations of plot elements would have unraveled the image that the game builds up of Mandus' questionable mental state.
The ambiguity of the storytelling itself has achieved its aim of encouraging thought and extended discussion amongst players. In many cases TCR have achieved some powerful and emotional responses as well. The game's use of music and sound was pivotal in creating these emotional responses and has been cited in a number of critical and player reviews as one of the game's strongest components. Its quality is testament to the tireless work and attention to detail of the small audio team working on the game.
5. Streamlining Gameplay Experience
As previously mentioned, Pigs has clearly proven to be a divisive game amongst players. For many, the streamlining of the gameplay itself may well be more suited to the "What Went Wrong" section. However, for delivering the type of experience that TCR were aiming to deliver, streamlining the gameplay itself was important, and from this perspective the decisions made to achieve such streamlined gameplay were predominantly successful. The removal of the sanity system, and later the infection system, has already been discussed, as has the shift of voiced narrative to text-based narrative. However further mechanical alterations contributed to the streamlining of Pigs' gameplay.
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